I didn’t find out until later that Flawless Form’s physical enhancements were limited to healing and invulnerability; his powers included no super strength or speed. That’s why what happened next was surprising, because despite Big Joe’s speed, he was entirely outclassed.
In films, martial arts are dramatized – broad, sweeping motions into stylish poses – but the best way I can characterize the super’s movements is “efficient.” He took a half-step forward as he punched with his left hand, and halfway through the motion Big Joe’s right hand closed around the lavender wrist to stop him. But, seemingly simultaneous with the punch, the hero’s right hand was already rising up to grab and hold onto the speedster’s arm. The punch transitioned to a wrench up and a push back, and Big Joe was on the other side of the thinner man, turned around, and stumbling backward off-balance.
Flawless Form made three more steps toward the green vehicle by the time Big Joe had found his balance, but on the fourth step, accompanied by another boom, the enforcer’s foot collided with the back of his leg. The hero slid forward along the concrete, and he deliberately leaned forward with the force of it, placing one palm on the ground and righting himself with it. Joe had to stand from his own simultaneous fall, as the kick had bounced him almost as far backward as it sent his target forward. The hero stood, turning halfway toward his foe, as the latter leaned and moved again.
Bronze Scarab appeared around the corner as Flawless Form twitched to the left, then to the right, blocking, with his fists and his elbows, attacks that were no more than blurs to me. In two successive booms, Big Joe stood near the parked cars for just a moment before speeding toward the hero again.
But before he had even started moving, Flawless Form’s arms were extending to grasp and pull upward, and Big Joe appeared next with his arm and shirt held in the hero’s hands as he was again wrenched up and off the ground.
This time he never landed. A pair of thick blue vines streamed from Bronze Scarab as she charged towards them. One vine was immediately on-target, wrapping tightly around one of Big Joe’s legs, while the other initially hit her ally’s arm and had to be relaxed and re-aimed. This minor mistake was no opening for the enforcer, however; for the second time in less than an hour he found himself immobilized simply by being held away from anything able to provide purchase.
“Hey whoa! What are you doin’ to Joe?!” Buzz Kowalczyk finally made it around the corner, the short jaunt enough to see him red and starting to wind. The two policemen stood to either side and slightly behind him, and one of them had now drawn his weapon.
“Say he’s under arrest,” came Zephyr’s voice over the channel.
“I’m arresting him,” Bronze Scarab announced.
“For what? He hasn’t done nothin’.” Buzz’s body language was growing increasingly belligerent. He pointed a finger at Bronze Scarab as he hustled up to her, leaning forward to enter her personal space. “You got no reason to be here, no jurisdiction, and no warrant, so put him down…. Hey!”
The last word was directed at Flawless Form, who had resumed his single-minded trip to the car I had identified as holding Refraxx’s corpse. He tried the trunk latch, but it was locked.
Buzz kept yelling. “Get away from Joe’s car! You know you can’t just start snoopin’ around without no warrant!” His face was even redder now, but he seemed content to stay next to Bronze Scarab and yell rather than moving any closer to her partner.
“Ma’am,” the policeman with the drawn weapon said, “I think we need to ask you to put the guy down, please.” He looked to be the younger of the two, but the other cop clearly deferred to him. He held his pistol in both hands pointed toward the ground. “Let’s all step over here, away from the vehicles, and talk this out.”
“No way!” Zephyr denied over the HQ channel. “This is a federal case now, the locals can’t interfere.”
“Sounds like they can and will,” Bronze Scarab said quietly. She had moved her captive until he was just outside arm’s reach of her, still dangling upside-down by his ankles.
“What was that?” the policeman asked her.
“Officer,” she began, “this man assaulted a federal agent with a lethal weapon. As I said, he’s under arrest now. I won’t be turning him loose.”
“Now you’re just makin’ stuff up!” Buzz said. “Joe don’t carry no gun.”
“He can move at supersonic speeds. I’m sure you heard it a minute ago,” this was directed more at the cops than as a reply to the criminal. “He employed his powers to attack one of us, and that’s against the law.”
“He attacked me first!” bellowed Big Joe, who continued to struggle without purchase. “It was self defense.”
“And you can tell that to the judge. You’re still under arrest.” Bronze Scarab looked to the cops for a verdict.
The younger policemen looked at his partner, who nodded. “All right. But Mr. Kowalczyk is right on the other stuff. You can’t just start poking around.”
“Hot pursuit,” Zephyr suggested. “Tell them about Refraxx.”
Unnoticed in the background, Flawless Form had silently walked back toward Bronze Scarab until he stood almost beside her. Her aura and presence made her look much larger than she clearly was when her taller partner was near her to compare with. The lanky hero was the one who responded next. “Did Mr. Kowalczyk explain to you about the fight he had with a registered super hero earlier?”
The cops’ eyes both widened. “No,” the older one said. His voice was higher pitched than I expected, a smooth tenor very similar to Flawless Form’s. “He said there had been an equipment accident.”
“We came here on a report that he had been attacked, badly injured, and shoved into the trunk of that car,” Flawless Form explained. “We don’t need a warrant to try to rescue him, do we?”
“Not if it’s… what, like an emergency? I don’t think so,” the younger cop agreed. He addressed Buzz again. “Sir, you seemed to know who the car belongs to, yeah? Could we get a key out here and take a look?”
“Are you kidding me!?!” I didn’t think the crime boss could get any redder, but he did, flushing a bright color that couldn’t be healthy. “No way am I getting Joe out here to open up his car based on some wacked out story that he stuffed a corpse in it.”
At that, both cops swiveled to give Buzz Kowalczyk their full attention. “Sir,” the younger cop said, his words low and careful. “Nobody said anything about a corpse.”
