Just Running Errands

Nick found it hard to believe that people in this day and age were still such fools as to bet their money on a game of three-card monte. But if this burly guy insisted upon proving he was dumb enough to think the queen of hearts was actually one of the three cards currently face-down on the upturned crate with two hundred smackers to be won if he could pick it out, instead of that card being conveniently located in Nick's palm this time around (after he had let the mark find it on the first two tries when the bets were smaller), then who was Nick to refuse to benefit from such invincible stupidity? If he didn't take the money away from this schmuck then someone else would, sure as shooting. This mark was a lot heftier than Nick, but also had the look of a man who believed in playing by the rules of a game instead of just grabbing whatever caught his eye. (Especially in broad daylight, when a couple of witnesses were observing while waiting for their turns to play.)

A breeze whistled past the crate and all three of the cards suddenly flipped face-up—and everyone could see there was no red lady among them, so it wouldn't have mattered which card the mark had been about to guess. The mark stared at them for a moment and then glared at Nick, his hands bunching up into fists and a very unsociable growl coming from the back of his throat, and Nick decided that discretion really was the better part of valor and ran for it, leaving the stakes on the crate where the mark would (hopefully) pause to sweep them up and stuff them into his wallet while Nick enjoyed several seconds of head start.

The softball was headed straight for old Mister Donner's bathroom window. The kids could see what was coming and knew there was no way to avoid it. The glass would break, and then he'd yell, and then Mom would scold them, and they would know they had it coming, and then—

A sudden gust of wind roared through the back yards of the Donner and Stavitz homes and the softball landed harmlessly on the grass, at least five yards short of the Donner house. Sherman and Trish thanked their lucky stars and silently vowed to be more careful next time.

The man in the ski mask ran out of the liquor store, gun in one hand, bag of money in the other—and made it three yards before he tripped over something and landed hard. The gun went skidding off into a gutter, and before the sprawled robber could recover his breath and get back on his feet, the store owner was standing above him with a shotgun aimed and ready. The robber very sensibly elected to just lie there until the police arrived to put the handcuffs on him. He never did identify whatever had tripped him, though—it had felt as if someone else's leg had blocked his ankle, but he sure hadn't seen anyone!

Alexa awoke with a start. The smoke was stinging her eyes and making her cough. The fire alarm in the ceiling was shrilling, and someone had opened a window to let fresh air into her apartment. The last she remembered, she had been reading and smoking, sitting up in bed. Now she was on the couch in her living room and the smoke was drifting out of the bedroom.

When she peeked through the doorway, she realized it wasn't nearly as bad as she'd feared. There was a largely-burnt newspaper on the floor, and some scorch marks on the carpet—but other than that, things were pretty much the same as before. As if someone had doused the fire—blown it out, perhaps—before it was big enough to do more than trigger the alarm.

(Later she would discover that someone had scrawled a message on her bathroom mirror in lipstick: DON'T SMOKE IN BED!)

A moment ago Special Agent Rodenska had been looking down the barrel of a criminal's assault rifle. Then the rat-tat-tat had come . . . and now a dozen bullets were scattered on the floor between the two of them, and the assault rifle was falling apart in the thug's hands as if someone had field-stripped it at lightning speed. Rodenska didn't have a scratch on him. He leveled his own Glock and yelled, "Freeze!" while reflecting that this was as close as he ever wanted to cut it.

Best guess? Superman had been passing through the neighborhood on his way to another emergency and couldn't linger to chat. After all, everyone knew he was faster than a speeding bullet . . .

A perky blond girl with a warm smile held the door open as Mrs. Angleton left the restaurant. As she started across the parking lot towards her car, Mrs. Angleton remembered when she had been an equally cute young blond—back around the time Eisenhower was President—and perhaps a flood of nostalgic memories of that era was what distracted her enough to let her lose her footing on an icy patch of pavement. As she felt her feet sliding out from under her, she feared this fall could be a bad one. She gulped down calcium supplements each day, but she still knew her bones were not what they used to be—

For an instant she felt strong hands grip her arms, then she somehow had descended smoothly into a sitting position on the asphalt, not even bruised. When Mrs. Angleton looked around to thank her rescuer, there was no one close enough to be the person who had just slowed her fall, although at least two men and one woman were rapidly approaching, calling out to ask if she was all right.

Wonder Woman looked up as Flash sauntered into the monitor room, a double cheeseburger clutched in one hand and a few bags of food dangling from the other.

"Ready to start my shift, Princess!" he said jauntily. "Just had to run a few errands and pick up some munchies to tide me over. Any threatening developments I need to keep an eye on?"

"Superman smashed another of Luthor's schemes. Green Lantern called in to say he just defeated someone called Hector Hammond. Batman says he's hunting Two-Face again and doesn't need any help; but we should only interrupt him for a big emergency. There was an unconfirmed sighting of the Ultra-Humanite in Madagascar, so Hawkgirl volunteered to scout the area from above and see if she spotted anything. A terrorist bombing in the Middle East—but the local government has not requested our help, so we aren't supposed to get involved."

"So . . . just another ordinary day in the monitor room?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't that what I said?"

"Right," he said, settling comfortably into a chair and putting his feet up. "Well, I'll buzz you if anything comes up that needs a whole bunch of us to handle. In the meantime, do you happen to know what's on the Sci-Fi channel tonight?"

She shook her head.

"Never mind, I'll find the listings somewhere," he said reassuringly as he dropped his groceries and one hand turned into a red blur on a keyboard.

Wonder Woman sighed softly as she headed out of the Watchtower's monitor room. Flash was aggressive enough when mortal peril was staring him in the face, but at other times he usually seemed like such a . . . what was the word . . . slacker? Flirting with girls right and left, stuffing his face with junk food, watching pointless television programs, cracking jokes about anything in sight, and generally just thinking of himself until some new emergency temporarily seized his attention.

She hated to think how little her scarlet-clad teammate would actually accomplish with his incredible speed if he didn't have the rest of the League frequently reminding him of the need to once again work together to track down and vanquish Doctor Destiny . . . or Vandal Savage . . . or whomever.

He certainly did have a sense of humor, though. She supposed someone in the League's regular line-up had to break the dour moods with a bit of laughter in order to keep the oppressive weight of responsibility for billions of lives from drowning the warmer emotions all the time. Not that Wally appeared to have much of a mellowing influence on Batman or Hawkgirl, so far . . . but who knew? In another five years, their hard-boiled attitudes towards their work might lighten up . . . just a tiny bit.

Well, if not that soon, perhaps the effect would be visible within ten years? Or fifteen?

Meanwhile a little maturity might even rub off on Flash . . . anything was possible!

Author's Note: I'm posting this on the morning of January 12. As recently as 24 hours ago, I'd never seriously planned to write a fanfic in this category any time soon. I already have enough ongoing projects here on FF. But the basic idea for this short story just came to me yesterday afternoon, and I worked on it last night until I felt I had it whipped into reasonably good shape.