The Blue Scarab slowly regained consciousness. She shook her pretty head to clear it from the after effects of the chloroform. As her senses returned, she realized that she was laying on her side, her gloved wrists tied behind her. The thick lump in her mouth indicated that she had been gagged, and very well, too. A large cloth had been forced into her mouth, and a second was cleaved between her parted lips and knotted tightly behind her head. She felt someone tying her ankles together, and looked down at the man in the black coat. As her eyes became accustomed to the gloom, she saw his three cohorts around her. The ravishing redhead remembered what had happened, and silently cursed herself for her carelessness.
Not that Blue Scarab – or her alter ego, Josie Gray – were alone in the misconception that there was only one criminal involved. Over the past month or so, Greenway City’s rich and famous had been the target of a series of burglaries and blackmail schemes. There had never been any indication that more than one very talented individual was behind the crimewave. Josie, in her role as forensic scientist, has handled all the clues, and eventually got the idea that the VonGotrocks would be the next victims. While her uncle loved her, he was sometimes too quick to dismiss her hunches. So, Josie had decided to suit up and tackle this herself, as the Blue Scarab. She had been keeping a low profile, lately, and it felt good to be back in action.
Blue Scarab had staked out the VonGotrocks house for three nights before her patience was rewarded. The burglar had done his usual superb job of circumnavigating the security system, but Josie’s keen ears had heard a sound where there should be none. She had quickly, and quietly, gone to investigate. There, just opening the window to the study, she spotted not ONE burglar, but two: a large man in a black leather trenchcoat and slouch hat, and a slender, attractive woman dressed all in black. Blue Scarab had offered them the chance to surrender, but the twosome refused, instead charging the superheroine. The azure avenger had kicked the girl in the stomach and shot the man with her Scarab Sting, knocking him out. A quick jab to the nerve cluster at the back of the girl’s neck had rendered her unconscious, as well. That was when a strong arm had grabbed her from behind, and a moist rag had been clamped over her mouth and nose. Blue Scarab recognized the sickly sweet smell of chloroform just instants before she lost consciousness.
“So,” she thought to herself as she surveyed the group before her, “there were FOUR criminals, not just three.” She wasn’t quite sure what good that knowledge would do her, but she filed it away for a time when she was less restrained.
“You’re awake,” the man in the trenchcoat sneered. Josie saw that he also wore a black eye-mask, as did his companions. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Slouch. These are my associates in the Fearsome Four. The young lady is Nightingale.” The girl was slender, well built, and dressed in a black leather minidress, knee-high boots, black stockings and the eye mask.
Slouch indicated a bulky man, dressed in black jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket with a matching cap. His eyes were cold behind the mask. “The fellow who grabbed you goes by the name of Klaw. Show her why, Klaw.” The big man held up his hands. Both were clad in black leather gloves, but the one on the left hand had metal blades extending past each finger tip, and metal studs on each knuckle.
“Last, but not least,” Slouch said, “we have Cutter.” Cutter was the smallest of the group; even an inch shorter than Nightingale. He was thin, but solid and wiry, and dressed in black spandex, like an acrobat. Instead of an eyemask, he wore black goggles. A belt pouch hung on his right hip.
“You look like an intelligent sort,” Slouch said. “Let me see if you’ll make a deal. See, the wealthy of Greenway City are often, well, let’s say less than moral in the way they get their money. My friends and I, we just seek to redistribute the wealth, like Robin Hood.”
“Except,” Nightingale said in a honey-sweet voice, “that we do claim a finder’s fee.”
“Of course,” Slouch continued in his cultured tones. “We can’t live off the land like Robin Hood, after all! In any case, I trust you’ll see that we are actually in the same business as you! So, here’s what I propose. You let US go, and we’ll let YOU go.”
Blue Scarab glared at him, her green eyes bright with fury. “Gmmm tmmm hmmmmph!” she replied with a shake of her head.
Slouch sighed. “I was afraid of that. Okay, gang, get going. I’ll finish up here and meet you back at the van.”
Slouch’s companions quickly vanished into the darkness. The gang leader walked up to Blue Scarab and gently stroked the side of her face. “Shame to waste a babe like you,” he said. “But, if that’s the way you want it, who am I to argue. There is just one thing, though..."
