Justice of the Mind's Eye

Joel 'Cop' Furches

"How can you be sure this will go down as planned?" Charlie, the quintessential worrier, asked Mick, who was chewing nonchalantly on a toothpick. The group of five men was waiting in a non-descript gray van outside the largest bank in the city. It was ten 'till midnight, and the group was starting to get fidgety. All except for Mick, that is.

"Look," the slender faced man adjusted his cap and turned to address Charlie, "If I'm wrong, and the power grid for the city DOESN'T go out at midnight, we can just drive off, and we won't have so much as spit on the sidewalk. No court in the world can pin you for THINKING about pulling off a robbery, especially if they have no evidence."

"I'm just wondering if you're sure of what you heard," Charlie tugged at his collar and leaned in a little closer to Mick, who was occupying the front passenger seat of the van.

"Will you just learn to trust me? I speak excellent Farci. Too bad the Iranian terrorists in the booth next to mine didn't know that when they were discussing their plans. They sounded like a pretty well organized bunch, 'cept for the fact they were blabbing their plans in a public place. When they destroy the city power grid, there will be looting and riots all over this town. We'll have a clean shot at a whole lot of money, and the chances of anyone stopping us are close to zero."

As always, Mick's easy, quiet confidence calmed the group and they lapsed into silence. Franz, a heavy-set man in his mid-forties, adjusted nervously in his seat, squeaking against the leather upholstery. The driver, a kid named Mort, grimaced in annoyance, but said nothing.

"Five 'till," Franz commented, presently.

"Okay, everyone out, and we take positions. Remember, do nothing until I signal. We're assuming those terrorists will be on time, seeing as how they are using timed explosives and all, but we'll give them a thirty-minute leeway, just in case. Thirty minutes and no lights out, we get back in the van and tonight never happened, got it?"

Everyone muttered an affirmative, and the group began to casually exit the van. First the twenty-year-old, hot-shot driver, Mort, then Mick, then Charlie, then Franz, and finally the quiet, brooding guy in the back, who everyone just called 'K.'

K was tall and slender and moved with a casual grace that was only disrupted by his slouching gait. He was reputed to be one of the more dangerous men in the city, with a god-like immunity to bullets and the authorities. How much of this was fact and how much was empty lure was hard to determine. The man never said much about himself. Or at all, for that matter.

The entire group meandered in a seemingly aimless way off in separate directions. Once out of sight from the street, and the general bustle of the late-night crowd they walked with more purpose to the heavily locked side doors. Charlie, the safe cracker of the group, began preparing to jimmy the lock off the building. Mort took point, and Mick casually leaned against a street-lamp in front of the bank, ready to signal action or retreat on the transmitter in his jacket pocket. Franz stayed close by just in sight of the door. K disappeared completely. He wasn't, by nature, a team player. Still, he could function as an essential member of a team so long as he was allowed to facilitate in his own way. If some hotshot started giving him orders, things could turn nasty quickly. Mick was easy to work for, because he let his men do their jobs without prodding them, and he was always fair when splitting the take. K actually seemed to respect him.

Franz watched his second hand creep across the face of his watch, to where the other two hands were waiting pointed toward the twelve. He realized he was perspiring, and was immediately grateful the others weren't watching. It was unprofessional. As his the hands struck midnight he looked up at the brightly-lit cityscape. For a moment there was nothing. The others began to sense that the time was close, as well, and their eyes drifted skyward. Then, just as predicted, it happened. The whine of the city seemed to fade out and disappear, as all around them the lights died, and the entire city was plunged into darkness. The lights of traffic illuminated the streets and the alleyways in an eerie glow that rose from the depths of the concrete canyons but proved woefully insufficient to light the vast man-made jungle. For a moment there was a stunned silence. Even the sounds of traffic seemed to halt to respect this unheard of event.

The first blackout the city had seen in twenty years. Mostawesome of all was the sky. A tower jutting up from a skyscraper shown a great red light out over the city. The light had been lost in the background when the entire city was powered. Now, by some twist of fate, it had managed to stay lit while the rest of the city lay in darkness. Its light was caught up in the low-hanging clouds and thrown back down onto the city, bathing the entire night in a blood-red glow.

And then the moment of silence was past, and a great din arose in the streets. From alleyway to corner, to boulevard, the great scream of people and the greater scream of sirens was heard. The traffic began to bellow their horns and breaking glass could be heard all around. Chaos grasped the reigns of the city, and above it all, the red beacon shown down.

"All go, all go!" Mick signaled. Franz ran over to where Charlie was knelt by the door, expecting the lock to be removed by now. He found Charlie's head turned around, staring intently at the crimson sky.

"Charlie, what are you doing? We're on a schedule here, lets get that lock off," Franz prodded him.

"The signal in the sky... The signal..." Charlie was repeating.

"Charlie?" Franz grasped his shoulder and looked at him in concern.

