by Ross Griswold
“I’m telling you, Jessica Fletcher was the world’s most successful serial killer,” I said as I pushed open the heavy glass door of the First National Bank of Iowa.
My friend Spare Change stepped through the door after me. He looked, as always, as if Santa Claus has had a rough couple of months.
“What are you babbling about, Kevin?” Spare Change responded.
“Have you ever seen Murder She Wrote?” There were a couple of people in line in front of me, so I queued up behind them.
“Of course I’ve seen Murder She Wrote. I haven’t always lived on the streets,” said Spare Change.
“Well, in every single episode of that show, someone is killed. The wrong person is blamed,” I said. “Then Jessica Fletcher swans onto the scene as the ultimate tea cozy detective and figures out what really happened.”
“That’s the basic premise of the show,” Spare Change said. “So what?”
“The woman encounters a murder in every single episode,” I howled. People in the bank started to look at me funny. “Not only that, but with every single murder she gets to dictate how events supposedly went down.”
Spare Change snorted. “That’s because she’s cleverer than the police. She’s got experience from writing her books.”
“No, what she has is experience actually killing people. She’s not only covering up her crimes, she’s choosing who gets blamed for it.”
Spare Change looked at me. He blinked repeatedly.
“I always figured that’s how the series should have ended,” I said. “Jessica Fletcher finally slips up and gets caught. It could have been a massive crossover event. They could have brought in Matlock to defend her.”
“Can I help you, sir?”
I glanced up to see the conservatively dressed bank employee critically looking me over. I can’t really blame him. My shoulder-length hair was a mess of dirty brown curls. My red flannel checkered shirt had seen heavy use and I couldn’t even guess when it was last washed.
“Yes, I’d like to open a checking account,” I said, giving the teller my best smile. I held up a wad of hundred dollar bills.
Very few people know it, but I am a superhero. They call me Staff-Master. In that aspect of my life I had stomped out a drug deal the previous night. I admit, it probably wasn’t the best practice to steal the money after I beat them down. It should have probably gone to the cops as evidence or something, but a man’s got to eat.
“I’ll need to see some ID,” the clerk said suspiciously.
“Is that really necessary?” I asked. “I’m trying to give you money, not take money from you.”
“Still need to see ID.”
“Ok. Thanks anyway.” Sheepishly, I tucked the money back into my pants pockets. I turned away and walked towards the door.
Spare Change followed a few feet after me. “Kevin, why didn’t you just give them your ID?”
“As far as the authorities know, I’m dead,” I said sadly. “When that oil billionaire, Mr. Henderson, kidnapped me, his soldiers burned down my apartment building. Everyone assumed that I died, along with several of my neighbors.”
“Yeah, and then Mother Earth and I rescued you,” Spare Change mumbled, glancing around to make sure that nobody was listening. “You really should reclaim your life. Let the world know that you’re alive.”
I sighed as I pushed the bank’s front door open and stepped through it. “You’re probably right, but I worry that if I explained what was going on, I’d let it slip that I’m Staff-Master.”
Spare Change frowned as he walked down the sidewalk, as if a deep thought was hurting him. “You could talk to Detective Boskett. I bet he’d help you. And he already knows your secret identity.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I should do…”
A sudden burst of gunfire interrupted me. It came from the bank lobby that we had just left.
Whirling around on my heels, I looked through the glass door. I spotted three men with military looking rifles. They wore black ski masks and heavy bulletproof armor.
Around each of their waists was an odd sort of belt. It resembled a large weightlifting belt, bedazzled with greenish bits of circuit board and wires of every color. The buckle of the belt was a fist-sized glowing circle that reminded me of the power button on a computer.
Spare Change grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Come on, Kevin.” Together we ran half a block away and ducked into a narrow alley.
“Holy crap,” Spare Change gasped, a sharp wheezing making it hard for him to talk. “We only barely got out of there.”
“We got lucky,” I agreed. Then I started pulling off my flannel shirt, revealing the blue spandex costume underneath.
