The Fury of Firestorm #50

    The Fury of Firestorm » The Fury of Firestorm #50 - Vows released by DC Comics on August 1986.

    Short summary describing this issue.

    Vows last edited by Guru_Crack on 02/06/22 02:47AM View full history

    A World War II-era secret agent, long thought dead, contacts his old controller to announce he is reactivating the top-secret 'X Protocol'. A terrible injury occurs during the Vandemeer University football game. Ed Raymond is kidnapped in broad daylight by forces unknown outside the Daily Express Building, after which Felicity Smoak contacts Ronnie to summon him to New York City. A firefight ensues in a Queens warehouse when the long-lost agent encounters operatives from his old organization. Firestorm tracks down the leader of the organization while following a lead about his father's kidnapping.

    Firestorm826's Panel-by-Panel Story Summary (Spoiler Alert)

    “Attorney to Wed Daily Express Editor” announces the headline. A picture of the happy couple smiles out at the reader who carefully oils and polishes a semi-automatic pistol. “Felicity Smoak and Edward Raymond to Exchange Vows Tomorrow,” the picture’s caption reads.

    A picture in a newspaper. That’s all it takes to stir a memory from the distant past. The man sets down the gun on the table. He stands and reaches for a phone on the wall. He punches a number into the touch-tone key pad and waits for an answer.

    “Sir, we’ve got a contact on one of the decommissioned lines. Priority code,” an assistant announces in an upper floor office somewhere. “I’ve transferred the call to your secure line. He asked for you, Mr. Rigby, by name,” he continues, standing in front of Rigby’s desk. “The Hell…” Rigby sighs. He puts down a document and reaches for the phone.

    “Who is this?” Rigby snaps into the phone, “This number hasn’t been in official operation for almost fifteen years…” The man answers, “Control, this is Aviator.” Rigby gasps. “My God…Aviator?” he blurts breathlessly, adding, “We thought you were dead.”

    Aviator explains, “You thought what I wanted you to think. I wanted out, so I arranged my own retirement. But now I’m back in the game. I’m activating the ‘X’ Protocol. We’ll be talking.” Rigby stammers, “The ‘X’ Protocol - - Good God, man, do you know what you’re asking? Nobody can…”

    Klik! Aviator abruptly hangs up the phone. He walks back to his desk and picks up the newspaper. Rrrip! He carefully tears out the article about Felicity Smoak and Ed Raymond, folding it and putting it into his shirt pocket. Fourteen years is a long time to stay buried. It feels good to climb out of the grave.

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s a lot like every other medium-sized American city. KPOW! POW! Two thugs on a rooftop fire shots into the night at Firestorm as he approaches them quickly.

    Crime, urban decay, a declining central-city population: They’re the realities for most northeastern cities. POW! POW! POW! More shots are fired. Firestorm nears the men, and they turn to flee, still squeezing off rounds in his direction. Ronnie aims a restructuring burst just behind them, and instantly, a large metal wall springs up in their path.

    But they’re not the only realities. A strong sense of community, a vital cultural center, a movement toward civic revitalization…KTONG-TONG! The two men sharply smack into the metal wall!

    These too are realities in Pittsburgh. Just thought you’d like to know. Ronnie snatches a thug in each hand and flies down from the rooftop to the street. Waiting are several police officers and curious onlookers. They break into cheers and applause as he lands.

    “Y’know, you keep this up, I’m gonna be out of a job,” announces S.W.A.T. Captain Davis. “Yaaah, Firestorm!” a fan yells out. “We’re number one!” another cheers. “Yeee-haaa!” cries another. Police officers handcuff the thugs and escort them to the waiting paddy wagon.

    Firestorm floats over to Captain Davis as TV and newspaper cameras film away. “You, Len? Not a chance,” Ronnie tells Davis, “Chief Ferguson wouldn’t know how to get along without you.” Captain Davis smiles at him. “From your mouth to God’s ear. Those punks’ve been terrorizing this neighborhood for months,” he answers, asking, “They give you trouble?”

