Marvel Fanfare #64

The Trapster: Pulling Strings

Rated PG for two bad words.

July 27, 1998. One Month Later:

The Trapster back-flipped out of the way of the kick, then brought his arms up into a blocking position while he shifted his stance backwards, readying himself to deliver a sidekick. His opponent's kick came in below his arms, and he barely had time to lean to the right, so that the kick hit the meat of his muscle, rather than his ribs. He grunted in pain, and as he reflexively bent over in response to the blow his mind went into overdrive. His right arm swept up over his head as he twisted his torso around, so that his left shoulder was lower than his right and he was leaning to the left, and with his right arm he caught his opponent's elbow, descending towards his head. Holding on to the arm, he flipped on to his back, the awkward weight of his body dragging his opponent's body to the ground with him. He rolled over and drove the heel of his palm at his enemy's jaw, reaching it just as the shield touched his temple. Captain America smiled and said, "Stalemate."

The Trapster let Cap's arm go, and both got up from the mat and limped over to the walls of the room, where they towelled themselves off. The Trapster gingerly touched the bruises on his ribs, hip, and arm, enviously noting that Cap didn't seem to be minding similar marks on his shoulders, chest, and thigh.

After they'd showered, they were dressing in the warehouse/gym's locker room when Cap broke the news. He pulled on his cowl and said, "Pete, I'm afraid this is going to have to be our last session."

Pete, startled, said, "But - Cap, I'm only just getting a handle on savate, and you just started me on silat - I still have so much to learn!"

Captain America rested a friendly hand on the Trapster's shoulder and said, "Pete, you've learned as much as I can teach you. You need to start putting those things into practice and learning from experience - and from yourself, and not from a teacher."

Pete's face reflected his unhappiness. ", hell."

Captain America slid his shield onto his arm and said, "Pete, I have to get back to NYC. I've enjoyed coming out here to teach you, but I need to get back to my life full-time - and you need to get on with yours. I wasn't ready to fully trust you when I started this, but now I am. You've the makings of a damn fine crime fighter, Pete, and a better man. You don't need any teachers, not any more." And with that he shook Pete's hand and left.

Pete, both depressed and thrilled at Cap's words, went out on patrol not fully paying attention to what he was doing. Even though he'd expanded the range of his nightly patrols in the past month, beyond the boundaries of Little Cracow, he still encountered relatively little crime this night - two muggings and one attempted rape - things that Pete, even in his distracted state, was capable of handling with relative ease. Finding the city quiet yet again - the seventh night running - Pete decided to retired early, and was back at his apartment at 11:45 - hours earlier than usual.

He pondered Cap's words as he showered and checked his weaponry and then sat down in front of his computer and got online. The past month had been very, very busy for him. The folks at the lab were finally persuaded that he was serious about working there, that he wasn't going to revert to his old ways and rip off the lab or use it to build some super-weapon. Pete wasn't sure what had convinced them; it certainly wasn't anything he'd said to them, for he'd gone out of his way to avoid being anything but humble and grateful with them. Not once had he complained or lobbied for a better job, even while they were giving him the lowest and most demeaning of the lab jobs - beakers and test tubes to wash and put away, filters to dye, and start-up programs to initiate. Pete had simply shut up and done his job, and even though swallowing his pride had been extremely difficult - him, the wonder child of MIT 58! - he'd done it.

His attitude might have persuaded them. Or maybe his suggestions; they'd quickly learned that, if they asked him about their tests and experiments, Pete invariably had something useful to say about them. For a couple of weeks he'd been in the awkward position of being the one everyone ran to with questions or with problems, while at the same time being expected to do the work of a freshman chem. major intern.