Coughing, Spare Change watched me as I shucked off my jeans. “Really, Kevin?” he panted. “Right here in front of me. Couldn’t you find a phone booth or something?”
I slipped on my gloves and pulled my mask down over my face. “They don’t make phone booths anymore.”
“Oh yeah,” the old man mumbled.
He handed me the foot-long length of otherworldly wood that had been hiding under my checkered shirt. As soon as it touched my hands it magically grew into a six-foot-long pole. It’s a pretty handy thing, really. It was a gift from the pagan goddess Mother Earth. That’s a story for another day, however.
“Spare Change, wait for me here,” I said. “I’ll be back.”
I could almost hear the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as I walked back down the street. I spun my quarterstaff around, stretching my muscles and preparing for combat.
Boldly I walked up to the bank and kicked in the door. “Drop it, evil doers,” I shouted. “You have picked the wrong place to plunder.”
Three gunmen turned to face me, as well as about a dozen bank staffers and customers that were cowering on the floor. People screamed and the bad guys shouted out obscene replies.
The robber closest to the door dropped a heavy sack and tried to hit me with the butt of his rifle. I leaned to the side to avoid it, then spun around and bashed him in the face with my quarterstaff.
The man crumpled to the ground at my feet. As I turned to glance at the other two, they opened fire. Their military rifles burped hot lead across the room. I spun my quarterstaff, and like Babe Ruth himself, I swatted the bullets up into the ceiling.
“Surrender,” I shouted, stepping forward aggressively.
“Not likely,” said one of the gunmen. He grabbed up two heavy canvas sacks overflowing with cash. “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
He pushed the backlit button on his belt buckle. There was a flash of blueish white light, kind of like lightning, and the man vanished.
There was a sudden flash to my left, and the second gunman vanished as well. Money fluttered through the air where he had been standing.
Startled, I turned around to see the last robber crawling across the floor, blood leaking from under his mask and smearing the tile floor. He was trying to reach for the bag of money that he had dropped when I arrived.
Running at him, I managed to kick the bag out of his grasp. Groaning, he instead stabbed at his glowing belt buckle.
“NO!” I yelled.
With a zap, the man was gone. All that was left of him was some blood on the floor.
Confused, I looked around the room. Terrified faces greeted me in every direction I turned. “It’s OK, people. I’m Staff-Master. You might have heard of me. I’m one of the good guys.”
That didn’t seem to reassure anybody, so I bent down to pick up the bag of money that the thief had left behind. Holding it up, I looked around the room. “Who should I give this to?”
It was that moment that the police swarmed into the bank. Guns drawn, they spotted me, a masked man, holding a bag of money.
“DROP IT!” various police officers shouted.
“Sure thing,” I replied. I set the money bag down on the ground, and I willed my quarterstaff to shrink back down to a less threatening foot-long stick. “My name is Staff-Master. This bank was being robbed.”
“Get on your knees. Put your hands behind your head.”
“This isn’t necessary,” I said. “I’m a superhero. Call Detective Boskett. He’ll vouch for me.”
“This is your last warning, stick-guy,” a policeman growled as he pointed his sidearm right at my face.
Seeing no other peaceful option, I let go of my quarterstaff and laced my fingers behind my head. I dropped slowly to my knees.
The police officers forced me roughly down to the ground, where they handcuffed my hands behind my back. Then they picked me up and led me out of the building.
Leaning on the side of a squad car was a man wearing a tan trench coat. A matching fedora was pulled low over his bearded face.
“Detective Foley, should we take off his mask?” asked one of the police officers.
“No,” Foley said, waving a hand dismissively. “You know how it is with these crazy types. He’s going peaceably now. But if we take away his mask, we pop his delusions. He might get violent.”
“Sure thing, boss,” said the officer. “We got him red handed either way. He must be an idiot, trying to rob a bank so close to the police station. How did he think he’d get away?”
“I didn’t rob the bank,” I shouted. “I tried to stop the robbers, but they, like, teleported away.”
