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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Challenger

The Challenger

Jeff Deischer

Billie Elliott
Doc Mooney 
Junior Bond
Vincent Lawrence 
Justice Jones
Hollister Martin

Challenger appeared to be around thirty years of age. He was above medium height, though he was not a giant by any means. His features were somewhat thin: gray eyes that were little more than slits, narrow nose, thin lips, high cheekbones and narrow jawline. His skin was tanned, but not dark. He had a broad, high forehead. Above his lean, placid face sat a shock of red. Challenger was broad-shouldered and lean-hipped. He was dressed in a plain navy business suit. This was padded in such a way as to be unnoticeable; it concealed a special belt beneath, with small padded pockets that held a variety of gadgets Challenger used in his work of helping others. There was great power coiled beneath it, even in repose; Challenger gave the impression of a great cat ready to pounce.
Challenger lived up to the rumors about him. It was said he’d been done a great wrong long ago, and had, as a result, dedicated his life to helping others in the same position. The source of his vast wealth, no one knew. He did not accept remuneration for his services.
There had been much speculation about his identity, in the short time since he’d first appeared, several months earlier. Some said he was a soldier who’d been pronounced dead in the World War, which had ended the year before, and hid his identity for reasons unknown; others that he had something to hide. No one but three of his five assistants knew the true identity of Challenger.
Challenger was also known as Jonathon Alexander. This was little used. It was also an alias.
Challenger had falsely been convicted of a crime some twenty years earlier. In prison he had met Paul Alexander, the father of the true Jonathon. The son had been killed by criminals and the father sent to prison for the murder. Having hidden away an untold fortune – which was what the criminals had been after -- Paul Alexander promised half of it to Challenger in exchange for help escaping. The old man had died in the attempt, leaving the money to Challenger -- who assumed the son’s identity to bring his killers to justice. Then he went after the men who had sent him to prison
 Challenger had brought them to justice -- a justice, at any rate. It was during this time he had acquired his first three aides, all of whom had known him before. The four dedicated themselves to helping others who were unable to help themselves against great evil. In the months since that time had Challenger Island been established.
Challenger Island was little more than a rock jutting up out of the waters of New York City’s East River. Atop this crag sat a factory. Long since abandoned, it had recently been refurbished by the man known as Challenger.
 The factory building, which was located on the north side of the tiny island, was vaguely semi-circular; it was arch-shaped, with a raised spine. This structure had been transformed into a hangar and boathouse, having been extended some fifty feet out over the water towards Manhattan. The administrative building was a long rectangular box that shot out perpendicular to the long axis of the factory, running towards the south, and served as Challenger’s headquarters. It contained a large laboratory that abutted the hangar-boathouse, offices at the south end of the building, and, on the second storey, living quarters. Atop this building perched a small tower which was the nerve center of Challenger’s operation; it consisted of a single large meeting room. From this little tower rose a powerful radio mast.

A motorcycle whizzed along nearby, not altogether at the behest of its driver, a young woman. Dressed like a World War I aviator, with fur-lined leather jacket, leather cap and over-sized goggles, she guided the machine as best she could along the icy road.
In the sidecar, a man gripped the rim of the compartment as tightly as he could. Sitting down low in the sidecar, he had something of the appearance of a child, at first glance, due to his small stature -- and the fact that he was passenger to a woman driver. But he was no youth. He was easily old enough to be the athletic young woman’s father. His plump face was red and frozen in a grim expression, more from a determination to survive the journey than from the temperature. A gaudy red scarf was wrapped around his lower face, and an ancient derby perched precariously atop his bald pate, threatening to become dislodged with every jostle of the motorcycle. Without looking at his companion, he asked grimly, “Are you going to drive this thing year round, Billie?” His voice was slightly nasal, had a naturally gruff whine to it.
 “It was summer yesterday, Doc,” snipped Billie Elliott laconically. “This is the first time I’ve had to drive this thing in snow.”
 Doc Mooney, the old man in the sidecar, did not reply. It appeared to take all of his concentration to hold on for his life. Despite being bundled up for the weather, the little man shivered, more out of spite than cold. He wasn’t happy unless he had something to complain about, Billie knew, so she took his comment in stride.

 As her rescuers unbundled, Tammy Lott got a better look at them: Billie Elliott was an attractive young woman with straw-colored hair that was cut in a short bob, in the style of the flappers in the twenties. Her features were delicate, elfin, with large chocolate brown eyes, narrow nose and pleasant mouth.
Old Doc Mooney stood exactly five feet tall, was a bit stocky and bald as they came. His ears, nose and mouth were all a little bit big for his face. Everything except his eyes, which were small and bright. His head and hands seemed too large for his small frame, and all these features combined to give him a sort of a cartoonish appearance.

When it slowed to a stop inside the boathouse, the tug carrying Tammy Lott, Billie Elliott and Doc Mooney was met by another of Challenger’s assistants. He was a blond young man dressed in a plain dark blue business suit. He stood waiting on the dock when the ferry pulled up to it; Billie had radioed ahead from the ferry that they were on their way over with a guest.
As Tammy Lott stepped from the ferry, the man on the dock -- a rather handsome young man who smiled broadly at her, Tammy now saw at this close distance; she estimated his age to be close to hers, just over twenty-one -- proffered a hand. “Hello, I’m Bill Bond,” he said as he helped her onto the dock, watching her intently with keen eyes. “I’m one of Challenger’s assistants. Everyone calls me ‘Junior’.”

 It was only after examining him did Tammy Lott see the other two men in the room, Challenger’s remaining aides.
One was a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman who had something of a foxy face, long and lean with a narrow nose. He was rather bony and dressed in an expensive-looking suit. Offering his hand, he said smoothly, “My name is Vincent Lawrence. A pleasure to meet you.”
Vincent was an attorney, one of the nation’s best, and reading people was part of his business. When he read pretty Tammy Lott, he saw someone who was scared.
The other man was huge. He stood over six and a half feet tall, and was nearly three feet wide. Everything about him was big -- shoulders, hands, feet. He was a Negro. He nodded politely to Tammy as she looked up at him. “I’m Henry Justice Jones,” he said in a rich, deep voice.
Challenger’s final aide, Professor Hollister Martin was not present; he had been detained in the city, teaching a History class at Metropolitan University.

“Excuse me,” said Professor Hollister Martin. Bespectacled and possessing formidable gray eyebrows and a beak of a nose, he somewhat gave the appearance of an owl. He had a bit of a paunch, which stuck out both above and below his belt, which was tightly cinched. No word but “soft” described him so well. As a museum curator, he had been the victim of a master criminal, and had joined Challenger’s band to help prevent this from happening to others. “I’m new to all this, but shouldn’t we be looking at motive? That will help us narrow down our list of suspects.”

The Challenger and his assistants have appeared in the novel The Winter Wizard and the short story “Challenger and the Fellowship of the Flame”, in the collection The Little Book of Short Stories, both by Jeff Deischer.

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