Firestorm battles continues his battle with the Weasel as Ronnie and Professor Stein look into murders on the campus of Vandemeer University
Martin Stein came to Pittsburgh as a kind of retreat from the stresses of the life he led in New York. He arrived yesterday to take a job in the Physics Department of Vandemeer University. Since then, things have happened fast. He and Ronnie Raymond sit helplessly on the smelting plant floor of the abandoned Shaker Steel Corporation. Ronnie remains dazed and confused from the Weasel’s vicious assault. The Weasel has them bound tightly back to back, and has unleashed a flood of molten steel from a cauldron poised above them!
FZAM! Just as the river of deadly liquid reaches them, they transform into Firestorm! “Eeeyow, Professor! What’s going on?” Ronnie yells out as they soar upwards and his senses return. “Our friend the Weasel just tried to kill us with a vat of molten steel, Ronald - - or am I stating the obvious?” Stein answers, adding, “I changed us to Firestorm in what my contemporaries would have called the nick of time! We can discuss the rest after we catch that madman!” The Weasel leaps above them on the plant catwalks. Ronnie speeds in the air above the floor, pointing at the fleeing beast. “There he goes, Professor. Calls himself the Weasel, huh?” Ronnie asks, “Wonder why…?” The Weasel leaps from the catwalk into a section of massive pipes. Ronnie quickly reaches the spot and scans around quickly. “Gone,” Stein observes, “There’s part of your answer, Ronald. He moves as quickly as a weasel…hides as deftly…and judging by his recent activities, he’s as deadly as a weasel.”
Finding no sign of the Weasel, Ronnie launches them into the sky. “He was here two seconds ago, and now he’s vanished. Doesn’t seem real,” Ronnie says, setting course for Stein’s hotel room near Vandermeer University. “Tell me about this guy, Professor,” he asks, “You two talked while I was unconscious?” Stein explains, “He talked. Taunted actually. Four people have been killed at Vandemeer University in the past few weeks, three of them teachers. The Weasel killed all of them. The question is, why?” Ronnie thinks for a moment. “I’ll bite. Why?” he asks as they land on the hotel rooftop. “To make himself ‘safe.’” Stein replies. “Safe? Safe from what?” Ronnie wonders, “Three middle-aged college instructors and a night security guard? Come on, Professor Stein. That’s crazy.”
Ronnie stands and concentrates to initiate the reverse of their transformation. In a burst of atomic rings, Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein step out of Firestorm onto the rooftop. “You don’t understand the academic life, Ronald…What it can do to an already unbalanced mind,” Stein tells him. “So enlighten me,” Ronnie asks. They open the roof access door and walk down the fire stairs to Stein’s floor. “I think the Weasel is an instructor at Vandemeer…He said he’d spent years getting tenure…and somehow, that tenure was threatened by the people he killed…and by me,” Stein explains as they descend. “What’s tenure?” Ronnie asks.
“Seniority, Ronald, security,” Stein answers, adding, “When a college professor remains at a school for a specified period of time, he becomes ‘tenured…’ Meaning he cannot be fired, except under certain extraordinary conditions. For some academics, ‘tenure’ is the Holy Grail…A goal to be pursued at the expense of everything else. The academic life can be quite competitive.” Ronnie opens the door to Stein’s floor and they pause for a moment. “Let me get this straight. You think the Weasel killed all those people - - and almost killed you - - for job security?” Ronnie asks in disbelief, “I’ll say it again…That’s crazy.” Stein closes the stairway door and they walk towards his room. “You’ll get no argument from me, my boy,” Stein replies, “Obviously, the Weasel is a dangerous sociopath, one who…” Activity inside Stein’s hotel room catches Ronnie’s eye and he interrupts. “Uh-oh, Professor. Remember the mess the Weasel’s attack made of your hotel room?” he asks with a nod toward the door, “I, uh, guess somebody noticed and called the police…”
They step inside Stein’s room to see a dozen police officers, detectives, and university officials busily working the room. Stein walks to the nearest police officer and taps him on the shoulder. “Ah, excuse me, Officer, this room…” Stein says. “Back off, buddy. Police business. This is a crime scene,” the officer answers gruffly, “Some professor got himself offed here.” Stein persists. “Actually, you see, that’s not quite…” he tries to tell the officer. “Martin!” yells out the voice of Dr. Emily Rice. “You’re alive!” she exclaims happily. She reaches out and grabs him by the arm. “Of course I’m alive, Emily,” Stein tells her, “Why shouldn’t I…” A detective overhears and interjects. “Huh? Pal, I wanna talk to you!” he barks at Stein. Ronnie steps away from the commotion. “The Professor’s gonna have enough to explain without fitting me into the picture. I better leave,” he thinks as he walks to the elevators, “Besides, I’ve got a few ideas I want to check out on campus.”