Detective Foley spat on the ground. “Teleported. Hmmph.”
“It’s true,” I said.
“Get him in the car,” Foley grunted. The police officers obeyed, loading me into the back of the squad car.
From there I was driven to the police station and was led into one of those interrogation rooms that you see on TV. In the center of the room there was a heavy stainless steel table bolted securely to the floor, flanked by two flimsy plastic chairs and a long mirror on the wall.
“Take a seat, freak,” a beefy uniformed officer said. He forced me down into a chair and attached my handcuffs to the table. Once he was satisfied that I was secure, he stepped out of the room and closed the door.
I sat there for probably a couple of hours. The time flew by like a sloth running a marathon through a vat of chocolate pudding. By the time the door opened again, I was literally beating my head on the desk.
“Hello, Mr. Midnight,” said a voice that I had never heard before. The figure standing in doorway was a backlit silhouette.
I bolted upright in my chair and tried to study the figure.
“I think you have me mixed up with somebody else,” I said.
“Please do not insult my intelligence,” the dark figure sneered. He stepped into the room, revealing himself to be the somewhat shaggy looking Detective Foley. Only he didn’t speak with Foley’s voice.
“You are Kevin Midnight, also known as the Immortal Staff-Master,” Foley said in his different voice. “It’s obvious, really.”
“How do you figure?” My heart was pounding.
“Elementary,” said Foley. “It was reported in the press last summer that a man named Kevin Midnight heroically saved a homeless man from a mugging. In the process, Mr. Midnight was shot through the heart and killed, or so the EMTs and doctors believed. Then, mysteriously, Mr. Midnight wasn’t dead anymore.”
A cold sweat formed on my brow. It soaked quickly into the spandex of my mask, making it feel damp and smothering.
“It really was something of a miracle,” said Foley. He flopped heavily into the other chair, looking nothing like the intimidating cops on TV. No, he practically lounged in that cheap plastic chair.
“A couple of months after Mr. Midnight was released from the hospital, a masked superhero appeared for the first time. This hero had the exact same physical build as Mr. Midnight. The same long brown hair. He used a quarterstaff, just as Mr. Midnight had done when he saved the homeless man. Do I really need to continue?”
“No,” I said. My head hung low. “I guess not.”
“If you would indulge me,” Foley said cheerfully, his fingers forming into a steeple. “I’d like to continue just a bit further. After a few adventures as a superhero, Mr. Midnight, you were attacked by representatives of the oil billionaire Richard Henderson.”
“It wasn’t Staff-Master that drew Henderson’s attention, however,” Foley’s words came fast and dramatically. He was bragging that he knew all of this. “It was all the talk in the press about Kevin Midnight being shot through the heart and killed, yet not killed.”
“Mr. Henderson had a heart problem,” I confirmed. “He was keeping himself alive by stealing hearts from homeless people. When he read of me, he wanted my heart. He thought it would keep him alive indefinitely.”
Foley nodded his head slowly. “I know. I was there.”
“Well, I wasn’t there when Henderson’s thugs kidnapped you and burned your apartment,” Foley said. “I was, however, there at the Henderson Oil refinery when they surgically removed your heart and put it in the old man’s chest.”
A cold chill ran down my spine and my eyes narrowed as I looked anew at this very odd police detective. “Then that means…”
“Not what you think it does,” Foley said smugly. “I’m no villain. Allow me to introduce myself.”
With that, the image of Detective Foley appeared to melt like butter in the microwave. His features reformed and solidified anew. Where before he was a thickly built man with messy hair, now he was a tall and thin figure with neatly slicked back hair, a large forehead, and a nose like a hawk’s beak.
“You can call me Shifter,” said this new man who once was Foley. “I’m a private investigator. I was working undercover at the Henderson Oil Refinery as a security guard. A client had hired me to prove a connection between Henderson and the same murders that you were looking into.”
“You’re another superhero?” I asked hopefully.
“Not until you entered my life,” Shifter said. “I was a normal, if brilliant, person. Then animated trees attacked the oil refinery, led by a pagan earth goddess.”
