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Authors: Robert T. Jeschonek

The Masked Family

BOOK: The Masked Family
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The Masked Family




Robert T. Jeschonek


More Superhero Tales
DC Comics Author
Robert T. Jeschonek


7 Comic Book Scripts

A Matter of Size (mature readers)

Forced Retirement (Forced Heroics Book 1)

Forced Betrayal (Forced Heroics Book 2)

Forced Partnership (Forced Heroics Book 3)

Heroes of Global Warming

The Wife Who Never Was



The Masked Family

Chapter One

Wheeling, West Virginia, 2006

Though Cary Beacon knew in his heart that heroic measures would soon be called for, he left behind his super-hero costume. After all, it was only the costume of a make-believe hero from comic books and movies. Cary just wore it to make money by showing up at kids' birthday parties or car dealerships.

It had nothing to do with the fact that he was a real-life super-hero.

He laid the blue tights and red cape on the bed and stared at them for a moment. He would just have to be a hero as he was--bony tall body, red hair streaked blonde, beat-to-hell leather jacket and jeans, red t-shirt with comic book sound effect "POW!" in black block letters in a jagged yellow starburst on the chest. He knew it wouldn't matter what he looked like as long as he managed to save his kids.

Cary stopped staring at the costume and went back to packing. If he wanted to save his kids, he had to hurry.

Well, they weren't really his kids, at least by blood. In fact, the people who had taken them were their actual birth parents, their genuine mommy and daddy.

That didn't mean the kids belonged with them, though.

Cary charged through the trailer, gathering up clothes and odds and ends and pitching them in Wal-Mart shopping bags. His ex-girlfriend, Crystal Shade, had taken the suitcases at the same time she'd taken the kids.

Cary shouldered the screen door open, raced down the battered wooden steps, and chucked his loaded shopping bags into the back seat of his taxi. Without closing the car's door, he bolted back inside the trailer to grab a few last things.

He bagged what little food was left in the place, which amounted to a jar of peanut butter, half a loaf of bread, two apples, and three cans of SpaghettiOs. He yanked the sheets, blankets, and pillow from the bed and threw them in the cab, too. Beyond that, Crystal had pretty much cleaned the place out. While Cary had been hard at work driving fares around town, she'd been stealing the kids he loved and everything he owned.

Almost everything.

Kneeling in the rear corner of the bedroom, Cary peeled up the stubbly gray carpet. Jamming the blade of his pocket knife into a crack in the floor, he pried up a square of plywood.

Sweat ran down his back and sides as he reached into the hole and drew out a manila envelope. He undid the clasp and folded back the flap, then pushed his hand inside.

He pulled out a rubber-banded wad of money and dropped it on the carpet, then reached back in to fish out what he really wanted.

As his fingers closed around the familiar shape, he felt a surge of relief. Crystal hadn't taken everything, hadn't even found this hiding place.

Super-heroes need good hiding places because they've got so much to hide.

Crystal didn't even know the Starbeam Ring existed. Cary had lived with her for over a year, and he'd never shown it to her or even mentioned it.

Thank God thank God thank God.

Holding up the ring, he watched the light gleam on its faceted surface. To the uninitiated, it might look like a hunk-a-junk kids' toy from a gumball machine, molded from see-through blue plastic.

Only Cary and the rest of his super-hero teammates, the Nuclear Family, would know better. They would know at a glance that this was a Starbeam Ring, said to bestow super powers on its wearer.

Not that any of them would believe that the ring really did bestow powers...except Cary, that is.

The rest of the Nuclear Family--Cary's brother and two sisters--all had rings of their own. They all agreed that their father, who had given them the rings in the first place, had made up the story of the Starbeam Rings just to stoke their imaginations when they were kids.

"When you need your powers most, they will come to you," their father had told them solemnly, back before the oldest of them had turned ten. "Always remember that when the chips are down, your secret powers will save the day."

