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DC Futures:
N I G H T   F O R C E
Issue One - "First Blood"

Written By: Paul McNally
Edited By: Tommy Hancock


"Switching to local news, tomorrow marks the much anticipated arrival date of Michael McCoy. McCoy will be in town for two days, promoting his newest book, 'Ghost Hunter', which contains a detailed account of his years with the paranormal investigation agency Night Force. Night Force made headlines in '07 when one member of the trio, Jessica Martin, was killed. McCoy and fellow Night Force member Peter Willis were found innocent of her murder in the so-called 'Trial of the Century'. The book reveals the details behind the fatal final case of Night Force, hidden for the last four years. McCoy will be appearing at the Book--"

Ellen Farnam switched the radio off, giving the interior of the Cornerstone Library one last glance. Her eyes roamed the aisles as she donned her jacket. She plucked her purse from the desk, slipping the strap over her shoulder before tucking her copy of 'Ghost Hunter' under her arm. The book's dust cover crinkled as she removed her key ring from the pocket of her coat.

The chilly October air washed over Ellen when she stepped outside. The streets of Cornerstone were empty of both pedestrians and cars, not surprising in a town that practically closed down at dusk. Ellen pulled the door closed behind her and slid the key in. The lock engaged with an audible snap in the silence. She checked the door once more before taking the three steps down to the sidewalk.

Ellen's heels clicked on the concrete as she passed the cemetery on the way to her apartment building. The street lamps cast round pools of light on the sidewalk. As she walked, Ellen found herself counting her steps. Three in the light. Seven in the dark. Three in the--.

She didn't see the man until she bumped into him. She jumped back in fright, gasping as his hands grasped her shoulders to steady her. She felt the book slip from beneath her arm and fall at her feet.
"Pardon me," the man said. "I'm afraid I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
"I wasn't either," Ellen replied, looking up at the man.

His black slacks were partially obscured by the long tan overcoat he wore, belted tightly at the waist. The sleeves of the coat had pulled back slightly, exposing the cuffs of his black shirt. The black turtleneck was visible over the collar of the coat. On his head he wore a fedora. The streetlight overhead and the brim of the hat combined to form a mask of shadows that obscured the man's face.

The man released her shoulders and bent to retrieve the book, which had landed face down on the sidewalk. His olive hand closed around the volume, listing it to his face. He studied the photograph of the author on the back cover.
"Isn't this Mike McCoy," he asked.
"Yes," Ellen replied with a nod. "I'm hoping he'll sign it for me."
"Is he coming here?"
"Yes. Tomorrow."

The man laughed. "Delicious," he muttered.

Ellen smiled nervously. "I don't mean to be rude," she apologized, but I've really got to be going."
"Of course," the man said, extending the book in her direction.

Ellen reached out, feeling her fingertips brush the glossy dust cover a moment before the man let go of the book. His slim fingers wrapped around her wrist like an icy bracelet. With a yank, he pulled Ellen to him.

Ellen opened her mouth to scream, but found herself frozen with fear as twin pinpoints of red light sprang to life in the shadows beneath the brim of the hat. The light flared bright enough to illuminate the pointed, metallic teeth filling the man's mouth. His hand's jumped to her ears, holding her head in place as a gout of roared from his mouth into hers.

The moisture in Ellen's throat turned to steam, singeing her lungs. Her vocal chords crisped as the flame licked across her tongue and lips, pouring around the sides of her face to ignite her hair and blouse.

The man held her erect as her struggling grew weak. It wasn't until her convulsing ceased that he dropped her lifeless body to the sidewalk. He pulled back one black shod foot and kicked the copy of 'Ghost Hunter' into the gutter.
"The game begins anew," he said with a grin.

With that he crouched beside the smoldering body and began his work.

10:31 am

I leaned forward in my seat, watching Norma fill my coffee cup. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The thick makeup she wore did little to hide the dark bags beneath her bloodshot eyes. I watched as she topped off her own mug, scooping four teaspoons of sugar into the black liquid.