“Mother Earth and my friend Spare Change came and rescued me,” I nodded. “They defeated Henderson’s men and reclaimed my heart. They saved my life.”
“They very nearly ended mine.” Shifter leaned forward in his chair, his eyes narrow slits. “I tried to use the chaos to snoop around a secure area of the refinery. I was having trouble getting a door open, then an elm tree grabbed me and threw me through the door.”
“Ouch!” I said in what I hoped was a sympathetic voice. “Although, it got you through the door.”
“Indeed.” Shifter curled back his lip. “As I had suspected, beyond that door was a laboratory where work was being done on fossil fuels. It also housed inhumane biological experiments.”
“When I smashed through the door, a container holding an unknown compound was shattered. It poured all over the floor. I slid through the mess and into a shelf, which tipped over. Other chemicals were dumped all over me, and, simply put, my body melted away.”
“It was quite interesting in an odd way,” Shifter said. “I was aware of the entire process, and my liquefied form was an unseen witness as your friends rescued you. The animated trees then overtook the refinery. The earth opened up and swallowed the building whole.”
“What happened next? How did you go from there to here, impersonating Detective Foley?” I asked.
“Well, time passed, and I was still alive and aware,” Shifter said. “Cogito ergo sum. So after much trial and error, I suppose you could say, I pulled myself together. I reformed my body out of the goop. I reclaimed my life.”
Shifter was preening a bit as he continued. I got the impression that he hadn’t shared this with anyone, and he was just itching to share more.
“I quickly realized that I could do more than just reform my body,” he said. “I mean, I’ve seen Terminator 2. I’ve seen Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I realized the potential of my new situation. So I tried shaping my body into other forms. At first I had to use my hands to physically and crudely sculpt myself, but with practice I became very good at it. I could make myself look like anyone I wanted with very little effort.”
“So Detective Foley is fake? He’s like a secret identity for you?”
“No.” Shifter laughed. “Foley is a friend of mine. He owed me a favor and he knew that I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why do you want to talk to me?”
“For one, I wanted to meet the man that caused such a profound change in my life,” said Shifter. “But really, I need your help with an ongoing investigation. You’ve already become embroiled in it.”
I perked up at that thought. “Embroiled? Me? Are you talking about the bank robbery?”
“This robbery, and others like it I suspect.” Shifter leaned forward in his chair. “For weeks now I had been noticing a trend. High-end medical equipment. Bleeding-edge robotics. All of it stolen from highly secure locations with no sign of breaking and entering. In more than one instance the theft occurred right under the noses of reliable security. The thieves did the deed and were gone before anyone could respond.”
“Sounds like the bad guys I met tonight,” I said. “They had these things on their belts.”
“Exactly so,” Shifter exclaimed. “The average police response time to that bank is less than five minutes. It’d be foolhardy for your average bank robber to strike there. But if one has the technology to teleport out in an instant, it’d be a tempting target.”
“Where on earth did they get that kind of technology?” I thought aloud. Then I noticed Shifter’s smug smile. “You already know, don’t you?”
“I do,” said Shifter. “Our mutual enemy, Mr. Richard Henderson, has returned.”
“What?” I shrieked. “He couldn’t have survived. From what I understand he was left without a heart. He and his entire refinery were destroyed and devoured by the earth. It’s a forest now.”
“Indeed, but a man like Richard Henderson was not prepared to go quietly into the night.” Shifter yawned. “Stealing the heart of an immortal wasn’t his only plan to survive.”
Shifter reached inside his jacket and pulled out a roll of papers. They were dirty and water stained and crumpled. Bits of dust fell from them as they were unrolled.
“Stealing organs from homeless people was nothing more than a stopgap, a stalling tactic,” Shifter said. “Stealing your immortal heart was merely an opportunistic backup plan. These papers detail Mr. Henderson’s actual plans.”