    Ronnie hands over the pistols he confiscated from the punks. “They tried,” he replies. “Who would’ve thought, when I talked the Chief into taking you on as a Special Investigator during that Moonbow trouble, that he’d make you a permanent Special Deputy,” Davis explains, adding, “Gotham City may have the Batman…but Pittsburgh’s got Firestorm.”

    Ronnie blushes with mild embarrassment. “Aw, shucks,” he answers, “Wish I could hang around for a chat, Len…but I’m late for a football game.” Ronnie stretches up and flies skyward. “The Steelers?” Davis asks, yelling up, “Hey, if you’ve got tickets…Hey!”

    The street falls away as Ronnie banks and sets course for Vandemeer. “Getting cocky, aren’t we, Ronald?” Stein asks. “I know what you’re going to say, Professor Stein, and maybe it’s true, a little,” Ronnie replies, “But after the way my luck’s changed these last few days, haven’t I got a right to feel good?” They quickly find a landing spot near the Vandemeer Stadium. Crowds buzz in anticipation at the pre-game activities.

    He concentrates, and the fusion of two men into one is reversed, separating Nuclear Man into scientist and student once again…

    “Felicity dropped her lawsuit against Firestorm…She and Dad are getting married tomorrow…The City thinks we’re great…We’ve got friends on the Police force…and on top of all that…I’m about to play in my first game as a wide receiver for the Vandemeer Vikings. Why shouldn’t I be cocky?” Ronnie asks.

    Stein puts a hand on Ronnie’s shoulder. “Still…” he starts to say. Ronnie turns toward the nearby locker room entrance. “Still, nothing,” he answers, adding, “Watch the game, Professor. We’re gonna be great.” Stein thinks and rubs his chin. “I’m not a fan of contact sports, my boy. But you have a good time,” he replies, “And for Heaven’s sake, if not for Firestorm’s - - be careful.”

    New York City: That part of Manhattan that’s come to be known as the ‘Yupper West Side…’ “I love the way you look before you have your orange juice,” Felicity says playfully. “Gnmbrph,” Ed mumbles through a face full of shaving cream. She leans on the bathroom door frame as he dips his razor into the sink. “It’s cute. You’re like a mean old bear,” she continues, “Most people stay on their best behavior before they’re married, but not you, Mr. Raymond. Or maybe this is your best behavior. Maybe, after tomorrow, you’ll get worse. What an idea.”

    She walks towards the dining room table and Ed follows. “Gnnbrrmp,” he mumbles, wiping his face with his towel. She takes a seat as he pours himself a glass of orange juice. “Better?” she asks. “Mmm-hmm,” Ed says as he takes a gulp, adding, “I’ll be finished at the Express by noon. Meet me for lunch?” He leans in and kisses her on the forehead. “You bet,” she agrees, “Remember, we see the caterers at two.”

    Later, Felicity will recall what they said this morning. And she’ll wonder why she felt no premonition of tragedy.

    Snow falls gently on a cemetery somewhere. The wind blows cold as a solitary figure walks among the tombstones. He pauses at one. It reads, “Catherine Rockwell, 1920-1972, Beloved Wife and Mother, Rest in Peace.”

    The last time he was here it was a bright summer day. Fourteen years ago. He didn’t notice the weather then; he doesn’t notice it now. The woman he loved is long dead. Today he will deal justice to the man who killed her.

    Washington, D.C. “He’s gone rogue, Markham. Activating the ‘X’ Protocol after all these years…He must be out of his mind,” a man says. Markham kneels next to a park bench next to him. He feeds a group of pigeons from a bag of seeds. The Washington Monument stands nearby.

    “The group is in a sensitive position. No one knows about our activities…Not the Congress, not the White House, not the CIA or the FBI. Officially, we don’t exist,” Markham explains to his companion, adding, “When there’s a job too dirty for anyone else, we do it. We choose our own assignments, our own targets, and we answer only to ourselves. That’s the way it has to be. That’s the way it has to stay. I can’t let a senile old man jeopardize our entire operation. He has to be stopped.” Markham’s companion looks at him directly, asking, “Full sanction?” Markham nods as he returns to his car. “Absolutely,” he answers, “Kill him.”