Slouch grabbed the edge of Blue Scarab’s mask. With a squeal of fear and anger, the redheaded heroine whipped her head away from him. Slouch grabbed her face, and took hold of the mask again. “Look, what’s the big deal?” he asked. “Soon you’ll be dead, and it won’t matter anyway! But I just like to have the info before anyone else. It’s kind of a hobby.”
Blue Scarab’s eyes grew wide with fear as he slid the mask upward. First she felt the spirit gum on the edge of the mask peel free from her skin. Then, she felt the thin elastic cord, which was under her hair, slide up her scalp. This would KILL her Uncle Gordon, when he found out. He must never know she was the Blue Scarab! Then, suddenly, it was over. Her face was exposed, and Slouch stood there, with the mask in his hand, studying her.
“Very pretty,” he said. “But it doesn’t help much. Guess it was too much to hope that you’d be someone famous or something. Though you do look vaguely familiar... Oh well, got to go!”
With that, Slouch spun her chair around. Blue Scarab realized for the first time that she was tied up on the terrace, facing a decorative fountain. He tied a large stone planter to her ankles, and heaved it into the water. There was a split second of calmness while the rope snaked out, and then she was yanked into the water, past the koi and kelp, to settle on the bottom of the natural looking pond.
Josie had never felt so despondent. Her secret identity had been exposed, and to a criminal! She had to regain her secret, but first she had to find a way out of this mess! She was quite a talented swimmer and diver, and could hold her breath for a couple minutes, but the odds that she’d be found in that time were remote, to say the least. She began to take stock of her situation. Her Sting was gone. The planter was heavy on it’s own, but it had sunk into the silt at the bottom of the fountain. Her face was only two feet from the surface, but it might as well have been two miles.
The heroine bent her knees, using her leg muscles to pull her down. Her fingers grabbed at the planter, trying to find the knots that held her. She quickly learned that they were too tight. Then her knee bumped something hard. She rolled over and tried to feel it with her hands. It was a valve, probably used for draining and filling the pool when maintenance was necessary. One edge of the valve was rusty and slightly sharp. It was a long shot, but it was her only shot! She pulled her ankles to the valve, stretching the rope holding her down to the limit, and began working them back and forth over the edge.
Time never seemed to move so slowly. Josie’s lungs began to ache, then to burn. How long had she been down? How much longer could she last? Her eyesight began to go dim, and her equilibrium slowly vanished. Soon, she was almost unaware of her surroundings, feeling as if she was just floating in space...
Then she realized, she WAS floating! The rope had snapped! Josie kicked toward the surface, and broke free of the pond like a dolphin. She flopped back into the water, but floated on her back, sucking in as much air as she could through her nose. She was free, but she still needed to escape the pond. Josie took a deep breath, and swung her legs up behind her, forcing her head into the water. Her bound wrists slowly wiggled around her shapely buttocks, then down her thighs, and finally past her calves and free of her feet. Now, with her wrists in front of her, Josie easily grabbed the lip of the fountain and pulled herself free. She rolled onto the pavement and pulled the gag from her mouth before attacking the knots with her teeth.
Josie found her mask by the pond, but her Scarab Sting was gone. She sighed, but nobody else but her could activate the Sting, and she had spares back at her apartment. The girl donned her mask, and made her way back to the Scarabmobile.
For a week, Blue Scarab and the gang played a game of criminal tag. Every time the titian-haired titaness thought she had her opponents dead to rights, they managed to escape. The heroine was still doing good; she had stopped two break-ins, four muggings and a rape, but she chafed at her inability to put a stop to Slouch’s “Fearsome Four.”
On top of that, there was her constant worry about the fact that the gang leader had seen her face. That, combined with her uncle’s growing interest in learning more about the Blue Scarab, put a great deal of pressure on her. She couldn’t recall being this concerned about her secret identity ever since she had first donned the costume and mask. Josie actually considered hanging up her spandex for good, but she couldn’t. She owed too much to too many people; people who believed in the Blue Scarab. She had faced enormous challenges before, and she just had to view this as another one.