Vandemeer University. A campus security car drives slowly along, its headlight beams reaching out into the darkness ahead. The radio squawks inside. “Roving Patrol 3, this is Global 1. Report position, activity. See any animals?” a voice asks, crackling over the speaker. The uniformed officer reaches for the microphone as he drives. “Yeah, Global 1, this is Patrol 3, moving south on Campus Drive,” he answers, “No, I ain’t seen any animals, wise-mouth. Patrol 3, out.” The radio speaker squawks again. “Roger your report, Patrol 3. What’s wrong, no sense of humor? Global 1, signing off.” The car slowly passes by the Administration Building. In the shadows, the Weasel watches silently as the car passes. He leaps stealthily toward the building as the lights of the car fade away.
From another corner near the Administration Building, Ronnie crouches in the bushes. “That was close. Guess the University Board increased security after all the killings on campus. Good for them,” he thinks as he watches the patrol car pass, “’Course, I’d be more impressed if I hadn’t managed to sneak in so easily by myself.” He looks up in the darkness at the heavy vines and brush growing up the side of the Administration Building. “From what the Professor told me, I’ll bet I can get a clue to the Weasel’s real identity by searching the faculty files in the Administration Building,” Ronnie figures, “It’s a long shot, but there’s nothing much else to do till I catch the train back to New York tomorrow…So what have I got to lose?” Ronnie grabs the vine and starts to climb upwards.
Hotel Sheridan, downtown Pittsburgh. “Thank you, officers…If I need your help, I’ll call, of course. Thanks again,” Professor Stein says, watching the entourage of police leave. He closes the hotel room door. “My God…I never thought they’d leave,” he sighs. “Martin, what happened here tonight?” Dr. Rice asks anxiously. The hotel room looks like a small tornado swept through. Books, clothes, and furnishings litter the floor. A mirror hangs cracked and askance on the wall over the fireplace. “You heard what I told the police, Emily,” Stein answers, “I have no idea what happened. I’ve been out all evening. Whoever ransacked my room did it while I wasn’t here.” Dr. Rice looks at him nervously. “Martin, when the police came to my door - - they found my card among your things - - and told me they thought you were dead…I became sick, physically ill,” she tells him, “You came here because I asked the University Board to offer you a position in our Physics Department. If you’d been killed, it would have been my fault.” She walks around looking at the debris-strewn room. “Emily, if there’s some kind of madman killing people associated with Vandemeer, it has nothing to do with you…” he suggests. “I know. I’m a rational woman. Or so I tell myself,” she answers, “The truth though…that’s something different.”
Vandemeer University. “Where to start? Professor Stein thinks the Weasel killed people to protect his job…people who had higher seniority at the University than he did,” Ronnie thinks as he shuffles through a filing cabinet. He holds a flashlight close to his face to illuminate the drawer in the otherwise darkened room. Unseen behind him, the Weasel lurks in the office shadows. “You ask me, though, that’s just part of it,” he thinks, “Maybe not the most important part, either!”
He spreads several personnel files out on a desk, sweeping over them with the flashlight beam. “Let’s take a look at the victims’ backgrounds…forgetting the night watchman who was killed,” Ronnie decides, “Three people…Arnold Lintel, head of the Engineering Department. Linda Walters, music instructor. Peter Banks, Dean of Physics. All three of them were tenured…but what about another connection? He glances through their files, pausing to look at each profile picture and professional summary. “Different backgrounds, different lifestyles…different schools? Whoa,” he pauses as something fits together. “There is a connection,” he realizes, “They all went to Stanford in the early 1960’s…Lintel and Banks as undergraduates, Walters as a graduate student. Stanford. Professor Stein went to Stanford. I wonder if - - huh?” A faint creak of the floor behind him interrupts his concentration. He turns to look…“YAAAAAAH!” Ronnie yells in horror as the Weasel attacks, pouncing and slamming into him!
Simultaneously, the Hotel Sheridan. “The truth, Martin. Do you know why I recommended you for this job?” Dr. Rice asks, explaining, “Ten years ago, when we met in Washington at that seminar, I was attracted to you. Nothing serious, but you stayed in my mind.” She sits on an overturned chair. “And since then, at odd moments over the years, when my work was going well…or not going well…when my husband and I had disagreements…when we were divorced…you kept returning to my thoughts. I don’t know why,” she reveals. Stein looks a bit surprised as she continues. “Maybe you represented some kind of ideal to me. Whatever the reason…my motives for wanting you at Vandemeer were more personal than professional,” she admits, “That’s why, if anything happened to you…I could never forgive myself.”
