"Aye well. Itís a terrible shame that the lad had to go and get himself. Mind, heís not the first. I remember, now, what was his name? Mister something? Donít rush me. Thatís it, Mister Strong. He was one of the first yíknow? I remember seeing him when we were liberating Paris. He was up there with the rest of us. He was laughing and joking and sharing ciggies with us. ĎCourse, we all wanted his autograph, just like he was John Wayne. It was terrible the day he died. 1952 it was, or was it í53? He were trying to stop Rosetta Stone. What? Aye, that Tom Rosettaís ma. But she was a cruel, vicious woman. What she did to Mister Strong doesnít bear thinking about. When she threw his insides all over Covent Garden. ĎCourse, itís called Strong Garden now. You remember, I showed you his statue when we went that time. A good likeness it is too. Mister Strong dying just did something to us. It hit us a lot harder than this lad, Presti, Pressy, Pres. Yíknow, I never could say his name. A bit bloody intellectual if you ask me. Anyway, this latest lad, heís just another dead super hero. I mean, how many have there been in the last few years? Letís see, there was Captain Courage, Miss Legion, Centurion, The Black Soldier and The Mutant. Of course, The Mutant came back to life again, but stillÖ My point is that back in Mister Strongís day, they never seemed to die. I mean, it might look as if they were in danger, but we always knew that theyíd win in the end.
But now you just donít know and half the bloody villains are getting
off on a technicality. Let me tell you, if you want to stop half the crime
that goes on these days, you should lock the bloody lawyers away first.
Still, itís a real shame that this lad got himself killed. Prez, Prist,
Preds, how do you say his name again?"
Linda stood at the door to the room, looking in. It seemed to her that the only time she saw some of these people was when they came to a wake. It was beginning to seem a bit like she only ever saw superheroes any more. Apart from going to work, she didnít seem to have a life outside of the Lawful Union of Britain. All the friends she had were slowly stopping calling. Even the guys at the paper had stopped asking her to come for a drink after work.
She looked around the room, trying to find someone she could talk to about something that had nothing to do with superheroes. Richard and Michael were deep in discussion with Ulti-Man. The Ooze was trying to chat up Steam Woman. He just didnít realise that women didnít find a man who could turn themselves into living gunk an attractive prospect. Especially when they seemed to have an oily, slimy aura that no amount of washing seemed to get rid of. Android Andy was standing in the corner, just watching, trying to fathom human interactions. Heíd get it eventually. Tom Rosetta was flirting with Bow Girl Ė showing his superhuman strength. Another few drinks and heíll get her to fire an arrow at his chest to show off his tough skin and healing factor. He always managed to find some inexperienced, young heroine and then do his Ďexperienced heroí act. Linda found it sickening. She remembered quite clearly when he first tried it with her. After she knocked him through a wall, he never tried to do it again, though. Vendetta was sitting next to the bar, drinking a glass of wine. She was tilted at an angle that suggested to Linda she had had quite a few.
"Are you okay, Jen?" Linda asked, gently.
"No, I am not Ďokayí," Vendetta replied coldly.
"I know itís hard. I remember the first time The Mutant died. It hit me really hard, but youíll get over it," Linda said.
"Christ. Thatís all it is with you lot, isnít it? Code names. Itís just a big game to the lot of you, isnít it?" Vendetta said, her voice starting to rise.
"What? No. How can you say that? ĎThe Mutantí, ĎPrestidigitatorí. You didnít even know their names. Iíll tell you what his real name was. James, Jim to his close friends. He was warm and funny. Do you know what his favourite film was? ĎDougal And The Blue Catí. He said that it was pure genius. He meant nothing to you. He was just another warrior in your fight for justice. When I die, what are you going to tell my parents? Do you know what they think Iím doing now? They think Iím shopping. But no, Iím sitting around listening to you self-righteous tossers beating your breasts and pretending to be more upset than anyone else! You make me sick. You can find someone else to play cannon fodder."
Jenniferís voice had risen to a screech. Everyone else had stopped what they were doing and was looking across to see what the problem was. She looked around and saw everyone staring at her, embarrassed.
"Screw the lot of you," she screamed at them, "If you need me, donít bother looking. I wonít be around. I might go shopping."
Tears streaming down her face, she ran from the room.
Linda looked around her, seeing looks of disapproval. This was the last
thing she needed. She quickly walked out of the room. Dick looked at her
as she was leaving, then looked across at Mike, who nodded. Dick ran after
Linda, calling her name.
Linda and Dick sat looking at each other, slowly sipping their cups of tea. Around them, people bustled, ignoring them.
"Do you realise this is the first time Iíve seen you in civilian clothes in almost a month?" Dick said.