    Vandemeer University, Pittsburgh. The stands are jammed at the football stadium as the crowd watches the marching band. “Okay, we’re going into the second half trailing by six points, and that means we gotta hustle,” Coach Percy tells his team, “And when I say hustle, I mean we gotta kick some rear meat.” He looks over at Hugo Hammer. “Hugo…you hear what I’m telling you?” he asks. “Uh…sure…Coach,” Hugo nods slowly, “Uh…I know what to do. Tackle.”

    Ronnie looks over at his teammate. “Good old Hugo,” he thinks, “Who would’ve thought Cliff Carmichael’s cousin would turn out to be such a sweet guy. Ronnie grabs his helmet off the bench. “I guess it’s too bad,” Ronnie thinks, “Hugo’s big, and he’s strong, but he doesn’t have the killer instinct. He’s also just a tad absent-minded. He took my helmet and left his again.” Ronnie puts on Hugo’s helmet and runs out for the opening play of the second half. “Poor guy,” he thinks, “He’d better straighten out, or Coach Percy will cut him from the team. And that would be a first-class shame.”

    Cliff ambles down the stands next to Doreen. “What luck. An empty seat next to my favorite lady,” he tells her as he squeezes in next to her. “How’s the Ronnie Raymond fan club holding up, Doreen? Still starving for members?” he asks.

    “Drop dead, Cliff,” Doreen tells him. “Such abuse. Why do I put up with it?” he asks. “I don’t know, Carmichael,” Doreen answers, adding, “Maybe you’re brain-dead.” She scooches as far away from him as the limited space on the bleacher seats will allow.

    “Funny lady, very funny,” Cliff thinks, “You’ve no idea. You can’t imagine, how much I hate you. Ever since high school, when you cut me dead so you could go out with him…I’ve hated your guts. You and Raymond both. You just can’t imagine.”

    Vandemeer’s offense drives downfield. Ronnie makes a leaping catch and comes down on his feet, sprinting past defenders. Hugo runs alongside, looking for a block. Number 27 of the defense gets near Ronnie. Hugo lunges to free Ronnie’s path. Hugo and Number 27 collide as Ronnie dives into the end zone for a score! The impact drives Hugo’s helmet off. He falls face-first to the turf. He lands head-first and…SNAP! His head wrenches back sharply, cracking his neck.

    Swarmed by teammates in the end zone, Ronnie looks back downfield. “Hugo...?” he asks softly. In the stands, Doreen is horrified. She covers her mouth with fear. “Something’s wrong down there…Cliff - - your cousin, Hugo…” she says nervously.

    The crowd quickly becomes hushed. The field umpire runs over to Hugo. “Get the Doctor - - we’ve got a boy hurt,” he yells out. Ronnie rushes up. “Hugo?” he asks, “Omigod…” Hugo lies on his back, not moving. “Ronnie…I scared…” he says softly, his eyes wide with fear. His arms stretch above his head onto the grass, and his head rests unnaturally bent towards his left shoulder. The team doctor rushes up. EMTs arrive with a stretcher. Teammates stand near their injured teammate, watching silently. “…I can’t move…” Hugo murmurs softly.

    Overhead, the sun still shines and the crisp winter air remains clear as ice, but for Ronnie Raymond, the world has become gray and brooding…

    “Ronnie…Wait up…” Doreen calls to him. Dejected fans, saddened by Hugo’s injury, file quietly onto the concourse outside the stadium. Ronnie holds his helmet, picked up from the grass near where Hugo was hurt.

    “That was awful. God, poor Hugo,” Doreen says as she reaches for Ronnie’s arms. “His neck’s broken. The Doctor says it’s halfway a miracle Hugo’s still alive,” Ronnie tells her, “One in a million he’ll ever walk again. It should’ve been me.”

    Doreen stops abruptly, looking at Ronnie in disbelief. “Don’t say that, you can’t feel guilty about…” Ronnie interrupts, holding up his Number 20 helmet. “I don’t feel guilty, Doreen. I mean it should have been me,” he explains, “Hugo was wearing my helmet. And somebody cut the strap.”

