(Part Two of the Fearsome Four Saga)

The Fearsome Four... or the Fearsome Three, now... had been quiet for quite some time. That worried Josie Grey, who was examining a blood culture from their leader, Slouch, aka Allen Carther. Carther was in a drug-induced coma at Greenway General Hospital. He had accidentally injected himself with an experimental drug that burned out the synapses in his brain. Josie jotted some notes in the file and looked at the doctor’s comments. She had to agree with him. The chemical imbalance in Carther’s brain was so drastic that permanent damage was the result. Even if he ever DID regain a normal chemical makeup, he would be vegetable for the rest of his life. While Josie wasn’t happy about that, it was a relief to her. Slouch had learned her secret identity. He had known that Josie Grey was really the Blue Scarab. Now that information had been passed on to his girlfriend, Nightingale. She and her companions, Klaw and Cutter, had been quiet ever since Josie got a threatening phone call from Nightingale. Still, that didn’t make her feel any better. She knew they were planning something; she could sense it. With a sigh, Josie shucked off her lab coat, packed her briefcase, and left the lab.

Back at her apartment, Josie set about trying to track down her tormentor...again. She knew what Nightingale, Klaw and Cutter PROBABLY looked like; she had found a photo at Carther’s apartment of him with three others who matched his masked companions. But, so far she hadn’t been able to put a name with the face; the trio apparently had no criminal record. Then she remembered that Carther’s record had been from protesting, violently at times, the “excesses” of the wealthy. She began to investigate those protests...

Late into the night, Josie finally had some working hypotheses. Nightingale was Sheryl Banks. Klaw was Bruno Mendleson. Cutter was Jacob Latner. Now that she knew who they were, she just needed to find them! She did a search for credit card purchases by the three. Aha! All three had used their cards to get motel rooms the day after Slouch’s accident. They had split up for a while; Josie figured that was the smartest thing they could do. Well, Nightingale was the primary threat, so Josie decided to key on her. She shut down the computer and started to peel off her clothes as she walked towards the bookcase that concealed the entrance to her Blue Scarab lair.

The motel that Sheryl Banks had chosen could be described as “a dive”, if someone were in a charitable mood. While this surprised the Blue Scarab, it also made her job much easier; security here was almost non-existent. She simply parked her car behind the motel and climbed up the back wall, forcing the window with a small lock-pick she kept in her boot.

The room was dark and quiet. Blue Scarab was sure that nobody was here. She adjusted her Scarab Sting and pushed a button, using it as a flashlight. The beam showed that the room WAS deserted, but not completely empty. Nightingale had left her a message.

It was a rather gruesome message. It consisted of a red-haired doll, dressed in a Blue Scarab costume, that was unmasked, bound and gagged. The doll hung in the center of the room from a noose that had been tacked to the ceiling. Under the doll was a large manila envelope, addressed to “Blue Scarab.”

Josie opened the envelope. Inside was a photo of her leaving the police station, and a note. It read, “This could just as easily have been a bullet, instead of a photo. But there’s no fun in that. You will suffer, like my Allen suffered. If you want me, come and get me! I’ll meet you on the top of Alfonzo Tower.”

Blue Scarab tore down the doll and put the papers back in the envelope. “Great,” she muttered, as she climbed back out the window. “And I thought I was too old for scavenger hunts!”

* * *

Alfonzo Tower was home to the Big Bell Clock, one of Greenway City’s landmarks. The huge old mechanism still sounded the hour, almost a hundred years after it had been built. Blue Scarab knew that this had to be a trap, but there was nothing she could do about it. Nightingale had to be stopped, and Blue Scarab had to do, if she wanted to protect her secret!

A quick surveillance of the lower levels proved fruitless. Josie sighed, for she knew that this meant Nightingale must be at the top of the tower. She glanced up the steps, and began to climb.