She covered a yawn with the back of her hand. "Excuse me," she apologized. "I haven't been sleeping lately."

I smiled, pouring some cream into my coffee. "Don't worry about it. I understand completely."

Norma took a seat beside her husband, across the table from me. "Now where was I," she asked.
"You were telling me about the noise."

She nodded. "That's right. Most of the time I hear it in our bedroom, but occasionally I'll hear it in the other rooms of the house."
"When did they start?"

She shrugged. "About three weeks ago."
"And you've never heard the noises," I asked Norma's husband, Fred.

He snorted. "No," he said with a sneer. "I think it's just her imagination. She's been pretty moody lately. Maybe she's going through 'The Change'."

I smiled politely. "Studies have concluded that woman experiencing menopause are highly receptive to paranormal occurrences, Fred. If your wife is going through 'The Change', as you put it, it could be that she is more in tune with the source of the noises than you are."
"That's a load of bull," Fred Carney growled. "What kind of scam are you running here, White? Do you get some type of thrill by scaring people?"
"Fred," I began calmly, choosing tolerance over a quick bust in the mouth, "your wife called me. Surely you can see what this is doing to her. I'm no doctor, but I can assure you that she will have a breakdown if she doesn't get some sleep."

Fred looked to his wife and put his hand over hers.

I tipped my head slightly, gazing between Fred and Norma's shoulder at my father, standing at the other side of the kitchen. I raised my eyebrows and he gestured to the doorway.

A young girl, seven or eight years old at most, entered the kitchen, humming softly to herself. She looked up at my father and smiled broadly. He returned the grin as she continued into the room, her pink skirt billowing slightly as she passed us.

I watched the Carneys as the girl moved by. Fred was spooning sugar into his mug, watching me. Norma was sitting straight up in her chair, wide-eyed and ashen faced.
"Norma, are you hearing the noise now?"

She nodded.
"What does it sound like," I asked.
"A buzzing," she responded.

I signaled my father and he approached the little girl, who was now sitting on the kitchen floor. He sat down beside her, watching her hands move as she played with a toy only she could see.
"Hello there," my father said, speaking in a soft voice. "My name is Justin."

The child ignored him.
"Do you have a name," he prodded.
"Mommy said don't talk to strangers," the girl said meekly without looking up.

Justin laughed. "That's very good," he said. "You shouldn't talk to strangers. You don't have to talk to me if you don't want to, okay? I'm going to help you."
"Do you know what year this is," Justin asked
"Nineteen eighty-seven," she replied confidently.
"That's right," Justin said, looking briefly in my direction. "Now, does your mommy or daddy live here with you."
"No," the little girl said sadly. "I don't know where they are."
"That's alright," Justin said, trying to comfort her. "I'm going to help you find them."

The little girl looked up at him. "Can you take me to them?"

Justin shook his head. "No honey, I'm afraid I can't. But I'm going to show you how to get there. Can you show me where you are?"

She nodded her head vigorously as she got to her feet.
"What's your name," Justin asked again.
"Norma," I said, pushing my chair back from the table. "The noises you have been hearing are not your imagination. You and your husband are sharing this house with the spirit of a young girl."
"Here we go," Fred muttered, lifting his cup for a drink.
"She died in nineteen eighty-seven," I continued. "For some reason you have become aware of the spirit, or she has become aware of you. It may have been the onset of menopause, or-"
"I'm pregnant," she blurted.

Fred coughed, spraying the table with coffee. "Pregnant," he gasped, brown liquid trickling from the corners of his mouth. "Really?"

Norma nodded. "We've been trying for years," she explained. "I'd just about given up on the idea of children."

I couldn't keep myself from grinning. "Congratulations. The spirit may have sensed your pregnancy. She may have been drawn to the child growing inside you."
"Are you for real," Fred asked me. "Is all of this on the level?"
"Yes. On the level.
"Norma, I'm going to ask you to stay here while your husband and I finish this. Fred, come with me."
"What for?"
"Because I may need you to help me."
"I'm still not sure I trust you."
"I don't need your trust," I said. "I need you."