As his gaffe sunk in, blood drained from Buzz’s features, changing them from bright red to a paler pink. “That’s what he said, was… wait, I…” He shook his head, and took out his phone. “I’ll get Joe down here.”
“We should call this in too?” The older cop stated it as a question to the younger, who nodded.
“Let’s open up the trunk and talk to Joe, and then we’ll need to call back in with an update.” He holstered his weapon again, noticeably relaxing despite the dangling form of Big Joe still held by his ankles next to the two New York supers. “So this was a super fight, huh?” The man’s curiosity was genuine, and was clearly echoed by his partner. Buzz spoke into his phone, facing away from the group, and I couldn’t hear either half of the conversation over Bronze Scarab’s answer.
“We think so,” she began. “Refraxx was only supposed to be meeting someone in the area, but it looks like he heard gunshots and entered the warehouse to investigate. A witness saw his body being carried out later.”
“Who? There wasn’t anyone nearby to question when we arrived.”
She shrugged. “We weren’t told; probably an anonymous tip-off. People don’t like to have their names in the record when supers are involved.”
“You’d be surprised how often that applies to regular police work, too,” he said, “it’s kind of a double standard that -”
The uniformed officer’s next words were cut off by gun shots, at least five in as many seconds. Even as the young cop fell over, one of his legs having taken a bullet, the sudden attack had immobilized him and his partner as well as Bronze Scarab as they tried to get their bearings with the shots echoing around the nearby building and small lot.
I, too, was momentarily disoriented. I swiveled my View around to the warehouse, where Old Joe had launched himself out of a rear exit and in Bronze Scarab’s direction. The young man stood in the doorway, trading out an empty clip for a new one.
But while most of us hesitated, two people did not. Flawless Form slid forward the moment the first shot was heard, shielding the fallen policemen’s body with his own.
Buzz Kowalczyk had been waiting for the sound of gunfire, and without even looking around to confirm, he closed on the older officer facing away from him. He grabbed the man’s upper arm with one hand and placed his other hand, palm open, on the back of the man’s head.
I was not expecting the flames that licked against the back of the man’s head and climbed his arm, any more than I was expecting the sleeves of Buzz Kowalczyk’s shirt to darken and curl toward his shoulders. But the cop’s screams brought Bronze Scarab out of her momentary stupor, lunging at the (obviously super-powered) crime boss with one appendage while holding the speedster enforcer with the other. The cop’s skin blackened and the flames spread as she wrapped her loose vine around one of Kowalczyk’s arms, preparing to yank him off.
Old Joe’s fist sunk into the body of her glowing construct at this point, getting within inches of her flesh and knocking her backwards off her feet. Both of her extended appendages released and flowed back into the blue mass as it grew more opaque immediately around her; her hands flew up to her head as though she had been pummeled hard.
Old Joe moved quickly forward to stand over the fallen heroine, his left hand trying to find purchase in the blue mass of her armor as he wound up his right fist and slammed it down into her. Again it stopped inches away from her body, and again the glowing blue seemed to contract inwards and solidify around her. He punched again, causing an audible groan from the woman on the ground.
The groan was audible because the policeman had stopped screaming, his skin still bubbling and steaming as Buzz dropped the fresh corpse onto the ground. “Joe, now! Mikey, come on!” the boss yelled, and ran into the parking lot.
Big Joe had regained his feet and was the first in the nondescript black car, followed quickly by Buzz and… Mikey, Old Joe bringing up the rear. Flawless Form was trying to stabilize the young cop while Bronze Scarab groaned in pain on the ground; the sedan peeled out of the parking lot unmolested.
The chatter on the HQ channel had been constant since the first gun shot, but it finally cleared up into something intelligible. “Team, report,” Zephyr said. “Are you injured? What happened?”
I was in the best position to answer him. “Four suspects fleeing in a black sedan,” I sent, and keyed the license plate number into the NYST system. “Both police officers on the scene were assaulted. Buzz Kowalczyk used previously unknown tactothermic powers to kill one officer. A bullet from the same gun used on Refraxx shot and disabled the other officer. Bronze Scarab is insensate.”
Zephyr groaned, a noise that seemed every bit as deeply felt as Bronze Scarab’s. “FF, is the cop going to live?”
“Yes,” the super said without hesitation. “His leg is badly fractured, but he’ll survive it.”
“I need to call this in,” the cop winced, holding his leg.
“Zephyr, can you contact Newark PD for…” Flawless Form looked at the officer’s name badge. “Sergeant Trellis, please. Let them know there was a violent incident and two officers down.”
“Will do. Your backup is still twenty minutes out. Liberty said to expect extra support shortly after that, but she wouldn’t say who.”
Bronze Scarab sighed, finally sitting up. “Well, I hope whoever it is, they’re packing more power than we were.”
“I don’t think power was the issue,” Flawless Form disagreed. “We were caught by surprise, and then they went after the nor… um, the officers instead of us.”
“Police and EMT’s are on their way, five minutes max,” Zephyr supplied.
Bronze Scarab stood, and moved towards the cars. “That gives us time to confirm.”
Nobody said a word as a large, stylized crowbar formed in blue in her hands. She wedged the tool under the edge of the trunk and pushed down, hard, with both hands. The trunk popped open, revealing taped trash bags that were quickly torn apart to reveal the mangled and blood-streaked body of Refraxx.
A limping Sergeant Trellis, leaning against Flawless Form, insisted on seeing for himself. The three of them were still standing there, clustered around the back of the car in silence, when two police cruisers pulled up behind them.
Warring grief and anger on their faces, the survivors turned to address more of Newark’s finest… and, I hoped, concoct a plan to finally end this mess.