When pretty much everyone in the cape community either hates you or doesn't know who you are, it pays to have a few friends.
Three months ago, a small, aggressive international security firm working for a foreign power made a move for William Terrence, aka Elasti-Lad. They wanted the formula that gave him his rubber-based powers; when they found out he didn't have it, they decided to try and tear it out of his spinal cord.
The police were out of their league, and the cape community had stopped returning his calls years ago. Bill didn't have anyone else to turn to. So I stepped in.
Now he thinks I'm some sort of caped crusader.
He opens the door after the first knock, grinning like a school-boy with a secret. He's a tall, very heavy guy with a shaggy, unshaven face. He's wearing a Zombie Batman T-shirt and some sort of flannel PJ bottoms. Before I even step in, he's enveloping me in a giant man-hug.
"Oh man, Jack--I've missed you!"
I groan and shudder as the squeeze nudges my rib in just the wrong way. "Bill--please."
He sets me down. Even years after his powers have dwindled into nonexistence, he's still strong as an ox. "Oh, right. Sorry! Are you okay?"
I wedge my way past him and into the apartment. "Need some patching up," I tell him. "Also, your expertise."
I'm well informed when it comes to capes and masks, but everything I know could fit in one sentence inside a book shelved in the library of Bill's mind. The man is obsessed with superheroics, both fictional and real--if Sovereign so much as pops a pimple, you can bet that Bill's got a video celebrating the event.
His apartment is flooded with comic books and action figurines--an impermeable mass of superheroic lore. Some of it is neatly organized, but a lot of it is flooding off tables and shelves, threatening to spill across the floor. I limp my way past a table dedicated to evidence of Superman's dickery and drop myself on the couch.
Bill arrives with a first-aid kit and a tray of ice. He passes both over to me, then turns to get me a drink. "So, what's the situation, Jack?"
I undo my tie and start unbuttoning my shirt. "You know a cape named 'Nova'? Aka, Jessica Wheatley?"
"Oh yeah, the singer? She's pretty cool." He brings over two cans of pop while I peel the shirt off and inspect the dark, multi-colored bruise that's spread out across my lower left ribs. Luckily, I don't think it's cracked--still hurts like hell, though. I bag up some ice and hold it to the wound with one hand and take the pop with the other.
Meanwhile, Bill continues. "She can absorb and project light. Lots of talk on the forums about how she could even convert light into other forms of energy."
"Someone's trying to kill her," I tell him.
Bill blinks and pops open his can. "Really?"
"She's a member of the Vanguard Society. Not really--I mean, she doesn't fight crime or anything--there was this whole flamewar on the Capes and Masks site because of that. But she's still considered a non-active member."
"I know. Someone's put a contract out on her," I tell him. "Any idea who?"
"I dunno. She's basically just a teenage starlet, doesn't have any arch-enemies or anything. You contact Vanguard yet?"
"No. I think someone in Vanguard ordered the hit."
Bill stares at me. "Seriously?"
"You gotta be wrong about that, Vee. I mean, Vanguard--they're like the Justice League, y'know?"
"I know. Been tracking stolen villain tech since last December," I tell him. "Lead me to Vincent Marlowe--armsdealer who operates on the east coast. Come to find out Marlowe has inside intel. Then, just two weeks ago, I catch his end of a phone call where his contact is feeding him info on shipments to Vanguard's Vault. Stuff only Vanguard would know."
"Holy crap," Bill says. "You have any idea who?"
"No. And as part of their ongoing 'deal', this person asked him to take out Nova."
"How can I help?"
I grimace, binding the ice to the bruise with the bandages. "I need a list of Vanguard members who might be willing to sell them out," I tell him. "And be paranoid. Sovereign's out, but there's got to be a few members who have beef with Nova. Maybe someone bitter about her getting to join the club."
"Maybe I should call--"
"No," I tell him. "Don't call Cassidy. We don't need her help."
"But she loves working with you," Bill says. "And together, we make such an awesome team!"
"We aren't a team, Bill," I tell him. "I just need your help."
Bill looks down at his feet. I sigh.
"Fine," I say. "But I swear to God, if you start calling yourself Robin--"
"Robin was a sidekick," Bill responds. "I'm more of a Nightwing--your dark protege who went off into a whole other direction."
"Just get me the data," I tell him. "You have my phone number. I've got somewhere to be." I get up, setting the pop to the side. "And don't contact Cassidy. This job's getting violent enough as it is."