"Hood!" an enraged Perry W. Jameson shouted. "Bob Hood!"
Robert Hood looked up, alarmed, from his copy of this month's Chartreuse Arrow comics. "Uh, coming, P.J.!"
"Hood," Jameson stammered the moment Rob was in his office, "I hired you to take sensationalistic pictures for me, and all you do is sit around reading comic books!"
"Aw, P.J.," Rob replied, "That's not true. I —"
"The Daily Planetary Bugle is a NEWSPAPER!" P.W.J. slammed his fist down on his desk, which left a radial crack in the finish. "We're supposed to sell NEWS, the Way People Want To See It! The Chartreuse Arrow —" Jameson snatched the comic book from Rob's hands, "— is OLD NEWS! Now get out there and take good pictures of the arrival of the Queen Anne diamond in New York harbor, or don't bother coming back!"
Jameson pointed. Rob backed out of the doorway he'd pointed to. And the door slammed the words "PERRY W. JAMESON — EDITOR IN CHIEF" in his face.
"Wow," a feminine secretary remarked, "He sure sounded mad at you."
Rob smirked. "Ah, he sounds that way to everybody, Emjay."
The secretary put a hand over half her face. "Um, my name's Susan."
"Oh yeah," Rob repiled, embarrassed. "Sorry about that, Emjay."
"I, uh, think you better get down to New York Harbor now, Rob. The, uh, fresh air'll do you good."
"Ah, who needs that old bear's schedule, anyway?" He held up his Chartreuse Arrow comic. "He takes no interest in what's really going on in the world! Um, yeah, sure, I'll go to New York Harbor, eventually. That diamond won't be coming in for at least another . . . fifteen minutes or so."
He went to his makeshift desk, strapped his loaded 35-millimeter
long-barreled autocamera around his neck, and headed out.
"That'll never hit the bullseye," the aging instructor told Rob. "You've got to aim higher, account for the parabolic path the arrow'll take. They don't call this archery for nothing."
"Hmmph," commented Rob, releasing his arrow half a degree higher. It lodged itself in the bottom of the central gold disk. "If I could put a little more power in these shots, I wouldn't have to worry about 'em curving down so much."
"More power in your shots?!" the instructor protested, taking Rob's bow and pulling the string back. "You've got to have a drawing weight of more than a hundred and fifty pounds in this thing! I can barely pull it back six inches."
"Six inches?" worried Rob, taking his bow back. "Darn, it must've gotten loose again." He tightened the string from a little knob on top.
The instructor buried his face in his hands, then looked up again as Rob tested the bow with his enormous right bicep. "I . . . uh . . . don't think it's all that healthy to develop all the muscles in just one arm that much."
"What's the matter, afraid it'll imbalance me? I'm not gonna be doing any falling over onto my right side; not with a stance like this."
His legs were nearly as beefy as his right arm, and spread about twice as far apart as his shoulders.
"I just can't understand you, Rob," the instructor shook his head. "The farthest distance anyone shoots targets at is a hundred yards, but you insist on practicing on a target that's TWO hundred yards away — not to score points, but just to hit the target at all."
"Hey, that's what I need a lot of draw strength for. Can't plow through six hundred feet of air without slowin' down."
"But even so, you don't need that much tension to have your arrow lodge into a 200-yard target."
"Yeah, that's another thing I need more arrow force for. Penetrating power. It's not enough just to hit the target if all you do is make a little hole."
"Ohhhh, you want to use archery for hunting, is that it?"
"Mmmm, yeah, you might say that."
The instructor took one of the arrows from his quiver and hefted it. "This arrowhead alone must weigh a pound."
"Uh, no, more like half a kilo—"
"You don't need that much mass. A standard arrowhead'll puncture the hide of most game."
'Not the type of game I'll be hunting,' Rob thought, and notched up another shaft. It was in moving his wrist up to his eye level that he glimpsed the time.
"Holy smoke!" Rob shouted. "Time for ME to be at New York Harbor!" Without another word, he turned tail and ran.
. . . so fast that he dropped something out of his back pocket.
Puzzled, the instructor bent down and picked that something up. It was a Chartreuse Arrow comic book. Rob's purpose for learning archery slowly dawned on him.
'That crazy, confused kid,' he thought.
There was so much of a crowd around New York Harbor there was no way Rob could get a picture of the Queen Anne diamond without using a zoom lens. Or a crane.
The boat chugged into the harbor, blowing its foghorn so that everybody on shore would know it was time to clap. The gang plank lowered. The crowd hadn't been this tense since that morning when they'd waited for the Challenger to blow up. At last, Queen Anne herself descended the gang plank, wearing the gigantic three thousand carat diamond as the centerpiece of a necklace.
Rob tried to snap off what shots he could between the hands clapping over peoples' heads. He didn't see how that tiny-yet-overweight woman could carry that much weight around her neck without falling over.
'Good lord,' he thought, 'That must be worth big bucks. Sure wish I had assets like that.' He stared down at his camera. 'With what I'm making from ol' P.J., I can barely afford to renew my comic book subscriptions, maintain my archery equipment, and buy steroids for my right arm!'
At that instant, something caught his attention.
The next instant, it caught everybody's attention.
From among the throngs emerged a very fast-moving man wearing a ski mask. He flashed up to Queen Anne like a man who knew exactly what he was doing and yanked the diamond necklace straight off her neck.
"My diamond!" Queen Anne yelped. "My precious diamond! Oh my, I think I'm going to faint." And then, she did.
"Ha HAAAH, you puny fools!" the man with the ski mask on chortled. "Your precious Queen Anne diamond is MINE now! I, SKI MASK, now posess the Most Powerful Diamond in the Universe!!"
Rob buried his face in his hands between snapshots. 'What a ham,' he thought. 'Give anybody in this city a funky costume and he goes crazy.'
"Well," the captain of the guard commanded, "What are you waiting for? Shoot! SHOOT!!"
"We can't, sir," replied one of the armed guards. "Our guns aren't loaded."
"The Queen's order, sir. Gunshot noise upsets her."
"Well, you'd better do SOMETHING quick before he —"
zzzzZZZZZZIP. . . .
"— gets away." The captain of the guard snapped his fingers bitterly.
'Well well,' Rob thought. 'Live robbery of the Most Powerful Diamond in the Universe, and I've got it all on film.' He looked to where the thief had gone. A sharp photographer's eye like his should be able to pick out his trail without any problems. 'I wonder how much P.J.'d pay me for some closeup photos of Ski Mask.'
He cast his gaze skyward, pensive. A vivid image of the
Chartreuse Arrow formed before his eyes. He'd been looking for an
opportunity like this one. 'And I wonder what he'd give . . . for pix
of the guy who brought Ski Mask in. . . .'
"All right, I need form-fitting blue tights, and a blue cowl with pointy things coming off of the face that look like this guy's." He showed the clerk a picture of someone with adamantium claws and a sulphuric acid personality. "To go."
"Oh, I get it," the clerk said, heading back toward the stockroom, "You're gonna be a super hero! What're you going to be called?"
Rob did a take, alarmed. "I can't tell you that! It's a secret!"
"Oh, yeah, secret identity. Yeah, we all respect heroes' secret identitites around here. Keeps up our reputation." He made the distinctive sound of looking through clothes in the back room.
"Well, that's good, 'cause I don't want anybody to link this blue bow and blue armguard and blue finger tabs and blue quiver to me."
The clerk came back out with a costume and a cowl. "Size fourty regular, right? Say, I don't think you'd need finger tabs with those callouses on your right . . ." he fully grasped the size of Rob's right arm. ". . . fingers. . . ."
Rob held the costume in front of his torso, then glanced at the plate glass window behind him. "Uh, could you close the curtains?"
"Yeah . . . sure. . . ." The clerk pushed a button marked "BIG BLACK WALL" underneath the counter, which caused the front window to be obscured by a big black wall.
Rob slipped into the costume as quickly as he could manage. It fit. "Good. Tear-resistant, doesn't limit my mobility, and doesn't clash with my baby blue eyes." He put on the foxlike cowl as well. "Great. I'll take it all."
"H-how did your right arm get so big?"
"Oh, that. Well, I need all the strength I can get to pull my bow back. Helps increase my range."
"Really? Can I see it?"
"Sure," he handed the clerk the bow. "You can even touch it."
The clerk tried to pull the bowstring back. He couldn't exceed five centimeters. "Satan's bow isn't even strung this tightly."
"Satan didn't have to sight targets half a mile away." He took the bow and drew it back twenty-eight inches. You could hear his bicep's muscle fibers contract. "I might have to do that some day. Er, how much?"
"Um," he whispered in Rob's ear.
". . . and THIRTY-SEVEN CENTS?! Oh, all right." He shelled out the bread. "That just about cleans me out. Hope it's worth it."
"So do I. Uh, have a nice day!"
Rob turned back just before he ran into the big black wall. "Uh, yes, I'll be wearing it home with me."
"Huh?" puzzled the clerk. "Oh, yeah, the wall." He pushed his button a second time, and the wall retracted. "Um, how much force did you say that bowstring exerts when you pull it back all the way?"
"Oh, this?" said Rob. "Only two hundred pounds. I'm working toward the day when I can match the drawing weight of an arbalest a tour."
"Uh, how strong is that?"
"Twelve hundred pounds." Rob stepped out the door.
'Now, Ski Mask,' he thought, checking the autoclicker on his
camera, 'Prepare yourself for the wrath of . . . Foxbow!'
Making his way through streets full of staring people, Foxbow finally reached the point Where He'd Deduced Ski Mask To Be Hiding. It was pretty easy, considering the swarms of police surrounding the warehouse and the shouts of, "Come on out, Ski Mask, we have you surrounded!"
"How long has he been in there, chief?" the blue bowman asked.
"*Sigh.* For the last hour and a half, and — hey, who are you?!"
"The name's Foxbow." He stuck out a hand in greeting.
"Another clown in a flashy costume," Police Chief Diehard said to himself. "Uh, you're not planning on doing anything silly, like going in there after him yourself, are you?"
"That's exactly what I plan on doing! Don't worry, everything's under control." He sped off toward the warehouse's back wall.
'That's what frightens me,' Chief Diehard thought.
Scaling the back wall was easy, especially considering the strength in Foxbow's right arm and the fact that he'd been the only kid on his block to have a redwood tree in his back yard. He peered through the grimy second-story window — not that there was actually a second floor in the warehouse, you understand — and tried to examine the shadows.
Nothing. Somebody'd turned on the lights, but he couldn't see anything except crates from this angle. The police were probably too scared of this character to venture in past the light switch. Well, a little thing like a lethal madman certainly wasn't going to scare away Foxbow! He felt around the window for a way to open it, realized that this was the kind of window you can't open, and smashed his way through to the inside.
He landed amid a clatter of tinkling glass fifteen feet later.
"Come on out!" Foxbow cried, pointing skyward while still prone. "You don't stand a chance!"
There was no reply.
'Hmm,' he thought, 'Maybe Ski Mask got bored and left.'