When Blue Scarab reached the top of the tower, she found herself surrounded by the giant gears and bells of the clock tower. The loud “ticking” noise of the gears ratcheting filled her ears. But there, over against the wall, she saw Nightingale. The villainess was bent over what seemed to be a bomb. Blue Scarab leapt into action. She somersaulted to a place that gave her a clean shot and leveled her Sting at the brunette. “Freeze, Nightingale!”

She was surprised when someone hit her from behind. Dazed, Blue Scarab glanced over her shoulder to see Nightingale. “Convincing dummy, isn’t it?” the villainess asked before hitting the heroine again, knocking her senseless.

Blue Scarab wasn’t unconscious, but she was dazed; so dazed, in fact that she was unable to move. Her brain screamed out orders, but her body simply refused to respond as Nightingale pulled the heroine’s arms behind her back and bound her elbows together. Then Nightingale tied a rope around one of Blue Scarab’s wrists, which she pulled in front of her azure-clad body. The other wrist was also brought forward and tied. With the elbows pulled and secured behind the back, the wrists couldn’t be made to meet, but Nightingale tied them as tight as possible, locked the heroine’s arms in place. Next she tied Blue Scarab’s ankles tightly together.

By this time, Blue Scarab was beginning to regain her senses. She tugged on the bonds as much as she could, but they were too tight. “Nightingale,” she began, “Sheryl, this is crazy. You have to realize that ummmp!”

This last was caused by Nightingale stuffing a spongy ball into Blue Scarab’s mouth, forcing in past her lips and teeth, and securing it in place with duct tape. Nightingale slapped layer upon layer of the sticky gray tape over her nemesis’ lips. “Shut up, bitch,” she hissed. “Just shut the hell up! You stole my Allen from me! Now I even the score!”

As she said the last part, Nightingale produced a long rope with a noose at one end. Blue Scarab struggled and kicked her abductor, but ultimately it was to no avail. Nightingale finally managed to slip the noose over her neck and pull it tight. Then she threw the other end of the rope over a high beam and around a gear shaft before tying it to the spokes of one of the gears. Before tying it off, however, she tugged the rope enough to haul her captive to her booted feet.

“Okay, red,” Nightingale glared. “This should fix your pretty little wagon. As the gear turns, it will slowly tighten the noose. Within five minutes, you should be dead. Within 10, you’ll be hanging high above the floor. Inside an hour, your corpse should have been pulled into the gears and ground to a pulp! Bet you wished you’d just done as you were told, now!”

Nightingale stared at her captive, but if she was looking for terror or remorse, she was sorely disappointed. Blue Scarab glared back over her gag. She had been in tougher scrapes, and she refused to give this psycho any kind of satisfaction. After a few seconds, Nightingale smacked the heroine’s face and walked away. “By the way,” she called over her shoulder, “this isn’t the end for you. I have dozens of deaths planed for you if you escape this one. Of course, you COULD refuse to play my little game, but then I’d have to call the papers and tell them who’s under that mask! Ta!”

As Nightingale vanished down the steps, the gear ratcheted again, pulling the noose a bit tighter. Blue Scarab’s eyes flew around the darkened room, looking for a way out. The way her hands had been tied, she couldn’t reach the Scarab Sting. The lockpicks hidden her boot were well out of reach. Time was running out.

There was nothing here, nothing but the giant gears. And there was no way that they could help her. Or could they? The noose rope ran close to one of the ratcheting mechanisms that controlled the gears. It was an almost demonic-looking pronged affair that shifted back and forth on the gears. That might be able to cut the rope. Blue Scarab began to hop and tug on the noose. She realized there was no “might” that could be involved. If this didn’t work, she was dead.

The rope was getting uncomfortably tight, and breathing was becoming difficult by the time the rope was in position. However, as it tightened, it would be pulled OUT of position quickly. Blue Scarab watched the ratchet with hope-filled eyes, praying for the best.

The prong snagged the rope, sending a vibration that shook all the way down to where Blue Scarab was. The noose tightened. Another vibration. Were those frayed strands? Tighen. Vibrate. Tighten. Vibrate. Blue Scarab’s vision began to dim.

