Lightningman Strikes!
  in...


Diet Another Day!

a.k.a. "Genocide as a Method of Insider Trading"

A 13-chapter Superhero Saga!
(Basically.)

By
"Royal" Richard K. Lyon

About the author
"Diet Another Day" is the third Lightningman story.  The first two,  "The Secret Identity Diet" and "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Conspiracy”, are available on request from the author at Lyonheart@cableone.net


PREVIOUSLY: Joan Rivera has been kidnapped. In his guise of Lightningman Charles Kent stops the kidnappers' car. Two of the kidnappers flee but the third reaches for his gun, points it at Kent saying, "Now we'll see how bulletproof you are."



Episode Four:

Secret Message on a Billboard



J UST AS HIS RIGHT HAND was about to close on the weapon, it was pierced by the stiletto heel of a lady's shoe. As she ground down on his hand with all her weight, Joan Rivera smiled briefly at his screams, and hit him in the back of the neck with her handbag. Whatever she had in that bag, it was heavy. The man slumped like a rag doll and lay there unmoving.

I lost my grip on the fender. Accelerating like a rocket the huge black limo went roaring into the night. Unfortunately for the fleeing thugs the direction in which they'd fled was directly in the limo's path. "Nice shot!" Joan Rivera exclaimed, "You got two of them!"

"There may," I told her, "be more shooting. Lie flat, don't move, and you should be fairly safe." She obeyed without the slightest argument and I continued, "Somewhere in this world of yours there's a research laboratory dedicated to inventing extremely profitable and quite illegal technologies. It's staffed by middle aged bitter scientists, people who worked for one or another large company, making brilliant technical contributions but who were still forced into early retirement. They're the ones who made the EMP weapons for the Brazilians and the designer superdrug for John Lucchesi's cookies. What they're up to now, I don't know, but it's something big, very big. Of course, they're afraid of me and that's why they tried to kidnap you and why they took FBI Director Edgar. If--"

Stopping in mid-sentence, I gestured toward the darkness down the street. While she looked in that direction, I whispered, "This may be more trouble. I want you to freeze right where you are and stay frozen. I'll do what needs doing."

She lay there, looking the other way, as I found my skateboard and rolled away as fast as I could. Getting back to the Hilton took me the better part of an hour. After that it took more time to recover my bicycle and peddle back to my hotel.

By then it was too late to go back to bed and grab a couple hours of sleep and I was too excited to sleep anyway. I called room service to order an early breakfast, a pot of black coffee, one hard boiled egg, and grapefruit. Pouring a cup of steaming black coffee I turned on the TV. PBS was rerunning an old NOVA show: a lecture demonstration on firestorms by Professor Nusshaus. The camera zoomed back from his hawklike face to show a large warehouse. It was empty except for some paper scatter on the floor, a large steel drum, and a set of large fans arranged in a circle around the can. I noticed that the fans were arranged to blow counterclockwise, but I couldn't guess why.

"Today, My Dear Viewers," the Professor announced, "I want to demonstrate the importance of preventing vorticity pollution. I know that a great many people oppose the rerouting of rush hour traffic in order to control something they don't understand, but just watch."

Stepping over to the drum, he dropped a match into it. Flames sprang up immediately. "The drum," Professor Nusshaus explained, "contains a light, highly flammable oil. It burns, producing hot gases; the hot gases rise, and by so doing they suck in more air to feed the flames. What limits this process is the fact that as they rise, the hot gases mix with cold air. They have in effect a short chimney and this limits the amount of air they can suck into the fire. Now, however--"

He paused and began turning on the fans, "--suppose we put some vorticity into the air--"

As the fans went on the flame rising out of the drum grew taller. "You know," the Professor continued, "that if you start spinning on a piano stool with your arms out, that putting down your arms will make you spin faster. That's what's happening to the air that's being sucked into the flame. It spins faster, creating centrifugal force and preventing mixing. The buoyance of the column of hot gas increases, that increases the convection, which increases the centrifugal force and the whole thing just builds on itself until you get..."

The fire was changing, twisting and growing, focusing itself into a spiral pillar of incandescent fury rising up and up, reaching through the skylight and beyond.

"A FIRESTORM!" Nusshaus shouted. "THE DANGER OF SUCH A CATACLYSM IS WHY--"

Since I'd seen the second half of this show, I switched channels to get some news. "In other news," Anchorwoman Connie Nakamora said cheerfully, "Harlem's Blue Streak ran down three bank robbers yesterday when ..."

In addition to the Blue Streak story, about half the news Ms. Nakamora reported related to other superheros. In Chicago a gang of twelve teenaged punks were about to set an old wino on fire when the Spinebreaker appeared and spared one of them. In Tokyo, the Cat had again caused the Yakusa to lose face, figuratively and literally. Here in D.C., Senator Rodney had again demanded that the CIA come clean and admit to having a force of "metahumans". He also demanded that the Agency "tell the American people the truth about the Deadman." That demand brought a response, not from the CIA, but from the State Department. According to State, "It is the official position of the Government of the United States that the Deadman does not exist. All information the United States Government possesses regarding him is false and cannot be discussed because it is highly classified."

Now what did that mean? The only way to become officially nonexistent was to frighten the hell out of powerful people. If Deadman --

My thoughts were abruptly jerked back to the TV. Connie Nakamora was saying, "Recapping our top story: FBI Director J. Gordon Edgar has been kidnapped. At ten minutes before midnight last night, Director Edgar left his office in the Hoover building and passed through Security on his way to the underground parking garage. Two minutes later the security guards heard gunfire and rushed down into the parking garage. There they found the Director's car with its door open and no sign of the Director. The dead bodies of four men, all heavily armed, were lying in pools of blood. Two trails of blood indicated that another two thugs had been wounded and had fled. Since the dead had all been shot neatly between the eyes, a trademark of Director Edgar in his days as a New York City cop, the guards assumed that after killing the first four of his assailants, he followed the others in hot pursuit. While no trace of Mr. Edgar was found, a tranquilizer dart gun from which one dart had been fired was found. Apparently, the kidnappers, despite suffering high casualties, had successfully made off with the FBI Director.