He heard the barest of perceptible footsteps.
'Then again, maybe not.'
Foxbow scrambled to his feet, being careful not to brace his hand on any broken glass, and ducked behind a crate. He flattened his back against a crate and peered out around a corner; this was't particularly helpful, but it had always looked good in the comic books. He didn't see anything.
He drew an arrow, notched it up, and drew back the bow. You never know when you're going to have to release an arrow at a moment's notice. Cautiously, he stalked around the corner.
And an instant later, a guy with a ski mask on zipped into view at the other end of the warehouse and started shooting at Foxbow with a .44 mangum. "Die, sucker, die!!!"
'Yikes,' Foxbow thought. 'None of my targets ever fired back at me before!' He had no time to waste. He brought his bow to eye-level. Sighting through the scope he'd had mounted on the grip, he loosed his overweighted arrow. The pistol shot clean out of Ski Mask's hand.
Ski Mask gasped, then tried to duck back behind a crate; but he was too slow. Foxbow had already drawn another arrow, notched it up, pulled back his bowstring, and shot down the crate on top of the one Ski Mask'd wanted to hide behind, blocking his path. Ski Mask, terrified, froze.
And while his opponent stood petrified, Foxbow charged up to him, drew yet another arrow, put it in his bow, and stuck the whole contraption right up against Ski Mask's belly.
"All right, buddy, talk!" the blue archer insisted.
"Um . . . uh . . ." Ski Mask tried to smile, feebly, underneath his ski mask.
"Where'd you hide the Queen Anne diamond?"
Ski Mask tried to spit at him, but only succeeded in dampening his mask. "I'll never tell you!"
"You'd better be careful, this bow might accidentally go off."
"You wouldn't dare."
Foxbow dared. The shaft plunged all the way through Ski Mask's body. The would-be criminal tried to sceam, failed, clutched the arrow, and keeled over, dead.
"Oops, sorry," Foxbow commented, holding up his bow. "I didn't know it was loaded."
There was some commotion outside. Doubtlessly they'd heard the shots; the police would be in there any second. Foxbow bent down over Ski Mask's body, noticed a rather impressive bulge in his pants, and retrieved it. Fortunately, it was only the Queen Anne diamond. He laid the necklace down on the corpse, stood up, and turned to face the approaching cops.
Chief Diehard did a double take. "FOXBOW!? What are you doing here?!"
"Why, bringing a common criminal to justice, of course!"
An officer came up and looked at the heap on the floor. "Looks more like you're bringing a common criminal to the morgue."
"Well, I, er, that is, uh . . ." Foxbow had not counted on this.
"That wound doesn't exactly look like it was fired in self-defense, either." This kid cop was probably a coroner in training.
Diehard sighed. "Until we get this matter cleared up, Foxbow, I'm placing you under arrest for suspicion of manslaughter. You have the right to remain —"
That would never do. That would never, ever do. Foxbow had to
get out of there, and fast. He wasn't very far from the window he'd
broken on the way in; that would do just fine. Before anyone could
whip out their hancuffs — or their .38 caliber police issues —
Foxbow pulled out his special arrow that had a thin rope tied to it,
loaded up, and fired the shaft through the broken window panes. He
grabbed onto the rope as it uncoiled from his quiver, and was yanked
up off the floor, through the window, and out into the streets.
Fortunately, he'd remembered to tie his camera to the opposite side of the rope, and so had a fabulous set of unique Foxbow-and-Ski Mask pictures. This was what ol' Perry W. Jameson would want to see.
"WHAT?!?" Jameson bellowed, cracking the finish of his desk again with his fist. "I send you out there on one measly assignment, to bring in shots of some stuffy old diamond, and you come back in here with pictures of some pansy Robin Hood dressed up like a blue wolverine?!!"
"He's not a pansy, chief, he's just —"
"DON'T CALL ME CHIEF!! I didn't build this newspaper by chasing after every self-proclaimed good guy in tights! YOU'RE FIRED!!!"
"Fired?! Aw, but Mister Jameson —"
"EFF-ARE-EYE-EE-DEE, FIRED! Now, getouttamyoffice!!" He pushed the getouttamyoffice button on his desk.
Kick. Whump. SLAMM.
Rob stood up and brushed the dust from his clothes.
"Ooh, Rob, he really IS in a bad mood today!" commented Susan.
"Yeah, sure, Emjay. He didn't even give me my pictures back."
There wasn't much left for him here now. He took his camera,
looked under his tee shirt to make sure his costume was still there,
and stalked out the door.
That evening, he read the headlines of the day's newspapers while wearing his Foxbow costume. This was not the way he'd intended to get his name in the papers. Most of the headlines — or occasionally side articles — ran along the lines of, "Blue Vigilante Hunted by Police." But the headline of the Daily Planetary Bugle was slightly different:
And underneath the banner were Rob's own pictures, of course.
Great. They took his pictures, they took his job, and now they were trying to take his hero's non-existent reputation. His resources were dwindling. With what he had left, he couldn't even afford to renew his subscription to Deathgore Duck comics. What more could possibly go wrong now?
His phone rang. He picked it up lethargically on the third ring. "Yeah?"
"Hello, I'd like to speak to Foxbow, please."
Rob puzzled, then said: "Speaking. Who is this?"
"This is Don Giovanni, from The Mob. We understand you're an assassin for hire."
Rob practically choked. "An assassin? Who told you that?!"
"Why, page two of the Daily Planetary Bugle, of course."
Rob fumbled with the paper and got it open to page two. There was a continuation of the headline article, from whose second paragraph the words "hit man" leapt out at him. "You mean you actually read the Planetary Bugle?"
"All the time. The Boss's old operative had a little accident with some quick-drying cement and a deep river, and he needs a replacement. Interested?"
Rob glanced down at the empty receiver cradle and thought about slamming the phone down onto it; then he looked at his right bicep, then at his quiver across the room, then at the latest issue of Invisible Transforming Samuri Grasshoppers From Space on his bed. "What's it pay?"
"The first job's worth ten thousand dollars."
Rob dropped the phone onto the floor.
"Hello? Hello? Was the price too low?"
'Ten thousand bucks,' Rob thought. 'With that kind of money, I could buy every issue of Iranian Commando Rabbit ever written!' He picked the receiver up again gingerly. "When do I start work?"
"When does he start work, he says! Be on the dock by pier 11 at four a.m. tomorrow morning, and be ready to go." <Click>
'Ten thousand dollars,' Rob thought, hanging up the phone. 'And my real name doesn't even get involved. All I have to do is dress up as Foxbow tomorrow morning and . . .
' . . . kill someone. . . .'
There were two words Foxbow could use to describe the dock at 4 a.m.: dark, and foggy. Needless to say, it was also cold, and damp, and eerily quiet, but Foxbow was more worried about his visibility. Or lack thereof.
'Part of that ten grand goes into a telescopic sight with a nightscope first thing this afternoon,' he thought.
He heard a car stop, almost imperceptibly, about a block away. It was one of those well-designed limousines whose tires made more noise than its engine. A set of healights flashed on and off at him in high-beam twice; the car had had its lights off when it approached. Not having a light himself, Foxbow waved and jumped up and down in reply; that was enough. The tuxedoed shadows of one don and one thug emerged from the rear of the limo and came toward him.
"Mister bow?" the don asked with a thick Italian accent and breathy tone. He had one of those very long cigarette holders that you only see men use in Godfather movies.
"That's me," Foxbow replied.
"We understand youse is willing to pull off the job for us."
"For ten thousand bucks I'd watch the Mickey Mouse Club."
"Dat's good, 'cause if youse wasn't willing at dis point, we'd break your legs."
Foxbow suppressed a gulp. It wouldn't fit his tough image.
"Now, here's da job. Real simple." He handed Foxbow a piece of note paper. It bore an address. "A mister Charles A. Crackerbarrel is ready to sqeal, spill the beans, and crow about Da Mob's operation in dis town, tanks ta his workin' wid Da Mob for t'ree yea's. He's gonna testify next Tuesday, and it's all over da press —"
"I know. I read the Daily Planetary Bugle too."
"Don't interrup'. So his home's protected by two armed security guards. All youse gotta do is get past da guards and kill mister Crackerbarrel. Piece of cake."
"Er, I'm not too well experienced with stealth operations, . . ."
He looked at the don's and the thug's leering faces.
". . . but I'll learn on the job."
The don snapped his fingers, and the thug produced ten money bundles. The don took the top one off the stack and handed it to Foxbow. "One grand now, the other nine when youse deliver. By sunup. Oh, and if you get caught, and you squeal about us, you're dead."
"Right," Foxbow replied. "Nine thousand, squeal, dead. Got it."
Without another word, the don and his right hand man made their
way back to their limo and out of sight into the night.
'This is too easy,' Foxbow thought. 'I said I wasn't very experienced with stealthy operations, and I don't think I need to be. Who needs to sneak past the guards when you can just kill them?'
Foxbow crossed the middle of the street right across from Charles A. Crackerbarrel's house — or rather apartment — taking out an arrow and testing his bow as he did. The guards hadn't even shouted anything at him yet; they must have been really lazy. He made his way to the front door of the apartment complex. There was a gate with one of those little phones for calling people inside the complex to let you in. He shurgged his shoulders; no poing in not using it. He picked up the receiver and punched 205.
"Hello, mister Crackerbarrel? This is Foxbow. I'm just calling to let you know I'm about to come up there and kill you. That's right." Hmmph, he didn't release the lock on the gate. How impolite. Foxbow replaced the receiver, slung his bow over his shoulder, went up to the gate, grabbed the wire mesh, and climbed the twelve feet to the opening at the top.
It was easy to drop to the ground and get his bow-and-arrow ready again. The single guard banging down the stairs after him would be even easier. The guard turned the corner, saw him, gasped, pointed his gun at him, and cried, "Freeze!"
"Really, officer," Foxbow said, lining the guard up in his sights, "There's no need for violence." He drew back the bow.
The guard, now terrified, fired a round from his revolver. Foxbow jumped nimbly aside, avoided the bullet, and loosed his shaft into the hapless police guard. The guard moaned, and fell.
Foxbow stood over the form, and spoke just before it died: "I had to do it. You fired first."
He grabbed on to the stair railing, flung himself over with his mighty right arm, and climbed the three remaining steps in one stride. Glancing the number 205 three doors off to the left, he sprinted toward it and kicked open the door.
"Gasp!" the one remaining guard inside gasped, and reached for his gun. Foxbow fired an arrow into him full force, which not only went right through the cop's chest but knocked him clear across the room and out the back window on the other side. These were very heavy high-speed arrows.
But Mr. Crackerbarrel had heard all this coming a long way off, and had leapt out of the front room the instant Foxbow kicked the door in. Considering that this was a bachelor apartment, and that the only other room was 3/4 of a bathroom, there weren't very many places he could have hidden.
Foxbow casually opened the hastily-closed bathroom door. Chuck Crackerbarrel stopped trying to remove the bathroom window and turned back to face the blue assassin, trembling with fear.
