Too Many Long Boxes!


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  • End of Summer

    Cover Me

    by Syl Francis

    The morning's disappointments weighed heavily on Vic's mind. Nothing had gone as anticipated. Lucius Fox personally informed him that Bruce Wayne was not pleased with the presentation Vic had drawn up for the latest WayneTech electronic toy. Vic mentally kicked himself on the elevator ride down to the lobby.

    "I should never have listened to that idiot, Bradley," Vic muttered under his breath. Probably wants the account for himself, he fumed silently.

    Stepping out of the elevator, Vic crossed the wide-open entrance foyer. The place spoke of power and money. He always felt his chest swell a little just for being a part of the organization.

    "Top o' the mornin' to ye, Murphy!" he called in a poor imitation of an Irish brogue. Murphy smiled and waved back at him from behind the security desk. Vic felt momentarily better, but then the disappointment of the morning came crashing back.

    How would he make it up? He'd stared at the rejected presentation for almost an hour without so much as a niggling thread of an idea coming to him. Finally, Vic decided he needed a walk. Translation? He needed a smoke. WayneCorps officially frowned on smoking for health insurance purposes. Unofficially, though, Vic had heard that Bruce Wayne was some kind of a health freak and was afraid of second-hand smoke.

    Vic sighed. Smokers, the newest second-class citizens. He stepped outside the giant glass doors and immediately began searching his pockets…

    She turned heads as she strode down the busy sidewalk. Blonde, but not very tall. Petite almost, yet she carried herself with a grace and self-assurance that seemed to add to her presence. Appreciative whistles and wolf-calls followed in her wake.

    As she approached the immense glass facade of WayneCorps, Vic looked up from his fruitless search for a match.

    And practically fell over himself as he rushed to gallantly hold the door open for her. She breezed in as if doors being magically opened before her were an everyday occurrence. As she passed by him, she rewarded Vic with a dazzling smile for his efforts.

    Her stunning blue-green eyes instantly ensnared him.

    "Whoa!" he whispered. He found his feet and hurried after her. After all, despite the morning's setbacks, Vic was a young executive currently on the WayneCorps' fast track. When he saw something he wanted, he invariably went after it. And he'd just spotted something he wanted.

    "Hey, wait!" he called.

    Vic almost stumbled into her when she turned. She tilted her head over the side, eyes questioning. Vic's heart raced.

    "You're right on time!" he declared, making a show of pointing at his watch.

    As he spoke, he barely registered that four men in long overcoats had trailed behind them into the vast entrance foyer. However, the gorgeous blonde's eyes narrowed as the men walked deliberately towards the elevators.

    "What?" she asked, distracted.

    "I said, you're right on time," Vic repeated, boldly stepping in front of her.

    "I beg your pardon?" She pushed him to the side, glaring at whatever she saw behind him. Vic's eyes followed hers--she was studying the four men in overcoats. They looked like thugs. Vic felt a sudden flash of concern.

    Someone should report them to security, he thought. Where's Murphy, he wondered? The veteran security guard was currently assisting an elderly woman at his station. Vic's musings were interrupted by the object of his attraction.

    "Excuse me," she said, making a move towards the elevators.

    A musical chime ~pinged!~ as a set of elevator doors opened smoothly. Those waiting to get on, hung back as the passengers off-loaded. The men in overcoats stood to the side, their eyes scanning the busy entrance foyer nonstop.

    At last, the final passenger exited, a tall, sandy-haired man. Impeccably dressed, he blocked the elevator doors as he searched for someone. Just as he faced Vic's direction, the men in overcoats made a move towards him.

    However, Vic had already turned his attention back towards the attractive blonde. 'Gorgeous' was not about to get away from him. She was walking at a quick pace towards the elevators. Vic found himself walking rapidly backwards in order to keep up with her and talking at a rate to match. He stuck his hand out, and before she could argue, grabbed hers, shaking it vigorously.

