The City Protector
Triton City, the City of the Future!
The City of Dreams!
The City of Peace!
Rueger hated that billboard with its picture of a happy family and promises of peace and love. "If this is the future I really wouldn't mind to die right now," he said aloud to the empty rooftop. "Triton City is the city of crime and corruption. Sin and greed."
He turned away from the edge of the building, his overcoat flapping in the breeze, when voices floated up to him from the alley below. He stopped, listening.
"Whadja get?" one voice said.
"Three wallets and a purse," another voice answered.
"Nice, Wally," the first voice said. "I snatched a couple purses. Those broads give up just bout anything when ya got a gun on em." He laughed. The other man, Wally, joined in.
Then a third laugh joined in. Wally and the other thief (Bert was his name) stopped laughing and looked at each other quizzically then looked behind them, Bert drawing his gun, Wally a knife. Both men had been expecting to find another thug like themselves behind them looking to take what riches they had so recently acquired. Neither had expected to see a figure in an overcoat, black ski mask, and fedora.
Bert chuckled, lowering his gun slightly. This had to be some kind of joke. "Whadda you sposed ta be?"
"Me?" the figure said. "My name is Rueger. I'm a garbage man."
"Garbage man?" Wally said and snickered.
"Yeah. I'm here to take out the trash." Not very intimidating, but it'll do, Rueger thought to himself.
Before either Bert or Wally could react Rueger knocked the gun out of Bert's hand with a left chop and punched Wally in the face with his right hand. In the same movement he spun around and elbowed Bert in the jaw with his right arm. Bert fell to the concrete in a heap as Wally danced around holding his bleeding face.
"You broke my nose!" Wally whined, though it actually came out as, Ya bwoke mah node!
"If that's all you walk away with consider yourself lucky," Rueger said. "Now get out of here and spread the word that this city is under Rueger's protection now."
Wally hesitated, considering pulling another knife on this guy, but chose otherwise and ran off.
Rueger surveyed the area. Bert lay still, the only sign he was even alive was the slow rise and fall of his thick chest, and purses and wallets the two men had just bragged about stealing were scattered about. He collected these and looked through them. Luckily they all had the owner's IDs in them. Returning them should keep him busy the rest of the night.
Checking to make sure the coast was clear Rueger removed his hat and mask, walked out of the alley to the street, and hailed a cab to the address on the first wallet he looked at.
later that night...
Sara Walters looked at the clock by her bed when she heard the front door open. It was 3:15. She sighed into her pillow. Her husband promised he wouldn't be out all night again and yet here he was.
It wasn't just the fact that he was out all night that upset her; it was that she didn't fully know why he was out all night. He said it had to do with police work, but she suspected it might be something worse. Two nights earlier she'd found blood on the knuckles of his leather gloves. She'd been too scared then to inquire about them, but the next day she'd built up enough courage to ask. Then at the last minute she changed her mind for fear of what his answer may be.
So far the only suspicion she could come up with was that, God forbid, her husband had become one of the many crooked cops on the Triton City police force. But her husband had always been a good man, moral and just, the least likely man to be corrupted by the system. She thought his father had taught him better than that.
The bedroom door opened and closed and Sara felt the bed sag under the weight of her husband, a feeling she used to find comforting and safe but now found unsettling and even (if her suspicions proved right) disgusting.
Her husband pulled the covers up to his chest and leaned over and kissed his wife's exposed shoulder. He settled into a sleeping position.
Sara bit her lip and held back a tear she felt welling up.
"Another late night?" she said after a moment. She felt him almost jump at the sound of her voice.
"You're still awake?" he said.
"I'm sorry, honey. Yeah, my shift was about up, but I got called over to the other side of town."
"Oh," Sara said. "I was worried about you."
He put his arm around her and squeezed her to him. Sara tensed for a second then let herself relax into her husband's embrace. He was still her husband and she did still love him. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to worry you," he said and kissed her shoulder again.
"I know," she said softly. "I guess it just comes with the job. I'm fine now."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Sara smiled to herself. That was the man she married. What other man would get home after being kept out till three in the morning on police work and still be willing to talk to his wife about how she was feeling?
"No," she answered. "You should just get some sleep."
He kissed her shoulder again. "I love you Sara."
"I love you too Raymond."
Raymond lay back down and in a few minutes Sara felt his breathing fall into the steady rhythm of sleep. She closed her eyes and forced away her fears and in a few moments joined her husband in sleep.
TRITON CITY POLICE DEPT.
Ray pulled his gun belt from his locker and slammed it shut. Another day, another waste of time, he thought to himself. What was the point of putting on a badge and acting like he was saving the city when he could put on his mask and really do some good? After all, most of the bad things happening in Triton City were done by people wearing these same badges.