Suddenly, with a loud “snap” the rope parted and Blue Scarab collapsed to the floor. She would survive, but she still had to get free and stop Nightingale! She wiggled over towards one of the gear boxes. It would be time consuming, but she was sure she could use the edges of the box to cut her bonds.

After Blue Scarab had freed herself, she descended the tower and found a note waiting for her. All it contained was an address, which Blue Scarab quickly headed for. The address in question proved to be the local storage facility for “Green Giant” frozen foods. The azure adventuress wondered what her prey would possibly want here? The answer, of course, was nothing, which meant that it had to be a trap. Blue Scarab would have to be doubly careful.

The door proved to be unlocked, and the small cubicle where the night guard would be was empty. Blue Scarab’s turquoise eyes narrowed in concern. Nightingale was in a berserker rage. There’s no telling what might have happened to the guard. She moved as quickly as she could without making too much noise. This woman had to be stopped.

“I see you got my invitation!”

One row of lights flashed on, bathing half the warehouse in light. Standing on one of the crates that lined the walls was Nightingale. Now that her head and vision were clear, Blue Scarab got her first good look at the girl. She looked exactly like Blue Scarab remembered: slender, super-model figure clad in a black leather minidress and knee-high boots, with the flesh in between clad in black stockings. The black of her eye-mask was so similar to the black of her hair that they practically blended together. This, combined with the how tight the outfit was, gave the impression that the costume was actually a part of the woman, instead of something she was wearing.

“Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be,” Blue Scarab said. “Slouch’s accident should show you how dangerous this game you’re playing is!”

Nightingale grabbed a piece of wood and threw it at Blue Scarab. “SHUT UP! You don’t know anything about him! Allen was a genius! He just wanted to show the world how unfair the rich were, and you killed him for it!”

“He’s not dead,” Blue Scarab countered. “And what happened to him was his own fault. Besides, if he thought money was so bad, why did he keep everything he stole?”

“He deserved it! His family wanted him to prove he was ‘worthy’ of their money. Like they were worthy! Like any of them are worthy! He HAD to show the world how wrong it was!”

Blue Scarab couldn’t believe this. All this trouble, all those protests, the criminal acts of the Fearsome Foursome, all because Allen Carther felt he wasn’t getting his fair share of the family pie? If it hadn’t caused so much pain, she’d laugh at the absurdity of it all. Instead, she swung her arm up and fired her Scarab Sting at Nightingale.

The leather-clad brunette, however, seemed to be expecting this move. She jumped backwards, dropping behind the crate, as soon as Blue Scarab’s arm began to move. The blast from the Sting missed her by inches, but it missed nonetheless.

“Hold it, Blue Scarab!” Nightingale yelled from her current place of safety. “I’ve got something I want to show you!”

Another light came on, a spotlight this time. It shone into the darkness where it illuminated a female figure, dressed in a guard uniform. The woman was tied spread-eagle on a wooden pallet, and tightly gagged with a black cloth that wound around her head several times. A heavy crate was suspended over the woman. With a loud winding sound, the crate began to descend. As much as Blue Scarab wanted to pursue Nightingale and blast her, she couldn’t let this innocent woman die. She ran towards the captive guard.

A thin blade, kept in Blue Scarab’s boot, was sharp enough to saw through the ropes that held the girl. The redhead heroine, with one eye on the nearing weight, began to slice as fast as she could. Sadly, it wasn’t quite fast enough; for this was exactly what Nightingale had been planning. She touched another control, and a smaller weight swung forward and smashed Blue Scarab in the side of the head. This time, she WAS rendered unconscious.

* * *

Blue Scarab regained consciousness when the water hit her face. That was the first sensation she became aware of; the second was the cold. The reason for this became apparent when she looked around and found herself laying, hog-tied on her side, on the floor of one of the walk-in freezers in the warehouse. The guard was in there with her, still tied to the pallet that had been dragged into the room. Nightingale was standing over her, putting down an empty bucket and picking up another one. She dumped more water on the already soaked superheroine.