Fred Carney got to his feet, gulping down the remains of his coffee. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Let's get this over with," he said.
"Okay, Rose," Justin said to the little girl. "Show me."

Rose led the way out of the kitchen, followed by Justin, myself, and Fred. She entered the hallway, passing two doors before walking through a third.
"What's in there," I asked Fred, pointing at the door.
"The basement," he answered.
"The basement," Justin repeated as I opened the door. "Of course it is."

Fred reached over my shoulder and flipped the light switch on the wall, illuminating the dirt floor of the cellar. The stairs creaked as we descended into the room. The damp, musty air filled my mouth and nose like wet cotton.

The little girl walked to the back wall of the basement and pointed down at the dark dirt.
"Do you have any shovels," I asked Fred.
"Yeah. In the shed."
"Get them."
"Don't get me one," Justin said, crouching to examine the spot that Rose had indicated. "I'm not doing any digging."
"Get two shovels," I told Fred.
"You're going to dig up my basement?"
"We'll fill it back in."
"I think this has gone far enough."

I sighed, throwing up my hands. "Maybe you're right, Fred. Maybe this has gone far enough. Maybe I should leave."

A wide grin split Fred's face. "You're damned right!"
"I'm sorry to have wasted your time, Mister Carney. I'm not going to charge you for this visit. Just forget that I was even here. Just forget about the little girl who is going to be trapped in this house forever because you don't want to dig up your basement. Just forget about the loneliness she must be feeling, having no one to talk to or love. Just forget about how that loneliness will eventually turn to anger."

Fred's grin was beginning to falter.
"Don't think about how that anger will manifest itself," I continued. "Maybe she'll trip you on the stairs one night when you go for a glass of water. Or maybe she'll slip a knife between the mattress and box spring of your bed to skewer you when you lay down to sleep.
"Or maybe she'll smother your child in its crib, just to show you what loneliness really is!"
"This is harassment," Fred said weakly.
"You think this is harassment," I whispered angrily, putting my face up against his. "Mister Carney, you haven't seen anything yet!"

Fred stepped back, looking me up and down. "You'd better damn well fill in that hole!"
"Get the shovels," I said.

Fred turned away, stomping his way up the stairs to the first floor. He slammed the cellar door when he reached the top.
"A knife between the mattress and box spring," Justin asked.
"It worked, didn't it?"
"Worked? You scared the hell out of me!"
"Shouldn't you be telling her what to do," I asked, gesturing at Rose.
"Hurry it up! Godzilla will be back with the shovels any minute now."

Justin faced the little girl, who was staring up at him expectantly. "Rose," he said. "In a few minutes you're going to see a bright light. When you do I want you to walk into it. It will be very bright and it might even hurt your eyes to look at it, but you've got to keep them open. Don't close your eyes. Just walk into the light."
"Will you come with me," Rose asked him.

The door at the top of the stairs opened, banging against the wall of the hallway.
"I can't," Justin replied. "You have to go alone at first, but someone will be waiting to help you."

Rose bowed her head sadly. "Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome."

Fred Carney reached the bottom of the stairs and threw one of the shovels in my direction. I picked it up, turned, and buried the tip of the blade in the dirt between my father and Rose.
"We dig here," I said.

It took seven minutes of digging before we uncovered the first bone. When he saw it, Fred screamed like a woman, dropping his shovel and scrambling out of the hole.
"Jesus Christ," he shouted, racing up the stairs.
"Call the police," I shouted after him, tossing the shovels out of the hole before climbing out myself.
"I see it," Rose said loudly. "I see the light!"
"Good girl," Justin said. He put his hand on her back and gave her a nudge. "Now go on."

Rose took a step toward the back wall of the house, but stopped in her tracks. She turned quickly and wrapped her arms around Dad's legs. He kissed her lightly on the top of the head before pushing her away gently.
"Go on," he said. "Your mother is waiting."