    "My name's Vic, and I've been waiting for you all morning."

    She didn't exactly ignore him, and yet, in less than a heartbeat, she'd slipped from his grasp, and Vic was once again standing alone in the middle of the foyer.

    "That's very interesting," she muttered, still moving and keeping her eyes ahead. "Looks like they have something under their coats. You'd better scramble some back-up."

    Determined not to lose her, Vic immediately turned and quickly jogged after her. Almost next to her, Vic reached for her. "Yes, but that's just one of the many interesting things about me that I'd love to show you. Miss--?"

    "Duck!" she cried.

    Before he knew what was happening, Vic found himself tumbling head over heels and landing on his rear end behind the security desk. In a daze he heard the sounds of screams and automatic gunfire. How had he gotten all the way over here, he wondered, confused.

    "Everybody, down! Now!"

    "Duck?" he mumbled. "Her name's Miss Duck?"

    "You okay, Vic?" a harsh voice asked from overhead.

    Vic looked up from his awkward position at Murphy, the security guard who'd been manning the front desk. Murphy was crouched behind the security desk, his weapon drawn. Vic's eyes widened. In the two years he'd been working at WayneCorps, he'd never seen any of the security guards draw their weapons.

    Something about Bruce Wayne not liking guns, he'd heard.

    "What's going on?" Vic croaked. The staccato sound of gunfire finally registered in his mind. An earsplitting explosion abruptly rocked the building.

    Unable to help himself, Vic screamed. Ashamed of the high girlish sound, he felt a little relieved that his screams were lost in the thunderous roar reverberating around him. He grabbed Murphy, holding onto him like a frightened child as the floor and walls continued to shake and move.

    "Earthquake?" he asked shakily.

    Murphy shook his head. "Explosion," he said laconically. "Rocket launcher, probably."

    More explosions and small arms fire rocked the building. Uncaring about appearances, Vic buried his head under Murphy's protective shield, feeling ashamed of his weakness. Funny, Vic had never thought of himself as a coward, before. But now?

    After several long seconds of shaking, it appeared that the building was not going to fall on top of him. Vic finally dared to look up.

    "I-Is it over?" he whispered. Nodding cautiously, Murphy slowly rose until he could see over the desk. He waved his hand at Vic to stay put. Vic nodded his understanding, relieved that the building had stopped moving from under him. However, before he could catch his breath, he was again forced to roll into a tight ball.

    Vic again screamed in terror as the wall display immediately above his head was abruptly raked with a violent eruption of automatic weapons fire. Broken shards of glass and marble rained down on them.

    Vic tried to make himself smaller, covering his head in panic.

    "Stay down!" Murphy shouted. "You'll be safe here. This desk is constructed of the same material as an Abrams tank!"

    "'Duck,' she said…" Vic whimpered, realizing what the beautiful blonde had meant. "She told me to 'Duck--'!" It was she who'd somehow thrown him all the across the room to land behind the desk.

    Vic looked up at Murphy, but the veteran guard was gone. Vic looked around. The floor was littered with debris. He felt a sudden panic. This was the security station. Maybe whoever was attacking them would come here, searching for the guard on duty. But Murphy was gone and the only one left was--him!

    "I've gotta get out of here!" he said, desperate. The noisy din of battle still raging from within the foyer halted him.

    More screams. More gunfire.

    And then, just as suddenly as it started, it ended.

    Vic swallowed several times, trying to still the hammering in his chest. He was hyperventilating. He had to slow his breathing, he knew. Taking deep, gulping breaths, he tried to assess the situation in his mind.

    Vic didn't know what was more terrifying--the explosive clamor of just moments prior, or this deathly stillness.

    He had to do something. He couldn't just cower here in fright waiting to be killed. Making up his mind, Vic began to crawl on all fours towards the far edge of the security station. Closing his eyes in fear, Vic counted to ten and then taking a deep breath, dared to peek around the relative safety of the massive steel desk.