    The Daily Express Building, Manhattan, New York. Ed Raymond walks along the sidewalk busily reading the paper. A red pickup truck sits parked behind him. “That’s the guy,” the passenger says as Ed walks past. “Fits the picture, all right. Let’s do it,” the driver answers.

    Felicity sees Ed. “That’s my man. Give him a newspaper, and he’s so busy reading it he wouldn’t hear a grenade going off,” she thinks. The red pickup slowly pulls near him. “Ed, over here!” Felicity calls out.

    The passenger door of the truck pops open. The man in the passenger seat leans out and latches both hands onto Ed. Ed’s newspaper flies apart as he tries to pull away. Felicity looks on, screaming in panic, “ED!”

    The man pulls on Ed, yelling, “Got ‘im, Charlie! Gas it!” He leans back and pulls Ed inside. VRRROOOM! The truck speeds off, tires squealing off the sidewalk and bumping into an oncoming car. Felicity helplessly tries to run after it. “…Ed…” she calls softly, trying to concentrate enough to make out the truck’s license plate.

    Rrrring! A phone on the dorm hallway wall rings at Vandemeer University. A student answers, “Salinger Hall…Uh-huh. Just a second, here he comes now.” Ronnie and Doreen walk down the hallway. “Shouldn’t we tell someone about your helmet, Ronnie? Coach Percy, or the Dean?” Doreen asks. “Yeah, we better call…” The student waves the phone at Ronnie, calling to him,” Yo, Raymond…Phone.”

    Ronnie takes the receiver and puts it to his ear. “Hello?” he asks hesitantly. “Ronnie, you’ve got to come to New York. Ed’s been kidnapped. We need you,” a voice blurts out on the other line. “Whoa, slow down...,” Ronnie answers, asking, “Felicity?” She continues to rush. “We don’t have time for this. I held something back from the police. I said I didn’t see the license on the pickup, but I did,” she explains. “You lied to the cops? Why?” Ronnie asks. “I don’t want him killed, Ronnie,” she continues, “And I thought of you. I knew you could do something.”

    Ronnie thinks a moment, asking, “Me?” Felicity runs her hand through her hair, anxiously standing at the pay phone in the police station. “Ronnie, shut up and get here! One Police Plaza,” she orders him, “No more games, please! Your father’s life is at stake. We need you. We need Firestorm!” Ronnie eyes bolt wide open. Klik! Hmmmmm….Felicity hangs up abruptly and the line goes dead.

    Doreen looks at Ronnie’s face. “Ronnie, what is it? What’s wrong?” she asks anxiously. Ronnie hands her his football helmet. “Doreen, take the helmet to Coach Percy. Tell him what we talked about. I’ve gotta see Professor Stein,” Ronnie tells her, rushing past quickly. “Hey, watch where you’re…” a student cries out as Ronnie bumps into him. “Raymond, uh, never mind,” he says softly, seeing Ronnie’s expression.

    Ronnie sprints around the building to a secluded area. “She knows,” he thinks nervously, quickly beginning the transformation.

    Seconds later, Firestorm appears in the sky over Vandemeer. “Felicity knows!” Ronnie yells, quickly setting course for New York City. “Knows what, Ronald?” Stein asks, “Why did you summon me? Where are you taking us?”

    Ronnie rapidly gains speed. “Manhattan, Professor. Police Headquarters. My Dad’s been kidnapped,” he quickly explains, “Felicity called to tell me. She asked me to come as Firestorm. As Firestorm, Professor! Dad’s been kidnapped. Felicity knows I’m Firestorm. And somebody tried to kill me at the football game. God, poor Hugo. Remember you warned me not to get cocky? How could things turn around so fast?”

    The Manhattan skyline looms up ahead in the darkness. “Tell me everything, Ronald,” Stein asks, “What’s this about the game..?”