Embarrassed, she reaches for her coat and heads to the door. “Emily, wait…” Stein calls to her. “Why? What could we possibly say to each other now? I’m sorry, Martin,” she apologizes, turning to walk to the elevators. Stein watches her go thinking, “More than you can know…” He rubs his head in thought. Wind gently blows in through the shattered window behind him. “I’m beginning to understand how Ronald feels when he complains about life being so complicated,” he thinks, “Just once, I wish - - eh?” Nuclear rings surround him and….FZAAAM!
“Again?” Stein exclaims in shock, quickly asking as he looks around, “Lord, Ronald, this is the Vandemeer Administration Building - - what were you doing here?” Firestorm appears as they fuse, locked in close combat with the Weasel. Ronnie falls back under the onslaught. “Tracking down a hunch, Professor! Guess I hit a home run, huh?” Ronnie yells as he wrestles with the beast. “Home run? My boy, you’re going to strike out at the bottom of the ninth inning if the Weasel gets his claws in our throat! Do something!” Stein urges nervously. FZZAAM! Ronnie aims a restructuring burst at a file cabinet a few feet away. ZZZAM! It shimmers and transforms into a steam shovel! “I’m doing, I’m doing!” Ronnie yells back, “First thing…I’ve gotta get this loony outta my face!” Ronnie guides the newly-formed steam shovel to extend its crane, and the bucket’s claws snap around the Weasel. The steam shovel pulls the Weasel back away from Firestorm. “Okay, it’s catch-your-breath time,” Ronnie gasps, freed of the weight of the beast.
“You’re trying to drive me crazy,” the Weasel hisses at him, “It won’t work. I’m smarter than you think. Always have been, always will be. I’ll beat you yet. Or die trying.” The Weasel flips and leaps away from the steam shovel bucket, flying into the ventilation opening overhead. SKRAK! In the blink of an eye, the Weasel disappears! Ronnie stands up and dusts himself off. “Aren’t you going to follow him, Ronald?” Stein asks. “In a sec, Professor. No rush, he’s just a nutcase. Got to fix my outfit. He tore the front to shreds,” Ronnie answers. One quick restructuring wave later and his outfit is good as new.
Ronnie phases into the ceiling and scans around for the Weasel. “Where can he go, anyway?” Ronnie asks as he looks in, “There’s nothing above this ceiling but…uh-oh.” His voice trails off as he sees unexpected void spaces above the ceiling. He launches up in pursuit. “No maintenance ducts…the entire structure between floors is open. You were saying, Ronald?’ Stein asks as they fly through. “Wiring, pipes, girders…It’s a maze up here. He could be hiding anywhere,” Ronnie sighs. “Some light would help,” Stein suggests.
Ronnie creates a light globe around his hands to guide their path. “Go ahead, say it, I was stupid,” Ronnie groans. “We should have followed the Weasel immediately, Ronald, but what’s done is done. Tell me about the hunch that brought you here,” Stein asks. Ronnie flies back and forth in the ceiling space. “I had a thought there was more motivating this Weasel creepo than just tenure, Professor,” Ronnie explains. “Oh?” Stein replies curiously. “Even for a nutcase like the Weasel, murder is personal,” Ronnie continues, “He may think he’s doing it for tenure, but his real motive might be something else.” Stein thinks, then asks, “A personal connection? Such as?”
Ronnie turns them through the twisting framework of beams and columns, light globe projecting ahead of them as they search. “Stanford. Ring any bells, Professor? You and the other three all went to school there, remember?” Ronnie asks. Stein pauses in thought. “The other three…?” he says softly. “My God, that’s why their names seemed so familiar,” he recalls now, “Yes, we were at Stanford together…but I hardly knew them. At college, I was something of a grind, Ronald. I spent most of my free time studying.” Ronnie projects the light globe several feet ahead of them as they fly. “Maybe you didn’t know him, Professor, but I’ll bet the Weasel knew you - - he knew all of you,” Ronnie says. Just ahead in the darkness, the Weasel reaches a hidden claw out and grabs the light globe from the air… “And judging by what he’s done, it’s a safe guess he hated your guts,” Ronnie adds, “Figure out why, and we might just have a - - clue? Hey!”
