OUTSIDE LAS ARENAS, NEVADA.
Johnny Michaels walked along the road in the small town of North Lanburg, 5 miles south of Las Arenas, and he wondered if he'd ever make it big. He'd written songs and played weddings for years, but he wanted his big break. He had met Anthony Marcus, the world-famous singer, recently. He liked Johnny's work, but so far, there was nothing to suggest that fame would come.
Johnny's new bride, Julia, was asleep after they had spent the day in Las Arenas. They had seen Wayne Newton perform, and even thought they saw Tom Jones walking across the street from them, but is was too crowded to be sure.
Johnny had just left the convenience store, where he had gone to get some aspirin for his headache. He couldn’t stand Wayne Newton‘s music.
The hotel was a block away, and it got closer with each step. A high-pitched squeal made Johnny look up towards the full moon. All at once a bright flash of light and a loud explosion knocked him through the air, and into the side of a red 1976 Camaro parked on the side of the road.
A hand grabbed him by the back of the coat and he heard a voice that told him, "Run. And don't stop to look back."
That's when the car exploded.
A shadowed figure was crouched behind the crippled Camaro, whose door was still rocking back and forth in the road after it was blown from the frame to which it once belonged. The figure slowly reached into a small pouch on the side of his belt and pulled out three heavy steel playing cards. The edges has been sharpened to be razor-sharp. He stayed crouched and waited for the Glowing Man to make his move.
The Glowing Man was floating above the North Lanburg skyline. No buildings in the entire town were more than 5 stories high, but nonetheless, it was still a rather imposing sight to the average man.
But the Glowing Man was not average. Not by any stretch of anyone's wildest imagination. But then again, the Glowing Man's foe was anything but average as well.
BlackJack sat and waited. He stopped breathing for a second. He could have sworn he heard something. And then he heard it again. Only this time it didn't stop; it only got louder. He took his eyes off of his enemy long enough to see a jet-black Lincoln Continental barreling down the road straight towards him.
"It never fails" he thought to himself. "He always has a back-up plan."
Two men were hanging out of the windows, one on each side. Each had tommy-guns and were using them.
"Terrible shots," BlackJack muttered to himself, "but I'm sure their aim will get better when they get up here."
BlackJack decided not to wait to find out. Instead he did what he did best: the unexpected. He bolted from behind the crippled Camaro, and headed straight-on with the approaching Lincoln.
He took two of the metal-bladed cards, and hurled them at the car as it approached with frightening speed. He dove head-first at the hood of the car, and flipped himself completely over the top of it. He landed safely on the asphalt road, and turned around just in time to watch the car explode, thanks to a blast from the hands of the Glowing Man.
The smoke gave BlackJack enough cover to search out what he was looking for. He saw a glint of something metal reflecting the light of the flames, and reached to pick it up. It wasn't long until he found the other as well.
As he pulled the severed hands off of the two Tommy-guns, he looked around for any sight of his two metal-blade playing cards. Sure enough, there they were, having become two piles of melted metal thanks to the heat from the fiery car.
BlackJack wasn't sure if his risk would work or not, but he had deadly accuracy, and the guts to try it. Both gunmen’s hands had been completely cut off by the well-thrown cards, and he was safely away from the car.
If not for the gloves he wore, the heat from the handles of the guns would have blistered his hands on contact. But as it was, he felt no pain. He just aimed them both where he knew the Glowing Man was and he fired.
The light emitted by the Glowing Man's stolen armor began to increase in both size and potency. The light got brighter and brighter as he let off an incredible blast that disintegrated the bullets.
Johnny was hiding behind a yellow Mustang, watching as BlackJack was vaporized before his very eyes.
The Glowing Man smiled. So many times BlackJack had been a thorn in his side, and so many times he had gotten away. But not this time. This time there was no mistaking that BlackJack was dead, gone in a blast that left little more than a puddle of melted asphalt across the otherwise deserted road.
Now he could finally rid himself of this outfit. This piece of high-powered body armor. This armor that gave him these wonderful powers, but caused extreme stress upon his body. At only 27, he could easily pass for 45. His brown hair has turned to a salt-and-pepper color, with more salt than pepper.
William Stiles ran the Casino Royale in the heart of Las Arenas, and had ever since his old boss--Vincent Linkton--mysteriously died.
BlackJack had been getting too close to the truth, but none of that mattered anymore.
Stiles cruised through the Las Arenas skyline and landed atop his casino. Then he smiled. Life would be good.
Johnny couldn't believe what he'd just witnessed. He had lived a normal life--well, as normal as can be expected when you’ve been too poor to rent an apartment, and you’ve had to live in your sister's basement--and nothing could have prepared him for the sights and sounds that penetrated his consciousness that night.
He had seen a man clad in a red and black costume with a big spade on his chest save him from being splattered against a car.
He saw this same man run full-force towards a speeding car while bullets flew straight at him. Johnny wasn't sure to make of such stupidity. Anyone with half a brain would've ran for their life. The guy almost got shot, almost got ran over, and after all the really cool escapes from death, he got vaporized into nothingness.