    By necessity, the explanation is brief, and far from complete…Ronnie guides them to a landing on the concourse outside Police Headquarters where Felicity stands waiting. “We’ll have to put your problems in Pittsburgh on the back burner, I’m afraid. This is One Police Plaza…and there’s your father’s fiancée,” Stein observes.

    “Firestorm, I checked the pickup’s license with a friend in the D.M.V.,” Felicity explains quickly, “She gave me an address in Queens. We can…” Ronnie interrupts. “Hey, not so fast, Miss Smoak,” he answers, asking, “I want to know…”

    She is way ahead of him. “What? How I guessed your big secret?” she answers, “I may look like an idiot to you, Ronnie - - you’ve certainly treated me like one - - but I’m not. Ronnie Raymond disappeared when a group of so-called super-villains attacked the Pittsburgh Civic Center…and Firestorm appeared half a second later. That started me thinking.”

    She points at his chest. “And what you said in Court during the lawsuit trial just confirmed what I suspected,” she continues, “Your choice of words, the way you spoke, your naïve idealism…You might as well wear a name plate.”

    Ronnie asks, “That’s why you dropped the lawsuit? Because you recognized me?” Felicity sighs and turns to walk off. “I give up. Let’s get out of here,” she tells him. “Wait - - I want to understand, really, uh - - where in Queens are we going?” he asks.

    “Hollis. An address off Jamaica Avenue, near the Long Island Railroad tracks.” She explains, asking, “Think you can find it?” She jumps a little as Ronnie tightly wraps his arm around her. “We’re on our way,” he answers as he leaps into the sky with her.

    Hollis, Queens…The red pickup truck sits parked outside a warehouse. “Sloppy. I wanted him conscious, Monk. You weren’t this sloppy when we worked for the group,” a white-haired man announces. He and several companions stand near the unconscious Ed Raymond, lying on a bare mattress on the warehouse floor next to an open stairway leading down.

    “I’ve been outta the game a long time, Captain,” Monk answers, “We all have. A man gets rusty.” The other man kneels next to Ed, watching him closely. “Just a dose of chloroform. He’ll be alright,” he explains. “In this business, ‘rusty’ can get you dead, Monk,” the Captain explains, “I didn’t activate the ‘X’ Protocol as a shortcut to suicide…”

    Crunnch! The Captain looks quickly, startled by a noise outside the room. Suddenly, gunfire erupts! KRAKRAAKAKRAKAKKAK! Bullets pierce through the wooden walls, striking one of the Captain’s men. He pulls his gun from his shoulder holster. TAKTAKTAKA! More shots ring out as men rush into the room. “He’s down, finish him!” Markham yells. POW! POW! Two more of the Captain’s men are hit.

    “Monk! Get Raymond down the hole - - I’ll lay down covering fire!” the Captain orders. Monk struggles with the limp weight of Ed, pulling him towards the stairway hole. “Who are they, Captain? Who’s trying to kill us?”

    Markham bursts into the room. “You never were very bright, Monk. But even you know Rule Number One…” he says as he squeezes the trigger. KTAAK! A single shot cuts through Monk’s chest. “AAAKK!” he cries out. Badly wounded, he can no longer hold Ed Raymond, who falls through the open stairway hole. “Once you work for the group, you can never go freelance,” Markham continues.

    The Captain appears suddenly behind Markham. “You’ve got it wrong, Markham. Rule One is always watch your back,” he yells. He pulls the trigger, shooting Markham in the back at point-blank range. Two of Markham’s men close on the Captain from opposite directions. “Rule Two,” the Captain calls out as he dives on top of Markham’s body, “Never get caught in your own crossfire.”

    KRAKAKRAKAKRAK! The two men fire just as the Captain dives and their bullets fly into each other inadvertently. The Captain watches them fall, then gets up quickly and rushes over to the injured Monk.

    “I misjudged Rigby, Monk,” he explains, “I shouldn’t have told him I was activating ‘X’. Is it bad?” Monk holds a handkerchief over his chest wound. “I’ve had worse, Captain,” he groans, “Get your guy out of here. See you around…Captain X…” The Captain gives him a sad last look, then turns and disappears down the stairs. “…Captain X…” Monk mumbles.