He sighed in resignation and buckled his belt.
"Hey buddy. How's it going?"
Ray looked up into the smiling, eager face of his partner Eddie O'Reilly. Eddie had joined the force just last year and had been Ray's partner since the beginning (mainly because Ray was the only one who would accept the wiry guy with flaming red hair). He looked like someone out of the funny pages, but Ray was quick to learn that Eddie was a great cop and a good guy-two qualities Ray hoped he could get Eddie to keep.
"I'm good, Eddie," Ray answered. "How are you this morning?"
"Good, good," Eddie said. "Did you hear the big news from last night?"
Ray shook his head. "Can't say that I have? What's going on?"
"I heard it on the radio. I guess some people got mugged last night in Devil's Town-like four or five people-and they had their purses and wallets stolen, right?"
"Yeah," Ray said to keep the conversation going. Of course, he already knew what was coming. Devil's Town was the name associated with Triton City's ever-expanding slums and it was where he liked to spend his time as Rueger. Much like last night.
"So these people got the stuff stolen and they think it's gone forever, right? Wrong! These people wake up to find all there stolen stuff just sitting at their front door exactly how it was. They call the station praising us then they call the news and praise us.
"Crazy thing is there was no one on duty there last night and no one is admitting to putting in any overtime. We don't know what's going on. The chief is freaking out too!"
Ray did his best to put a puzzled, amazed look on his face. "Are there any guesses as to what's going on?"
"Nope," Eddie said. "Nothing official anyway." He leaned in closer and spoke in a hushed tone. "There's some talk of a possible vigilante."
Ray gave a chuckle. "A vigilante? In Devil's Town? The guy would have to be suicidal."
Eddie shrugged. "Who knows? Personally, I think it'd be great if there was one. There's not a whole lot we can do in Devil's Town, but this guy seems to be getting the job done."
"It is good that something is being done there, but if it is a vigilante he's going about things all wrong. Illegally, in fact."
"Geez," Eddie shook his head. "Always by the book."
"That's our job, Eddie."
"Yeah, yeah." Eddie pushed open the locker room door and held it for Ray. "So what do you think will happen about last night?" Eddie asked as they headed for their patrol car.
Ray was about to answer, but was cut short by a growling voice behind the partners. "Walters!" It was Chief Haggarty. "C'mere." He waved Ray over to him. "Wait here a minute, O'Reilly." He then led Ray to his office.
"Close the door," Haggarty said when both men were in the room and Haggarty was seated behind his desk. "I'm guessing you probably heard the news about last night?"
"Yes, sir," Raymond answered. "Eddie was just telling me about it."
"Uh-huh," the chief grunted. "Well got reporters crowded at the front of the building shouting for answers and you're going to give them."
Raymond was taken aback. "Me, sir?"
"Did I stutter, Walters?"
"No, sir. It's just...why me?"
Haggarty sighed and leaned forward, folding his hands on his desk. "I picked you because the media loves you. You're a regular celebrity in this town."
"What do you mean? I'm no celebrity."
"You are," the chief explained. "As if pretty boy son of the mayor wasn't enough you turn down your life of luxury for the police squad when your family gets murdered. That's tabloid treasure."
Ray's breath caught. He knew Haggarty was never good with words, but he never thought the chief would be that brutally and insensitively honest. True, it had been eight years since the murder of his father, mother, and sister in their home, but still...
It didn't seem to phase the chief of police, though. "The public loves that," he continued. "They eat it up."
Ray shook off the painful memories Haggarty's words conjured up. "So I'm just a publicity stunt?"
"In the media they call it a 'human interest' piece."
He didn't like being used like this, like a puppet, but he would do his job nevertheless. "So what am I supposed to tell them?"
Haggarty slid a piece of paper across the desktop. "Just read that."
Raymond took the paper and looked it over. "It says here that an officer wishing to remain anonymous did it. I thought we didn't know who did it."
"We don't. But they don't know we don't know."
"I heard talk of a vigilante-"
"Stick to the speech, Walters."
Ray swallowed his pride and nodded his head. "Yes, sir," he said and walked out the door to face the reporters.
Ray walked back into the station with an empty, sick feeling in his stomach. He had just lied to a crowd of reporters, which would then spread that lie throughout the city. He'd told them a story someone had cooked up, told them that it was the police who had returned the stolen goods the precious night. He'd fed them the lie that the TCPD weren't crooked and really was out protecting the city.
He knew he had to, though. He couldn't be spreading stories of a vigilante. Not yet. It wasn't time for Rueger to shine.
His time would come, though.
"Good job, Walters." Sinclair McDermott slapped Ray on the back as he passed by.