"Civilian clothes? Iím not in the army you know," Linda snapped.
"Iím sorry, I didnít mean it like that. Itís just, I donít know how else to talk about it."
"I donít want to talk about it at the moment." Lindaís tone was less sharp, but still sounded annoyed.
"We should go back soon," he said, "Mike wanted to have a meeting as soon after the wake as possible. So we can decide how weíre going to deal with all of this."
"I donít need Michael to tell me what to do," her voice had changed from acid to ice, Iíve been doing this long enough."
"Iím sorry, but you know we need to co-ordinate our movements, or weíll just duplicate everything. That was why the LUB was made, after all," he told her.
"You just donít know when to stop, do you? I know exactly why that bloody group was formed. Iím just questioning whether or not itís still a good idea. Or whether I just want to go my own way or even go on being Captain UK. Itís getting too hard. I want my old life back"
"What? But we need you, I need you," he took her hand in his.
"Rubbish. You donít need me, not really. Look, if I stop doing all of this, nothing will change between us. I mean, you said yourself, for the last month itís been Captain UK and Young Miracleman. When do we get time to be Linda and Richard? I mean, I dumped Phil because he liked to wear womenís clothes. Then I get hooked up with you, who wears clothes that make Phil look normal. Not that I can really complain, I look just as stupid."
"You donít mean that, youíre just upset because of Prez and Jen. You just need some time. Call me when you want to talk."
Dick stood up and, for the second time that day, Linda saw someone she
was close to walking away from her.
Linda spent the next few days at home. She called in sick at work and then took the phone off the hook. She didnít even bother to get dressed, just lazed around in her night-dress and dressing gown listening to Radio Four.
She tried to write an account of what happened on Oxford Street but it was still too close, too personal.
After three days sitting around, she decided that it was time to pull herself together.
She sat down and, pulling all the notes together that she had made over the last few days, started to type.
The first draft was appalling, but it was, at least, a start. She needed to make it less emotional. A major story like this has to be strongly written but still accessible and, if it was too emotional, it would cloud the issue. Thinking that thought made her think about Jenniferís words again.
"Öjust another warrior in your fight for justiceÖ"
That brought tears to her eyes again. Was Jennifer right? What were her feelings about it all? Had she become hardened to all the death and destruction around her.
She stood up from the typewriter and hurled herself into the couch again. She couldnít do it. How could she write calmly about situations where she could so easily die, just like Prez did?
It took her half an hour, sitting and staring fixedly at the wall to calm down enough to be able to think straight again. Then, suddenly, like a light being turned on, she realised the problem. She felt totally impotent. Prestidigitator was dead and there was absolutely nothing she, or anyone else, could do. She needed to stop herself feeling like this, so she could get on with her life again Ė whether or not that life included Captain UK, Michael or the LUB. But whatever she did, she had to do something and that meant getting out there and doing what she did best. She needed to do it with more subtlety than she could manage dressed in her red, white and blue.
With a wry smile she said to herself, "This is a job for Linda McQuillan."
Then she sat down at the typewriter again, looked at her notes and started
She walked into the offices of The Daily Investigator and was greeted by her colleagues with the usual chorus that greeted the return of someone who had taken some sick leave.
"Who this then? A new starter?"
"No, you remember her, she used to work here. Took some time off."
"Very funny, people. Knock it off. Iím feeling much better, thank you for asking and I'm definitely ready to get started again," she said.
"Okay, Linda," Jeff, her editor, said, "Which right wing dictatorship are you going to overthrow with your incisive, prize-winning reportage today then?"
"I want to find out about the creature, the Golem, that killed Prestidigitator. I want to find out where it came from. People are still writing about his life, I want to write about his death."
"Well, you are the LUBís pet reporter, arenít you? So, it makes sense that you should write it. After all, if it helps them find out who did it, theyíll want to get out there and make them regret it, wonít they?"
"Get lost, Jeff. Iím a reporter. Youíre just jealous because I get all of the best reports about them. By the way," she said, dropping her article on his desk, "hereís the first part of the article. Itís an interview with Captain UK about the whole Oxford Street massacre."
"Bloody hell. I thought you were off sick? After another award, are
you? You and those bloody superheroes. Anyone would think that you were
sleeping with one of them, the way you get all the exclusives."
She spent hours going through the news items that the cuttings department had pulled out of the archives. It wasnít until she came across an article written about ten years previously that she felt like she was possibly getting somewhere. It sounded like a very tenuous link, but at the moment, as far as she was concerned, a tenuous link would be better than what she had now, which was nothing. And, at the very least, she might be able to get some information.
A new production by famed magician, Doctor Weird, has brought cries of outrage from Jewish leaders.