"Even if you did get all the slats off that window," Foxbow commented, cueing up another arrow, "You'd never be able to fit through it."
The man shook some more, then snatched a metal bulb from the counter next to him. The bulb had a grid over its entire surface and a ring with a pin jutting into the top, which Crackerbarrel put his right index finger through. "Hold it, F-F-Foxbow! One more step and I set off this hand grenade!"
"Oh, I'm trembling in my boots."
"I mean it!"
'Naaaaw, he doesn't mean it,' Foxbow thought. He pulled back the bow. "Go ahead, make my day."
Charles A. Crackerbarrel shrugged, pulled the pin out, and threw the hand grenade at the ground.
Foxbow gasped. This hand grenade had an impact fuse; it would go off the instant it hit the ground. He had no time to think, hardly even any time to aim. He let the arrow fly at the falling bomb.
The grenade struck the tile floor, spun around on its rear end, and failed to go off. Crackerbarrel froze, bewildered as to why he and Foxbow weren't blasted. It wasn't until the grenade slowed its spinning, in fact, that he could see the arrow lodged right in the hole where the pin used to be.
Chuck gasped, dove onto the ground, and frantically grabbed the arrow, trying to pull it out. Foxbow, also a bit scared (quite understandably), fled through the door and braced himself against the bathroom wall outside the bathroom.
"Oh my GOD," he heard coming through the bathroom doorway, "What have I —"
'Well, that was easy,' Foxbow thought. 'I didn't even have to shoot him. He blew himself up.'
Just to be sure Charles A. Crackerbarrel hadn't been
shrapnel-proof, Foxbow peeked back around the corner into the
bathroom. What was left of the place made him hunch his shoulders,
pucker, squint, and turn his head the other way.
The other nine thousand dollars came in for that hit, as promised — five days later. His purchase of a starlight scope didn't come quite as soon as he'd anticipated. It seemed even The Mob had red tape covering its payroll policy; oh well, he could get used to that.
His next job came three days afterward. This time, he only received a phone call and a countersign ("green eggs in Winter," as per Foxbow's suggestion). He was to eliminate a man who'd organized the elimination of one of the members of The Family three years back and fled; he was Back In Town. No problem, this one would be an easy eight thousand bucks.
It was an easy eight thousand bucks. In fact, it was an easy twelve thousand bucks; the guy had come into Town loaded with cash. Eliminating his tuxedoed six-man security force was just more target practice.
That was twenty-two K he'd gleaned from his Mob hits. He could already afford that lifetime subscription to Communist Mutant Trolls From Omaha, his very own Gerbalman decoder ring, Bat Panda all the way back to the second issue, and a bowstring tough enough to withstand 800 pounds of drawing weight. And every issue of The Chartreuse Arrow ever printed, of course. He had it made.
His third hit was supposedly a little more difficult. A very powerful man known only as "The Berserker" was giving The Mob a very hard time. This was a thirteen thousand dollar caper; he arrived at his address less than half an hour after he heard that sum.
"Yeah," came the voice through the peephole, "Whadaya want?"
"My name is Foxbow, and I'm here to kill you."
He was ready for bullets to come flying through the door. He wasn't ready for the door to come flying off its hinges and knock him down. The door landed on top of him; he glared through the peephole at his adversary's menacing face.
"DESTROY!" the Berserker yelled. The tremendous madman raised both fists and swung them down toward the door; Foxbow almost didn't roll out from under the door before it was smashed to flinders. "DESTROY!"
"Eat arrows, you — OOF!" That punch hurt.
"DESTROY!!" He watched Foxbow fly back onto the sidewalk.
'I think I'd better work on dodging a bit more,' Foxbow thought as he propped himself up. 'Either that, or stop being so damned overconfident.'
"DESTROY!" The Berserker ran at Foxbow with both fists above his head.
Foxbow was getting pretty peeved at this dude. His last two — er, three victims at least had the dignity to be scared of him. He got up to his feet, pulled out an arrow, notched it up, raised his bow, pulled the bowstring back, took dead aim, and got knocked to the other side of the street by a huge fist.
"All right," Foxbow cursed, "THAT'S it!!" He got up, reached back into his quiver, pulled out every arrow he had, loaded all thirty shafts into his bow, and fired all his ammunition at the Berserker at once.
Fifteen of the arrows missed. The other fifteen didn't.
Foxbow straddled the blobbish form. With all that fat, the signal hadn't yet reached his brain that he'd cashed in his chips. Fifteen shafts, capped with fifteen sets of tail feathers, all protruded from bloody holes in his torso. Foxbow leaned down toward the Berserker's head, extended his hand, and said:
"Can I have my arrows back now?"
The next hit rolled in, this one just another snap. And a fifth. He was rolling in dough by now — enough so that he could afford his own arrow research to build crazy gimmick arrows like the Chartreuse Arrow used. He used The Mob's own archery course to avoid outside eyes prying in on his new toys.
"Hey, pastapatrevich, what-a you got there?" asked a Mobster.
"This, my friend," Foxbow commented, pulling back the bow and aiming, "Is my new, patented, stainless-tungsten, teflon-coated armor-piercing arrow." He let it fly. Half a second later, it tore all the way through a solid steel target two hundred meters away. "With enough speed, it can go through just about anything."
The Mobster was impressed. "I'm impressed," he noted. "Do you have any other special arrows?"
"Well," Foxbow bragged, hauling out a trash-can-sized quiver, "I do happen to have a few other little gems. This one for instance." He presented an arrow with a bright red boxing glove over its arrowhead. "This is my knockout arrow. I use it when I don't want to kill somebody." He cued it up and fired it at the same distant steel target. It hit with a bell-like clang. "Of course, the horseshoe I put inside the glove helps."
"Uh, yeah." The Mobster scratched the back of his head distractedly.
"There's also my net arrow —" he loaded and fired again, enshrouding the steel target in a rather heavy fishing net. "— which captures people instead of killing them . . ."
"You like to read The Chartreuse Arrow, don't you?"
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"I noticed the arrow in your quiver with the propeller blades. That's a flight arrow."
"Um, yeah, but there's one other arrow I use that The Chartreuse Arrow doesn't." He pulled out an ordinary arrow and took a cylindrical capsule from his pocket, which he started screwing on over the arrow's head. "The Chartreuse Arrow didn't believe in violence, you see." He tightened the new arrowhead, notched up the shaft, and raised his assembly to eye-level. "I got this idea from Rambo."
Thwunk, he let the arrow fly. It hit the netted steel target and went off in a loud, yellow-orange fireball, causing all the Mob people in the area to involuntarily duck.
"Explosive arrows," the Mobster commented. "Now that we can use. Oh, by the way, The Boss has another assignment for you."
"The Boss?" he slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder. "I usually get my capers from Don Giov—"
"The vice president of the Exxmen Corporation got in touch with The Boss. They were working on a little flesh-to-concrete experiment with the Salt Shaker."
"Is that why the A.E.C. shut the Salt Shaker down." Foxbow still read the Daily Planetary Bugle, though he couldn't figure out why.
"No, the A.E.C. doesn't know anything about the project. Ya see,
somebody accidentally got in there ahead of schedule and found out the
hard way that the Salt Shaker can turn people into living bricks.
They brainwashed him and plan to recapture him if he remembers things,
but in case something goes wrong on the way into the Salt Shaker
complex, they'll need some protection. The Boss saw your track record
and assigned ya to the job, along with another one of his elitists.
You'll be workin' with the vice president of Exxmen Corp., startin'
three hours from now. . . ."
The backs of laundry trucks were always uncomfortable, especially to a photographer who was used to the spacious luxury of a foreign economy compact car. He decided to try and strike up a conversation with the girl sitting across from him.
"Hi, I'm Foxbow. What are you called?"
She purred like a large cat. "Kitty Saberrrr."
She didn't look much like a cat, let alone a saber-toothed tiger. In fact, she wasn't even wearing a fancy costume like he was. "Why are you named that?" Foxbow inquired.
She stood up and slinkily crossed the laundry truck floor toward him. He smiled. When she got within two feet of him, she pressed something on a cylinder in her right hand, and a blue blade of light lunged up between them.
"Oh," Foxbow commented, now certain that he'd indeed seen it all.
Suddenly, the sound of outside gunfire rang through their tiny room. The van started slowing down, as though the driver had just jumped out — or had been killed. "We're under attack," Foxbow cried, hitting the deck. He would have yelled "Get down!" had Kitty Saber not already dropped to the floor half a second before he did.
A bullet punched right through the cabin, exactly where Foxbow had been sitting, and sailed on out through the other side. Armor-piercing ammunition, Foxbow figured. Somebody was a big time operator here.
And armor-piercing bullets were only the beginning. The laundry truck heaved up into the air of its own accord and flew about thirty feet forward, crashing down on its passenger side. Foxbow would have been pretty banged up had he not responded with impeccable balance and agility. Sensing that he was in big trouble if he stayed here, he crossed to the back door and kicked it open, ruining the latch mechanism.
"Rrrr, it was unlocked," Kitty Saber told him.
No matter. Foxbow leaned his head outside in time to hear someone — presumeably Exxmen's vice president — saying, "That's why I hired some outside help."
"That's our cue," Foxbow commented, now extremely alert, and leapt out of the laundry truck knowing exactly what he was doing, sort of. Kitty Saber followed a few millimeters behind.
The laundry truck was at the front gate of the Salt Shaker complex. Foxbow stared out into the surrounding fenced-in fields, past the fences to the hilly country beyond, and finally did a double take when he saw what the vice president was pointing at. The V.P. pointed at a concrete brick a meter-and-a-half high, with stubby concrete legs, concrete arms, and a white crash helmet covering its perfectly normal male human head. 'I knew somebody had found out about the Salt Shaker turning people into living bricks,' Foxbow thought, 'But I didn't expect this!'
"Kitty Saber, Foxbow," the V.P. called out, "Get him!"
"Right boss," Foxbow said instinctively (even though this man wasn't The Boss), loaded up, and fired at the brick-with-arms-and-legs in the blink of an eye. The brick never even saw the arrow coming; it merely smashed into his chest and shattered.
The Vice President made for the sidelines. "You fool!" he cried to Foxbow, "Use the sonic arrows!"
'The sonic arrows?' Foxbow thought. 'Who does he think I am, the Chartreuse Arrow?!'
But the bricky guy wasn't just going to take this standing still. He picked up a nearby boulder and heaved it at the blue archer. Startled, Foxbow leapt up in the air and flipped over the rock. Foxbow became a bit more pensive memontarily when he hit the ground: organic concrete must be awfully strong, and that last maneuver was easier than he thought it'd be.
Kitty Saber was circling the brick on the other side. 'She can't strike him down at range like I can, poor girl,' Foxbow thought. 'Maybe I should give her a little firepower support. If I'd known I'd be facing this I would've brough my armor-piercing arrows; but as it is . . .'