"Huh?" Charlie seemed to wake from a stupor.

"Something wrong?" Franz asked nervously.

"Oh... uh... no. Sorry, just never seen a blackout before. It's kinda creepy, you know?"

"Yeah, but listen..."

"Right, the lock," Charlie snapped back to the task at hand. The lock came off in thirty seconds, which was slow for Charlie. Mick appeared the moment it was off the door, followed by Mort.

"Little slow on the entry, fella's" Mick commented as they took positions in the utility area the door opened to. The alarm on the door couldn't sound because of the power-loss, but there was no telling when the authorities would patch it up, and the backup generators of the bank would kick in in another couple seconds. The team was prepared. Franz already had the wire patch completing the circuit on the alarm by the time the generators kicked in.

"Things couldn't have worked out better," Mick chuckled, "Those generators would normally kick in the second the power went off, but they're installing the new security system this week, and the timing is all off. Lights!"

The group snapped their flashlights on. Mort secured the door to avoid anyone else entering.

"Where's K?" Charlie asked. In answer Mick got an odd smile on his face, and showed his flashlight up the stairwell. K was leaning up against the wall on the landing, waiting silently for the rest of the crew.

"But how..." Charlie started, but was signaled to silence by Mick.

"We have a window, here. We can't afford any delay. Charlie, we'll need you on the lock of the door on thirtieth floor where the vault is. We have a LOT of stairs to climb, so lets get moving."

The group was mostly fit and in good shape. Even Franz, whose large girth impeded his climbing skills, seemed to keep pace as they climbed the thirty sets of stairs to their floor. Finally reaching the floor, the group stopped. They were all trying to catch their breath while simultaneously attempting not to look winded. Red light poured through the small window on the entry-door.

"It's the blasted signal!" Charlie's eyes grew wide.

"What are you talking about?" Mort asked in annoyance.

"The red light!" Charlie pointed helplessly at the light coming through the portal.

"That's just the emergency lights, now get the lock."

Charlie gained his composure, and took out the lock on the door. This one wasn't equipped with an alarm. The safe was, however, and would take the longest to gain access to. Disabling the alarm was Franz's job. He waved Mort's offer of help, saying, "I'll get it myself. This is child's-play. Only take a minute. He walked back into the shadowy darkness of the cavernous room that seemed to stretch eternally.

"Well call if you want any help," Mort called after him. The rest of the crew wandered over to the city windows to wait, pushing back the ornately draped velvet curtains to look out over the darkened city. Red light from the tower poured through, and it seemed the sky was churning around it.

"Charlie, what was that you were saying about a signal earlier?" Mort asked.

Charlie seemed transfixed by the scene of the city before him, and took a moment to answer.

"It's... it's odd. Every time I see that light, I keep remembering that story..." He drifted off for a moment.

"...Story..." Mick prodded him.

"About... the... the... Red? No, no. Crimson! That's it. The Crimson Avenger!"

The group began to look nervously at one another, concerned about their safe cracker's babbling.

"What are you talking about?" Mort asked. Suddenly Charlie swung around with an intense look on his face, pointing at the tower.

"The Crimson Avenger! That's his signal, right? The signal in the sky? He sweeps out of the night, punishing wrongdoers. Whenever the city needs him, they signal from that tower!"

"Whoa, mate, get a grip," Mick smiled, holding up his hands, but his eyes betrayed his discomfort. "That's just the signal light on a radio tower. It's probably self-powered for emergencies. We couldn't have planes crashing into our buildings, could we?"

Mort glanced nervously at K to see how the silent criminal was taking this. His face was expressionless as usual behind his dark glasses. Something was gnawing at the back of his mind. Charlie had obviously lost his grip on reality, but why had the safecracker's description of the Crimson Avenger chilled his blood?

"Why does that story sound familiar?" Mort thought out loud, not intending to be heard. Mick turned wide-eyed to Mort.

"Now don't you start on me, too. You fella's have just read one too many comic books. It's the sort of stuff they have in all of them. You know, signal in the sky, scourge of the wicked, terror of criminals, all that stuff. That's where you're getting all this."

"No!" Charlie was on the verge of shouting. A pale, cold hand gripped his shoulder, and he jumped. It was K, who had moved behind the delirious man. Charlie winced in pain as K tightened his grip, and held a finger to his lips.

"It's real... it's real..." Charlie gasped despite the killer's urgings to silence. Mort turned to the window; eyes wide as the clouds swirled and writhed and the red light from the tower flowed in waves over the city.

"The signal in the sky..." Mort whispered.

Mick felt dangerously close to losing control. Thank goodness he had K with him. He would hate to have to ice a member of his team, but if this nonsense kept up, he might have no choice.

"How's it coming on the safe?" Mick called back to Franz. There was no answer.

"That's funny..." Mick muttered. Then he turned to the other members.

"Charlie, come with me. Franz is probably finished by now. Let's get the dough and get out of here before we're forced to abort."