At least, that’s what she told herself as she stepped from the shower, toweled herself dry, and wrapped a robe around herself. The hot shower had left her soft, muscular body a flushed red, and had helped work out some of the kinks in her muscles. Josie knew that what she really needed, however, was a good massage. Maybe she could schedule one next week...
Josie mentally juggled her calendar as she walked out of the bathroom. Because of her preoccupation, and the fact that she was in a lazy relaxed state from the shower, it took her a second to register that something was wrong. She spun and dropped into a fighting stance, stunned when she recognized Slouch standing in the corner, pointing some kind of gun at her.
“Hi, Blue Scarab!” he said jovially before he pulled the trigger.
With a soft “whoosh”, a tiny dart shot from the air gun and pierced Josie in the shoulder. She took two steps towards the criminal, but her legs felt like rubber. As she reached for Slouch, she collapsed to the floor and passed out.
When Josie awoke, she was tied to one of her kitchen chairs. Her wrists were bound to the back of the chair, and her legs were spread and tied to the chair’s legs. This all caused her robe to fall in such a way that it barely afforded her any modesty. Of course, she couldn’t complain about her position; the duct tape over her lips prevented that. Josie looked around and Slouch rummaging around in the cabinets. There was a bottle of soda and a try of ice cubes on the table.
Slouch glanced over his shoulder. “About time you woke up, Josie. Say, where do you keep the glasses? Oh, wait, never mind.” He pulled out a glass and poured himself some soda. “You seem like you’d be a gracious hostess, so I figured you wouldn’t mind if I got myself a drink. Now, can we talk?”
“Hmmmfff! Hmmmmummmm Ummmmmph!” she snarled angrily through the tape.
Slouch nodded. “Yeah, the gag will get in the way. Tell you what. I’ll take the tape off, if you promise to just keep quiet and talk with me in a civilized manner. Deal?”
Josie nodded, and Slouch reached over and pulled the tape from her mouth before plopping down in a chair opposite her. Josie worked her jaw a second and licked her lips. “Ouch. I hate tape. Who are you, and what do you want with me?”
Slouch shook his head. “Look, Josie, you can’t be comfortable all tied up like that, so let’s not play games, okay? You know who I am, and I know who you are.” He picked up a file folder from the counter and pulled out a newspaper clipping. It showed Josie with her uncle at a recent charity event. “It took me a while to connect Blue Scarab to this picture. You do a pretty good job of dulling yourself down as Josie. But the features are the same. And now, seeing you like this, the resemblance is uncanny. You’re the Blue Scarab.”
Josie’s blood ran cold. This was the moment she had dreaded. There were many ways to play this, but the simple reality was that she was Slouch’s captive and he was sure of his facts. She could try to lie to him, but that might just make him angry. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that I AM the Blue Scarab. What then?”
Slouch smiled. “See? I knew you were smart! Okay, Josie, here’s the deal. I don’t mind keeping your secret. Heck, I LIKE knowing a bit more than anyone else. All I ask is that you leave me and my friends alone. And, once in a while, you may have to help us. Let’s face it: your gear makes you a natural for criminal work!”
The smile faded. “No, I’m deadly serious. Stop all the crime in Greenway City that you want, except for what we do. Remember, not only can I expose your true identity, but I know who you are and where you live. As you can see from your current predicament, not even you can be on guard 24 hours a day, in both identities!”
Josie sighed as her mind ran through the possibilities. Damn! Damn, damn, damn! Slouch was right. She was trapped. Her only way out was to agree to his terms. Of course, she didn’t plan on sticking to that agreement 100 percent, but he didn’t have to know that!
“Okay,” she said. “You win. I won’t interfere in your activities.”
“AND you’ll be there when we want your help?”
“Yes,” Josie said through gritted teeth.
Slouch walked over and selected a sharp knife from the butcher-block holder. He slid it into Josie’s hand. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I should be long gone before you cut yourself loose. Talk to you soon, partner!”
Slouch left the room. Josie heard the front door open and close as she began to saw at her bonds. It had started out as such a good night, too! But now, she had work to do.