"A second kidnapping, however, ended badly for the kidnappers. Though they succeeded in abducting Ms. Joan Rivera from her hotel room in the Washington Hilton and in eluding police who rushed to the scene, they were nailed by Lightningman. In full view of a dozen eyewitnesses, he swooped down out of the sky, grabbing the rear end of the kidnappers' speeding limo and dragging it to a halt. When the kidnappers attempted to flee on foot, he waited until Ms. Rivera exited the vehicle, then picked up the limo and threw it after the fleeing felons.

"While FBI officials are outraged by these events, they refuse to comment on the possible relationship between the abductions of Director Edgar and Ms. Joan Rivera. Senators Bergan, Keaton, and Fox, however, issued this statement: 'It is an absolute disgrace that the United States is constantly being rescued from dire peril by a self-appointed extraterrestrial like Lightningman. Saving the U.S. from disaster is what Congress pays the FBI to do and it's high time they start earning their pay. This new menace which Ms. Rivera has reported absolutely must be dealt with by the FBI. If Lightningman beats them to the punch again, our Senate Subcommittee will have to hold hearings to determine why the FBI is so ineffective."

I'd done it!

Neither the FBI nor any one else in law enforcement had been willing to listen to me, but through Ms. Rivera I'd been able to pass along what I knew and now three powerful senators were demanding the FBI act on that information. Secure in the knowledge that competent professionals were on the job I could stop worrying, enjoy a relaxed second cup of coffee and then peddle to the hospital to visit my beloved Marge.

The phone rang.

When I answered, Marge's face, looking very worried, appeared on the viewscreen. Her mother was beside her, looking even more distressed. Evidently they'd heard about Director Edgar's kidnapping. Before I could speak, Marge said, "Charles dearest, I know you were planning to visit us this morning. Don't. The transplant procedure went perfectly and all of us are just fine, but we are knee-deep in FBI agents. I don't think they'll let you in and even if they would, there's something much more important for you to do. The FBI's very reluctant to accept what Lightningman told Ms. Rivera -- a case of 'you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think' -- so I want you to follow up on it."

"Darling," I said, "please don't worry. Your stepfather is a man who can take extremely good care of himself and, of course, I'll be doing everything I can."

"NO, Charles," Marge snapped. "I don't want to have to worry about you too. These people are obviously dangerous. All I want you to do is dig through the information in all the computer databanks and find some leads for the FBI."

***

By noon I was back in our New York apartment, digging by modem through one data bank after another. At 5 pm, I'd realized that I was wasting my time. If I wanted to learn anything new, I'd have to take a new approach.

I had to stop trying to be Sherlock Holmes, solving the crime by logical deduction, and try being Father Brown, who solved murders by imagining things from the killer's viewpoint.

Why had my unknown enemies suddenly decided to kidnap Director Edgar and Joan Rivera? What had frightened them to the point that they were willing to take such extreme actions? Had they been betrayed by someone? What if, for one reason or another, this person believed that contacting ordinary law enforcement officials would be useless and had decided to pass his/her information on to Lightningman? If the conspirators couldn't silence him/her, their only option would be to get leverage on Lightningman.

While that was a great deal of supposing, it did fit the facts. It also raised an interesting question: how would someone who needed to contact Lightningman go about it?

Several groups had erected billboards in or near Central Park with their messages for Lightningman on the inside printed in letters of sheet lead. That way Lightningman could easily read the message with his X-ray vision.

Or so they believed. In fact, instead of X-ray vision, I'm slightly colorblind. To read Lightningman's mail I'd had to get a thermal IR camera. At sunset the lead has absorbed enough heat to make it visible in the IR for a few moments.

So far, none of these messages had been worth the trouble of reading, but I hadn't checked in more than a week. Maybe it was time to check again.

RED STAR

FEMINIST

DETECTIVE AGENCY

Dedicated to Righting the Wrongs

Men do to Women

by any means necessary

OLGA KARPOV

AGENT IN CHARGE

Ladies, is your husband faithless?

Is he also a ruthless capitalist?

An exploiter of the Working Class?

If he is, you can hire Colonel Olga Karpov, KGB, Retired.

At age seven, Olga killed her first man, a German invader of Mother Russia who tried to rape her. That was a mistake for which he paid with his life and his manhood. Since then Olga's excellent wetwork has earned her the Order of Lenin four times, twenty-five citations from the Former Soviet Union and three letters of commendation from the CIA for her contributions to the joint CIA/KGB drug interdiction program.

With three hundred thirty-seven confirmed kills of Enemies of the State, you can trust Olga Karpov to do the job. While American law prohibits direct killing of the victim, this is not a problem. Many of Ms. Karpov's best kills involved driving the victim to suicide by unearthing his dirty little secrets.

It was a bright and warm day despite a cold wind, the kind of day which was ideal for what I was about to do. There was only one new sign, the one I was now looking at. As the sun went down I watched this sign through the camera's IR optics. In the false color presentation its surface went from warm orange to dull red to black. Letters began to appear. There was a secret message! I was right! Ms. Karpov knew what was going on and this message would reveal it!

Back to Episode 3....Lightningman Strikes Back!

On to Episode 5....Danger on the Phone


Back to Pulp and Dagger

Back to Diet Another Day!


"Diet Another Day!" and the character of "Lightningman" are copyright by Richard K. Lyon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)