Or maybe it was the local media's coverage of his nightly activities. Every night, without exception, he went out on patrol, using his glue gun and his new martial skills against the crime in Little Cracow, and more recently the other neighborhoods around Little Cracow - west, to Bedford Park, and northwest to Forest View, and south, all the way to Calumet Park and Riverdale and Dolton. And even, in the past week, into downtown Chicago itself. Everywhere he'd gone, he'd found crime - not the stomach-turning, neighborhood-wrecking crime that Pete had found in Little Cracow, but still bad crime. Little Cracow, thank heavens, was better; the gangbangers were gone now - they'd finally decided to leave the South Side altogether, since Pete had kept following them or finding where they were hiding and pasting them up; the teenagers in Little Cracow, and their older friends, were sticking to their agreement with Pete - as long as they kept to the park, and weren't too loud or too rowdy, Pete let them be, and even made sure the police didn't bother them unfairly. (Pete had reached a sort of accomodation with them, too; he always made sure to leave evidence behind for the cops, and whenever possible to phone in his busts and raids, so that they'd arrive soon after he did, and so the busts could look like their work, not his. And between that, and him never going to the media - thus helping the police keep whatever problems Pete had with the police between him and the police, and no one else - and Pete not wearing a mask - something he'd found made people trust him more, and which so far had not proven to be any sort of risk - he had, slowly but surely, earned a measure of trust and even regard from the beat cops. They seemed to believe, finally, in his reformation, and so when they saw him patrolling they didn't give him grief, but just waved, and one time had even asked him if he needed help. They didn't hold a grudge about him sweeping up the corrupt cops six weeks back, either, which Pete was glad of). Pete had left a few messages with local precincts, asking the police to see about setting up some sort of apprenticeship or jobs training program; pete knew that the teens in Little Cracow needed something more than a job at McDonald's, or else their agreement with him would eventually be broken by them.

The cops couldn't do much about jobs programs, though, and neither could Pete, at least right then, and that irritated him; he thought maybe he should start leaving messages with the mayor instead.

The folks in the lab didn't know about his relationship with the cops, though; they only knew what the media told them, which was that someone using the Trapster's weapons and m.o. was fighting crime in Chicago. And the people in the lab saw the photo the media always used - the one he hated, the one they took of him in the Vault that made him look pasty and bloated - damn prison food. And the people in the lab seemed to recognize him from that photo. They never said anything to him, of course, but he saw them pointing, sometimes, and heard the stifled conversations. So maybe that was what had persuaded them.

Whatever it was, they'd finally promoted him, to Assistant Lab Director. He was making decent money now, and the stuff they had him doing at work was a little more intellectually demanding.

So his days were becoming more full as the weeks passed. And his nights.....

Up until this week his nights had been incredibly busy. Everywhere he went, he found crime. Little Cracow had improved, gangbangers gone, teenagers behaving; all the crackhouses shut down, the pushers in jail or peddling their poisons far away from Pete, the prostitutes staying in one small section of Little Cracow, far away from any of the main streets - he could never stop the flesh trade, since they were always out on the street 24 hours after he put them away, but he'd struck an agreement with them, that if they didn't service the johns in the street or on the sidewalks or in the alleys - anywhere where civilians and especially children might see them - but made the johns take them for a ride or to a motel somewhere, then he, Pete, would leave them alone. The pimps weren't too happy about that, but every one of them that had dared to show his face in Little Cracow had gotten a wad of paste - or Pete's fist - in it. Pete understood most criminals, but had always hated pimps, and now those who had worked in Little Cracow were either in jail or a long way aways from Little Cracow. The kiddie pros were off the street, too, with H.H.S., and the chickenhawks who'd previously visited Little Cracow on a nightly basis found it safer to stay away - those who weren't in jail next to the pimps, that is. Even the D.P.W. had begun cleaning the streets again.

But for all of Little Cracow's improvement, the rest of the city Pete had grown up in seemed to have gone...not to Hell, exactly, but halfway there and one step beyond. It seemed like every part of the city and every borough that Pete went through had at least one street that was all crackhouses - all guarded by well-armed teenagers. There were an incredible number of hookers everywhere, many of them Asian and Hispanic, and all of them seemingly recently arrived here - few that Pete spoke to or listened in on spoke much English, and among themselves they used Guatemalan Spanish or Hmong or other languages Pete didn't recognize. Gang activity was skyrocketing, and although they didn't wear colors they were still tightly organized and heavily armed. And often they were accompanied by older men. There was, too, a general feeling in the air of the various boroughs, and in the city itself. It didn't show up in the newspapers or on the evening news, but Pete could feel it, and see it in the eyes of the shopkeepers who always seemed to have a gun or table leg beneath their counters or a security guard on-duty in the shop, and who had bars on their windows. Pete could see it in the way civilians hurried to the Metra stops and from the L stations at night, and even during the day.