He had been obliterated by a weird glowing guy who then just flew off as casually--well, as casually as someone who could actually fly--as if he'd just walked past a anthill.
Johnny walked towards the spot where the puddle of liquid asphalt was slowly re-hardening. There was a large indention on the road, but surprisingly no blood. Then Robbie noticed there was no sign of cloth or of bone. He looked around, hoping that somehow, just somehow, the guy who saved his life might still be alive.
He looked in the direction of Las Arenas, and then it all went black as he fell, unconscious, to the ground.
William Stiles sat behind his desk and went over the past few days events in his head. He went from being second-in-command to being the head honcho a lot easier than he thought possible. Stiles had made friends on his way up, and some of those were members of Las Arenas’ finest.
It was a coup of the highest order. William Stiles placed two of the men he trusted most at the door of his boss’s office. He knocked, entered, and the two off-duty cops joined him in the room.
The office was immaculate. There were priceless paintings on the walls, a solid oak desk with a marble top, plush leather seats, and a fully-stocked bar. Vince Linkton sat behind the desk, smiling at his most trusted associate across the marble top.
Linkton said, “Stiles, my boy, one day you could live like this! One day you could be the man who owns the town. Just stick with me, son, and I’ll show you how to get everything you could possibly want.” With those words he stood up and reached across the desk, a check in hand. “Here’s the payment for the judge. Please see to it that he’s no longer concerned about my affairs.”
Stiles reached out his hand, but instead of reaching for the check, his hand brandished a gun. The two men closed the door, locked it, and smiled at the soon-to-be former owner of the Casino Royale.
They later dragged the body outside the casino and into the alley behind it. A missing wallet and watch were enough to “convince” the crooked cops that it was a mugging gone bad, and they called the case closed.
William Stiles poured himself a drink.
Jack Jones sat in his bathtub, trying to soak away his pain. The events of the previous night were still taking their toll on him. He had planned to just show up at the casino to do some investigating, but things--as is so often the case with him--didn’t go according to plan.
He was positive that the death of Vince Linkton was not an accident, and not a random mugging like some of the police force were claiming. Jack didn’t want to say it, but he almost had to concede that some of his friends on the force were on the take.
He picked up his phone slowly, placed it to his ear, and dialed the number that he already knew by heart.
A voice answered on the other end, “Oh, so you’re still alive, Jack?” The guy always seemed to be one step ahead of BlackJack in knowing what was going on. It was barely 4:30 in the morning, and the guy already knew about the fight in the streets of North Lanburg.
“Yup, I’m still alive and…well, not kicking, but I’m still here.” Jack forced a laugh. It hurt, but he didn’t want to let on how much.
“Well, that’s good. I was wondering how things turned out. I figured you’d be calling sooner or later to fill me in on your adventures last night.”
“How else am I going to be famous if I don’t have some amazing reporter spreading trumped-up versions of my exploits to the world?” BlackJack was somewhat joking, but only somewhat. The power that the man on the other end of the phone had with words was unquestioned. He already had Pulitzers to spare, and he had personally taken it upon himself to act as a PR person for BlackJack.
“Let’s cut the chit-chat, Jack. Tell me what’s going on? Did you dig up any more dirt on the guy? I gather already that you’ve found the stolen armor suit, right?”
“Reuben Reubens, you never cease to amaze and amuse me. OK, here’s what I’ve gotten so far.”
The next day came and went without any incident to report. The local newspapers were abuzz with speculation about the events that led to the massive hole in the road, the burnt-out bodies of three cars, and the general lack of witnesses. Some attributed it to gang violence, others to some government conspiracy, and still others claimed it was a freak natural event.
Jack, being a member of the police force in Las Arenas, was asked to come to the scene to help with the investigation. He went through the motions, knowing already what had happened.
They never really came up with specifics, until the story hit the papers that afternoon. Reuben Reubens had broken the story and it spread like wildfire. The police didn’t know what to say. How could such a massive battle take place without their knowledge? As the day went on, the police admitted that Reubens’ story matched with all the facts they had gathered, and was probably true.
Jack Jones took the rest of the day to go back home and rest. He’d need it for the battle to come.
It had been three nights since his encounter with BlackJack, and he’d neither seen nor heard of any sightings of the super-hero. The newspaper reports claimed that BlackJack was, in all likelihood, dead.
Stiles, nevertheless, didn’t let his guard down. In fact, since defeating the thorn in his side, he’d upped the security at the casino. He didn’t know if somehow BlackJack had spread what he had learned to other do-gooders.
The added security, as it turned out, wasn’t nearly enough.
Jack Jones, well rested, but still hurting, made his way through the casino and to the office door. The two men standing guard--two off-duty officers--smiled at Jack and the bigger of the two stepped forward and said, “Jack! What brings you over to this lovely establishment?”
Jack pushed him aside and said, “Outta my way, Tony. I’m here to arrest Mr. Stiles.”