The others had stopped believing, but not Cary. He still thought that when he truly needed his powers the most, the ring would activate them. Even though they had let him down before, again and again, he still believed.

Even though, years ago, when he'd never needed them more, they'd failed him...and someone he'd loved had paid the price.

This time won't be like before. Nobody dies this time.

He slid the ring onto the only finger small enough to fit through it--his left pinky. He stuffed the wad of bills, his secret savings, back into the manila envelope, and got to his feet.

Just then, his cell phone rang.

Pulling it from the pocket of his bluejeans, Cary stared at the glowing blue caller I.D. screen embedded in the shell. Instantly, he recognized the number displayed there.

It was the number of the cell phone he'd given little Glo for her birthday a month ago, in case of emergency. The phone he'd made her promise to keep secret from her mother, who'd been starting to make him suspicious.

He snapped his phone open and pressed it to his ear. "Hello?" He kept his voice low so the caller would be the only one to hear it.

"Help." The voice on the line was midway between a whisper and a squeak. "Please help us."

Cary had a thousand questions, but he knew the little girl wouldn't be able to talk for long. "Where are you, Glo?"

"Bathroom." Glo sounded like she was on the verge of breaking into sobs. "At the airport."

Rage swirled deep in Cary's heart. Crystal had planned her escape well. "Which airport?"

"Arizona somewhere." Glo paused, and Cary heard a woman's voice in the background. "Gotta go!" she said. "Mommy's calling."

"Is Late okay?" said Cary.

"Yeah," said Glo. "Bye!"

"Call next time you have a chance," Cary said quickly. "Don't let them find your phone."

He wasn't sure if Glo had heard him, because the call was dead by then.

As he closed the phone and slid it back into his pocket, he wished that Glo had given him more details about her location. At least he knew that she and her brother, Late, were okay.

For the moment, anyway. The key now was to catch up before the monster could hurt them...the monster otherwise known as Crystal's new boyfriend, Drill. He was also her boyfriend from years ago, long before Cary came along.

And he was Glo and Late's father...but no less a monster for having brought such great kids into the world.

Just thinking about Drill and what he might do to Glo and Late was enough to throw Cary into high gear. He didn't even take the time for a last look around the trailer on his way out.

He switched off the lights and darted outside, letting the screen door bang shut behind him. He didn't bother locking the door, because nothing of value was left inside.

Nothing mattered anymore except the kids, and saving them from the bad guys.

As much of a rush as he was in, Cary hesitated once he got behind the wheel of his cab. For a moment, as he thought about the job ahead of him, he felt overwhelmed.

Crystal and Drill had a huge head start. Cary didn't even know exactly where they were. Drill, especially, was tough enough that he'd probably kick Cary's ass if he
catch up to them.

Looks like a job for the Nuclear Family.

Unfortunately, as much as Cary would've loved having some Nuclear Family backup, he knew it wasn't coming. His brother and sisters had abandoned the super-hero life long ago. Cary had held out hope for a reunion longer than any of them, but even he had finally given up on the team.

His brother and sisters just didn't care about being super-heroes anymore. The fate of Glo and Late was up to him and him alone.

Cary took a deep breath and gripped the steering wheel.

Only The Hurry can come to the rescue this time! Don't miss this pulse-pounding solo adventure of the Nuclear Family's own human sonic boom!

With a steely gaze and a grim expression, he threw the cab into gear and stomped on the accelerator. Gravel spun out from under the tires as the car leaped away from the trailer and hurtled off down the road at more than twice the legal speed limit.




Chapter Two - Lilly, Pennsylvania

Saturday, April 5, 1924, 7:30 PM


One hour before the power was cut and all the lights went out in the town of Lilly, Olenka Pankowski shivered as she watched the white-robed men pile out of the train. One after another, they poured from the five coaches and onto the platform, melting together into a shifting sea of white.

Except for the stomping and scraping of their feet on the coach steps and platform, the robed men were silent. Every one of them wore a conical hood with a flap drawn up in front, leaving only the eyes visible through a rectangular slit.