He notched up one of his Dukes of Hazzard Specials and fired it at the ground on the side of the brick that Kitty wasn't standing near. Two meters away from Brick Man, the shaft struck dirt and went off in a fireball loud enough and hot enough to hospitalize a normal person. The brick wasn't so much as scorched.
"Well," the brick's head called out, "Your arrows don't seem to be doing much, do they?"
All right, six feet away from the blast didn't hurt him. Probably thanks to that crash helmet. What about a direct hit from one of his explosives? He had nothing to lose; he cued up a second Rambo arrow and fired directly onto the brick's rectangular concrete torso. The explosion was loud and hot, as before, and as before the only thing it did to him was leave a radial soot pattern around where it had hit.
"You know I'm no ordinary man you're fighting," the brick gloated, brushing the soot from his makeshift chest.
So that was a man he was fighting, was it? Yep, that head underneath the crash helmet and faceplate was a man's. Maybe that was his weak spot. He twanged a third explosive arrow at the brick, aimed right for his head. It hit the center of the transparent faceplate and went off, shattering nothing but the brick's vision for a fraction of a second.
"Why, I'm solid concrete!" the brick pointed out. "The only thing that could hurt me is —"
Foxbow fired a fourth exploding arrow in what he would later regard as one of the bigger mistakes in his life.
"All right, that's it!" the brick called out. He raised his right foot and stamped down on the hard-packed earth. A crack opened up, raced all the way up to Foxbow — who was having trouble keeping his balance — and opened up too wide for his feet to keep a hold of. Foxbow fell right in.
And the instant he did, the crack sealed itself back up again. Foxbow gasped, then covered his eyes, not wanting to look at what was surely his last moment on Earth. The rumbling echoed louder, and then stopped, along with all other surrounding sounds.
Foxbow took his hands away from his eyes. All he saw was darkness. "I'm dead," he said to himself. "I must be dead." He thought he heard a distant scream. "And that must be hell. I — huh?"
A few lumps of dirt fell across his face. They felt dirty.
He wasn't dead. Somehow, the tons of rock and earth crushing him from either side hadn't killed him. That scream had probably been from Kitty Saber or the brick. He felt around for his bow. He found it; it was jutting out sideways, jammed between two very large chunks of buried granite. His trusty bow had saved him from an untimely end.
He thought about digging his way out of there. He thought about
the brick on the other side. He thought he'd better stay there a
while until things blew over.
After clearing himself out of the rubble, clearing that sobering experience out of his head, and clearing his case with Don Giovanni, the assassination jobs started rolling in again. Between practice rounds at the archery course and strengthening of his bowstring, of course.
But the targets he killed began to seem less and less offensive than his former opponents. There was a man who'd forgotten to pay protection money for the second time in a row. There was the father of a rival Family. There was the father of a family that The Family chose as a rival. There was a witness to a Mob hit on a bank. They each paid well — six thousand unmarked dollars on the average — but Foxbow's heart and stomach were beginning to catch up with him.
Now, they asked him to kill a retired man, Bill Johnson, living on the edge of the city. In fact, he lived right across from Rob Hood's apartment. He could snipe him from his own room and use an explosive arrow to remove any trace of the shot coming from there. Or maybe even an ordinary arrow; with the weights of ammunition he used, he could hurl Bill clear across the room. He called Bill Johnson up on his own phone at ten o'clock in the evening.
"Mister Johnson, this is Foxbow." He looked out his own window and through his target's. The shades weren't drawn; Bill stood less than eight feet from the window, listening to the receiver in his hand. "I'm calling you to tell you that —"
"You're going to kill me," Bill completed Foxbow's sentence. He looked out his window at the blue bowsman in the building next door. "I know. I have . . . seen it coming. I knew I couldn't outrun The Mob forever. Go ahead, do your duty." He hung up and crossed to the window. His hands were behind his back, and his solemn eyes stared across the narrow alley.
Foxbow hung up, very worried. Why didn't he run, why didn't he fight for his life? Was his reputation as an archer that strong? Was Bill that tired of running? He picked up his bow and one non-explosive arrow; this close to the window, he could make Bill Johnson fall out if he hit him from the right angle. He turned his attention back to Bill; still he just stood there, ready to meet his fate.
He notched up the arrow, raised the bow, and pulled the arrow back. Bill Johnson suppressed a momentary flinch. He aimed through his telescopic sight, right for the old man's heart. This was almost too much; he looked away for a second.
And an open comic book drew his eyes in. It was an issue of The Chartreuse Arrow over three years old, when Jack Firby had been doing the art work and Jim Shudder the scripting. The Chartreuse Arrow looked firmly in the direction a master criminal had just escaped, and declared, "You'll never succeed; not so long as there exists Truth, Justice, and the American Way!"
That was it. That was the final straw. Tears welled up in his eyes; he relaxed his firing arm, drew the window shade, and slumped down on his bed. And he cried.
"What have I done?" he moaned in between sobs. "What have I been doing the last three months of my life?! I've killed all the kinds of people I most needed to protect! Chartreuse Arrow, Chartreuse Arrow, how could I have let you down?!!"
He took his hands away from his face. His path was clearing now, clearing at last. He knew what he had to do. He reached up to the cowl covering his face and ripped off the two fox/wolverine pointy things sticking up from around his eyes. Foxbow was dead. He needed a new alias.
"Hmmm," he thought, drying his eyes with the torn-off bits of cloth, "Blue . . . blue . . . the Blue Archer? Naaah, too obvious. Not the Blue Bowman either, despite the two B's. How about Ram Bow? Naw, too corny. I need a name that says absolutely nothing, that'll be the most inobvious name I can have. Blue . . . blue . . . the Blue SHOOTER! Yes, that's it, I'll call myself Blue Shooter! Look out, Mob, 'cause here I come!!"
He picked up the receiver and punched in Don Giovanni's phone number. The other end rang twice before Don G. answered it with an Italian, "Yeah?"
"Don Giovanni? This is Foxbow."
"Hey, that's-a good. Did-a you do what I told youse to?"
"Yeah, I did the job," Blue Shooter lied. "And I've gotta talk to you private. It's too important to say over the phone; someone might be listening in. Meet me at the dock by peer 11 in half an hour. Yes, it's that important." <Click>, he hung up.
'Now let's see how you like it,' he thought, and headed out, bow and quiver and all.
Don Giovanni was a little late, as usual. If you're that high up on the power ladder, you can afford to be. His limo drew up through the thickening fog, he stepped out, and marched rather forcefully toward the archer's shadow.
"All right, what's so important that it couldn't . . . hey, wait a minute, you're not Foxbow!"
"That's right, I'm not," Blue Shooter commented as he raised his bow and took dead aim with a teflon-coated arrow. "Never again." He fired. Don Giovanni gasped and clutched the shaft in his chest.
And a second later, he fell in a crumpled heap on the dock. He'd been wearing a bulletproof vest, too; too bad it wasn't arrowproof.
Both the escort thug and the driver leapt out of the car instantly, shouting various phrases in Italian. Both of them reached into their vests and pulled out their .38 specials as well.
Blue Shooter had been ready for that. Even before Don Giovanni bit the dust, he'd began cueing up two arrows in his bow, one lined up above the grip and one below it. Now, he turned the bow sideways in crossbow fashion, with the arrows on top and his left arm underneath, carefully separated the two arrows with his right middle finger, and loosed both arrows at once.
Both arrows buzzed through the air faster than any eye could follow (save Blue Shooter's), struck their intended targets, and knocked both pistols out of both Mobsters' hands. The two Mobsters froze, if only for an instant, then darted back into the limousine.
"Tell your Boss," Blue Shooter shouted to the fleeing organized
criminals, "That his days are numbered! HEAR THAT, BOSS?! YOUR DAYS
ARE NUMBERED!! Cower in fear behind your little Mob, and be terrified
. . . FOR THE BLUE SHOOTER . . . IS HEEEERE!!!"
Nobody liked reporting bad news to The Boss, particularly when the bad news involved running away scared. But Don Giovanni's thug and driver had their duty to uphold.
"Boss," the thug said when he came into the room, "We gots bad news."
The leather-bound chair slowly rotated to face them in the dim light. Even against the size of the chair, The Boss' massive silhouette stood out. Some of his bulk was fat; most of it was muscle. The shadow of his bald head opened its mouth, which looked like it had cotton balls stuffed in the cheeks, to speak: "You know I don't like bad news."
"Yeah, and Don Giovanni liked it even less. Some guy callin' himself the Blue Shooter bumped him off while he was showin' up ta see Foxbow."
"Don Giovanni is dead?!" The Boss raised his voice. He leaned across his desk, grabbed the thug by the collar with his left arm, and lifted him off the ground. "The best friend of the Family is dead, while you were there to protect him?!"
"We . . . we thought it was Foxbow. I mean, he was blue. and it was dark and foggy and all, and he had that bow . . ."
"Hmmm," The Boss hmmmed as he put the thug down. "Did you get a closer look at him?"
"Yeah, he looked almost like Foxbow, except he didn't have those pointy things coming off of his mask."
The Boss pushed a button on his desk. It was a fake button, but he always liked to do that anyway. "I want a price put out on this Blue Shooter's head. Nobody bumps off a member of my Family unless I say so!"
"Right Boss," the thug and the driver said in unison, bowed, and left the room.
The Boss sat by himself deep in thought. 'Looks the same as Foxbow except for the mask. Uses a bow. I wonder if they're the same person. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
'. . . naaaaah.'
"VIGILANTE 'BLUE SHOOTER' DECLARES WAR ON THE MOB!" the headlines cried. "MOB BOSS PUTS PRICE ON BLUE ARCHER'S HEAD!" Of course, the Daily Planetary Bugle's bottom-of-page-one article was slightly different — "MOB MEMBER BRUTALLY MURDERED BY ARROW-SLINGING MADMAN" — but the Planetary Bugle's circulation had dropped off since Rob Hood's pictures weren't in there anymore, anyway.
Rob put the papers down in his lap and closed his eyes. He'd napped some already, but it had been a draining week. At least they wouldn't be able to find him in his apartment; that much of his secret was safe. He reached over and turned off the reading lamp.
And in the darkness, he heard something.
Something that sounded like clattering footsleps on stairs.
Something that sounded like a voice saying, "I know he's gotta be here. We traced him to this address."
Something that sounded like another voice saying, "Yeah, but isn't this where Foxbow holes up?"
Nobody but The Mob knew so much as Foxbow's telephone number, let alone his address. This was it; he was about to see action again. Good thing he always wore his Foxbow — er, Blue Shooter outfit underneath his regular clothes. (It helped keep him warm and absorbed body odors anyway.)
"Do you suppose," he heard the first voice begin as he took off his shirt and worked his belt buckle.
"Yeah," the secord voice called out. "He must've killed Foxbow so he could use his bow and ammunition!"
'Brilliant as always,' Rob thought, becoming Blue Shooter more and more from head to toe.
The footsteps made their way to the door. Blue Shooter grabbed his bow and one arrow and hid behind his reading chair. There was a loud kick, the door burst open, and six bullets zinged through a silencer and across the room. Then the second Mobster decided to turn the lights on.