"Thanks," Ray said. He eyed Sinclair's departing figure. Ray wasn't sure which side of the law Sinclair stood on but he hoped it was the right one. He seemed like a nice guy.
"Hey Ray!" Eddie was waving to him from the other side of the room. "Ready to go?" The car is ready?"
"Let's get to work, "Ray answered and followed his partner to their squad car.
"That was some speech," Eddie said after a couple blocks.
Ray chuckled dryly. "It was something alright."
"So who doe you think did it? I mean really did it?"
Ray shrugged. "Honestly, I would believe the vigilante story before I would believe someone from the force would do it."
"Geez, have some confidence in your peers," Eddie chuckled. "We're not all bad."
"You haven't seen the things I've seen."
Eddie's eyebrows screwed up. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing." Ray said dismissively.
"No, come on," said Eddie. "You've made comments before about the other guys, but you've never elaborated. So what's the deal?"
Ray knew he shouldn't have said anything. He had made plenty of comments in the past and luckily Eddie had never asked about them. Whether it was because Eddie thought he was only joking or because Eddie respected him, Ray didn't know. He knew the day would come when he did start asking questions though. He wasn't ready to go into it so he decided to play it off as a joke. He turned to Eddie with a smirk. "I'm just kidding, Eddie. Workplace humor."
"Are you sure? It seems like there's something you're not telling me."
"I'm kidding. Seriously." Ray flashed him a wide grin. "Just my competitive nature." Then to change the subject, "Go right up here," he pointed ahead.
Eddie dropped the questioning and the rest of the day progressed as usual.
A knock at the door brought Sara back to her senses. She took in her surroundings to regain her composure.
She'd turned on the TV, but hadn't registered anything that played. Her mind had been out on the streets with her husband. Wondering who the innocent person was today that he was beating money or information out of.
She shook the thoughts away, they made her sick, and got up to answer the door. She stopped at the mirror on the wall and performed a quick once-over on her rich brown hair then opened the door.
"Hey Sara." Lily Brown stood at the door in all her blonde, trophy-wife glory. "You alright?" she asked before Sara could even greet her friend.
"Yeah," Sara said. "Yeah, I'm fine. A little tired is all." She sidesteped to let Lily in and closed the door behind her.
"Are you still not sleeping?" Lily knew Sara had not been sleeping well as of late, but Sara had not confided in her as to the reason why. Who would ever want to admit they suspected their husband of being a thug?
"Ray's been having a lot of late shifts," she explained. "Sometimes I just can't go to sleep without him, you know?"
"Aww..." Lily cooed. "That's sweet. I'll tell you what, though," she sat herself down onto the couch, "sometimes I wish Benny would stay out all night so I can get some sleep." She and Sara laughed.
Sara and Lily had become unlikely friends shortly after the Walters' moved into the apartment building and became Lily and Benny Brown's neighbors. The first time Sara had seen the Browns in the hall her first impression was that Benny, middle-aged with thinning hair, had married the blonde, Hollywood-like beauty Lily to show her off. It wasn't until after a few get-togethers that Sara saw the genuine love the two shared and that Lily was much more than a pretty face. Soon enough the two of them were shopping and dining together and spending more and more time in each other's apartments while their husbands worked.
"Can I get you any tea?" Sara asked as she stepped into the kitchen.
"Tea sounds fabulous," Lily answered. "What're you watching?" she asked, indicating the television, when Sara came back into the room.
"Nothing," Sara said. "I think I just had it on to have some kind of company."
Lily shook her head dramatically. "Boy, Sara that's some life you got there."
"Oh, hush." Sara laughed.
"I'm sure that husband of yours gives you plenty of company."
"Yeah," Sara said. "When he's home." She tried to add just the right amount of humor into her words, but it didn't look like it worked. She'd sounded too serious.
"Trouble in paradise?"
"No, it's nothing like that. It's just, like I said, Ray's been working double shifts so I don't really get to see a whole lot of him anymore. He says it's only for a little while; he's just covering for someone on leave and then he'll be back to a normal schedule."
"He's probably out looking for that vigilante running around." Lily took the tea Sara offered and sipped it.
"What vigilante?" Sara lowered herself into the armchair and looked at Lily quizzically.
"You haven't heard? It's been all over the news."
"What is it? What's going on?"
Lily recapped what she'd heard on the news about the mysterious incident that happened the previous night and how the widespread theory involved a mysterious man or woman patrolling the city and keeping the streets safe.
"And you seriously think there's someone who thinks this town's worth saving?" Sara joked darkly.
"Hey now! It's not all bad," Lily said. "After all, I live here!"