“Cold enough for you, Blue Scarab? If not, don’t worry... IT WILL BE!”

“Nightingale,” the redhead wonder said quickly, “this is between you and me. Let the guard go!”

The crazed villainess shook her head. “You know, I thought of that. After all, Allen made sure that we never hurt anybody. But this way, I figure you’ll suffer all that much more! After all, an innocent person will die, just because you couldn’t save her! How perfect is THAT!”

The slender blonde in the midnight blue uniform struggled and squealed into her gag. Her bright blue eyes were wide with fear and moist from barely-held-back tears. Blue Scarab glared at her opponent. “Think, Sheryl. If Allen meant that much to you, honor his memory! Don’t harm an innocent!”

“Sorry, sweetie. Nice try, but like I said, I want you to suffer, and I can see this is already making you anxious! You have a nice night... And, as your blood turns to ice, think about how cold I am at night without my Allen!” She spun on her stiletto heel and Blue Scarab heard the door slam and lock from the outside. The lighting was dim, and she could already feel her body temperature dropping.

Blue Scarab reached for her sting, but the ropes around her wrists effectively kept her from reaching the switch to activate it. She looked around for a sharp edge on which to cut her bonds, but that wasn’t to be; Green Giant kept this warehouse in compliance with the safety regulations a bit too stringently for her tastes! She arched her back as far as she could, but the top of her boots were still out of the reach of her fingers; the lockpicks and blades secreted there would be of no use. She was trapped, and the cold was quickly sapping the strength from her lithe muscles. As much as she hated to admit it, it looked like she was going to die, and the security woman along with her.

As she thought that, her mind made a connection. The blades; the security woman. She had started to cut through the woman’s bonds before being blindsided. Slowly, she wiggled forward to check the rope on the girl’s wrist. It was frayed! Nightingale hadn’t changed it!

“HEY!” Blue Scarab yelled to the woman, who seemed lost in despair. “Listen, we have a chance! The rope on your right wrist is frayed, where I started to cut it. I want you to pull at it as hard as you can. I’m going to try and help...”

The guard began to pull, as Blue Scarab slowly... achingly slowly... turned around and started to dig the heels of her boots again and again into the rope. Slowly, the strands parted and broke. But, with every passing second, the cold got more and more oppressive. Blue Scarab actually began to wish she had been gagged, as well; at least it would keep her teeth from chattering the way they were! So lost was she in reverie that she almost didn’t notice when the rope finally parted. The guard used her free hand to pull the gag from her mouth and then started pulling at the knots on her other wrist, all the time muttering, “oh god... oh my god... oh god!”

“Wait!” Blue Scarab struggled to speak with some authority, despite her weakness. “You won’t get loose in time that way. Reach in the top of my right boot. There should be another blade hidden in there. Get it!”

The guard did as she was told, and quickly cut herself loose, followed by the Blue Scarab. They were now unbound, but still locked in the freezer. The door was at least a foot and a half of insulated steel; the Sting would not cut through that. However, there was another, smaller door on the opposite wall. About 3 feet square, it was used to load and unload trucks. It was locked from the inside with a small padlock. Blue Scarab turned the Sting to high and depressed the switch. The laser-like beam lanced out and quickly cut through the latch. With the lock out of the way, it was easy to open the door and escape into the night.

* * *

Blue Scarab stood outside the city zoo. This was where she had been lead by Nightingale’s next clue. Two death traps met and defeated in this deadly scavenger hunt. She was sure a third awaited her here. However, she also was sure, she wasn’t quite sure how, that this was the final one. Either she would get Nightingale here, or Nightingale would get her. She climbed the gate and moved through the deserted zoo.

The birdhouse, with the nightingales, was the obvious place to start, so Blue Scarab headed there. As she neared the house, she was surprised by Nightingale popping up from behind the maintenance shack.