"It's empty," said the first. Blue Shooter peeked up; they weren't quite positioned right yet.
"I could have sworn I saw a light on in this room," the second commented, crossing between the other and the reading chair.
Lined up. That was exactly where Blue Shooter wanted them. He popped up from behind the chair, bow already drawn, shouted, "You missed!," and fired his solitary arrow.
Before the two could react, the arrow shishkabobbed them both.
"Boys, boys, come in! Are you there?"
The tinny voice came from a little beeper on one of the dead Mobsters' sides. Even with the low fidelity, the person belonging to the voice on the other end was unmistakable.
"Don Juan? Don Johnson? Come in!"
Blue Shooter picked it up and pushed Transmit. "Don Juan and Don Johnson can't come to the phone right now, Boss. But if you'll leave a message, the morgue'll get back to you as soon as possible."
"Blue Shooter! What have you done to my boys?!"
"Why don't you take those cotton balls out of your cheeks, Boss? They're imparing your speech something awful!"
"I'll get you for this, you blue maniac! You're dead meat!"
"Oh no I'm not," Blue Shooter replied, "You're dead meat!"
"Oh no I'm not," The Boss retorted, "You're dead meat!"
"Oh no I'm not, you're dead meat!"
"Oh no I'm not, YOU'RE dead meat!"
"On no I'm not —" Blue Shooter thought he heard approaching car
engines. "Nice delay tactic, Boss, but you're time's run out." He
dropped the still-barking transceiver, gathered up every arrow he had,
put them all in his tremendous quiver, tightened his bow string to
1,050 pounds drawing weight, and headed out into the evening.
"Hey, that's that Blue Shooter character!" he heard someone shout from a nearby apartment building.
"Hi, Blue Shooter!" a little boy's voice cried. Word sure travelled fast around there.
"I suggest," the blue archer announced, "That you get back inside wherever it was you came from. If and when The Mob shows up, it'll get pretty . . . um, violent."
"VIOLENT? OH NO!!" everybody gasped, and fled for cover. All except the weekday-afternoon-cartoon crowd, who stuck around for some good old-fashioned combat.
That was when the first long black limousine skidded into view. He knew what was coming; his bow was already loaded, drawn, and aimed. Both windows rolled down on the limo. The guy on the passenger side leaned out, aimed a semi-automatic rifle at our hero, got hit with an arrow, and promptly expired. The driver turned around 135 degrees and leaned out his window with a snub-nosed pistol. As fast as he'd ever quick-drawn before, Blue Shooter whipped out another arrow, pulled back, and let the driver have it. He, too, promptly expired.
Which was more than could be said for the limo. The driver had croaked with his foot on the accelerator; the car zoomed out of control into the side of a run-down brick tenement, smashing itself and a good-sized section of first-story wall. Oh well, the paint had been peeling off of that building anyway.
He walked toward the wrecked car. It happened to have come from the direction of The Boss' office. He was thinking about gaing up and retrieving the arrows from the two dead bodies when a second long black limousine screeched around the corner, heading straight for him.
He notched up again and aimed for the driver. Then, realizing that would just send it out of control like the first one anyway, he fired at the front left tire instead. The car bucked, skidded, turned sharply to the right, failed to stop, and ran right into the rear gas tank of the first limousine. The two cars went up in a flamboyant fireball.
Brushing the non-existent dirt from his hands, Blue Shooter continued jogging to the north, past the two flaming limos. That was when the third car came into view. This was a sports car, a red convertible Corvette to be precise, charging around the corner with the passenger already aiming his M-16. Blue Shooter loaded his bow. The gunner squeezed the trigger; the barrel belched flame, and a stream of no less than eight bullets arced their way toward the blue avenger.
'Fully automatic weapons,' Blue Shooter thought, ducking and dodging the shots. 'Now that's illegal!' He levelled his arrow and took aim on the gunner. Then he figured he'd probably have to shoot the driver anyway and drew a bead on the right front tire. Then he figured they'd probably just run into the other two flaming limousines, with his luck, and instead fired on their gas tank. The car made a loud boom and threw pieces of red Fiberglas all over the road. He even had to duck some of the shrapnel.
"YAAAAAAY, BLUE SHOOTER!" came the cries from all around. These people had been watching too much prime time TV. And Blue Shooter had to get going if he meant to catch The Boss before he got scared and left town.
He would have hopped in his Datsun Cheap-210 and just driven to The Boss' pad, but that would give him away as being Rob Hood. He also couldn't fire arrows and hold on to the steering wheel at the same time. So, on foot it was. Jogging. He needed the excercise anywho; he'd worked out on his right arm for so long he'd neglected his legs, and now they were almost as weak as Lou Ferrigno's. One block passed. Then another. Well, most of another, anyway. He wasn't ten meters from the corner when ten tuxedoed gunmen stepped out and pointed their machine guns at him.
"I wouldn't go that way if I were you, hero," their C.O. said.
"Oh no?" Blue Shooter asked, rushed toward them, and leapt over their heads.
They were almost too startled to react. Two of them managed to raise their guns and get off a couple of rounds, but Blue Shooter did a midair flip and avoided their small onslaught. His aim hadn't been entirely over their heads; he would come down right about on their heads, if he was accurate, which he usually was. So much the better. He fell toward the gunman in the center — or rather just a bit left of center, as there were an even number of them. He could have put an arrow right through his skull if he chose, but that would waste ammunition. Instead, he stamped down on his head with his own right foot, which not only gave the gunman a concussion, but propelled our hero ten feet farther north as well thanks to Newton's third law.
Now Blue Shooter was to the north of the nine gunmen and the one unconscious gunman; in other words, behind them. They turned. Now he was in front of them. They levelled their rifles and opened up with a hail of bullets. Blue shooter turned tail and ran, dodging left and right to evade the kilogram after kilogram of lead being eschewed at him. At least he was heading north; and they'd never be able to keep up with him on foot, anyway.
Unfortunately, the six other gunmen who popped out in front of him didn't have to outrun him.
Blue Shooter sighed. "You're really making this difficult on yourselves, you know," he said, fired an explosive-tipped arrow at them without pausing, and killed all six of them.
Meanwhile, the nine guys chasing him had run out of ammunition and were busy reloading. They were also a bit frightened by what the Blue Shooter had just done. They wouldn't be able to catch up with that blue demon themselves, but they could radio in what was happening to The Boss.
Blue Shooter jogged onward. The Boss' place lay yet a couple more miles to the north. The bunch of gunmen that he just left behind would doubtlessly be radioing in what was happening right about then. He could expect the resistance to get fiercer. Good. That would help get him in the mood.
And half a block later, two groups of twelve armed Mobsters popped out from opposite sides off the alley, cocking their safeties.
Blue Shooter had to think fast. He could explode one group, but then the other would nail him. He could fire ten arrows at once at one group, but then he'd still have the same problem. There was only one choice. He pulled out one of his special flight arrows (with propeller ready and rope already attached), fired straight up, grabbed onto the cord, and got yanked up and away just as both bunches of gunmen opened fire.
And with no Blue Shooter between them to absorb the bullets, they shot each other. Every one of each other. Not a single one of them was left alive.
"Whew!" Blue Shooter whewed, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he continued to climb. 'Maybe,' he thought, 'I can just fly over to The Boss' hideout.' He altered course slightly, and now headed more north than up. 'Of course, the gasoline-powered engine inside that arrow sure makes an awful racket.'
But there was one other thing — no, two other things — in the air that made even more racket: two sets of helicopter blades belonging to two helicopters. Since the sun had set nearly an hour ago, there wasn't much light left, but Blue Shooter could see the ominous, insectoid, shadowy forms hovering toward him, and the gun-barrel-shaped protrusions sticking out of their fronts.
With his right arm holding on to the rope and his left arm holding on to his bow, he had to use his teeth to extend the bow's combination telescopic-sight-and-starlight-scope, and his nose to push the nightscope's ON switch. He stared through the gizmo at his oncoming adversaries. They looked entirely green, but that was the way everything looked in a starlight scope. It amplified what little light was available and displayed it through a thick green filter, you see. The fronts of both 'copters had the words "The Mob" hastily painted on, and the sides each displayed a big red — or at least red-looking — five-pointed star.
'So that's where The Mob's been getting its supplies,' Blue Shooter thought. 'I knew the Russians would get involved in this somehow.'
The guns opened fire, all four of them spewing out about seven rounds a second each. Up there, Blue Shooter was a sitting duck. He couldn't very well fire arrows while he was holding onto a rope for dear life, could he? No, he had to land before he could retalliate. He waved two short snaps up the rope and into the arrow; the arrow got the signal and started arcing downward. It was a slow, graceful arc. It was so slow and graceful that Blue Shooter wished to high heaven he hadn't installed this goddamned safety feature. The guns continued to blaze all around him.
This would never do. Another few minutes up there and one of the choppers' guns might get lucky and actually hit him. He strapped his bow over his left shoulder again and pulled himself up the rope all the way to the flight arrow. He grabbed the arrow's tail feathers and bent them ever-so-slightly. The arrow banked sharply and dove straight toward the ground.
Five hundred feet. <Blam> <blam> <blam> <blam> <blam>. Four hundred feet. <Rat> <tat> <tat> <tat> <tat>. Three hundred feet. The air was whistling by him now. Two hundred feet. <Blam> <blam> <click> — one of the helicopters ran out of ammo. One hundred feet.
One foot. Blue Shooter bent the tail feather back and skidded to a halt three-eighths of an inch above the ground. He let go of the rope and let the arrow do its own thing; it'd run out of gas in a few minutes, and he wouldn't be able to control it very well from the ground anyway. Determinedly, he took the bow off his left shoulder, took an explosive arrow out of his quiver, loaded up, and let fly. The arrow thwipped through the air, struck the chopper that still had ammunition, and blew it up in a shower of helicopter parts.
"YAAAAAY!" cheered the clapping crowd that had formed on the sidewalks. Blue Shooter buried his head in his hands and shook it from side to side. These people wouldn't learn until a helicopter crashed on top of them, for crying out loud!
That one remaining helicopter would probably decide to do something silly like that, Blue Shooter figured. He reached back for another explosive arrow, then remembered he only had six left. He'd probably need them later. Instead, he notched up an ordinary arrow (which for him meant an arrow that was only a pound overweight) and fired it at the chopper's rear rotor. Its stabilizer knocked out, the 'copter went into an uncontrollable tailspin. The pilot panicked, pulled a whole bunch of levers, lost altitude, and crashed into the side of a building. The airship went up in flames.
"YAAAAAY!" the crowd kept cheering. Blue Shooter shrugged his
shoulders, took a bow, and kept on jogging. He could really get to
The Boss fumed at what had just gone on, far more enraged than afraid. "I asked you to kill Blue Shooter, and you couldn't even do that one simple thing?"
"Aw, but Boss, he shot down two of our heli—"
"Excuses, excuses, excuses! My God, he's ONLY ONE MAN! He couldn't POSSIBLY defeat our entire assault force!"