And they just kept coming.

"How many
there?" whispered Olenka's friend, Renata Petrilli. Like Olenka, Renata was seventeen, and her father and brothers worked in the coal mines.

"Dozens." Olenka pushed a lock of jet black hair behind her ear. "Dozens and dozens."

Renata's pudgy fingers tightened on Olenka's arm. "People were saying they'd come, but no one said there'd be so many."

Olenka watched with wide, dark eyes as more of the robed men stepped off the train and into the swarm of white. "Maybe more of them than there are of us."

"But why so many?" said Renata.

Dominick Campitelli, who stood just in front of them in the crowd of townspeople, spoke over his shoulder. He was just a year older than the two of them and was already at work in the mines.

"Because they're afraid of us," he said, pitching his voice well above a whisper...loud enough for the robed men to hear it. "Because every time they send some guys to burn a cross here, we send 'em runnin' back with their tails between their skirts."

"But what about this time?" said Renata. "There's so many of them."

Dominick snorted. "This time, too. Wait and see."

Olenka wasn't so sure he knew what he was talking about. As she watched, the robed men continued to stream from the train. She'd lost count of how many had debarked already, but she thought there must be at least a hundred of them.

A fear that she hadn't felt for years began to build in her chest. A storm was coming, the kind of storm she remembered too well from her early childhood in Poland.

She recognized the signs. Something terrible was about to happen.

"This is bad," Mrs. Froelich said behind her. "Why won't the union just take back their men? The Klan's only here because the mineworkers threw out the Klansmen."

Mrs. Lorenzo, who was standing on the other side of Renata, turned around. "That's not the only reason they're here, and you know it."

"You don't know what you're talking about," said Mrs. Froelich.

Father Stanislavski looked back at Olenka and nodded. "They're here because they hate us," he said
matter-of-factly. "The Wops and the Polacks and the Hunkies take their jobs."

"Bah," said Mrs. Froelich. "You got a prosecution complex."

Olenka watched the robed men as they lined up on the platform. She thought Father Stanislavski was more right than Mrs. Froelich gave him credit for.

Directed by two men with more decorations on their robes than the others, the Klansmen arranged themselves into four columns stretching the length of the platform. They looked like an army, ready to march, their ranks continually swelled by the white-clad comrades who kept flowing from the train.

Not for the first time, Olenka thought about hurrying home before whatever was going to happen got started. She knew she wasn't safe there. If a storm started--
the storm started--the robed men would surely be at the heart of it.

Then again, she had a feeling that nowhere in her tiny town would be safe that night. She didn't really think it would make much difference whether she was out in the open or locked away in her family's rooms two blocks away.

On the platform, the two leaders walked between the columns, talking to the lined-up men. As the leaders passed, the men undid the ties that held their masks in place and lowered the flaps, exposing their faces.

Most of the men looked straight ahead, like soldiers in formation, but some of them glanced at the townspeople. Olenka couldn't see all of them, and she didn't recognize the ones she could see. They might as well have left their masks in place, as far as she was concerned; to her, the cold, stern expressions of the strangers looked as unreadable and inhuman as the masks.

She had seen those expressions before, on other men who came in the night. She had seen them in the village her family had abandoned over a decade ago, back in Poland.

When the leaders had finished walking the length of the lineup, they returned to the front of the group. Standing a little apart from the others, the two men talked in low voices and looked at their wristwatches. The train conductor stepped down from the locomotive to join them.

"What's happening?" said Renata. "What are they talking about?"

Olenka shrugged. The conductor pulled a pocket watch on a chain out of his vest pocket. He flipped open the cover and looked at the face of the watch, then said something to the two robed leaders.

The three of them walked down the stairs from the platform and crossed the track of the siding on which the train sat. For an instant, Olenka thought the men were heading for the crowd...but they rounded the locomotive instead and stood along the main track, gazing in the direction from which the train had come a half hour before.