    Suddenly, Monk is startled back to consciousness. Someone clutches at his shirt, yelling at him. “…X…Captain X…” Monk says incoherently. Felicity Smoak lifts him up, pulling with both hands on his shirt. “This is the guy who grabbed Ed!” she exclaims. “Where is he? Where’s Ed?” she barks at Monk.

    Ronnie surveys the scene. Bullet-riddled bodies lay dead on the floor, and bullet holes poke through the wooden walls in dozens of spots. “Wow, will you look at this? Like somebody had a war in here…and both sides lost,” he observes, adding, “Thank God there’s no sign of Dad…”

    Monk opens his eyes slightly, glassily staring off into space. “…Ed..?” he says softly. “Tell me where he is,” Felicity tells him forcefully. “You want answers? Ask Rigby,” Monk explains, his voice barely a whisper. “Devlin Rigby…National Historic Preservation Committee…Washington…” he says through labored breaths. “You better call an ambulance,” Ronnie suggests. He turns to leave. Felicity looks up, asking, “Me? Where will you be?” Ronnie lowers his density to pass through the warehouse roof. “Washington, D.C.,” he calls as he lifts off.

    Dusk, in the nation’s capital… “Memo to Special Projects Team, Re: The ‘X’ Protocol, as of this date…” a man dictates into a microphone. He is the backseat passenger in a car driving along in the dark near the Lincoln Memorial. “…said Protocol is officially deactivated,” he continues, “Every reference to this Protocol is to be eliminated from all group files, as well as the following code names: Dare, Richard ‘Buck’…Franklin, Michael ‘Monk’…

    FZZAAM! Suddenly, Ronnie’s hand thrusts through the roof of the car right in front of the driver’s face. “Huh?” the driver gasps. Ronnie grabs a fistful of suit coat and yanks up sharply. THUMPK! The driver’s head smacks hard against the car roof, and Ronnie feels him instantly go limp. “Quinlin! What’re you doing?” the passenger blurts as he sees his driver slump over. “Don’t let go of that wheel - - you idiot - - we’re going to…”

    CRAASSH! Ronnie watches as the car careens into a tall metal fence and then rolls over onto its right side. Ronnie lands next to it quickly. FZZAAM! He transforms the car’s underbody to form a hole. He reaches in and pulls out the stunned passenger.

    “What - - Who - -? Firestorm?” the bewildered passenger asks as Ronnie lifts him into the air. “I’ll ask the questions, pal,” Ronnie tells him, “and judging by what I overheard trailing you from your office, you’ve got a lot of answers. For starters, what’s the ‘X’ Protocol? Who’s Richard Dare? And where do I find him?”

    Ronnie holds the man at arm’s length. The man flails his arms wildly, looking down as the National Mall sweeps past far below them. “Are you out of your mind! Let me go?” he yells. Ronnie pulls to an abrupt halt and lets go. “Okay,” Ronnie says as the man begins to plummet like a rock. “YAAAHH!” the man yells is terror, “Help me! For Heaven’s sake, don’t let me…”

    Ronnie swoops down and snatches the man’s ankles, stopping his fall in mid-air. “Fall, Rigby? Is that what you were going to say?” Ronnie asks, adding, “How about it? Feel like talking now?” Ronnie flies them down to ground level, depositing the very shaken and nervous man on a large rock.

    “Y-Yes, yes…anything…” Rigby sputters, thankful to be on solid ground again. “…The ‘X’ Protocol…it goes back more than forty years,” Rigby explains, “To the early days before World War II. Before America entered the war. Unofficially, and in certain limited official ways, Washington supported the Allies. We supplied them with armaments…economic aid…and secret assistance. The CIA didn’t exist then. The Office of Military Intelligence was ineffective. The FBI couldn’t operate outside the country. And so a top secret group was formed, outside the government, at first to spy…then to act against American enemies.”