With one last squeeze Rose broke away from Justin, disappearing into the cinder block wall of the foundation. Her voice carried on for a few more seconds as she joyfully called out to her mother.

Dad faced me, brushing imaginary lint from his sport coat. "Another job well done," he said.

I leaned against the wall, taking a good look at him and the sadness in his eyes. "You can go with her, you know," I told him.
"And leave you alone," he asked with a shake of his head. "I don't think so. You can hardly dress yourself in the morning."
"It's good to see that dying didn't affect your attitude," I sighed. "Are you sure you're not going through menopause?"

Dad laughed. "If you don't need me anymore…"
"Go on," I said. "I can handle it from here."

He smiled and faded away.

A loud clatter filled the cellar as Fred slipped and slid down the stairway, his rump coming to rest in the dirt. He sat, momentarily stunned, before stating that the police were on their way.
"Great," I said, taking a seat on the pile of displaced dirt. "Will that be cash or check?"

1:42 PM

I pushed open the door to 'White Investigations', wincing at the scent of melting metal that filled my nose. I stepped inside and took off my jacket, looking across the dark office at Megan O'Neill's workbench.
"Why don't you turn on some lights," I asked, hanging my jacket behind the door.
"I did," she answered, indicating the work light above her head. She picked up her soldiering gun and attached another transistor to the system board in front of her.

I switched on the interior lights on the way to my desk. The flashing message light on the vid instantly reminded me that I'd forgotten to call the ex. I took a seat and played them back.
"How did it go," Megan asked.

I shrugged, even though I knew she wouldn't see me. "Alright. Dad did most of the work."
"Is he here now?"
"No," I replied. "Lord knows what he's off doing."
"Do me a favor? Let me know when he gets here?"

She smiled, adding another piece of circuitry to the board. "You'll see when he gets here."

I went back to playing the messages. Three of the four were job offers for us. I filed them away. As expected, the last message was from Renee, my ex-wife.
"Pause," I told the machine, looking at the image of her face frozen on the screen. Her eyes were still as blue as I remembered, but her hair was brown rather than blonde. Barry must go for the dark-haired beauties.
"It's me," she said needlessly. "I want to make sure that you're set to take the kids next week."

I rubbed a hand across my eyes. I'd forgotten all about it.
"And you had better not be rubbing your eyes right now," Renee continued. "You agreed to this weeks ago. Barry and I will drop them off, but you're going to have to bring them to the house when we get back.
"Make sure you call me when you get this message. I'm not kidding. Call me."

The screen went black, waiting for a command.
"Delete," I said, pulling the bottom drawer of my desk open and removing the bottle of bourbon within. I placed it on the desk before me and stared at the deep brown liquid.
"Are you okay," Megan asked.

I nodded. "Just thinking."
"About what?"
"You and Renee?"
"Yeah. And Dad."

Megan slid the completed board to the edge of her desk before turning off the work light. "You know, sometimes I envy you."
"Envy me," I asked, amazed at the thought.
"Only your relationship with Justin, sport. The two of you are closer than my father and I, and he's still alive."

I laughed. "That's a whole 'nother story, sister," I said.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," I commented with a wave of my hand. "I'm sorry I said anything."
"No you aren't," she said, getting to her feet. "Tell me what you meant."
"You're problem isn't your relationship with your father," I sighed, preparing for the outburst that was soon to follow. "You're problem is you."
"The problem is you. You're so independent that you shut yourself off from everybody that tries to get close to you."
"That's a crock," she shouted, switching the work light back on as she turned her back to me.
"You know who I saw today," I asked. "Bernie. Remember Bernie Walters? Cornerstone PD? Well, Bernie got to come out and oversee the exhumation of a little girl's skeleton today. Do you know what the first words out of his mouth were?"
"Screw you," Megan muttered.
"Thankfully, no. His first words were 'How is Megan doing?'. Pretty strange, huh? I'm sitting on the edge of a hole, a human skull and tibia in full view and Bernie asks about you.
"I have to hand it to Bernie. If it had been ME that rented a limo, reserved a table at Mickey's, and got tickets to the theatre, only to get stood up? Well, let me tell you, I'd be a little pissed off.
"And then, after I found out that the woman had been hiding out at her boss's house? I'd be looking to kick a little ass!"
"When did any of this become your business," Megan asked, loudly.
"When I got dragged into it," I answered. "I wish out could have seen the look on his face. He comes in here the next day, looking all worried, and asks if you're okay.
"I tell him, 'Sure, she came over last night and we sat around and rented a movie.' Never knowing that the frigging guy asked you out and you ditched him."

