"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
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
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
"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
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
"Charlie, what was that you were saying about a signal earlier?"
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
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 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
"That's funny..." Mick muttered. Then he turned to the other
"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
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
"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...
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...