He handed me the filthy papers. I looked them over, and I must confess that I didn’t understand most of it. The words were a blend of algebra and mad science. The drawings looked like a robot from a Japanese cartoon. The final page made things uncomfortably clear, with a schematic of Mr. Henderson’s upper body hooked up to control wires and life support tubes.
“They built a cyber-Henderson?” I asked.
“All evidence appears to lead in that direction,” Shifter said coolly. “They appear to have a secret base on the top floor of the 801 Grand building.”
“How do you know that?”
Shifter reclaimed the cyborg plans, rolled them up and put them back inside his coat.
“I’ve made a quick study of the teleportation technology based upon the Henderson cyborg plans, the equipment recently stolen, and various other factors. It all adds up to the need for a stable teleportation relay in a very high place. 801 Grand is the tallest building in all of Iowa. From there, one should be able to teleport anywhere in the metro area. The copper sheeting used to build the roof makes an exceptional antenna as well.”
Shifter stood up, and as he did he changed again. His rail-thin figure bulked out and became the disheveled bear-like Detective Foley once more. With the flourish of a trained showman, he produced the keys to my handcuffs and unlocked me.
“Thank you,” I winced as the blood started circulating into my hands again.
“Thank me by helping me bring Henderson to justice,” my new shapeshifting friend said. “His immense wealth should not be allowed to shield him any further.”
Together, we walked out of the interrogation room. We got some odd looks, but nobody questioned the counterfeit Detective Foley. He led me to the evidence lockup, where, with a wink and the discrete exchange of cash, he managed to get my quarterstaff back.
A half hour later we were climbing up the steps of the 801 Grand building. Shifter had returned to what I presume is his natural form, the slim man with the broad, intelligent forehead.
“We dare not take the elevators,” Shifter announced. “Henderson is probably tapped into and monitoring the building’s security feed.”
“That’s fine,” I huffed. “When we get to the twentieth floor I’m going to throw up.”
We went up, up, up, finally reaching a door marked No Trespassing. Signs like that don’t apply to superheroes though, so we pushed the door open and walked inside. We entered a pitch black hallway.
There was a sudden click as Shifter turned on a flashlight and started scanning it around us. “We are in the right place.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
Shifter pointed his light at an office door at the end of the hall. It was the only door I could see, and mounted upon it was a copper plaque inscribed with the words Henderson Oil.
“Nobody likes a show off,” I grumbled as I walked up to the door and tried to open it. It was locked.
“I’ll have to break it open,” I said. “Are you ready?”
When I turned back to look at Shifter, he had changed his form. He had long brown hair. His face was covered by a blue spandex mask. He wore a matching blue skin-tight costume and a battered black leather motorcycle jacket. He had a little bit of a pot belly. He had in his hand a familiar looking quarterstaff. In short, he was an exact imitation of me.
“Ready,” he said with a nod.
“When this is over, you and me are going to talk about this,” I said as I kicked the door open. “Gimmick infringement is bad, ok?”
Shifter laughed, and I must admit that I did as well. It really is something special to get to share moments like this with another superhero.
The laughter choked away as we peered into the room. Past the Henderson Oil door was a massive room, far larger than I had expected. The place was a strange joining of creepy elements.
Half of the room looked like a filthy auto repair shop, with massive hunks of greasy equipment scattered here and there. There were hydraulic platforms that looked capable of lifting cars. Wrenches and socket sets and other tools that I couldn’t identify hung on pegboard walls. Oil pooled messily on the floor.
The other half of the room was an antiseptic hospital-style operating theater, complete with crisp and clean bedding, beeping monitors, and sterile blue-green walls. The glistening blue floor seemed to be polished within an inch of its life.
In both of these incongruous sections of the room, men stood around working. Tattooed and grease-stained men twisted and hefted and ratcheted. Less than forty feet away, men in green paper gowns and sanitary face masks appeared to be performing some type of surgery. All of these men looked up in surprise as not one, but two Staff-Masters entered the room.
“We must reinstall the subject,” screamed one of the medical staff. Two of the surgeons snatched something off of the operating table and quickly carried it to a machine in the middle of the room. The thing they carried was gray and wrinkled and didn’t appear to weigh very much.