    Ronnie and Stein listen carefully as Rigby continues. “The group’s first, most effective secret agent was a man named Richard ‘Buck’ Dare, a stunt pilot on loan to the British Royal Air Force,” he reveals, “Our industrial scientists provided him with an experimental ‘plastic plane’; at a distance, it was practically invisible. His code name was Captain X, of the R.A.F., and for six months, from October 1941 to April 1942, his work in England was invaluable. By April 1942, of course, America was officially in the war, and Richard Dare was given other duties, behind enemy lines, with a new code name…Aviator.”

    Ronnie rubs his chin in thought. Rigby turns to face him, crosses his arms and looks down at the ground. “During the 1950s, Aviator’s operations moved behind the Iron Curtain. He created an organization of aides, under the code name of ‘X’ Protocol,” Rigby continues, “Only two of his aides are still alive…Michael ‘Monk’ Franklin and Charles Gleason.” Ronnie thinks for a moment, asking, “Is Gleason a big guy in his fifties?” Rigby, nods, “Yes…” Ronnie explains, “Then he’s dead. And his pal Monk is half-dead. I want to know why - - and where I can find this guy ‘X’.”

    Rigby fishes around in his suit pocket. “The group’s activities are highly sensitive. Aviator was reactivating the ‘X’ Protocol - - reassembling his team of aides - - and he has to be stopped,” Rigby says as he pulls a small cylinder from his suit coat, “As for where you can find him - - try Evergreen Cemetery in Connecticut - - they buried - - his lover there fourteen years ago.”

    Rigby twists the cylinder top and a pinkish cloud of gas bursts forth from it. He waves the cylinder quickly, enveloping Firestorm in a cloud of fumes. “Huh?” Ronnie blurts in surprise. Rigby ducks low away from the cloud and watches. A few moments later, he stands looking on in disbelief.

    “Eh? Th-That gas kills on contact - - How can you still be - - ?” Rigby stutters anxiously. Ronnie looks almost transparent as the gas cloud dissipates. “It’s gotta touch me to hurt me, chump” he answers, “And how can it touch me when I can lower my atomic density to zero..?”

    Rigby turns to run, gas vapors around his feet. “N-No,” he cries out, looking back at Firestorm. Ronnie tries desperately to warn him. “Hey! Look out - - the gas is blowing your way - - you’re gonna…”

    Rigby stops suddenly, gripping at his throat as the gas reaches his lungs. He chokes and gasps, collapsing dead to the ground face-first just seconds later. Ronnie looks down at him. “It…it happened too fast…I couldn’t react fast enough to save him,” he says sadly.

    Ronnie soars skyward. “An ugly death for an ugly man,” Stein observes, “I don’t see the connection between Richard Dare and your father, Ronald. Why would Dare kidnap Ed Raymond?”

    Ronnie thinks quickly. “Evergreen Cemetery! In Connecticut, Professor,” he explains, “It can’t be a coincidence.” Stein asks, “What can’t be a coincidence, Ronald?” Ronnie turns northeast and gains speed. “Evergreen Cemetery, Professor,” he continues, “That’s where my grandmother is buried.”

    Fourteen years. A long time to stay buried. A long time to hate. In the silent darkness, Ed Raymond kneels at the gravesite of his mother. He looks up from the tombstone to see a pistol pointed at his head.

    “Where the he…” he says in shock, asking, “Who are you?” Richard ‘Buck’ Dare glares at him with hateful contempt in his eyes. “I’m justice…long overdue. Look around,” he says through gritted teeth. “Mom’s grave…” Ed asks softly. “That’s right. The woman you killed,” Dare answers.” Ed stands cautiously, resting his hand on the cold tombstone. “I killed…?” he asks confusedly, adding, “She died of a heart attack…”

    Dare interrupts, holding the gun just inches from Ed’s heart. “Because of you, Ed Raymond. Ed Rockwell, the big hero!” he continues, “Sixteen years ago you testified against a gangster named Shine. He swore he’d kill you - - you and your family, your wife, your kid. Shine made good on part of his threat. His people killed your wife. To save your son, you entered a Witness Protection Program, changed your name from Rockwell to Raymond…and disappeared. But there was someone you forgot…”

