The Box Hunters
3: Enter Captain Fearless
Not too far away, geographically speaking, a figure of physical grandeur stood before a full-length mirror. A close-fitting silver costume accented the perfect physique. The slightest movement of the magnificent body rippled a glistening cloak. This was Richard Forbes.
His faithful valet, Sako, stood by his side ready to receive the costume. No one else in the entire world knew that Richard Forbes, wealthy young man-about-town, was in reality Captain Fearless, the scourge of evil sorcerers. Protector of the affrighted and downtrodden. Richard was in the process of reverting to his normal, unassuming alter ego after a night of punishing evil-doers and depriving them of their ill-gotten gains.
He had reason to be satisfied. Once again, his archenemies, Austin Brown and Morgan Chain, were outwitted. The deed was so effortlessly accomplished, despite the protective apotropaisms they employed against him, that he experienced a momentary condescension, if not actual contempt for them. Sako shared his master's satisfaction. He accepted the silver cloak and draped it carefully over his arm.
"We've added Commander Bandholtz to our collection, Sako." The statement was delivered in a pleasing baritone, for even Richard Forbes's voice was perfect.
The remark was born of jubilation. The valet was perfectly aware of his master's success, for he had carried the dried and restored cadaver up the stairs. To get it temporarily out of the way until an exhibition room could be prepared, Sako had thrust it, standing upright, into a convenient clothes closet. He was glad that the task of stealing Lcdr. Bandholtz from the wizards had taken so little time. The weather threatened to rain, and Captain Fearless had neglected to take his silver umbrella with him.
Captain Fearless removed the silver hood. Soft blond hair cascaded onto his impeccable forehead. The valet was ecstatic for his master's sake.
"This is a great moment, huh, boss?"
Forbes permitted the ghost of a smile to touch his lips. "It's a great moment, yes. But not the moment we've waited patiently for, for six long years. My uncle must not fall into their hands!" The pleasant voice trailed off into a strained silence.
Sako accepted the hood. The valet commiserated, "Finding Generar McFierd's box not so easy as we thought."
Though he substituted r's for l's, Sako could speak English perfectly. He attended special courses at the Sago Mountain University to learn how to elide the letters.
Without the substitution, he would not have appeared authentic as a Japanese valet. Forbes spoke philosophically. "All things come to those who wait." He added, "Of course, we must act decisively when the moment comes. We mustn't let those two idiots, Brown and Chain, circumvent us. If we aren't on our toes, they just possibly may get lucky."
"Brown and Chain." Sako repeated the names as if he had inadvertently swallowed a viral strain of exquisite repulsiveness.
His right hand performed a peculiar motion almost of its own volition.
Captain Fearless seized the hand before the motion was completed.
"Not now, Sako! We must not embark on a thaumaturgical duel except as a last resort. Be of good heart. They have age and experience on their side, but we are young and strong. Eventually they will tire and we shall triumph."
The valet glowed. "Then ours wirr be the finest correction in the worrd." He spoke as if the collection was as much his as his master's.
In a way, it was. Sako put as much effort into obtaining the individual items as did the captain. He took the silver mask from Forbes and set it aside.
He remarked, "Too bad we have no Mr. Boes to herp us."
The captain admitted that it would be a great help. "But Boes is a Class One resuscitant, Sako. Even if we seized him, we could not force him to do our bidding. He would have to be agreeable of his own free will and you know how fanatically loyal he is to Margrave."
Sako advanced a suggestion redolent of his oriental cunning. "Can he be bribed?"
"I don't think he's interested in money or power, and to my knowledge he doesn't collect stamps."
"Is he interested in sex?"
The captain spoke reprovingly. "I must remind you that he has been dead at least a century."
"Nonetheress! ... "
Forbes mulled the suggestion over carefully. "I'll inquire discreetly when I see him again."
"I berieve you took a rist from him when you last captured him rast week?"
"That's so. It's a compilation of graves in the order of best probabilities - that is, where my uncle might be buried. Isn't it ironic that the most sought-after piece for their collection should be a member of my family?"
The valet refrained from pointing out that the wizards would be even more delighted to get their hands on him. Instead he said, "But they know that now you have a copy of the rist. They know you wirr be competing against them to find the generar. They could attempt an entrapment."
"No, I don't think so. Humiliating though it may be, Boes harbors no special apprehension where I am concerned. I'm almost sure he wouldn't bother to report my actions to the wizards. The worst I think he would do would be to change the search sequence of the list in an effort to confuse me."
Sako replied, "In a way that might be beneficiar. He could be digging up some of the graves while you were digging up the others. It would cut the search time in harf."
"The big disadvantage would be that he might find the general while I was digging somewhere else. Once Brown and Chain got him into those metaphysical rooms, it would be difficult to retrieve him. Besides, I prefer the satisfaction of letting them do the work and then depriving them of its rewards." The captain coughed delicately and then stated with obvious pride, "Robin Hood was one of my ancestors."
"Sure, boss, him one big crook, too." In the preoccupation of advancing his perspective, Sako forgot to mispronounce his l's and in consequence sounded like an upper-class Bostonian.
