Okay, this is the last piece of the original Chapter Three. I really recommend reading the whole thing all the way through as one piece, because many of the questions you’re asking get answered in due course. If it feels choppy and incomplete, I think that may have something to do with the fact that the very long Chapter 3 was supposed to be indivisible. The next chapter has no cars, no freeways, and no comic book discussions.
“Why do I need a name?”
Walthius was insistent. “You know why. You need a name.”
“I already have a name.”
“Not one you can use.”
“Why can’t I use it?” said Jeff. “I’ve used it my whole life!”
“Think, you cretin!” Walthius said. “Think! All the heroes who go public get into trouble! What, you think you’re smarter than Bruce Wayne? Than Clark Freakin’ Kent, for the love of Pete?”
Jeff knew where this was going, and he didn’t like it. “What, I’m going to have a secret identity now?”
“You already have the glasses, man,” he said with a smile. “Take ‘em off, and who’s going to recognize you?”
“Anyone without a severe astigmatism, that’s who.”
Walthius laughed. “It only works for Clark Kent because Lois Lane is an imbecile.”
Jeff laughed back. “And Clark Kent can actually see with his glasses off.”
Walthius was serious again. “Did you put the mask on?”
Jeff looked down and saw a black linen Zorro-style mask at the bottom of the box. He gulped. “No,” he said.
“Yeah, well, that’s why the mask is there.”
Jeff sighed and then dutifully wrapped the mask around his glasses, which didn’t quite fit. So he took his glasses off, put the mask back on, and then put his glasses back on over it. He looked over at Walthius, who gave him a quick once over.
“Needs work,” Walthius admitted.
Lisa heard the crash of flying cars before she saw them. So did everyone else in the village, which sent them all scrambling for cover. There was no way to sneak back toward the medical center, which ruined Lisa’s original plan. And it was impossible to come up with a Plan B with in the midst of the pandemonium.
And then Vikki Dennis collapsed in the middle of the street.
“I can’t,” she muttered, “I just can’t.” She was unconscious before she hit the ground. Lisa tried to drag her, but she was dead weight.
As opposed to me, Lisa thought. I’m just dead.
“Back to the name.”
Jeff let out a sigh of his own. “Fine. A name.” He waited for a moment until things got awkward again.
Walthius glanced at him. “Are you waiting for me to say something again?”
“You said I need a name.”
“Yes. That I did.”
“So? What name?”
“Oh, no,” said Walthius. “No, no, no, no, no. I can’t bend the rules on that one.”
“You gotta come up with that name on your own.”
At this point, Jeff knew better than to ask why. “Fine,” he said. And as he pondered for a moment or two, he said, “Maybe I ought to be the captain of something.”
“Captain?” Walthius asked. “Of what?”
“I dunno,” Jeff said. “‘Captain’ seems to be the rank of choice for most superheroes.”
Walthius stroked his chin. “You may be on to something there, my friend. You don’t hear much about ‘Corporal America’ or ‘First Lieutenant Marvel.’”
“Or ‘Drill Sergeant Kangaroo,” Jeff added helpfully.
“Enough with the kangaroos.”
“I’m just saying.”
That hung in the air for a moment, and then Jeff asked, “So we’re agreed, then?”
“On ‘Captain’ being the way to go?”
Walthius scowled. “That’s not my decision. The name has to be yours.”
“Fine, it’s not your decision,” Jeff said. “But it’s a decision you can live with, right?”
Walthius just snorted.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
David was a little too distracted with all of his fresh new targets. He’d almost forgotten why he was here in the first place. He had new strength, new speed, and he was eager to flex his muscles. Besides, he knew that sooner or later, one of his cars would hit the mark.
One of the cars even had a couple of people in the back seat.
Tsk, tsk, David thought. In the backseat of a parked car on a dark street? They were obviously up to no good and deserved what they got.
Two more cars and they’d be on the freeway. Finally. Jeff could never get used to freeway gridlock.
“Captain – what?” Walthius asked.
“Huh?” Jeff said.
They were just one car away.
“You can’t just be ‘Captain.’ You’ve got to be captain of something.”
They were in the front of the line, and the on-ramp light was green. But the freeway was jammed, too, and they weren’t moving. “Oy,” Jeff said, in response to the new traffic jam. Walthius clearly took it as something else.
“Why does it always have to be me?” Walthius whined. “All right, fine. You’re ‘Captain Fantastic.’ Satisfied?”
Jeff shook his head. “Sorry. Taken.”
“Ah, there’s where your wrong,” Walthius said. “Reed Richards is Mister Fantastic!”
“Not Reed Richards. Elton John.”
Jeff laughed out loud, which made Walthius even more confused. “”Your knowledge of trivia is expansive, but maddeningly selective,” Jeff explained.
“Elton John,” he said, trying to place the face. “He’s the singer guy with the big glasses, right?”
“Thirty years ago, maybe,” Jeff smirked. “These days, my glasses are bigger than his.”
“Vikki. Vikki, honey, wake up.” Lisa was slapping her face, and even tried jostling her arm once in the hopes the pain would arouse her.
A brand new minivan landed twenty feet away from her.
Lisa briskly reviewed her options. If I leave her, she’s dead. If I stay here, we’re both dead. And we’re probably both dead anyway.