    The place looked like a war zone.

    Several of the huge plate glass windows had been blown out. A gaping hole where the elevators used to be emitted black, acrid smoke. The immaculate marble floor, which just moments ago had shone to a mirror gloss, was littered with the rubble of a recently fought battle.

    Vic slowly stood, eyes wide at the level of destruction. Something out of the corner of his eye moved.

    "Stay down!"

    Vic was suddenly pushed over and backwards as a hard body slammed into him. Something whizzed by directly overhead. Whatever or whoever had pushed him down was pinning him securely, a hand over his mouth.

    "Don't move! The situation is still not under control! Got it?"

    Vic looked up into the serious features of the lovely blonde for whom he'd opened the door earlier--Miss Duck. He nodded, eyes wide with fright.

    "Good!" she hissed, releasing him. Then, inexplicably added, "--I know! I know! We're looking at possible mass casualties!"

    Vic looked around quickly, trying to see with whom she was speaking. There was no one there. Vic stared at her. She seemed to be talking to herself. Suddenly, she grabbed one of her earrings and shouted into it.

    "How would I know? They had on overcoats, and it's close to ninety outside. I thought they looked just a little suspicious."

    "Who--?" Vic started to ask, tapping her forearm. She knocked his hand away.

    "Yeah, well, tell 'im, it's a little late. I'm already up to my eyeballs in alligators. He's gotta evacuate from an alternate route. I recommend the roof."

    She paused to listen.

    "Too frigging bad that the elevators aren't working. They'll just have to take the stairs!" Pause. "I don't care if it's forty flights straight up--it's Beirut down here!"

    She paused again.

    "No! I do not--repeat--do not need his help! I've got the situation under control here! You get it?"

    "But you said--?" Vic began.

    She waved him to silence, listening to whatever voices only she could hear.

    "That's better." She sounded mollified. "And tell 'im he owes me lunch!" She turned to face Vic, and making a face, addressed him. "Boy! What a girl's gotta do to earn a free meal around this lousy town!"

    She paused to listen, her features softening.

    "Okay, tell him I promise to be careful. Gotta go. Out."

    While speaking, she'd been moving stealthily around the security desk. Stopping at the edge, she waved Vic to her. He scrambled quickly to join her. He wasn't sure why, but Vic felt much safer now that she was near.

    This feeling was short-lived. She held out what looked to Vic like a Very Big Gun.

    "Um--Mr. Wayne, uh, doesn't much like guns--" he began.

    "Got this one off of one of the bad guys," she explained. "Don't worry. I'm not going to use it." Expertly, she ran her hands over it, did a few adjustments, and tossed the weapon to him.

    "You are!" she said. "Cover me."

    "What--?" Vic squeaked. "I-I don't know how to--? I've never even fired--!"

    She turned back, and impatiently grabbed the weapon from his hands. She hurriedly mumbled something to the effect of "Like this!" Quickly muttered a few more phrases he didn't quite get--airspeed…maximum effective range…center mass…and where's Arsenal when you need him?--and then, faster than Vic's eye could follow, demonstrated how to fire it.

    "Got it?" she asked, tossing it back to him. Without waiting for his response, she took off running. Vic watched, frozen as she tumbled and weaved across the vast expanse of the WayneCorps foyer, targeted by multiple weapons fire.

    "Cover me!" she yelled.

    Vic suddenly felt as if he were watching himself in a slow-motion film, his actions that of someone else. Trembling, he brought the unfamiliar weapon around the security desk, and closing his eyes, began to fire at random.

    "Oh, please, don't let me hit anything!" he prayed with quiet fervor. "Oh, God, please don't let me hit anything…!"

    It seemed that he'd been firing his weapon forever, when Vic realized that he'd been out of ammunition for several seconds. His stinging eyes were still shut tightly against the horrors of combat that he'd found himself in.