SWAK! Suddenly, the light globe rockets back at his face! “Yaaaaah!” Ronnie yells in surprise. FWHOOOM! The light globe smashes and splatters its glowing liquid energy all over Ronnie’s face! “Ronald!” Stein yells. “Professor - - I’m blinded!” Ronnie cries out as yellow-white fiery light radiates out of his eyes. “Got you now,” yells the Weasel, pouncing out of the shadows. He grabs Firestorm, locking himself tightly onto Ronnie’s back. He reaches his claws around to Ronnie’s throat. Ronnie reaches up desperately trying to pull the Weasel’s hands away. “Disoriented - - Ronald, what’s happening? Fingers at our throat! Ronald!” Stein yells. They hurtle toward a masonry wall as Ronnie struggles to fend off the Weasel. “Got you now!” the Weasel hisses, eyes gleaming red in the light.
CRASH! In an explosion of mortar and bricks, Firestorm and the Weasel crash through the wall! Ronnie rockets blindly through the air as the stunned Weasel wraps his arm tightly around Ronnie’s shoulders to hang on! “Professor, this stuff all over my face - - it’s wearing off! Till I can see, you’ve gotta be my eyes!” Ronnie rubs rapidly at his face, trying to clear away the globe’s residue. “Your eyes?” Stein asks. Ronnie turns, fiery energy projecting back from his eyes and forehead. “I want to knock this creep off my back while he’s still rattled - - before he chokes us again - - so tell me what you see!” Ronnie yells. Stein looks ahead. “I’ll try - - but we’re moving so quickly,” he answers anxiously, “Oh, my Lord…Ronald…ahead of you…the Fort Pitt Bridge! Sharp left, Ronald! Left!” Ronnie thrusts them to the left blindly, still struggling with the clawing hands of the Weasel.
“You want left, Professor, you’ve got left. Now what?” Ronnie asks as they pass between the bridge structure. “Mt. Washington coming up fast…You’ll have to drop twenty feet to hit the westbound traffic tunnel!” Ronnie dives down in response, eyes still blinded by the fiery yellow residue. The Weasel looks ahead, suddenly realizing he is a passenger on a flight he has no control over. “What are you doing? You’ll kill us!” he yells in Ronnie’s ear. Ronnie grins and asks, “Where’s your nerve, Weezy? This is fun.”
The Weasel loosens his grip and slides down underneath the streaking Firestorm, clinging tightly to his belt. He dangles in the slipstream as they rocket along. “Fun?” the Weasel asks, nervously looking down, “You’re out of your mind!” Ronnie glances down toward the blurry payload hanging below him. “Takes one to know one, Weez,” he smiles, “’Course, if this gets too tense, you can always drop off.” Stein glances at their path ahead. “Ah…Ronald…speaking of ‘tense…’” Stein directs, “The tunnel ahead of us is blocked. Perhaps it’s time for a change of plan?” Ronnie barrels onward, course unwavering. “Naw. Trust me, Professor. This is gonna work great,” Ronnie answers. He plummets to street level behind several semi trucks stopped by the roadblock ahead. He aims straight for the back of a trailer. “No! I won’t let you kill me - - I won’t” the Weasel cries in horror. The Weasel releases his grip on Firestorm’s belt and falls away, landing with a crash against the hood and windshield of a car below.
FZAAAAAM! Ronnie phases harmlessly through the back of the semi trailer and passes through the other side. “Told you, Professor,” Ronnie gushes, “Next time have a little faith, okay?” Stein shakes his head in relief. “Couldn’t you have just said you were going to alter our atomic density to zero? Next time, tell me what you have in mind…unless you’d rather see me die of heart failure.” Ronnie banks them upwards and reverses course back towards the suddenly immobilized Weasel. “And spoil the suspense? You’re kidding,” Ronnie laughs.
Firestorm comes to land on the roadway near the dented sports car. The irate driver steps out, shaking his fists in frustration. “Look at my car! It’s dented!” he rages, “How’m I gonna explain this to my insurance company?” The Weasel is curled on the hood, grabbing at his leg. “Tell ‘em a Weasel smashed your hood, pal,” Firestorm answers as he walks up to the car. “Yeah? You know what this’ll do to my premiums?” the disgruntled driver growls.