"That is true." Sara laughed and sipped her tea. That's Lily-coming in out of the blue and cheering her up.
"And you know, you're husband is trying to save this city; you saying he's worthless?"
Is he Lily? Is he really trying to save this city? Or is he contributing to its downfall? Suddenly her good mood had soured again. "We need to go shopping," she quickly changed the subject. Lily, of course, had no objections.
Ray walked into the locker room and sat down on the bench with a sigh. Another uneventful, useless day. All he wanted to do now was get home to his wife and work on their relationship, which had taken a noticeable hit as of late. Quality time with Sara had started to turn into quality time brewing in hatred and disgust at the world around him. He'd adopted the Rueger persona to do his part to help revive the city, but now he thought he had only been kidding himself. He wasn't making any difference. Nothing could make any difference. No matter how many worthless thugs Rueger kicked around there were bigger and badder things out there. Things that were beyond Rueger's grasp and that were way beyond the grasp of Raymond Walters.
Being so caught up in his own thinking Raymond hadn't noticed he wasn't alone in the locker room. Voices drifted over from a couple locker rows away.
"Yeah, he wants us there tonight," the first voice said.
"Why tonight?" a second voice said. "It makes no sense."
Ray stood up and crept closer.
"Don't ask me. All I know is Red is going to be at the docks tonight and we're going to be there to pick him up."
"And the shipment?"
Shipment? Red? This conversation suddenly got very interesting.
"We'll be personally escorting it," the first voice said with a sarcastic air of importance.
The other guy snorted. "I know the pay's good, but these late nights are getting to me."
"Yeah, well," a locker slammed shut, "do as you're told. That's how you get ahead."
Footsteps approached Raymond who ducked behind a row of lockers as the two men passed. Fortunately, he hadn't been seen. Unfortunately, from his vantage point he couldn't see who the men were. That was a job Rueger would take care of that night.
It was a chilly night in Triton City that night causing fog to roll over the docks. This turn out to be a great convenience for Rueger. Concealing himself on top of a stack of crates he peered down on the scene below.
About twenty minutes ago a squad car had pulled to a stop near a docked cargo ship and two officers stepped out. Rueger recognized them now as George Peevey and Frank Josephs; they'd been on the force for almost six years. Rueger wondered how long they'd been pulling these jobs.
Shortly after exiting their vehicle men started to appear out of the darkness, pistols and machine guns in their hands. The officers put their hands in the air, but didn't seem too worried or surprised. One of the men, a muscular man in a green stocking cap, stepped forward and spoke to the officers then signaled the others to lower their weapons. The man that had stepped forward now led Peevey and Josephs further down the dock towards a row of shipping crates. Rueger needed to get closer. From his current position he couldn't hear anything the men were saying. Once the coast was clear he lowered himself to the concrete and crept closer, this time hiding behind another stack of crates. Now bits of the conversation reached his ears.
"These are the crates here," a voice said. Rueger didn't recognize it. It must belong to the man in the stocking cap.
"How are we supposed to move them?" Rueger now recognized the voice of George Peevey.
"We got a truck coming," the capped man said. "You'll be escorting it across town to the warehouse."
"What about Red?" Frank Josephs asked.
There's that name again. Rueger wasn't sure, but he had a feeling that this might be a part of the bigger problem plaguing Triton City. This Red character may be the root of the problem.
"Red will ride in the squad car. One of you will drive the car and the other will drive the truck."
"Hey, Murph!" This was a new voice. It must be one of the other thugs standing around.
The man in the cap, Murph, answered. "What?"
Rueger's heart leapt into his throat. This could be it. He poked his head around the corner of the crate and caught site of a flatbed truck loaded with crates driving into the midst of the gang of the thugs. It stopped and a person in a crimson business suit stepped out. A red, expressionless, masquerade mask covered the face, concealing any trace of who this person might be.
"Are we ready?" Red asked in a deep commanding voice.
"Yes, sir," Murph answered. Rueger noticed a mixture of fear and reverence in the man's voice. Yes, whoever this Red was he was a figure of great importance.
"Then move," Red said. The thugs immediately jumped into action, loading the crates into the truck. Red walked up to the police officers. "Who will be driving the truck and who shall be escorting me?" he asked them.
"It don't really matter to us," Frank said.
Red turned his masked face to Josephs. "You lack the judgment to make quick decisions. I do not trust you to serve me properly, you shall drive the truck."
Frank turned bright red, though from anger or embarrassment Rueger couldn't tell. Either way, it wasn't important right now; Red was already getting in the passenger seat of the police cruiser. Whatever was going down it was going down now.
Rueger waited for everyone to get into their vehicles then quickly jumped onto the truck, concealing himself between two crates. Moments later they were rolling through town.