As the leaders and conductor stared along the track and checked their watches and talked some more, Olenka looked back at the men on the platform. Draped in white, they stood at attention, maintaining their rigid columns like statues.


In front of Olenka, Dominick Campitelli and Nicolo Genovese talked in hushed voices, but not so hushed that she couldn't hear what they were saying.

"They can hide a lot under those damn robes," said Dominick. "I bet they've got plenty of guns."

"Pistols," said Nicolo. "Knives, I bet."

"They must think we're pretty dumb," said Dominick, "if they think we don't have 'em, too."

Olenka's mouth was dry. The palms of her hands were damp with sweat.

She could feel it. The storm was closing in.

Turning, she scanned the crowd for her father, Josef, but didn't see him. She wondered where he was; though she had come straight from Renata's home to the station and had not seen her father since the train's arrival, she had no doubt that he knew what was happening. Lilly was too small a town for word not to have reached him.

And Josef was too much a man of action not to be doing something about this.

All the more reason for her to worry when he was nowhere in sight at such a dangerous moment.

"What are they waiting for?" said Renata.

"Maybe they're havin' second thoughts," Dominick said loudly. "Maybe they're gonna hitch up their skirts and go home."

Some of the people in the crowd laughed, but not Olenka. Not Father Stanislavski, either. He looked back at her and shook his head slowly.

"Not yet," he said, as if his words were meant for her alone. "They won't leave until they're done with us."

Olenka shivered.

"The big bad KKK," said Dominick. "Looks like a bunch of sissies to me."

"Hey, you!" a young man from the back of the crowd hollered up at the men on the platform. "Yeah, you! With the white hat on! I think you need a little more starch in them bedsheets next time!"

Most of the crowd laughed. The blanket of anxiety that had lain over them since the train's arrival seemed finally to have lifted.

"Don't'cha know you're not supposed to wear white before Memorial Day?" shouted another young man.

"No, no," said someone else. "Those are wedding gowns! They're gettin' married!"

"If those are the
," yelled a woman, "I'd sure hate to see the

Just about everyone laughed at that one.

And then, they all stopped.

The whole crowd turned as one to stare out along the track in the direction that the conductor and Klan leaders were looking. Everyone had heard the same thing at the same moment.

A distant, high-pitched toot. And there it was again.

"Oh my God," said Renata.

The second one had been closer than the first.

The third was closer yet.

Father Stanislavski turned and nodded knowingly at Olenka. "This is what they were waiting for."

Like everyone else, Olenka knew what it was. She had heard it thousands of times before, by day and by night...but never with such a feeling of dread.

It was the whistle of an approaching train.

Fifteen minutes later, the train pulled onto the siding behind the first train and unloaded another hundred white-robed men.

Fifteen minutes after that, every electric light in the town of Lilly went out at once.



Chapter Three

Baltimore, Maryland, 2006


If Spellerina were here, this guy would be one dead frog.

That was what Celeste Beacon was thinking as she sat in her favorite restaurant in town in her favorite red dress and got dumped by her favorite boyfriend of all time.

Abracadabra, dumbass! Take that!

Sure, Spellerina could have handled this...if Spellerina existed, that is. If only she were a real, live super-hero instead of a make-believe one Celeste had pretended to be as a little girl.

If only Celeste still had that stick she used to pretend was a magic wand, only it really was a magic wand this time, and she could zap the guy sitting across the table before he hurt her any more than he already had.

Where's the damn magic when you really need it?

"It's nothing you did." Eric, the freshly minted ex-boyfriend, gazed into Celeste's eyes with a look of intense sincerity. "I want you to know this is all on me."

All on him. I like that.

If he wanted it all on him, Celeste could oblige. She'd start by hitting him with her empty wine glass...the one he'd let her drain, refill, and drain again before letting her have it with the dumping speech. When the shards of glass were all on him, she'd follow up with the point of her shoe, jammed hard into his nuts. Then, she'd put the table on him, too, overturning it on top of him and jumping up and down on it as hard as she could.