"We ain't seen nothin' like him since Foxbow," Don Alfonso commented. "This guy is tough!"
"Tough? TOUGH?! Don't tell ME about TOUGH!! Get out there and make him an offer he can't —"
"NO! DON'T SAY IT!" echoed the cries from the Peanut Gallery.
The Boss picked up the Uzi attached to the 50-round magazine
lying on his desk and opened fire on the entire third row of the
audience. After the screaming and bloodbath subsided, he finished:
'Another bunch of machine gunners?' Blue Shooter thought, rolling his eyes up into his head. 'Don't they ever learn?'
He nocted up another arrow and charged. That was when he noticed that these guys weren't just wearing tuxedoes anymore. They were clad in army camouflage outfits — however one can camouflage oneself in the city — and wore helmets, ammo belts, and what looked to be explosives.
One of the guys pulled something off a torso strap and hurled it at Blue Shooter. Yes, they were explosives; grenades, in fact. Blue shooter leapt up into the air, flipped end-over-end to avoid the shrapnel, and came down eight feet to the north of the gunners. The army-looking guys turned and opened fire as the blue archer scrambled to his feet and ran with his back to them. Machine gun bullets he could face; explosives he could face; but hand grenades were quite a different matter. The shrapnel might rip his costume or something.
And these guns were firing just a tad too fast; he didn't want to take too many chances on getting hit. Spotting an alley between two tall concrete structures, he ducked aside and sped half a block to the west. The gunners caught up with him, but by that time he'd already ducked down the alleyway heading north. 'I'm home-free now,' he thought.
He couldn't have been more wrong. Just as he emerged onto the next street, five gunners popped around the street corner to the east and opened fire. So they'd gotten smart and split up. Blue Shooter would have to compensate for that.
He loaded his bow and took aim at the five to the east, hoping to scare them off by killing one of them. Just at that moment, the other five emerged around the corner to the south. He couldn't afford to divide his attention this much; he had to flee. There was another alley directly to his north; he ducked in there.
That took care of the five to the east, but the guys to the south still had a clear line of fire. Having not unloaded his bow, he decided to use it, but not by turning around. He had a good enough feeling for where they were behind him so, without turning around or stopping running, he aimed his bow over his shoulder and fired behind himself. Gunman number four took the arrow, which knocked him back twenty feet into a garbage bin.
Another hand grenade lobbed in his direction, but fell far too short. Those guys needed a lot of practice at hitting long-range targets. There was no cross-alley on this block, so at least the other five couldn't get at him until the next street. He was probably outrunning those guys to the east anyway. The structures on either side of him looked long-abandonned, missing doors and windows and things. No, his mistake; they were parking structures, they were built that way on purpose. He wondered if there was anybody hiding among them, waiting to ambush him.
There was. He barely caught the motion in the street's dull, pink nightlighting. Somebody popped up from behind the solitary parked car on the left, which happened to be a black limousine. He was shouldering what looked like a bazooka with a funny-shaped bottle sticking out of the front. He pressed the activating tab, there was a flurry of light and sparks and noise, and the bottle zoomed toward the ground at Blue Shooter's feet.
'A rocket launcher!' Blue Shooter thought, diving behind a concrete barrier to the right. The barrier absorbed the blast; three of the gunmen still chasing him weren't that lucky. 'Now they're really going whole-hog. I'd better try and lose these turkeys.'
He ducked around to the structure's stairs and climbed them four at a time to the third floor. He leaned out the north side and surveyed his situation. The five guys off to the east were just coming around the corner, and the two remaining commandos to the south were doing likewise.
"Hey," he heard one of the easterners shout, "Where'd he go?"
"Yeah," a southerner replied, "Where'd he get to?"
"Looking for somebody?" a called echoed down from the third story of a parking structure.
Both groups turned, astonished. "It's him!" three of them cried. "Blast 'im!" They all opened fire with their autorifles and readied their hand grenades.
Blue Shooter smiled, notched up an arrow, and fired at the top of the building to the north across the street. There was something odd the commandos noticed about that arrow; a thin line — or perhaps a rope — trailed behind it. The arrow lodged itself in solid concrete, and our friendly neighborhood azure archer slung his bow over his shoulder and tested the rope the arrow was attached to.
'Spider Duck,' he thought, 'Eat your heart out!'
He grabbed the rope firmly and pushed himself off the precipice. The rope held his weight.
"Holy swingin' superheroes!" one of the gunmen exclaimed.
"Aaa-EYAEYAAA-eyaeyaaaaah!" Blue Shooter yodeled.
He swung past their crossfire of bullets, past their lines of sight, and half a block north through another alleyway. Landing, he swung the rope across his midsection and released it. Those S.W.A.T. guys always looked so good when they did that on TV. He brushed the imaginary dirt off his hands, and jogged out onto the next open street.
Crowds already lined this area. Presumably the seven o'clock news was updating his position every three minutes. Whoever was doing coverage of this event, Blue Shooter wished they'd send some help instead of just live news reports. The crowd cheered wildly as he approached: "Blue SHOOter! Blue SHOOter! Blue SHOOter!" It was anmost like a Nazi youth rally, but the blue bowman waved back anyway.
"What are you people, crazy?" Blue Shooter tried to shout back above the din. "These Mob people mean business! You could get . . . aw, never mind."
They'd never listen to him, and the seven gunners and one rocket launcher bearer were closing in on him. With reinforcements. He had to lead them away from this crowd. He glanced left and right, decided any way but south was a good way to go, and dashed off to the northeast.
"There he goes! GET HIM!!"
Machine guns fired so densely he couldn't hear the individual shots. Bullets ricochèd off concrete and lodged themselves in anything less solid. The whole neighborhood was getting shot up pretty bad.
Not that the asphalt streets weren't getting ripped up even worso by thrown grenades and launched rockets. Leading them away was easier than dodging their relentless assault.
He fired an explosive arrow at his pursuers, but they'd spaced themselves too far apart for one explosion to severely decrease their numbers. Only three of them bit it, in other words. He ran for another block. Not only did they not wear out, they actually got more frantic. One of the guys lit and hurled dynamite sticks one at a time at the man in blue. There was nothing to do but try and hide. He picked out a five story brick apartment building, which had a sign out front saying "ABANDONED FIVE-STORY BRICK APARTMENT BUILDING FOR SUPERHEROES TO HIDE IN," and slipped through the front doorway.
A man in a tux stepped up to the front of the attacking Mob. He was Italian. "Now we've got him! Chucker!"
The guy with the dynamite looked up. "Yes, Don Sutherland?"
"Give all your dynamite and bailing wire to Lawman."
"Uh, right," Chucker responded, confused, and handed over thirty sticks of dynamite and twenty feet of haywire to the guy holding the rocket launcher.
Men were stationed at every side of the building. Nobody saw the Blue Shooter come out yet.
"Tie the dynamite to the outside of one of Lawman's bottle-rockets."
"Uh, yessir," three commandos respoded, and helped Lawman and Chucker do the job. The rocket looked ridiculous with that much tied to it.
Blue Shooter still remained inside the building.
"Now," Don Sutherland ordered, "Blow that building sky high!"
Lawman pushed the firing tab. There was a flurry of sparks and light, and the overweighted rocked arced through the empty front doorway.
A moderately loud explosion followed. An extremely loud and blight explosion followed that. The whole first floor burst outward in a massive fireball, throwing brick and ash and molten glass in every direction. The inferno flashed up through the other four stories in less than three seconds, consuming the entire building in fire.
The complex went off like a volcano. When at last the blast died down to only minor flames, thirty seconds later, there was nothing left but an apartment-building-shaped brick superstructure.
Don Sutherland put a lit cigar in his mouth. "Well, gentlemen, that takes care of our blue menace."
The commandos all sighed in relief and patted each other on the back. They had finished off their worst enemy.
Only one solitary finger dared to tap Don Sutherland on the shoulder and point to the base of the smoking wreckage, but it was enough. Don Sutherland turned to look, and his cigar fall out of his mouth and onto the ground.
There were gasps. There were gapes. And there were distant footsteps approaching them from the inferno. The dim firelight cast an eerie shadow of the muscular silhouette approaching them with bow in hand. Blue Shooter stepped into the pink light of a streetlamp, and brushed the soot off of his costume.
The Mobsters were all too frightened to speak. Blue Shooter raised the threatening index finger of his tremendous right arm, pointed at Don Sutherland, and declared, "You're gonna have to do a lot better than that!"
Don Sutherland opened his eyes wide with horror, pointed a shaking finger at Blue Shooter, and cried, "GET HIIIIIIM!"
And Blue Shooter ducked away from their line of fire, as usual.
"My God, sir," the gunner next to Don Sutherland said, "He's indestructable!"
'No I'm not,' Blue Shooter thought as he dodged, 'They just haven't gotten lucky and hit me yet.'
He ran behind a beat-up dark blue '72 Dodge Dart parked on the curb. The air rang with a hail of bullets. Now, though, most of those bullets found their home in the other side of the blue car. He could almost feel the car body disintegrating toward him. It was time for a counteroffensive: he put two arrows in his bow, one above and one below the grip, tilted the bow so that his left arm was underneath it and the arrows rested on top, put his right middle finger between the two arrows' tail feathers, popped up from behind the car, took an instant to space the arrows correctly, fired, and ducked right back down again. Two gunners got fatal puncture wounds in the chest.
That may have upset them, but it didn't stop them from shooting at the '72 Dart. At least they weren't lobbing any more explosives at him; maybe they believed that little show he put on with the exploding apartment. It was amazing what kinds of well-shielded places you could find inside of one of those old buildings, where explosions would divert around you. In any event, they weren't giving up just yet, so he needed to get out of there before there wasn't any blue '72 Dart left.
This looked like a job for another flight arrow. He pulled one out and checked the motor; it was fully fuelled and functional, but he just wanted to be sure. He loaded up, cast his aim skyward, and fired. He let the rope uncoil the mandatory twenty feet before he grabbed onto it, heard the arrow's mighty engine buzz into life, and got whisked away across the skyline.
He got about half a mile before another group of ground troops intercepted him. Of course, they were three hundred feet below him at that point, but one of them had a grenade launcher. He fired it. The bottle-shaped grenade came within about ten feet of him, and went off.
Startled, Blue Shooter dodged the shrapnel as best he could. They'd actually thought of using a proximity fuse; he could hardly believe it. Not a single shard of metal hit him, but the blast weakened the rope he was holding onto. A solitary piece of metal zinged across where the rope had been burnt, and that was enough. The cord snapped. Blue Shooter plummeted to the street 300 feet below.
The fall lasted less than six seconds; his downward velocity was nearly terminal, in both senses of the word. He'd fallen from great heights before, but never from this great a height. He did the only thing he could. He landed feet first so his leg muscles could absorb at least a little of the impact. Then, still impending toward the ground, he twisted over so that his left side hit first. He tucked in his arms and rolled, over and over, until at last he slowed to a stop half a block away.