The show, called ĎThe Secrets of the Qabbalahí claims to use magical secrets that have been hidden by Jews for many thousands of years. The shows climax has Doctor Weird (whose real name is Willis Rensie) apparently bringing a golem to life that then apparently, runs amok and Ďkillsí Weird and his assistant.
Prominent Jewish leaders, including Chief Rabbi Philip Lowenstein, have slammed the production. Rabbi Lowenstein said ĎThis production is extremely distasteful, in poor taste and highly insulting to all Jewsí. Rensie, 54, has hit back at these claims saying ĎI am a devout Jew. I believe that this show will increase peoples interest in and understanding of our faith.í
(See Reviews, Page 20)
Willis Rensie lived in a flat on the second floor of a converted Georgian house.
Linda pulled up in her car and walked up the short flight of steps to the front door. She pressed the doorbell and waited a couple of minutes until the door opened. She was greeted with the sight of an old man. He still had the beard, but it was now completely white. His glasses were now bigger and thicker. Behind them, his grey eyes were now watery and weak. There was no sign of the strength that she had seen in the photograph.
"Dr. Rensie?," she asked, showing him her press identification card, "Iíd like to talk to you about Golems."
He took the card and examined it carefully, then, with a little tutting
noise, he handed it back to her and motioned her to come inside.
Tom Rosetta pushed past the tapes that the police had strung around each end of Oxford Circus. It was quiet, calm, eerie. In the distance he could hear the traffic moving. Life was continuing everywhere but here.
He walked down the street, looking at the wreckage. His movements were careful and almost feline. He was immaculate in his silk shirt, jodhpurs and knee high boots and carrying a small bag over one shoulder. He looked completely out of place amongst the wreckage and destruction. Apart from removing the bodies, nothing had been touched. There were still arguments raging in Parliament about what to do Ė some MPís wanted to make the area a shrine to the dead, others said that they should try to forget about it, try to get on with their lives, still others said that Ďit was a signí Ė the usual response of the completely confused. Tom didnít particularly care what happened. They were dead, they didnít care. He also didnít care about Prestidigitator or about Vendetta or about Captain UK, but he still found himself crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the spot where Prez died.
That brought him next to the entrance of the tube station. Its shutters were pulled across and even more tape was strung across them. Down there, the massacre had been even worse. The photos he had seen looked like someone had let off a shrapnel bomb. Even he had had difficulty looking at them and Young Miracleman had paled visibly. A thought that disturbed him once or twice since the day that Prez had died surface again and he muttered it gently to himself.
"If that thing had finished up here and gone down into the station, why did come up again?"
His curiosity was always his biggest problem, he knew that, but it didnít
particularly bother him. It also didnít particularly bother him that by
ripping the tape down and pulling the shutters open, he was breaking the
Down here it was even quieter. He pulled a torch out of his bag and clicked it on. Shining the light up and down the platform he saw all the seats and the chocolate machine had been smashed, but there was no real sign of the massacre. The station platform looked cleaner than it had been in a long time. The poor suckers who cleaned up down here must have been paid well.
Tom leaned against the wall and looked up and down the platform, thoughtfully. This sort of thing, investigation, wasnít his strongest ability. He much preferred mixing it up in a good barney. But the others were sitting on their backsides moping about the breakdown of their precious club and not getting out here and trying to get who ever it was who killed Prez and not one of them had even offered to come along when he had said he was coming back here. Heíd show them the right thing to do. Heíd bring them back the little toe-rags head. If he was lucky, it would still be attached to the rest of his body.
Looking around him, he shined the light on to the poster he was leaning against. It had a large, brownish-red stain across it. He quickly straightened up and, unconsciously looking around to see if anyone noticed, he shivered.
He slowly walked across the platform to the edge. A rough wooden barricade had been placed across it to prevent anyone seeing anything from the trains that came through the station. Walking to the far end of the platform, he pulled one barrier aside and shone his light down the tunnel. Seeing nothing, he replaced the barrier and walked to the opposite end of the platform. He pulled the barrier away there and stared into the darkness of the tunnel.
Nothing. What was he doing here, anyway? The golem just came up then because it had finished off everyone down here. He was wasting his time.
He pulled the barrier back into place but paused as the light showed up something. Something that he thought looked suspiciously like the stuff that the golem had been made from. It looked to have scraped against the wall and some of it must have come off.
Well, it was a weak clue, but it was more than anyone else had.
He pulled the barrier completely away and, taking care to avoid the
live third rail, he jumped down onto the tracks.
After about ten minutes of edging along the tunnel in the near darkness, the light from his torch glinting off the rails, he was getting really sick. This was obviously turning into some sort of wild goose chase. There was no way that he was going to tell any of the others about this. He knew they would have a good laugh about it if he did. Another couple of minutes then he would go back.