In a city as large as Greenway, there was plenty to keep Josie, and the Blue Scarab, busy. Still, she had no intention of letting the Fearsome Four win. So, while she battled crime and avoided Slouch’s gang, Josie was hard at work on her problem. She reasoned that what was good for the gander was good for the goose, so she set about trying to learn who Slouch really was.
First, she tapped into the national criminal database and put in all the information that she had about the gang’s activities. There were no outstanding criminal investigations that matched the Four’s M.O. That meant that they were probably from Greenway or the surrounding area. So, Josie hacked into the DMV computers and accessed the driver’s license records. Now, it was just a matter of narrowing the search down. She carefully entered everything she knew or could guess based on her two close encounters with the mastermind. Male, Caucasian, brown eyes, black hair, between 5’10” and 6 foot even, between 225 and 245 pounds, no corrective lenses, aged between 29 and 40. That left her with just under 100 possibilities. She narrowed it to 37 by eliminating everyone not living in Greenway or one of the adjacent suburbs. She then scrolled through the pictures, removing anybody with facial hair; this took out another 13. Blue Scarab began to investigate the remaining 24.
Two of them were out of the state. One of them was in the hospital with respiratory problems. Three actually turned out to be police, who Josie was able to eliminate by comparing their work schedules to the times the crimes were committed. Then she checked the remaining 18 for criminal records.
Five of the men had records, but one name jumped out at Josie: Allen Carther. The Carther’s were big money, and descended from one of the founders of Greenway City. Allen was something of a black sheep of the family. What was more interesting was that he claimed to HATE his family’s money. His crimes had all been the result of overzealous protesting against the excesses of the rich. He had been out of Greenway for several years, but bought a townhouse just two months before the Fearsome Four’s reign of terror had begun. Could Allen Carther have decided that the easiest way to deal with what he saw as the evil’s of the wealth was to REMOVE that wealth from others? Josie had to find out. She suited up and headed for Carther’s home.
Slouch was right about one thing. With her skills and equipment, Josie was quite adept at criminal activity. It was easy for her to gain entry to Carther’s home and search it. For the most part, she didn’t find much worthwhile. By the time she got to the upstairs bedroom and office, she was beginning to think that she might be wrong. On the desk in the office, Josie found a picture of Carther with three others; a woman and two men. His companions, in the proper attire, could easily be Nightingale, Klaw and Cutter. Furthermore, in the desk were a series of bankbooks, all with incredibly large sums of money. The sums of the deposits were interesting as well. Most of them were either $5,000 or $10,000 dollars at a time, sometimes four or five deposits a week. That had to be the pay-offs on the blackmail. Carther would know, from his family, who had the most secrets to hide, as well as the most money to steal. The clincher, however, was in the bedroom. There was a locked trunk at the foot of the bed. Josie picked the lock and found a pile of blankets. Under the blankets were some black clothes, including a trench coat, slouch hat and mask.
“Gotcha!” Blue Scarab whispered with a small grin.
The next night Blue Scarab met with the Fearsome Four. Slouch, aka Allen Carther, had called her during the day and told her that he had a job for her, if she didn’t want her secret spread all over Greenway. He wanted her to help the Four break into Carther Pharmaceuticals. Josie wasn’t surprised; she figured it was only a matter of time before Allen decided to strike out against his own family.
Nightingale, Klaw and Cutter weren’t too happy to see Blue Scarab. “I’m tellin’ ya, Slouch” Klaw said, “I don’t trust this broad!”
Slouch dismissed his friends’ concerns. “Blue Scarab and I have an...agreement, don’t we? Believe me, she’ll be a good girl. Or, actually, tonight she’ll be a BAD girl!”
So, Josie thought, Slouch hadn’t shared his knowledge with the others. All she had to do, then, was remove him from the equation somehow. She filed that information as she listened to his plan for invading his family’s company.
The plan was straightforward and effective. In less than ten minutes, Blue Scarab and the Fearsome Four were inside the large building. The security team had been neutralized, and the alarms bypassed. Slouch smiled as he nodded to his team. “Okay, gang, you know what we’re here for. You go get it; I’ll keep an eye on our reluctant partner.”