That was what she
to do to him, anyway. If only she were the hard-bitten bitch she wished she could be, not the least bit afraid of unanticipated consequences and heavy public scenes.

Why can't I be the kind of person I hate?

"You've made me very happy." Eric still exuded sincerity from every pore. "It's just the rest of my life I'm not happy with. I need a fresh start, you know?"

Celeste broke eye contact and stared at the burning white candle stub in the center of the table. Even as her mind roiled with visions of violence, she couldn't quite believe what was happening.

Eric had completely surprised her. Earlier that day, when Celeste had put on her favorite little red dress and put up her long, blonde hair, she'd never suspected for a second that she was primping to get dumped.

She'd thought that things were going so
. The last two years had been great, with no bombshells or danger signs along the way. Finally, she'd thought, after her long record of bad choices, she'd found someone who was as perfectly matched to her as it was possible for another human being to be.

That was the first sign of danger right there.

"I'm moving to Colorado," said Eric. "A buddy of mine from school is setting up a chiropractic clinic, and he wants me to partner with him. It's a great opportunity."

Celeste stared blankly at the candle stub, thinking about a picture she would paint when she got home.

The image of it was as clear to her as if she were remembering a painting she'd already finished. Ninety percent of the painting would be a field of daisies, resplendent in midsummer sunlight. The heart of the image, however, positioned slightly northwest of dead center, would be a mangled, fetal creature hunched in a patch of blackened flowers. The gnomelike figure's gnarled hands would be full of dead daisies, contaminated by his touch; his face would be a twisted version of Eric's, decayed, surreal, but recognizable.

And she would sell this painting for a lot of money. Macabre stuff like that always sold best in her shop.

"This is an opportunity for you, too," said Eric. "You have a secret admirer."

Suddenly, Celeste's eyes snapped up from the candle stub. She stopped thinking about the daisies and deformed gnome.

"It's another reason why I'm stepping aside," said Eric. "I know you well enough to know you're this guy's total soul mate. He's had a thing for you ever since you met at his New Year's Eve party."

Celeste stared at Eric as if he'd just sprouted D-cup breasts. "Coley Bassinette?" she said, her voice dripping with disgust--not for Coley Bassinette, but for the moron ex-boyfriend who was actually trying to
with someone at the same time he was dumping her.

"Is it okay that I gave him your number?" said Eric.


So what if I can't ever go back to my favorite restaurant? It was worth it.

As Celeste rode home in the taxi, she couldn't help smiling. Every time she remembered the moment when she'd up-dumped the table on Eric, she could barely hold back the hysterical laughter.

Hysterical was the right word for it, too. The laughter definitely had an edge of rage and desperation. She was proud of herself for what she'd done, the bastard had deserved it...but he'd still come out the winner. Other than having to foot a dry cleaning bill to get dinner out of his clothes, he'd strolled off free and easy and unhurt.

I hope he dies.
Even as Celeste thought it, she knew it lacked conviction. Up until an hour ago, she'd been all the way in love with him. She hadn't had nearly enough time to hate him properly.

I'll get there. One day at a time.

She just hoped her brother, Cary, wouldn't make her feel better too soon. She really wanted to nurse her hatred a good long while, and Cary had a way of helping her get over things fast. It figured, because his childhood super-hero code name in the Nuclear Family had been "The Hurry."

Would she be able to hold off calling him so she could nurse her grudge a little longer?
No way.
Celeste hadn't spoken to him in weeks, and she sure couldn't resist calling him with

In fact, riding in the taxi made her look forward to talking to him even more. Cary's latest job was driving a cab. That and dressing up like a super-hero for parties, of course.

And being a full-blown super-hero in his own mind, don't forget. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Better to be a delusional wannabe super-hero than a selfish asshole who won't even ask to drive his ex-girlfriend home after he dumps her in public.

BOOK: The Masked Family
3.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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