“Nobody move,” Shifter’s booming voice filled the room. Well, it was my voice actually, but, you know. Shifter said it.
“Bad guys never actually listen to that, you know?” I grumbled as several of the mechanics pulled out guns and moved to defend the medical staff. They stepped smoothly between us and the gray thing the surgeons were carrying.
Cracks of gunfire assaulted our ears and I spun my staff, effortlessly batting the hot lead out of the sky. To my surprise, Shifter mirrored my movements, not only shielding himself from the gunfire, but sending one of the bullets right back into the shoulder of one of the shooters.
“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked as I ducked under a swinging tire iron.
“Learned it from you,” Shifter said, as he deflected another bullet and swung his quarterstaff in a hard downward arc, scything the gun out of a shooter’s hand. “I’m not making myself look like you for the sake of a joke. My powers allow me to mimic skills and abilities as well as appearance.”
I swept the feet out from under a mechanic and glanced over at Shifter. “You are such a cheater.”
“Is it really cheating if it works?” Shifter spun his quarterstaff overhead and then lunged forward with a spear-like thrust, hitting a bad guy in the chest and crunching his ribs.
I blocked the downward swing of a massive wrench, and kicked its owner below the belt. “Yes. It’s still cheating!”
“All’s fair in love and war, they say,” Shifter countered as he lashed into two more mechanics, bloodying them and knocking them to the ground. “After all, you just kicked that guy in the gonads. That is hardly Marquess of Queensberry Rules.”
A lucky punch struck me in the face, sending me reeling into a greasy brick wall. My quarterstaff slipped from my fingers and clattered to the ground.
I leaned on the wall for a moment, cursing myself for getting distracted. Then I turned around, right into two more shots to the body. My breath left my body in a surge of pain, but I managed to push through it and wrap my long arms around my attacker. Pulling him down into a headlock, I punched him repeatedly until he fell limp from my arms.
Gasping, I bent over and picked up my quarterstaff just in time to see Shifter hit the last mechanic with a flurry of blows. Beyond them, the various medical techs were fleeing, having accomplished whatever they were trying to do.
“What the heck is going on here?” I looked around the strange room.
A deep bass hum reverberated from the large machine smack dab in the center of the room. The surgeons had carried something gray and wrinkled to the machine and installed it within before they fled.
Only now did I realize that the thing they had carried was Richard Henderson.
Two vibrant red lights ignited upon the machine. Hydraulics whined to life as the large squat machine stood up on two wide steel legs. Standing at about ten feet tall, it looked down upon us with demonic electronic eyes.
“Odd. There are two of you.” Mr. Henderson’s voice boomed through onboard speakers concealed somewhere on his monstrous robotic body. “Regardless, it is a pleasure to properly meet you, Staff-Master. At the time of our last meeting, I had no idea that the man I had kidnapped was a superhero.”
“Whatever you are doing here, it ends now,” I shouted.
Dry raspy laughter whispered through the machine’s speakers. “I think not. I am too wealthy and important to die.”
“And so very humble,” I snarked.
“I also have weapons,” Henderson’s electronic voice said gleefully. “I have power, and you will not take it from me again.”
With a whir-click sound, the Henderson cyborg lifted up his massive, mechanical, Popeye-like arms and opened fire with two of the biggest guns I have ever seen. Bullets spat forth rapidly, sounding like an angry mosh pit of bees at a heavy metal concert.
The gunfire came in such quantity that there was no chance of deflecting it. It was all Shifter and I could do to leap out of the way. Shifter sprinted left, I went right. A trail of bullet-ridden devastation followed closely behind both of us.
Over the roaring guns, I could still hear the cyborg’s laughter. He was enjoying this.
Leaping for cover behind a mechanic’s workbench, I gasped and wheezed, my chest tight with fear. I startled as Shifter leapt over the workbench and huddled down with me. His body liquefied for a second and he was once more the intelligent looking man with the beak of a nose.