He was just about to turn around when he saw an opening ahead of him. It looked to be another tunnel opening off the main one, but there were no rails going into it. He had heard about unused tunnels in the tube network but didnít really think that they existed. Was he going to be wrong about anything else today? He would have a look up this tunnel and see what was up there. Then, when it proved to be nothing, as it almost undoubtedly would, he would go back to sitting on his backside with the rest of them and let somebody else come up with an idea.
The tunnel was dark, it had none of the maintenance lights of the main tunnel. Around him he could hear faint scratches and the occasional squeak. He shone the torch around and saw green, glowing eyes. Rats. Well, if any of the little buggers tried to bite him, theyíd be sorry. He was in the mood to damage something and the killing a few rats would definitely go a long way towards alleviating the problem. He rounded a bend and the light from behind faded and he was walking in pitch blackness, apart from the circle of light on the ground that his torch illuminated. How long was the tunnel? At least he didnít have to worry about touching the live rail along here. He walked onwards, running over everything Miracleman had said in the meeting about Golems. Their history Ė as if that would be any use; the technicalities of creating one Ė as if he would ever want to do that, Christ, one was bad enough; how to stop them Ė which was much more what he wanted to know;
As he continued down the tunnel, he slowly became aware of a glow from ahead.
"Must be coming to another main tunnel," he thought, "this was just a cross tunnel, probably used by maintenance people."
Then he realised that the light wasnít a steady glow of electric light.
It flickered and moved and was a lot redder than that. It was the light
of a flame. It was just around the next bend. He slowed, this must be it,
he was about to find out who it was that was behind all of this. He flicked
the torch off.
Rounding the bend he found himself in what was obviously planned to be a station, but never completed. Words written in Hebrew were daubed all over the walls but the things that really caught his attention, though, were the golems. Dozens of them, lined up like soldiers.
A voice echoed out. It was a deep, icy, stony voice. He couldnít understand what it said, but he saw its effect.
The first rank of golems suddenly came to life. They didnít move but they suddenly had an air of Ďalive-nessí about them. This was not good. It was even worse when they started to move towards him. One golem he could take, he was pretty certain of that, possibly even two. But eight? Well, as far as Tom Rosetta was concerned, you never discovered anything by retreating. He moved forward to meet the first of the oncoming creatures.
Blocking its immense fist, he punched straight out into its abdomen, smashing straight through it and out of its back. But his great crow of delight was cut short when its other fist came around and hit him in the side. Having a large hole in its side didnít seem to slow it down much, if at all.
When another golem hit him in the back, knocking him forward into the path of another, he knew that he had definitely made a mistake. Getting out of this was going to cost him severely.
Another and then another and then another hit him. It was as if they were taking turns, systematically beating him, never giving him a chance to defend himself or catch his breath or even hit back. They didnít move except to prevent him escaping from the circle or to hit him. Their was no noise, apart from Tomís grunts of pain and the soft Ďthwackí of stone on super tough flesh. He lashed out blindly, catching one and spinning it around, but it immediately came back and smacked him full in the face with an open hand, hurling him into the path of another blow, which laid open his forehead. He came to the realisation that his chances of getting out of here was starting to look highly improbable, in fact, he was beginning to think that it may even be bordering on the impossible.
A moment later, he was having doubts about his ability to survive. He was causing some damage, but he wasnít taking any of them out of the running and he was very strongly aware that this was just eight of the dozens that were standing on the station platform. With blood running into his eyes and blinding him, he couldnít always be sure that he wasnít just hitting the wall or the floor. It all felt the same - wall, floor, golem. He was finding it hard to concentrate, his ears were ringing and his legs were feeling weak. The healing ability that the stone conferred just wasnít keeping up with the damage being inflicted upon him. He couldnít give in, this was too important. He had to keep fighting, he had to succeed. He was Tom Rosetta, holder of the Stone of Ra. He couldnít die now, he had so much to do to make up for his motherís crimes. He couldnít. Couldnít.
As he fell into unconsciousness, he looked up to see another golem standing on the edge of the platform. It was standing there watching as he fell forward onto his face in the dust. As darkness descended he found himself thinking, surprisingly clearly, "How does it survive when the symbols on its forehead are cracked?"
TO BE CONTINUED.
I would like to run a letter column here (yes, fishing for compliments again!) so, please let me know what you think of the story so far Ė even if itís just to say that itís worse than Liefelds run on the Avengers. (Although, I hope you donít say that.)
E-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, once again, let me thank Jean for her valuable editorial advice and to urge you to visit her web site again, The Shadow Gallery at http://homepages.enterprise.net/jeanandroger/comics/