He used his last roll to bring him up onto his feet. He brushed the dirt from his body and started to walk. No, he hadn't come out of it completely unscathed: there was a rather nasty bruise on his left side.
"Sure glad I'm a good tumbler," he said, and jogged on to the
He thought he heard the sounds of ominous, creaking machinery. He paused, and cupped a hand to his ear.
He definitely heard the sounds of ominous, creaking machinery.
He also heard the sounds of approaching troops, barking orders and yelling back acknowledgements. That was when three Russian T-54 tanks rolled into view, with the standard "The Mob" logos etched on their sides.
"Tanks?" asked Blue Shooter. "If that's the best you can do, I'm not impressed!"
"Fire!" shouted the first tank commander.
A 100-millimeter shell lobbed its way toward Our Hero at close range. Blue Shooter quickly recalled the splatter pattern of those shells' blasts (this was a crucial point in one issue of Mass Murder comics), and ran directly into the path of the shot 'till he was past its impact point. The shell struck asphalt, went off in a cardioid fashion, and left everything behind it, including Blue Shooter, completely unharmed.
"Fire yourself!" Blue Shooter called out as he loaded an explosive arrow into his bow. Dodging the tank's multiple machine guns, he fired his shaft right down the tank's central cannon. The tank blew itself apart from the inside.
The tank commander, though, saw this coming and managed to leap clear. "Darn," Blue Shooter commented, "Missed one!" He fired another explosive arrow at the fleeing tank commander and blasted him into hamburger. It was great! . . . Er, I mean awful.
He fired yet another explosive arrow down the second tank's main cannon before it even got a chance to fire. This was unnecessary, though, as the cannon had been loaded and an ordinary arrow would have set the shell inside it off. But it worked nonetheless, and . . . well, I really won't go into details here. If you've seen one rain of incandescent tank fragments and body parts, you've seen them all.
"There's too many machine gunners around here," Blue Shooter said nonchalantly to himself as he surveyed the blazing guns around him. You'd think by now they'd have learned how useless that was, wouldn't you? It was making a terrible noise, too, and Blue Shooter was just about fed up. He fired an explosive arrow again, and killed about ten of them, seeing as they also hadn't learned not to bunch up like that.
There was still the matter of that third T-54. 'Oh, that's right,' B.S. thought, 'There were three tanks, weren't there?' He reached for another explosize arrow, then remembered that he had just used up his last one. That would make things a bit rougher, but not impossible. Instead of a Rambo Special, he cued up a teflon-coated arrow, designed specifically to pierce through armor. He aimed for where he remembered the gas tank to be on a T-54 (Mass Murder comics infoline again), and let fly. On penetrating the tank's armor, the arrowhead heated up just enough to ignite the fifty gallons of gasoline inside. The fireball took out the tank, the tank commander, the tank gunner, the tank driver, and two other Mob-hired commandos stupid enough to be sticking close to the tank for protection.
He looked to the north. Less than a mile ahead was a glowing blue-and-pink neon sign. Now he knew why he was meeting so much resistance; he was almost at The Boss' hideout! He could use a flight arrow to get there faster, except that he had only taken two of those things along. There had to be some fast way to close in on . . .
He heard the dull roar of jet engines over his head. A low-flying 767 was on final approach to the city's airport. Perfect. He aimed his last remaining swinging arrow at the underbelly of the jumbo jet, released, and waited for the thwunk. The thwunk came a few seconds later; he grabbed on and got swept off the ground at 250 miles per hour.
"Yee-haa!" he cried, ignorant of the fact that his arms should have been ripped out of their sockets. His tough right arm had saved him again. The few remaining gunners he left behind tried futilely to shoot him, but soon ran out of ammo or got discouraged or quit.
Now safely out of harm's way, he turned on his bow's tele/night scope and looked at the plane in a different light. Its landing gear security flaps, normally closed on final approach, were wide open, as though the plane were about to retract its landing gear. That meant that that it wasn't about to land, it had just taken off. He cursed himself for not remembering that the airport lay to the south, then reevaluated his position. There were enough tall buildings on the north end of town to drop down on from his current altitude. He hoped fervently that he would pass directly over one.
He swung forward on his line, cutting through the wind resistance. There — the Grayhalk Tower was right along his trajectory. He let go, fell about twenty feet, and landed safely on the gravel rooftop.
The Boss' place was desperately close. He could see the big flashing pink-and-blue neon sign — "THE MOB BOSS' SUPER SECRET HIDEOUT" — even from his vantage point 25 stories off the ground. He got back, did a running leap to the east off the Grayhalk building's edge, and landed on the roof of the next building over, which was 23 stories high. Now he ran and jumped to the north, across the narrow boulevard, landing on a 20-story-high rooftop. And again to the west, on an 18-story roof. And to the southwest — a long leap. He had to catch the leading corner of that 15-story building and pull himself up to the rooftop.
Then to the north, across the boulevard again, to a 13-story building (whose top floor was doubtlessly numbered 14). Then down, down, down, twelve stories to an awning barely ten feet off the ground. He bounced off, spun around one-and-a-half times, landed in the middle of the street, and did a graceful pirouette.
And, as usual, the crowd that had gathered on the street clapped for him. He bowed elegantly. Funny, it seemed that this crowd was a bit smaller than it should have been.
That was because this was a crowd of fifteen very heavily armed, and armored, Mob-hired Ex-Green-Beret mercenaries. They levelled their bayonette-tipped tractor-fed high-powered machine guns, and gazed at the blue bowman with stares that could rival Sly Stallone. There was only one thing they could be: player characters. Blue Shooter didn't even have time to think. He grabbed fifteen arrows out of his quiver at random, put them all against his bowstring, pulled back, and fired.
All fifteen arrows hit their targets equally, but some hit more equally than others. Six Rockbow clones bought the farm with normal arrows. Two got armor-piercing arrows going clean through their bodies and out the other side. Three of them got wrapped up in nearly indestructable nets. Three others got hit by rather heavy boxing gloves and went down for the count. The last one got hit with what looked like a normal arrow, but was literally shaken to pieces.
"Well, what do you know?" Blue Shooter commented. "That sonic arrow actually works!"
The old troops were catching up with him. Somehow, the old troops he thought he'd left behind were actually catching up with him! Here he was, miles away from his old pursuers, right in front of The Boss' place, and all his old nemeses were charging around the corner! The Boss must have some kind of underground mass transit system to bring his boys back that fast!
"I bet you're wondering how I got my boys back here so fast," boomed an amplified Boss' voice from inside the hideout. "Well, I have an underground mass transit system!"
"I always knew you were good at underground operations, Boss!" Blue Shooter called back.
"Well, these old boys aren't my last line of defense!"
He heard the barest audible "click" and "buzz," then the loudest audible "TROMP, TROMP, TROMP." Three humanoid forms, each towering nearly eighty feet tall, stomped their way around The Boss' hideout and blocked the entrance. They had blue-tinted bodies, curved railroad tracks attached to their backs, heads that were actually turrets put on backwards with plastic-covered faces, rgiht arms that ended in three-pronged claws, and left arms that ended in fire-hose-shaped energy weapons. In short, except for their drab coloring, they looked exactly like three Omega Supremes.
"Guardian robots?!" Blue Shooter commented. "HA! You must be kidding!"
And without another word, he fired an armor-piercing arrow at the joint between the first Guardian robot's hip and right thigh.
The Guardian felt its balance gyros give, and fell backwards into the second Guardian who, in accordance with its self-defense programming, blasted the first with the energy cannon in its left hand. The orangish-yellow energy bolt hit the first Guardian's power pack, causing it to explode and rip the second Guardian apart with it. The remains rained down on the street below, completely missing the blue archer (who dodged them) but slicing and/or crushing about half of the old Mobsters.
"Now there's just one Guardian robot left between me and you, Boss!" Blue Shooter called out.
"And don't forget us!" the bunch of re-hashed old boys that weren't dead yet complained in unison.
"Oh, don't worry, I haven't," he replied, calculating his trajectory. The last Guardian robot took one gigantic, menacing step toward him. He leapt up onto its right foot, then onto its right knee, jumped outward and swung around on one of the claws sticking out of its right hand, which hurled him up onto its right elbow, from which he leapt and did an end-over-end flip to land squarely on its right shoulder. His place now firmly established at shoulder-height, he crossed its shoulder blades, leapt over its head, and did a very loud raspberry in its electronic ear.
"Nyaah, nyaah, ya can't hit me!" he goaded.
The Guardian raised its left hand and blasted Our Hero.
That was Blue Shooter's cue to jump off the back side of the robot. Instead of hitting him, the robot shot its own head, which exploded in a miniature fireworks display. The whole robot lost its balance and teetered forward; good, he could tromp down its backside rather than falling the whole seventy-four feet.
"It's falling!" one of the remaining Mobsters cried. "LOOK OUT!"
They looked out. Unfortunately, they didn't run out. The seventy-nine-foot-high behemoth crashed down on them and left not a soul uncrushed. There was much screaming and crunching noise, but it didn't last long.
Blue Shooter turned and pointed at The Boss' door. "Now it's your turn."
He put his head down and, left shoulder forward, charged the mighty oak double-door. The doors reverberated, he bounced off, and the barrier was still intact. Shrugging, Blue Shooter charged the double-door with his right shoulder forward and smashed right on through. The extra muscles in his right arm made all the difference.
A massive crystal chandelier hung from the middle of the two-story ceiling. Both the downstairs and the upstairs rooms were easily visible at first glance. The interior walls were coated in cream-colored soft plaster. The Boss just stood there in the middle of the room, lowering a cigar to an ashtray on a coffee table and blowing cigar smoke out of his cotton-stuffed cheeks. "I've been waiting for you, Blue Shooter."
Blue Shooter sneered. "Yeah, I'll bet you have." He reached back into his voluminous quiver to get an arrow and finish this guy off once and for all. He didn't get one. He felt around in his quiver some more. Not a single tail feather stuck up within his reach.
The Boss' expression faded to a smile as Blue Shooter unstrapped his trash-can-sized arrowcase and shook it upside down, hoping against hope that an arrow had stuck in there sideways or something. "Ha," The Boss chortled. "Ha. Ha. Ho. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. HA ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! You've run out of arrows! Ahahahahaha!! So the mass slaughter of my entire Mob wasn't in vain! Their sacrifice has brought your doom, vigilante!"
Blue Shooter met his gaze with eyes as hard as steel. "Not so long as there exists truth, justice, and the American way!"
Besides, he could always go back outside and get one of his arrows from one of the fifteen player characters he'd shot. He made for the door.
He heard The Boss snap his fingers behind him. Suddenly, a one-point-nine-seven-inch-thick steel barrier dropped down over the smashed-open door. Blue Shooter had to screech to a halt to keep from running into it.
"Tch tch tch," The Boss scolded him. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, hero!"
Blue Shooter glanced around. There were windows to either side of the door. He bolted for the one on the left just as The Boss snapped his fingers twice again. Both windows got covered in the same steel.