    His fingers suddenly numb, he dropped the weapon he'd been holding. The knowledge that he'd fired a weapon in self-defense, possibly wounding or killing a fellow human being, was almost too much to take in at once. Overcome by emotion, Vic began quietly sobbing.

    In the distance he heard the sound of sirens fast approaching. At this point, he grasped that his hearing must have been temporarily affected. For all at once, he began to hear the heartrending sounds of the aftermath of battle--the cries of the living.

    Through the black smoke, Vic could see Murphy kneeling here and there, offering solace to some, shaking his head and moving sadly away from others.

    "It's over, Vic," a soft voice said next to him. Vic looked up into the soft, blue-green eyes he'd admired so much just a few moments ago.

    "Y-You--remembered my n-name?" he asked. She gave him a tired smile. He noticed that she had a slight bruise on her left cheek and that her chin was smudged with soot. Her long, blonde hair was a bit disheveled, but not much. She looked beautiful.

    "Of course," she said, giving him a hand up. Her eyes seemed to lose focus, again as if she were listening to something only she could hear. "Excuse me a moment, Vic," she said. Before turning, she pointed at Murphy and several other WayneCorps employees who were helping the wounded. "Why don't you give them a hand?"

    Before Vic could answer, she'd faced away from him and begun to speak in low tones.

    As Vic started towards Murphy, he thought he heard her say, 'Babs,' but wasn't sure.

    Vic watched as the big boss, Bruce Wayne and his right hand man, Lucius Fox talked to the news media.

    "A vicious, unprovoked attack against WayneCorps and its thousands of employees…!" Fox was saying.

    "Mr. Wayne, what about their claim that WayneCorps' manufacturing practices in Southeast Asia amount to little more than slave labor?"

    "That's nonsense!" Fox said sharply, stepping forward to the cameras again. "These men were plain and simply terrorists! WayneCorps is the victim. Not the instigator! Now, if you ladies and gentlemen will excuse us--"

    "But what about--?" several of the news media began at once.

    "I can vouch for WayneCorps!"

    All eyes turned to the gorgeous blonde. Vic stood unmoving. Who was she, he wondered? He'd seen how she'd practically waylaid the four terrorists and single-handedly stopped them from causing more harm than they'd been able to do.

    "My name is Dinah Lance," she said. "Some of you might know me better as--"

    "The Black Canary!" a local television reporter shouted.

    Vic's jaw dropped. The Black Canary?

    She turned and smiled at him, giving him a quick wink. Then, tossing her head the same way she had when he first saw her, she waved at the cameras and stepped forward. Bruce Wayne solicitously took her by the arm and led her to the stand of microphones.

    "Before you ask," she began, "Mr. Wayne approached me several weeks ago with his concerns about his Southeast Asian holdings. WayneCorps USA had lost contact with their overseas plant managers, and Mr. Wayne was growing worried. He'd already asked the State Department to step in, but was told that it would be months before they'd know anything."

    She shrugged and once again offered the cameras one of her dazzling smiles.

    "That's where I came in. I happen to be a resident of Gotham City and was very impressed by the fact that WayneCorps stood by the city during NML. Through a reliable source, I found out that WayneCorps' Southeast Asian holdings might be in trouble. I offered Mr. Wayne and Mr. Fox my services." She winked at the cameras.

    "I guess my reputation preceded me, so they accepted. Luckily, I arrived in time to rescue the plant managers and their families--as well as several other employees--from being executed."

    A surprised murmur arose from the spectators.

    "From execution? But why--?" someone shouted.

    "Were they being held for ransom?" another asked.

    "If so, then by whom--?" still another shouted.

    "The WayneCorps employees and their families were held hostage by a terrorist cell that's been operating in that region for several months now. They weren't being held for any kind of ransom, but rather to make a statement. Their murders would have brought further instability to the region, which is what the terrorists wanted. Fortunately, the local authorities were able to apprehend most of the members of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, as we learned today, a few managed to escape."