"Brown and Chain haven't that much of a head start. Despite the numerous resuscitants at their command, they've allocated but a handful for locating and exhuming General McField. On this side, it is just you and I. But you could excavate a subway tunnel with your bare hands in a matter of hours if you wanted to. And you have the velocity of a speeding bullet. You can travel through the air like a bird, leap off tall buildings. You can swim through the ocean and defeat armies single-handedly. I would say that in a showdown, the advantages are ours."
"You forget one thing, old friend. The conflict is not going to be waged with physical weaponry. There is magic arrayed against us."
"Oh, well, in that case, I can have a contract taken out on them with Joe de Napoli."
Captain Fearless shook his head in disapproval. "Only as a last resort." He added, after a moment of deliberation, "They began earlier than we did, and consequently, they have an inside track. Moreover, Brown and Chain are adept at throwing dust in faces. If they think of a way to mislead us, they'll certainly use it."
Sako brought up another subject. "Where were you thinking of displaying Commander Bandholtz?"
"How about the blue room? Instead of a placard, I want a reproduction of his original grave marker placed by the coffin."
The valet looked surprised. "Coffin? I thought he was going to be laid out in bed as if he'd just gone to sleep."
"That was my original thought," Forbes admitted, "but if we did that, we couldn't have him wearing his uniform. He'd be more apt to look as if he should be in pajamas."
"That's so!" Sako replied. "I never thought of that." Actually, the thought had occurred to him.
Captain Fearless repeated, "I think a tombstone would be more appropriate."
Sako agreed. "Besides, visitors have a tendency to scribble graffiti on the placards."
"Of course the commander's grave fell to pieces years ago, but they ran to a type. I'm sure the workshop can improvise a satisfactory facsimile. I'll think of a suitable inscription and send it down later."
"Asleep in the deep for the angels to keep," the valet suggested.
Forbes promptly vetoed the proposal. "Not martial enough. Something that smacks more of the military ... gunpowder and exploding shells and that sort of thing."
Sako reported the new arrivals as if it had just occurred to him. "Strangers moved into Margrave last night. Two men, two women, and a very young child. There also was a dog. They seem to be alive."
Skepticism showed itself on the captain's attractive brow. "Alive? Nonsense! What would live people be doing in Margrave? Still, it would be a first; I've never known Brown and Chain to resuscitate a dog. Perhaps they are going in for family groupings?" He turned his head to better observe the fall of his hair in the mirror, while he considered. "I rather like that. We've never attempted family groupings either ... or pets. We must try it ourselves."
Sako discreetly cleared his throat and slyly advanced an additional piece of information.
"One of the women is young and very attractive."
"I don't think Boes would be interested. I'm sure he'd prefer someone with maturity and common sense." The captain glanced up with sudden interest. "Young? Attractive? I wonder how she would look in our collection."
"Probably exquisite. But I don't think she'd be enthusiastic about the prospect ... the young never are. And of course when nature qualifies them, they no longer are beautiful."
The conversation was interrupted by a long, drawn-out moan from outside. It was muted by the walls, but nonetheless the effects were bone-chilling. Sako blanched.
Forbes waited until the cry ceased. He spoke to the valet in a subdued, almost strained voice. "The roach is prowling. See to it that on no account is anyone to leave the protection of Arrowswift."
"Are you going to look for it?" the valet asked in a hushed voice.
"Of course! That's my purpose in life ... I'm a superhero."
"But you've looked for him before and never found so much as a footprint."
"I'm sure the roach enjoys the aegis of magic."
Sako sought to dissuade his master. "All the more reason why you shouldn't go out. Remember what happened to that party of resuscitants that were looking for him? There were ten of them and they were armed to the teeth."
"I know what happened to them. It must have been an accidental encounter. The roach isn't to be found when he doesn't want to be. I've never been able to find him even with my super hearing and sight."
The captain donned his costume again. "There is one place it has never occurred to me to look - inside Margrave."
The valet showed his astonishment. "You really don't think that Brown and Chain would stoop to that level?"
"It's against the psychological profile I've drawn of them, yes. But why can't it be them? Who else but they can raise hell?"
Sako objected immediately. "But the ten resuscitants ... they were Margrave servants."
"What would ten resuscitants mean to them? They can replace their losses like that!" The captain snapped his fingers. "Wouldn't it be worth a party of resuscitants to divert suspicion?
They wouldn't ever be at a loss for replacement material. I don't think that any graveyard within fifty miles is safe from them."
The valet disagreed. "I don't know ... somehow, I can't view them in that light."
"There isn't any reason to think I'll be more successful tonight than I've been on previous nights, but I must try. I'm going to pay Margrave a visit. Hopefully, an unanticipated one." The captain regarded himself soberly in the mirror. "Soon I shall be engaged in the greatest struggle of my life. Only time will determine whether Captain Fearless is to survive." He moved his shoulders in a centric motion to make the cloak swirl arrestingly. "Also, if I run into Mr. Boes, I'll give him another opportunity to desert Margrave. What did you say I ought to attempt as a bribe?"
"See if you can arouse his interest in tropical fish. I understand they're all the rage now amongst hobbyists."
Captain Fearless strode to the door and let himself out into the night.
To be continued... in print!