“Boy, you’re lucky,” she said with a smile. “I’m surprised you made it this far... But I’m happy! Very happy!”

She dove back into the bushes before the Scarab Sting could be brought into play. Blue Scarab cursed under her breath and raced into the darkness after her quarry. The chase bordered on the surreal, the atavistic, as they ran through the night in the middle of a major metropolis, disturbing the sleep of jungle animals. Big cats roared as they raced by. Night birds screeched protest at this intrusion into their world. Wolves and coyotes howled after the racing women.

Nightingale was in good shape, and had a head start, but Blue Scarab had trained long and hard for her chosen profession. Tirelessly, she gained on the fleeing woman, slowly closing the gap, her eyes always on the alert for anything that might indicate a trap. Nightingale rounded a corner. Blue Scarab followed a split second later, prepared to pounce on the felon. As she turned, however, she felt a sharp pain in her thigh. She looked down to see a tranquilizer dart sticking from her flesh. She pulled it out as she lunged at Nightingale, who stood nearby with a tranq-rifle in her hands. Blue Scarab collapsed before she could reach her, and then all was darkness.

* * *

Blue Scarab was totally disoriented when she regained consciousness. In a few moments, she realized that this was due to the fact that she was hanging upside down by her ankles. Nightingale had outdone herself in this job of securing the heroine. Her wrists were lashed behind her back, and ropes wrapped around her body; dozens of feet of strong cord that had been cinched and knotted in numerous places about her, eliminating any slack. Ropes from around her ankles were tied to an overhead tree branch, and her head was about three feet from the concrete floor of an animal pen. Something had been stuffed into her mouth, and tape wrapped around her head to keep her silent.

There was no sign of Nightingale, but Blue Scarab’s ears picked up a rustling in the bushes. After a few seconds, it grew silent, then the rustling started again. She peered in the direction of the noise, waiting to see what Nightingale had planned for her this time. After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted enough for her to see the movement of a large python that was slithering in her direction. The big snake had picked up her scent and she saw the diamond shaped head lift off the ground towards her. The snake seemed to look directly into her eyes with its own cold little eyes. She could see the snake’s tongue flickering toward her. She remained completely still, terrified. But the snake could sense the warmth of this tasty morsel. The reptile began to move up around her body and wrap its coils around her.

Blue Scarab shifted and struggled as best she could, but the ropes held fast. She was amazed by Nightingale’s evil, leaving her deliberately tied up in a snake pit as a meal for the python. She wished there were some way to get down from that damned branch; she was sure that this would change the tensions on the bonds and enable her to escape. But it was no use. Meanwhile, the big snake continued to wrap around its target. Every few seconds, it repositioned itself up a few more inches and then tightened its coils around Blue Scarab. Each time, the heroine’s body was compressed more and it became harder to breathe. As the snake moved up its coils wrapped up around more of her body. Finally, the snake had its coils around her entire body and even the thin end of the tail wrapped itself around her throat and began to squeeze there, too.

As Blue Scarab slipped into a stupor, she began to wonder if the snake could actually swallow her. She still struggled as hard as she could, but while the ropes had been tight, the coils of the snake were impossibly so. The lack of oxygen was also making it difficult on her. The sound of blood pounded in her ears and her vision slowly dimmed to darkness. As she felt her consciousness beginning to leave her, Blue Scarab was dimly aware of some noises. Then she felt as if her body was on fire, and she passed out.

“Hey! Blue Scarab! Are you okay?” The heroine’s eyes fluttered open, and slowly focused on the man standing over her. He was dressed in a uniform, and lightly slapping Blue Scarab’s cheeks in an effort to rouse her.

“What...” Blue Scarab winced slightly; every part of her body was in pain. Still, she was sure, after a quick assessment, that nothing was broken, for which she was glad...and lucky. “What happened?”