Ronnie leans onto the hood to confront the Weasel. “I broke my leg…It hurts so bad. This is your fault,” the Weasel moans at him. “Oh sure, that makes sense. You try to kill me, I defend myself, and what happens to you is my fault. Buddy, you should be a lawyer,” Ronnie replies. Stein suggests, “Well, Ronald…Shall we see who we’ve been fighting?” Ronnie reaches for the Weasel’s head. “Just what I was thinking,” Ronnie answers. With a quick move, he yanks the mask covering the Weasel’s face. “Take a good look, Professor…know him?” Ronnie asks. The angry uncovered face glares back grimly. Stein gazes closely at the man. He takes a deep, sighing breath, searching his memory. “My boy, you may not believe this…I’ve never seen this man before in my life.” Ronnie surveys the man with surprise. “Huh? Are you serious?” he asks Stein. The Professor nods back, answering, “Completely serious, Ronald. Ask his name.”
Ronnie reaches out his fist and clenches a handful of the Weasel’s outfit. “What’s your name, Weez? Who are you?” he asks pointedly. “As if you didn’t know,” the Weasel sneers at him. “Humor me,” Ronnie asks impatiently. The Weasel scowls and reveals, “I’m John Monroe, Stanford ’63. Satisfied?” Ronnie hoists the Weasel up by his shoulders and guides him towards a phalanx of police cars that are arriving. “Ronald, I say it again…I don’t know this man,” Stein repeats with confusion, “It’s possible we were at Stanford together. If so, Monroe made absolutely no impression upon me.” Ronnie thinks for a moment. “Maybe that was his problem, Professor. Maybe nobody noticed him…except to call him names like ‘Weasel,” Ronnie guesses, “He noticed you, though. You and the others. He remembered you. With a vengeance.”
Police officers walk up cautiously with their guns drawn. “Okay…What’s your story?” one asks. Firestorm pushes the Weasel along ahead of him. “My name’s Firestorm, Officer,” Ronnie answers, “This guy’s the killer who murdered four people at Vandemeer U. Ask him. I’ve got a feeling he’ll tell you all about it.”
Morning. “You’re certain you won’t have trouble with your father when you get home? Staying out all night…?” Professor Stein asks. They walk together into the busy Pittsburgh train station. “Believe it or not, Professor, Dad and I get along real well these days,” Ronnie answers, “He doesn’t keep tabs on me - - I don’t keep tabs on him. He trusts me.” They walk down to the boarding platform and find their way to Ronnie’s car. “As long as I don’t do anything wacko, I think I’ll keep his trust. Besides, in a couple of weeks, I graduate. Next stop, college…I hope,” Ronnie says, his voice trailing off a bit uncertainly.
“You hope?” Stein asks, picking up the concern in Ronnie’s voice. “Yeah, well, there might be a problem. See, I scored great on all my final exams…” he begins. “Stein interjects, asking, “That’s a problem?” Ronnie shakes his head slowly, looking down at the ground. “For the first time in four years,” he continues, “According to a creep named Cliff Carmichael, Principal Hapgood thinks I may have cheated. But I didn’t cheat, Professor…I knew the answers. I don’t know how…I just knew.” Stein smiles at him. “I believe you, Ronald, and so will they, once you’ve shown them what you know,” Stein says reassuringly. Ronnie looks at him happily, “Hope so, Professor,” he grins with anticipation, “If things work out, I’ll start school at Vandemeer this fall - - and won’t that be wild?” The train’s horn announces that its departure is imminent. “My thought exactly, Ronald,” Stein answers as they part. The two wave to each other, and Ronnie disappears inside the train car. “Wild,” Stein smiles as he watches the train slowly pull away.
Scenery of the Pennsylvania mountains streaks past the train’s windows as it makes its winding cross-state journey to New York City. “Weird. In a way, graduating high school is the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Ronnie thinks as he gazes at the landscape passing by, “Even counting all the stuff that’s happened to me as Firestorm. For the first time, I’ll be on my own, really on my own. Can I handle it? In the back of my mind, I’ve always known I could depend on Dad to tell me what to do. Even if I didn’t always agree with him.”
The train bends through a tunnel, and the majestic New York skyline looms ahead in the hazy distance. “But not now…Once I’m at Vandemeer, even with Professor Stein around, I’m on my own,” Ronnie thinks, “If I make mistakes, I’ve got nobody to bail me out. Yeah…So what else is new? That’s what growing up is all about, right? Learning to take responsibility…”
The train pulls into the sprawling and bustling Grand Central Station. Ronnie exits and shuffles along slowly in the moving sea of people going places. “Learning to face reality, and accept things for what they are, instead of what you want them to be,” he continues his self-analysis with a soft smile as he heads for home, “Much as I might want to, I can’t stay a kid forever. I’ve got to grow up sometime…and I guess I’m on my way.”