Tony and the other guard both took the opportunity to grab him by the arms. “We can’t let you do that, Jack,” said Tony. “We’ve got to keep our benefactor happy. Letting you in would not keep him happy.”
“Besides, Jack, you wouldn’t make it out of there alive if you tried.” The shorter of the two guards gave a menacing grin.
With a quick kick, the shorter one fell to the ground, clutching his shin. With his left arm free, Jack jabbed Tony in the neck, causing him to gasp for air. Jack then took his pistol from it’s holster and knocked the shorter one over the head with it, knocking him out. He then turned to Tony and gave a swift chop to his neck, and watched him fall with a loud thud to the ugly carpet.
Jack then reached for the doorknob, but the door opened inward before he could touch it. “Well, if it isn’t Officer Jones. Come in, please come in.”
Jack took a seat in the black leather chair that sat across from the bar. “What can I help you with today, Jack?” Stiles said with a air of smugness. “Nothing too awful bad, I presume?”
“To be perfectly honest, I’ve come to arrest you, Billy.”
William quickly turned around and yelled “Don’t call me that!”
“ I’ve called you that since we were in school together. Why shouldn’t I call you that now?”
“I’m a grown man, Jack. I don’t go by a child’s name. My name is William, and you would do well to remember that.”
Jack could see he was flustered. “OK, William…as I was saying,” Jack rose from his chair, “You’re under arrest.”
“On what charges?” William had regained his composure somewhat, but was still visually aggravated.
“Murder. You murdered Vincent Linkton and tried to make it look like he was the victim of a mugging in the alley.” Jack pointed towards the back door of the office which led directly to the back of the casino, and into the aforementioned alley.
“Jack, you know as well as I do that you can’t prove a thing. You’re searching, hoping that I’ll say something that will incriminate me. It’s not going to happen. You have no grounds for this charge, and if you do try to enforce this, my guards will see to it that you never walk again.” Stiles had his smugness back.
“Okay, Stiles, we’ll see what happens. Word on the street is that BlackJack is back and ready to take you down hard.” Jack walked to the door, opened it, and left the casino.
Jack went across the street to the theatre and hid amongst the crowd. After he was certain that no one was on his tail, he found his car and drove to his apartment. He gathered up a handful of his metal blade-cards, put them in the pouch on his belt, and prepared for the showdown he was sure was coming. Only this time, he would be more prepared.
Jack left his car in the apartment parking lot and made his way back towards the casino. His BlackJack costume was hidden underneath his suit coat and pants. In a matter of about 15 minutes, Jack reached the back door of Stile’s office.
He quickly switched off his clothes to reveal the red and black outfit of BlackJack. Then he knocked.
The door opened and Jack quickly dove out of the way as a blast of light shot through the opening, taking most of the door with it. Shards of the heavy oak door flew in every direction, and BlackJack covered his face from the flying debris.
William Stiles wasn’t the only one to don a different outfit for the occasion. He walked out the doorway clad as he was a few nights earlier, as the Glowing Man. As soon as he got through the doorway, he was pelted with a handful of gravel. He turned, and rose from the ground and flew up into the air.
He pointed his finger at BlackJack and fired a small bolt of energy, but missed the fleeing hero by at least a yard. BlackJack ran around the casino and yelled “MOVE! GET OUT OF THE STREET! LOOK OUT!”
The people all looked at him and some laughed. They all thought it was part of some show. Jack then pulled out his gun and shot one of the hundreds of neon lights on the casino, causing it to explode with a loud “BANG!” Then the people all scattered for safety.
A blast of energy hit a statue of Zeus across from the Casino Royale, and it flew right into BlackJack, knocking him into the wall of the casino. The Glowing Man hovered above, and gave a victorious smile. “It’s over, BlackJack. For real this time. You’re dead.”
BlackJack leaped with all the strength he had left to get out of the way of the incoming blast. The force of the blast blew a whole through the wall of the casino, and took out many of the support beams inside of it. People ran, screaming, from inside of the casino to the street to see what was happening, and to escape the flying bricks and slot machines.
The look on the Glowing Man’s face turned from gloating to complete horror. BlackJack turned his face from the enemy to see what caused the sudden change in expression. The casino was beginning to implode.
The Glowing Man quickly dove from his hovering perch to the front of the casino. He tried in vain to hold up the rapidly tilting wall, and suddenly the entire building collapsed on top of him.
Through all of the hubbub, Black Jack has somehow managed to escape without being seen.
Soaking at home in his bathtub, he grimaced as he reached to answer the ringing phone. “So, are you retiring now?” Jack smiled.
“No, Reuben. I’m not retiring. I hurt like crazy, and if I were sane, I’d probably retire after this, but I think I’m still needed around here. Why do you ask?”
Reuben Reubens laughed. “Well, Jack, I was just figured if you were going to retire, I could just kill you off in my story for tomorrow’s paper. You’d be a legend.”
Jack laughed. “I appreciate the thought.”
“So, case closed?”
“Yes, Reuben,” Jack closed his eyes and leaned back. “The case is definitely closed.” Jack hung up the phone and took a well deserved nap.
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