Megan turned off the light and stared at the darkened bench, shaking her head. "You don't understand," she said.

I took a look at the bourbon bottle and sighed again, pulling two shot glasses from my drawer. "Megan, I understand a lot better than you think."

I cracked the seal on the bottle and poured two shots. "Let me tell you a little story about relationships--"

The bell above the front door rang. Megan and I turned out gaze toward the man that entered the office, sunlight reflecting off the bronze star on his shirt.
"Damn," Megan whispered. She busied herself by reaching under the bench and raising a small box. She set in on top of the bench and went to work sliding the completed board into it.
"Bernie," I said, smiling. "Long time, no see."

Bernie returned the smile, his eyes lingering on Megan for a moment before coming to rest on me. "I'm sorry to bother you again, Jay, but it looks like Robbie forgot to get a little information from you at the Carney place. Damned rookies."
"Hey, you were a rookie once," I reminded him. "I'm sure you made your share of mistakes."
"No comment," Bernie said, noticing the poured shots for the first time.
"Want one?"
"No thanks. I'll have some coffee if you've got any."

I nodded. "Rough night," I asked, making my way to the coffeepot.
"You have no idea how sick people are until you work for the police," he commented. I got called in at one in the morning because somebody found a body on Sullivan."
"More like torture. I probably shouldn't even be telling you this."

Come on, Bernie. How many times have we worked together? Maybe I can help with this one."
"Believe me, we need all the help we can get. The body belongs to Ellen Farnam. Know her?"
"No. Should I?"
"The librarian," Megan asked, joining the conversation.

Bernie nodded. "That's her. Somebody torched her. Burned her alive according to the Medical Examiner. He says it happened late last night or early this morning. He also says that there's no trace of anything flammable on the body. No gas. Nothing."
"No leads," I asked.
"No witnesses. You know how this town gets at night. But get this, the killer leaves a message."
"Uh huh. Uses the librarian's charred finger like a pencil. Writes 'Your move Tracker' right on the sidewalk.
"So now, I start thinking that there hasn't been a murder in Cornerstone in almost six years. Why now? I mean, it's obviously a message to someone. But who?"
"Me," I said, putting the coffeepot down with my trembling hand. "It's for me."
"I'm confused," Megan said, her eyes moving between Bernie and me.
"The members of Night Force had code names," I explained, rubbing my eyes. "McCoy was Gateway, Jessie was Conduit, and I was Tracker."
"You're Peter Willis?" Megan's mouth gaped.

I nodded slowly, feeling a bead of cold sweat run down my spine. "Jack's probably been hunting us for years. Now that idiot McCoy has led him right to me."

Epilogue One

Michael McCoy stepped out of the jet way into the terminal amid the staccato of flashbulbs. He stepped to his left, blocking the camera's view of his press agent. He cleared his throat and paused, waiting for the noise of die down. The multitude of microphones and recorders before him waited for his first words.
"People of Cornerstone," he said in a deep booming voice. "Michael McCoy has arrived! Prepare to be shocked!"

Epilogue Two

Jack stood before the vid screen, watching the live feed from the airport terminal. He wrapped his olive fingertips around the throat of McCoy's holographic image as a chuckle escaped his mouth.
"It seems all of my eggs are in one basket," he growled, brushing the charred, lifeless body of Sharon Drew from her recliner. "It's time to make an omelet."

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All characters are ™ DC Comics
This DC Futures story is © July, 1998 by .
All artwork is © July, 1998 by their respective artists.