That was just what the Blue Scarab was hoping for. She watched the three villains go off before she turned to Slouch. “So, what do we do? Just stay here and make conversation?”
“Why not, Josie? Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
“Oh, I have plenty to say to you...Allen.”
Slouch froze. “What?”
“Looks like we both have secrets. Allen Carther, son of one of Greenway’s wealthiest families, acting like some half-baked Robin Hood. Except you rob from the rich and keep for yourself, don’t you, Allen?”
Slouch jumped at the heroine. “Bitch! I don’t know how you found out, but it won’t do you any good!”
Blue Scarab dodged the blow. Slouch stumbled past her and slammed into the wall. He snatched up a fire extinguisher and fired it into Blue Scarab’s face. While she was blinded, he swung the extinguisher, and hit the heroine in the side of the head. While she was groggy, he used his tie to bind her wrists behind her back, and dragged her into one of the labs.
Slouch pulled a scarf from his pocket and tied it over Blue Scarab’s mouth. It wasn’t a very effective gag, but it would do for now. He began to rummage around the lab.
Blue Scarab shook her head, trying to clear her senses. She pulled at her bonds. They weren’t very tight, having been tied in a hurry, and she should be able to escape. As her eyes focussed, she saw Slouch coming towards her, with a hypodermic in his hand.
“This is a new psychotropic drug,” he said. “It hasn’t been approved yet, because even in moderate doses it can scramble the brain. In a dose this size, you won’t even remember how to speak, let alone who I am!”
He grabbed Blue Scarab’s arm and prepared to give her the injection. The redhead revenger shifted her weight so that she could get her knee between her and Slouch. He fought against her shapely leg, but she was too determined. Finally, she had enough leverage to kick him away. Slouch slammed into and then through the glass wall of the lab. Blue Scarab shook her hands free of the tie and pulled the scarf from her mouth.
She heard running footsteps. Slouch’s partners must have heard the commotion. Thinking quickly, Blue Scarab fired her Sting at the fire sprinkler. Water began to spray down, and the fire alarms went off. That would bring a mop up crew. Now she had some scores to settle!
Blue Scarab raced through the hallways, trying to find her quarry. The sounds in the building were confusing. They had sounded closer than they were. She spotted Klaw and fired her Sting at him, but he dove down a cross hall. Moments later, Cutter spotted her and threw a knife at her, but she somersaulted under the blade. They were still heading towards the lab where Slouch was, so Blue Scarab doubled back to that area.
Nightingale was kneeling over Slouch, shaking him. “Speak to me,” she screamed. “Come on, wake up!”
Blue Scarab walked forward. “It’s over, Nightingale. You’re going with me.”
“No way!” Klaw popped up around a corner and threw a chair at Blue Scarab. As she dodged it, she slipped on the wet floor. She regained her feet in time to see Cutter and Klaw dragging Nightingale out a window. The girl was struggling against her partners, trying to get back to Slouch.
Blue Scarab ran over to Slouch and looked at him. He lay on his back, with his eyes staring straight up, glassy, unseeing. A small stream of drool dripped out of the side of his mouth. Blue Scarab looked down and saw the hypodermic needle buried in his abdomen. He must have fallen on it.
“Poor bastard,” Blue Scarab remarked. But at least her secret was safe. The authorities would be here soon to take charge of Slouch, so she leapt out the window to follow his companions. But they were gone.
Josie Grey walked back to into her loft apartment, kicked off her shoes and dropped to the couch. It had been a hell of a week, but maybe she could finally schedule that massage for herself! After sitting quietly for a moment or two, the girl reached over and flipped the answering machine on. There was only one message.
The girl’s voice was shaky and broken, as if she had been crying. Josie wouldn’t have recognized the voice if the girl hadn’t identified herself. “This is Nightingale, you bitch,” she said. “Slouch was a dope for trying to use you, but you won’t get away with what you did to him. Now that I know your secret, I’ll see to that! You’ll burn in hell, Blue Scarab!”
Josie cursed her luck. Somehow, Nightingale must have learned what Slouch had known. She had thought there was just a bit of a mopping up involved, but the main problem wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot...
* FOYER * BLUE SCARAB FRONT PAGE *