"...But..." Charlie protested terror in his eyes.

"K, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep an eye out. This whole job is starting to creep me out," Mick said. K remained silent, but turned his head to face Mick, which was as good as any acknowledgement. Mick grabbed Charlie and half-dragged the stunned man back toward the safe. The two disappeared into the darkness. K stood silently, seemingly looking straight ahead. Beneath his dark glasses, his eyes scanned the room furiously.

From behind him Mort whispered, "Of course! Now I remember! The Crimson Avenger!"

K tilted his head and looked back at the boy. His face was tinted in the red light, the whites of his eyes showing wide.

Charlie and Mick found the safe security patched, but Franz was nowhere in sight.

"Probably went to take a whiz and didn't tell anyone. Bloody incompetent..." Mick muttered.

"Okay, listen up. Charlie, get to work on the safe."

"The Crimson Avenger..." Charlie started to say, and was cut off by the muzzle of a gun caressing his temple.

"Now Charlie," Mick began in a soft voice, running the gun ever so gently along Charlie's jaw, "You know I'm a reasonable guy, and I would really hate to botch this job. It was virtually handed to us on a silver platter," he paused, looking back over his shoulder. Had he heard a sound? He turned his attention back to the petrified man kneeling before him.

"Charlie, you are really starting to TEST... MY... PATIENCE..." he hissed, emphasizing every word by pressing the barrel of the gun harder into Charlie's cheek.

"Now we've talked about this. The stories of the 'Crimson Avengers' are fairy tales. You probably made it up. He's not the guy you need to be afraid of," Mick leaned in close, "I am. Now you are going to crack that safe, before I crack YOU. Got it?"

Charlie nodded, his breath fluttering.

"Right... right, Mick. Just got a little carried away is all. I'll crack the safe, and we'll grab the cash and split. Besides, there're lots of criminals out tonight. The Crimson Avenger will have his hands full. What are the odds..."

"THERE IS NO CRIMSON AVENGER!!" Mick shouted. Charlie cringed. Mick mentally cursed himself. He hated losing control. He took a breath and smiled.

"That's the spirit, Charlie, old boy. Now get cracking... so to speak. I'm going to see if I can't find our wayward electrician."

Mick watched as Charlie fumbled, and pulled out his tools. He began to hook up his wires to the safe door, and begin the long process. Slowly and clumsily at first, but finally with increased confidence. Mick nodded, and then walked back into the darkness behind the safe.

Charlie watched Mick go, and began concentrating on the safe again. Leeeft... listen for the click... there... okay now... right... click... good. Hurry or he'll get you. Charlie shook his head. No, he doesn't exist. That's just a story. But... what about the signal? He glanced nervously back at the red light faintly trailing from the far end of the room. Better hurry. Okay, where was I? Um... Left... left...left...hmm... no click.... Right, then. Right... click... good... okay... tuuuurn... slooooowly... CLANG!

Charlie jumped, pulling the earphones from his head. What was that? He looked around in the darkness, shining his flashlight about.

"Mick?" he called weakly. "Mick?" he called it louder. No answer. Was someone there? Behind him perhaps. He looked back. No, no one there. Wait! Was that movement? He swung his flashlight wildly about, trying to take in as much of the room as he could. He swore he felt someone behind him. Turning slowly, he looked. No, no one... unless... were those two red eyes glowing in the darkness?

K had both arms crossed inside his jacket, and stood as still as a statue. Mort remembered clearly now. The stories of the Crimson Avenger. Whispered in hushed tones by criminals everywhere, weren't they? Why had the rest of them never heard of him? He punishes the criminals for their crimes. He has a signal in the sky. A piercing red beacon that calls him whenever he is needed.

Suddenly a scream rang out from the direction of the safe, and Mort swore he heard shots being fired. K suddenly had two pistols in his hands that had leaped from nowhere. He walked slowly, confidently, to the center of the room. He stood for a moment, turned toward where the noise had come, and held his pistols out stiffly.

"Crimson Avenger!" he shouted. That was the first time Mort had ever heard K speak. Then K strode coolly into the darkness. Mort began to follow after; terrified to be left alone in this reddened darkness. Somewhere in front of him, he heard gunfire and saw the flashes of the muzzle. There were voices, and the sound of struggle. He was out there, Mort thought, the Crimson Avenger. He had seen the signal, and now he was here to reap justice. There would be no escape for the wicked.

Mort ran. He knew the terror itself was in the darkness just behind him, and he ran. There must be some escape, now! He ran toward the light. The crimson light. It blinded him, and still he ran toward it. Then there was the crash, and the thousand shards of glass cutting at his skin. Mort spun in the air as he fell and fell and fell. The last sight Mort saw was the wind-blown cloth, billowing through the window above him. The red cloth. The crimson cape.

Then all he saw was red...

Votes for: Justice of the Mind's Eye.

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