As the man came more into focus, Blue Scarab could see that he was dressed in a security uniform, and the nametag on his left breast said “Chuck.” The man pushed his hat back on his head. “I heard noises,” he said, “and came out to investigate. By the time I’d tracked you two down, that gal had left you as a snack for Oro. Good thing I got here when I did... Sorry about shocking you, though.”

“Shocking…?” Blue Scarab didn’t get it.

Chuck held up a cattle prod. “This was the only way I could get Oro to let you go. But snakes aren’t exactly good insulation, so you got some of the juice, too.”

That explained the noise and the burning sensation, Blue Scarab realized as she slowly sat up. This had gone too far, she decided. Nightingale had to be stopped. “The woman I was chasing,” she said. “Any idea where she went?”

“Sorry,” Chuck said with a shake of his head. “But she bypassed the alarms, which I fixed. So, she must still be in the zoo, somewhere.”

“Okay.” Blue Scarab still hurt, but she climbed to her feet, determined to end this challenge. “Go back to your office and call the police. I’m going to find and stop her.”

Blue Scarab raced quickly through the zoo, looking for some sign of Nightingale. While she was still sore, the adrenaline seemed to be helping hide the pain slightly. She reasoned that her quarry would be near the edges of the zoo, trying to find a way out without tripping the alarms. She quickly headed towards the outskirts herself, and began to circle around.

After a few minutes, she spotted Nightingale. She was climbing over a low fence, headed towards one of the animal cages. “SHERYL!” she called. “Hold it right there!”

The sultry brunette turned and glared. “Still alive? Well, you still have to catch me!”

Blue Scarab ran forwards, talking as she ran, hoping to stall Nightingale. “Tell me something,” she called. “How did you learn my secret?”

“Easy,” Nightingale said as she began to shimmy up the bars of the cage. “Allen kept a journal, which I got after you destroyed him. I read about it in there!”

Blue Scarab cursed under her breath; she hadn’t even considered that Carther would have written anything down; he didn’t seem to be the type to trust anyone. Then again, perhaps that’s what made the journal such a necessity for him. As she hopped the low fence herself, she saw that there was a large tree branch that extended over the zoo wall. Nightingale had reached the top of the bars and made a wild jump for the branch. The limb vibrated crazily, but held. Then the villainess began to work hand over hand towards the outside wall, that branch would carry her over the wall, to safety, where she could plan her next move against Blue Scarab.

The ravishing revenger knew she couldn’t let that happen. She fired her Scarab Sting, figuring that Nightingale could wait for the police inside the cage. The beam snapped the branch and dropped Nightingale, along with a sizable piece of wood, into the cage below.

What happened next was so fast that Blue Scarab didn’t realize what it was until too late. In the darkness, a huge form just seemed to appear out of the shadows and smash Nightingale to the ground. The villainess screamed and swatted with the branch in her hands but it was futile. Blue Scarab recognized the shadowy shape as a black panther. As this realization hit her, she fired her Sting again at the beast. With a short roar, the creature collapsed unconscious. Blue Scarab quickly scaled the cage and dropped within the bars. She raced to the pile of flesh and fur that marked the panther and Nightingale.

The animal was too heavy for Blue Scarab to move in her current condition, but it was pointless, anyway. Nightingale’s head and shoulders poked out from beneath the big cat, and her throat had been ripped out by the beast’s initial attack. Blue Scarab’s heart sank. She had never intended to kill Nightingale, just as she had never intended to fry Slouch’s brain.

The sound of sirens snapped her out of her reverie. She quickly climbed out of the cage and hopped over the zoo wall, the way Nightingale had originally intended to do. Blue Scarab wondered if the girl had not realized that the cage held a panther, or if she was beyond caring. In any case, it was all over now... Or was it?

“I have to find that journal,” Blue Scarab said as she slipped behind the wheel of her car. Otherwise, her secret could never be safe, especially with two members of the Fearsome Foursome still at large. But for now, she needed rest and lots of ointment on her tender muscles.