“Do you remember those belts?” Shifter asked urgently. “The ones that the bank robbers wore that allowed them to teleport?”
“Yes,” I choked.
Shifter looked at me intensely, his blue-gray eyes wide. “As we were running for cover, I noticed one of those belts on a table back that way.” He gestured to a part of the room that had yet to be destroyed. “I have a plan to end this, but I need you to bring the belt to me.”
I listened as Henderson’s guns continued to chew up the room. It was so loud, I could feel it vibrating my insides. “Are you sure your plan will work?”
I took a deep breath, trying and failing to slow my racing heart. I nodded to my new friend, and then I rolled out from cover. “This is going to suck.”
“There you are,” Henderson shouted gleefully. He pointed both canons at me and started shooting.
I don’t think I’ve ever ran so fast in my life. My breathing and my thinking froze up, but my legs pumped like the pistons of a race car. I spotted the teleportation belt and I weaved to the right and leapt for it, seconds ahead of the gunfire.
I grabbed the belt just as the bullets tore into me. Two pierced my hips, at least three more went through my thighs. I didn’t even feel them, but I saw the crimson gore bloom forth from my midnight blue spandex.
“Shifter, go long,” I screamed as I threw the belt. My legs crumpled out from under me. I fell hard to the oily concrete, and only then did the pain hit me. I shivered and screamed.
I must have blacked out, because the next thing I knew, Henderson’s massive form hulked over me. He poked at me with the business end of his gun. The barrel was still smoking and its touch burned my flesh.
“I’m going to have fun tormenting you,” he said.
I wept and screamed. The pain was so intense that I thought I was seeing things when suddenly there was a flash of lightning above me. With his long coat flowing around him, Shifter stood on top of the Henderson cyborg. The teleportation belt was slung across his chest like a bandolier.
“What are you doing?” Henderson’s robotic voice shrilled.
“You’ll see,” Shifter snickered. Then his entire body melted into a clump of greasy looking clay. The clay continued to liquefy until it flowed over the cyborg like water. It dripped down the cybernetic legs and pooled on the floor. It flowed down into the machine.
Mr. Henderson screamed with rage, then with dawning terror. Random parts of the ungainly machine started to spark and pop. Discordant whirs and buzzes and clicks reverberated as Shifter’s liquid form tore the cyborg apart from the inside.
One of the gun arms fell off and crashed to the floor. The other gun ejected its ammo, sending unspent bullets rolling around the room like marbles. Soon even Henderson’s screaming ended as the speakers erupted. The giant monstrosity stood dead still and silent.
The oily fluid flowed to the ground and reformed into the man known as Shifter. He dusted his hands together as if cleaning them. “That, as they say, is that.”
“You didn’t kill him, did you?” I asked.
Shifter seemed offended by the question. “Absolutely not. I left his life support systems intact, but nothing else. He needs to pay for his crimes, and we need to clear your name. The police still think that Staff-Master robbed that bank, remember?”
Whistling a jaunty tune, Shifter removed the teleportation belt and strapped it around Henderson’s remaining gun arm. He pushed a few buttons and the giant robot vanished in a flash of lightning.
“Where did you send him?” I asked. I tried to sit up, but only succeeded in losing more blood.
“The police station. I imagine they are in a bit of a panic just now with his sudden appearance, but they’ll soon discover that he’s too broken down to do any harm. The cyborg is made almost entirely from stolen equipment. His very existence will incriminate him. Plus, I’m sure that the police will be able to tap into the machine’s onboard memory.”
Despite the pain, that made me smile. Shifter smiled too, then sat down next to me on the floor and began studying my wounds.
“You’ll live,” he said wryly.
Shifter chuckled as he began bandaging me, applying pressure to slow the bleeding. “And I’ll make sure that the police find the right clues to clear your name,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
Shifter was as good as his word. The very next day’s news was filled with stories about Richard Henderson’s crimes. Detective Foley was even on TV personally thanking Staff-Master for bringing down the villain.
All in all, it was a good day’s work for a superhero.