    Ed’s mind races as Dare glares at him. “Your mother, for two maddening years, didn’t know if you were alive or dead,” Dare continues, “No one in the Justice Department would even admit you existed. The worry…the pain…it overwhelmed her…and, finally, it killed her. Part of me went into the grave with her. I met Patricia in summer, 1942, in Atlantic City. We fell in love, the intense, breathless love of youth…The world was at war; we might never have seen each other again. With only a few days together, we tried to live a lifetime. A week, that’s all we had. My work took me to Europe until the end of the war, and when I returned…Patricia was married to a man named Rockwell. They had a son, Edward. What could I do but walk away?”

    Dare angrily raises the pistol from Ed’s chest to point right between his eyes. “There was never another woman for me. When Patricia died…when you killed her…I abandoned my work…and used every contact I had trying to find you,” he explains, “Useless. The bureaucracy saved you, Rockwell,” he says icily.

    From behind a tree, Firestorm now watches as Dare adds a second hand to steady the pistol’s aim. “After a while, God forgive me, I stopped looking. But I never stopped hating,” Dare continues, “Patricia’s pictures of you burned in my memory. This morning…in the paper…I found the face I’ve been hunting for fourteen years. You killed the woman I loved. Now I’m going to kill you.”

    Ronnie raises his hand, slowly aiming it at Dare. “Ronald, what are you waiting for?” Stein asks anxiously, “That man’s about to shoot your father - - do something!” Ronnie watches intently, hesitating. “Hold it, Professor,” he answers, “Something he said…Those dates…I’ve got a hunch…”

    Ed Raymond stares down the pistol. “Shoot, if that’s what you want to do,” he tells Dare, “But don’t lie. Don’t say it’s me you blame for mother’s death. You blame yourself. You hate yourself. You abandoned her. The war was a great excuse, but that’s all it was. If you’d loved her, you would have married her.”

    Dare looks on, anguished at the weight of his memories “Instead, you ran off to play hero,” Ed continues, “Leaving Mom to find a man loving enough to raise another man’s child as his own. Mom married Ted Rockwell in January 1943. I was born in March. I always wondered who you were…Dad.”

    Dare’s jaw drops slightly. His arms slip to his sides, and the pistol falls from his hand. “My…son…?” he asks. He looks down at the tombstone. “Oh, God, Patricia..,” he groans, collapsing to his knees, “…I should have known…” Tears stream down his cheeks. “…I always knew…” he says softly.

    Ed reaches out and touches his father’s shoulder. “You did love her, didn’t you?” Ed asks, adding, “I’m getting married tomorrow morning, and it’s cold out here…What do you say?” Let’s go home.” Slowly, the man stands. Ed wraps his arm around his father. Together, they walk away.

    Ronnie watches them walk off, waiting until they are safely in the distance. He walks to the tombstone and picks up the pistol. He looks skyward in a moment’s silent prayer. His gaze returns to the pistol cradled in both his hands. FZZZAM! A small burst of restructuring energy reforms the pistol. Ronnie kneels down, resting the object gently at his grandmother’s tombstone. “Everything’s okay now, Grandma,” he says softly, “Everything’s finally okay.” He leaps skyward. Where there was once a pistol, a single red rose now stands at the edge of the Catherine Rockwell’s tombstone.

    Morning of the next day… “Edward and Felicity, before we complete the ceremony, I want to speak about the meaning of the vows we celebrate here today,” the minister explains. Richard Dare stands behind his son. Ronnie, Professor Stein, and Doreen Day look on from the church pews.

    “Marriage is a statement of choice and a commitment to an ideal,” the minister continues, “These days, when so many marriages end in divorce, it’s also an expression of hope. The choice you make is to spend a lifetime with another human being. The ideal to which you commit is the ideal of strength in union. And the hope you express is for a love that will survive the trials of life…and be greater tomorrow that it is today. You’re very brave, both of you. I now pronounce you husband and wife. Felicity, you may kiss the groom…”

    And we now pronounce it…The End.



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