Not good options.
“How about ‘Captain Power?’” Walthius offered.
“ ‘Captains Courageous?’ ‘O Captain my Captain?’ ”
“You’re getting warmer.”
Walthius opened his mouth and then closed it again, as if he were deciding something. Then he spoke. “Look, since you haven’t really distinguished yourself with any particular superlative. Maybe just – The Captain.”
“You said that was bad!”
“I’ve had a change of heart,” Walthius said. “It’s direct, simple, and easy to modify if you do something powerful or spectacular.”
“ ‘The Captain,’ Jeff announced with a booming voice, trying his new moniker on for size. “And I can always change it later?”
Walthius laughed. “If you capture Lex Luthor or the Penguin, you might even get a promotion.”
“I like it,” Jeff said. “The Captain it is!”
Walthius looked unhappy.
“What’s wrong?” Jeff asked.
“Nothing,” Walthius said. Before Jeff could protest, Walthius added, “It’s just –“
“You should have come up with the name yourself,” he said.
Jeff rolled his eyes and turned back toward the window, where he saw a large Volvo flying through the air right next to the freeway.
David rounded the corner.
There they were, all alone, in the middle of the street.
A smart girl would have run away, David thought. Maybe she’s not the challenge I thought she was.
She was making it all too easy. He reached for the nearest car. A Porsche.
A classy way to finish this.
Having destroyed the handle earlier, Jeff had been forced to kick the door clean off of the passenger side before he could soar out to face the peril of the flying cars. He didn’t take note of Walthius’ reaction, but he was sure he would approve. After all the grief he’d given him, he would no doubt be fully supportive of anything that furthered the Captain’s first mission.
The Captain’s first mission!
Jeff was filled with pride. The greater good is at stake. I can’t be too concerned about a little property damage. I’m a hero now.
Initially, he was sure that there had been some kind of a gas explosion, except, as he got closer to the center of the action, he realized that the site of the car launches was shifting in a linear pattern toward Westwood Village, and still all the cars were flying in the same direction, as if they were somehow being aimed. And then Jeff finally got a look at what was aiming them.
It was a giant.
Sort of a giant, anyway. He wasn’t anything like a Jack and the Beanstalk-style giant. The proportions were all wrong. This guy was a gelatinous, massive, bulbous, pale naked man about ten or fifteen feet tall, lifting the cars like they were so much flotsam, and aiming them at two helpless girls sitting in the middle of the street.
Instantly, Jeff discovered that one of those girls looked an awful lot like Vikki Dennis. And a silver Porsche was about to fall on her head.
There was no time to think. Jeff swooped down and knocked the Porsche with a single blow to the gearbox, and it fell to the ground with a fantastic thud.
Strike one, Jeff thought.
And strike two was already upon him. It was a classic red Mustang convertible, circling lazily as it fell out of the sky. Jeff slugged it just below the bumper, reversing its momentum and sending it twirling off harmlessly into the graveyard to his right.
Then there was strike three. A massive pick-up truck. Jeff hit it squarely in the cab with both hands, punching a clean hole right through the middle. It caught at the bottom of his left leg, and he had to shake it loose, as if it were a boot that wouldn’t quite come off. Once it was free, he had to kick it with his left foot to keep it from landing on the girls. He ripped another hole through the steel as his leg carved through the side of the flatbed on its way to its final resting place, wedged up against an unsuspecting street lamp.
It dawned on Jeff that if he kept this up, someone was going to get hurt.
Jeff scooped Vikki up in his arms and was about to leap into the sky when he heard another, familiar voice yelling, “Me, too!”
He turned to face a frantic Lisa Meyer, who used the confusion to glom on to his right arm right before takeoff. He had to dodge yet another vehicle, which crashed directly on the spot where Vikki had just been.
And then he was in the air, holding Vikki with Lisa Meyer dangling from his right side.
He jerked his arm upward to help hoist Lisa directly onto his back, which almost resulted in shaking her loose. Lisa was somehow able to hold on, and she was small enough that she wrapped her arms around Jeff’s neck without throwing him off balance. The only problem was the nylon cape, which kept flapping in her face., Lisa ripped it off at the seam from the back of Jeff’s neck and let it flutter to the ground.
“Hey!” Jeff protested.
“UCLA Medical Center,” Lisa barked, pointing directly ahead of him. “That way.”
“What?” The sound of the wind rushing past them made it almost impossible to hear. He could see her finger in front of his face, and he thought maybe she was pointing at the giant. As if he wouldn’t be able to see the giant without her help.
Except he couldn’t see the giant, because the giant wasn’t there anymore.
The cars had stopped flying, and Jeff couldn’t see where the giant could have possibly gone. Did he disappear? Was he dead? It didn’t make any sense that he was there to begin with. Then again, nothing that had happened to Jeff made any sense, either.
“That way!” Lisa shouted. “The hospital is that way!”
Something about a hospital, Jeff heard. Good idea. He dutifully followed the finger.
He looked down at the traffic below and tried to spot Walthius’ car. I’ll be home before you will, he thought, even with Lisa Meyer on my back.
Lisa Meyer on my back and, impossibly, Vikki Dennis in my arms.