    "Did you suspect that the WayneCorps building was going to be hit today, Ms. Lance?"

    Black Canary shook her head, 'no.' Lucius Fox stepped in.

    "No, we were under the impression that the danger was over," he said. "We had no idea that any of the terrorists had escaped arrest, or that they were even in the country."

    "Then why are you here today, Ms. Lance?" another reporter asked. "Are you in the employ of WayneCorps?"

    Black Canary laughed, a light sparkling laugh. "A girl's gotta make a living somehow, right?"

    The reporters joined in her laughter.

    "How about it, Mr. Wayne? Is the Black Canary on the employee rolls of WayneCorps? Have you hired yourself a superhero as your lead troubleshooter?"

    "Well, Mr. Wayne?" Black Canary asked, lightly teasing. "Am I just another one of your employees?"

    Bruce Wayne held her eyes momentarily, his dark eyes devoid of humor. Finally, turning to the cameras, he addressed them.

    "Ms. Lance is not now, nor has she ever been an employee of WayneCorps. Ms. Lance acted under her own capacity as a freelance adventurer, accepting no payment of any kind from my company."

    "Then why did she help your company specifically, Mr. Wayne?"

    Wayne glanced at Black Canary. Vic saw something indefinable pass between them.

    "Because she's a hero, and that's what heroes do." Bruce glared out at the reporters as if daring them to ask anything further. "That's all. I have work to do."

    With that, he stepped away from the microphones. He, Fox, and Black Canary were followed by a string of shouted questions in their wake. Vic took the opportunity to walk up to the beautiful superhero.

    "Ms. Duck?" he called. Black Canary turned, eyes curious.

    "What did you call me?" she asked. Wayne stood to her right, not quite touching, but close.

    Vic felt a stab of jealousy. Why did Wayne get all the beautiful ones, he wondered?

    "Ms. Duck," Vic admitted, smiling. "That's what you said earlier, when I asked you your name. You said, 'Duck.'" Vic's smile widened. "Before you threw me out of the way. Thank you. You saved my life. And a lot of others here."

    "My pleasure, Vic," she told him, taking his hand and holding it for a moment. "It was the least I could do after you opened the door for me. And you did cover my as--"

    She was interrupted by Wayne suddenly clearing his throat. Grinning knowingly, she finished, "Well, you provided cover for me when I asked. You're a real hero, Vic. Thank you."

    She leaned forward and pecked him lightly on the cheek. "And, please, call me 'Dinah,'" she added.

    Vic flushed deeply. To mask his discomfiture, he made a show of looking at his watch.

    "Listen, I'm on my lunch hour right now." Glancing up his company's two top executives, he swallowed and then hurried on, afraid he'd lose his nerve. "A-And it would be my pleasure if y-you would j-join me?"

    Dinah smiled apologetically. "I'm so sorry, Vic. That sounds like a lot of fun, but I already have a lunch date. You see, that's why I'm here…" She glanced up Wayne. As she locked eyes with him, her expression became unmistakable. To Vic's amazement, Bruce Wayne's usually taciturn glare softened considerably as he stared back at her.

    "Oh, um…of course," Vic stammered. "Um, thanks again…Ms., um, Duck…I-I mean, Ms. Canary--Lance! Ms. Lance! Thanks--" He turned and began to walk away when someone grabbed him by the arm.

    "'Dinah'!" a voice said next to him. "I told you to call me 'Dinah.'"

    Speechless, Vic looked at her, surprised.

    "Of course," Dinah was saying as she began to pull him along, walking arm in arm with him, "I have a feeling that your boss is going to be much too preoccupied by this little incident for the next few days to pay any attention to me. And let's face it--a girl's who's been out of the country for a couple of weeks needs to feel like she's being paid attention to."

    Tossing her head, she looked up him, mesmerizing him with her blue-green gaze. "So, what do you say to lunch at my favorite restaurant? And don't worry…I know a really rich guy who's picking up the tab!"

    The End

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