". . . Or that," The Boss warned him.
There were numerous other downstairs and upstairs rooms. One of them had to have another exit. Blue Shooter dashed to one side of the room, but The Boss' snappy fingers were one step ahead of him again. He snapped so fast you could barely hear the individual finger clicks, and steel dropped down over every door and window in the grand room.
The Boss smashed his left fist repeatedly into his right palm. "Now I've got you right where I want you," he declared, and lunged across the room at the unarmed blue avenger.
Blue Shooter jumped nimbly over his fat head, turned around, and gave a raspberry while wiggling his fingers by his ears. The Boss turned around, ready to swing at him; but Blue Shooter was faster. With his super-muscular right arm, he punched The Boss in the gut as hard as he could manage.
His fist sank in about eight inches, then popped right back out again. Blue Shooter was puzzled. "I ought to have ruptured your kidneys with that punch!"
"I don't have this much fat for nothing." So saying, The Boss removed his heavy white dinner jacket to give him more fighting room. Underneath, he wore a white tee-shirt with a bowling pin printed on the front. Blue Shooter was a bit surprised that the bowling pin didn't have a crown printed on it as well. "I'm the Onepin of crime!" The Boss explained, and swung again. "Take this, friend of justice!"
Blue Shooter ducked the blow.
"Rrrrrggh!" The Boss rrrrrgghed, and swung again.
Blue Shooter jumped above the flying fist.
The Boss sneered, and swung yet again. Blue Shooter jumped up, avoided the blow, and snap-kicked fatso right in the chin. That didn't even seem to hurt him.
Blue Shooter landed right in the path of another right-cross. He could have avoided it easily, but instead chose to grab the fist as it came toward him and test his opponent's strength. Very little he'd yet seen could match the strength of his right . . .
Well, he could be wrong. This guy was powerful. He hadn't felt strength like this since he had to assassinate that Berserker fellow as Foxbow. The Boss' massive right fist pushed harder and harder on Blue Shooter's massive right arm.
"Impossible!" the blue archer declared. "You can't beat me! I trained this arm the American way — with steroids!"
"And I trained mine the Mob's way — with illegally obtained narcotics!"
'Hmm,' Blue Shooter thought, 'Can't much outdo that, can I?'
The baby blue bowman broke off from this push-of-war and sprang away across the room. There was no way he could defeat his old Boss with brute force; he needed his arrows. He dashed toward the front door, right shoulder forward, hoping he could break through to the outside. He only made a loud clang.
"I told you I wouldn't do that if I were you," The Boss chortled. "That's 1.97-inch-thick steel."
"I know, I know," the sapphire shooter replied.
"Do you like the snap-responsive barrier-emplacement system I had installed?"
Blue Shooter's eyes widened. The Boss was talking about the fact that when he snapped his fingers, the steel walls dropped into place. "Yes, I do," Blue Shooter admitted, "Very much." He snapped his fingers at the steel-coated double-door in front of him, and the barrier sprang back up off the doorway as quickly as it had dropped down. "Bye bye," he grinned, and dashed out through the broken oak portal.
"No!" came a hollow cry from inside, just before the steel barrier crashed down too late. Blue Shooter surveyed the rubble. Most of what was there was Guardian robot parts and smashed corpses. Where did he leave those player characters again?
Ah, that was right, a little further to the east. Only eight of the corpses had been hit with "real" arrows, armor-piercing or otherwise. He looked more closely; three of those arrows had broken. That left five to choose from.
Correction, four to choose from. One of the bodies just exploded.
Startled, Blue Shooter looked back at where the boom had originated: The Boss' hideout. There was a remote-controlled fifty millimeter cannon sticking out of a second story window, with smoke rising out of the barrel. It must have missed him and hit the corpse by mistake.
The gun fired again. This time, though, Blue Shooter was ready, and jumped nimbly aside. The shell didn't even come close to him.
But the shell did come close enough to another one of the dead Rambolers to score a direct hit. Blue Shooter gasped. The Boss wasn't aiming at him, he was aiming at the corpses. If none of Blue Shooter's victims were left, there'd be no place for him to scavenge arrows from. Only three corpses remained with useable arrows in them; Blue Shooter had to work fast.
He rushed up to one of the three and tried to work the arrow out of its chest. It was in there awfully deep. At this point, he wished he hadn't strung his bow so tightly; or at least that he hadn't pulled it back all the way when he'd shot these guys. The arrow was half way out when he saw another incoming shell and dove for cover. That left only two arrows he could salvage.
He raced over to one of the two remaining bodies, and barely got a grip on its arrow before he had to jump aside again. For a few seconds after the explosion, it rained body parts.
Now there was only one left, and Blue Shooter didn't want to take any chances. He scooped up the corpse in his arms and ran as fast as he could, trying all the while to dislodge his bloodstained shaft. Shells exploded all around him. "So what if the arrowheads are barbed," he bitterly recalled asking himself, "So long as they're heavy?" He had to work this arrow out, and soon.
Jam the shaft to the left, pull, leap end-over-end through the air to avoid another blast, jam the arrow to the right, pull — there! The arrow was out and in his hand! He dropped the corpse and jumped backward just as one last shell landed on the body and finished it off.
He charged up to the front door. Without that stupid corpse in his hands, avoiding the gun blasts was a lot easier. The gun seemed to be tracking his motion with nearly mechanical precision. Perfect. He propped himself right up against the steel door, wiggled his fingers and stuck out his tongue at the autocannon, and jumped away as the gun lobbed a shell at him.
Or rather, as it lobbed a shell at the door.
Bule Shooter jumped through the hole just as a second steel barrier dropped down in front of the first. So The Boss had installed backup doors for just such emergencies. Well, they wouldn't work this time. The Boss just stood there in the center of the room, half nervous, half calm.
The blue avenger notched up the used arrow, pulled back the bow, and fired.
The arrow zinged a few feet above The Boss' head. He didn't even have to duck. "HA!" The Boss declared, "You missed!"
But that wasn't what he'd been aiming for. The arrow continued on to one of the steel doors on the second level, bunced off, came right back and cut the chain holding up the chandelier at the very top.
The tinkling crystal gave the falling chandelier away. The Boss looked up, gasped in horror (the chandelier had cost a small fortune), and jumped four feet to the right. The crystal lamp arrangement crashed down on the table, but not on The Boss. "Ha!" the man in white declared, "You still missed!"
But that wasn't what he'd been aiming for either. Having struck the chandelier chain at its ceiling mount, the arrow deflected off, hit a steel-covered second story window on the south wall, deflected off that at a funny angle, hit a second story bedroom door which was also steel-covered, deflected off, went straight across the room to the steel-covered bedroom door facing it, deflected off the bulbous part of the steel covering that accomodated for the doorknob underneath, got reaimed south and down, and punched right through The Boss' head from the rear.
And at last, The Boss collapsed in a dead heap.
Blue Shooter smiled and put his fists to his hip. "Well, that wasn't so tough after all," he said to himself. "All he could throw at me was a hundred armed commandos, fifty hand grenades, a grenade launcher, a rocket launcher, fifty sticks of dynamite . . ." His eyes began to open more widely. ". . . A fifty-millimeter autocannon . . . fifteen player characters . . . two attack helicopters . . . a three hundred foot fall . . . entrapment inside an exploding apartment . . . three tanks . . . and three 80-foot-tall Guardian robots oh my GOD! . . ."
He, too, collapsed in a heap.
It took three flatbed trucks to cart all the bodies away through the breaking dawn. Blue Shooter stood at the front of the front truck in the convoy, shaking his hands high above his head and standing with one foot on The Boss' rotting corpse.
"YAAAAAY!" the gathered crowds cheered, hurling ticker tape down at him. This man had single-handedly defeated the Mob that had held their city in lawless terror.
Chief of Police Diehard stood by his side on top of that first truck, his mouth glazed into a fake smile from having to hold it so long.
"Really, Blue Shooter," Diehard whispered, "Wasn't there a less . . . violent way to take The Mob in?"
"Like I told you, Chief," Blue Shooter replied, "Every single one of those shots was fired in self-defense."
"Uh, yeah, sure, sure. But you sure put yourself in a pretty targetive position. It's like you were looking for trouble."
"Yeah. Don'tcha know killing someone is wrong?"
"Hey, well, at least I'm doing wrong for the right reasons!" He resumed hailing the crowds.
The parade downtown, the booking, the repeated cries of "Truth, justice, and the American way!" all took the better part of the morning. Rob Hood wearily pulled himself up to his apartment's door and fumbled with the key. It would be nice to relax for a change.
He shut the door behind him, shucked his quiver and bow, and slumped down in his reading chair. He didn't even want to bother dragging himself all the way to his bed. Then again, his conscience kept him awake anyway.
Aah, so what if he once worked for The Mob as Foxbow and was never taken to justice? So what if, once, he'd been nothing more than a robbin' hood? That was the past, God damn it, he was Blue Shooter now, stop worrying.
A thought struck him: now that The Mob was gone, how was he going to support his comic book habit?
And at that instant, the telephone rang. He answered. "Yeah?"
"Robert Hood, my boy!"
The voice bore lots of sugar-coated sweetiness, but Rob somehow managed to recognize it. "Perry W. Jameson?"
"Robert . . . Bob . . . Bobby —"
"Uh, I prefer to be called Rob."
"Eh, yeah, Rob." Jameson sounded like he was just a tad nervous. "Listen, my boy, I think I was a bit hasty in my decision to fire you when I did."
"Really?" Rob Hood was now quite awake.
On the other end of the line, P. W. Jameson sweated up a storm. He figured he'd better get this right on the first try, otherwise those three lawyers surrounding him would have a field day. "Yes, yes — all is forgiven. And . . . you can even come back to work with a nice, big . . . a nice, big . . ." He forced the word out: "Raise!"
"A RAISE?! Gee, thanks Mister Jameson, that'd be swell!"
In the room next door, Susan smiled contentedly. There were laws in this state against rampant firing, especially when you turn around and use somebody's photographs after you've fired him. She didn't have to hire those lawyers or anything, she just stepped into their office, hinted at the word "lawsuit," and all three of them clamored to Jameson's office with the words "lawsuit percentage" in their greedy little eyes. After this favor, she figured, Rob Hood'll think twice about calling me Emjay again!
"You can start work first thing Monday morning," Jameson finished.
"Great! I'll be there! Oh, and uh, send my love to Emjay."
"Uh, never mind. 'Bye." <Click>
'Oh boy!' Rob thought, 'My old job back at last! I'll need to get more flashbulbs, get more film, check the batteries in the autowinder, clean my lens cap, . . .'
He picked up the newspaper to look for any ads for photography supplies. He stopped before he even turned the front page.
"COSTUMED CRIMINAL ROBS COMIC BOOK STORE: Dastardly Villain Still At Large!"
Well, maybe getting ready for his new job could wait. He scooped
a few arrows into his quiver, tightened his bow to twelve hundred and
one pounds of drawing weight, and headed out the door in full costume.