That feeling was fear. Pete had felt a city's fear once before, in the 1970s, when the Kingpin had ruled New York City so completely, and everyone knew that he was the real power in the city. Someone - someone like the Kingpin - had the same amount of power here and now, in Chicago; someone had the city in his hands, and was squeezing.

Pete had done what he could in the past month to find this man or woman, but he had no leads, and now that X was gone (his body had turned up in the canal right after Pete had caught him), he had no way of getting leads. Worse, the past week had been unnaturally quiet. Pete wasn't sure what to do. For the last seven days he'd gone on patrol as usual, but suddenly the abundance of criminals and crime that he'd continually run across, over the preceding three weeks, was missing; he found the usual, random, low-level street crime, but anything requiring organization - anything requiring planning and more effort than a simple smash-and-grab operation - was simply not to be found. At least, not by Pete. It wasn't that organized crime (in the most literal sense - Pete had no idea if the Mafia was in Chicago; they were so prevalent that they had to be, but on the other hand Pete had seen little trace of them here, and between the heroes nad the police and the psycho killer vigilantes like the Punisher, the mob had lost a lot of power and influence and men, and so maybe they had no presence in Chicago) wasn't happening in Chicago; every day brought new reports of robberies and the like. Those crimes just weren't happening where Pete could find them, and when Pete was around.

This was to be expected, to a certain degree; one of the things that Captain America had drilled into him was that no one could be everywhere at once, and that no matter how hard a crime fighter tried, there were still going to be crimes happening when and where the crime fighter wasn't around. The heroes had to be content with stopping some of them, because no one could stop all of them. But still...

Pete knew enough about paranoia - the real thing, not the garden-variety stuff that most people knew and joked about, but the real, government-breeding-alien-Elvis-babies-in-Area-51 paranoia. Too many of the stirs in the Vault had it, and Pete knew enough about it to be very wary of it. It was too easy to go from paranoia to the hatred of the Friends of Humanity or to the Fenris people, and that way lay madness.

But at the same time Pete also remembered something that the Wizard had sometimes said, and which Cap seemed to agree with; just because it sounds paranoid doesn't mean it isn't true. There really was an invisible set of Secret Service men who always protected the President. Aliens did exist, and had done experiments on humans. S.H.I.E.L.D. did have agents everywhere.

And someone was behind the crime in Chicago, and was somehow maneuvering it so that Pete never found it. Pete was no computer expert, but he'd picked up enough over the past few years to be able to find his way around the `Net; the Wizard had instantly seen the utility of the `Net and had whipped up his own browser over the course of an afternoon - it had been adaptable regardless of platform or language and was years ahead of Netscape or Internet Explorer or the new Stark-Fujiwara browser. Pete had learned a lot from that about searching the Web, among other things. And the lab had access to all the usual chemistry databases and mailing lists, like Inorganic-Chem-L and Chemical Abstracts and Kirk-Othmer Online.

Of course, Pete didn't use them to search out crime; but he'd used his first paycheck to buy a cheap laptop, and he'd souped it up at home, and he used that to do some investigating, trawling through the Tribune's archives for clues.

And he found them. And there were enough of them, with clues to match, that someone with a suspicious mind - like Pete - could piece together the hand of a master planner consolidating power. But everytime Pete went to find evidence, or criminals, they weren't there. Every damn time. That couldn't be coincidence. And without clues or criminals, Pete couldn't do more than fight the most basic of street crime.

The phone rang, and Pete jumped slightly. He looked at it suspiciously; only a few people knew his phone number - the folks at the lab, Cap - and none of them had any reason to call him. He picked the phone up and said, somewhat hesitantly, "Huh...hello?"

The voice on the other end said, "Good evening, Peter. The word you are looking for is `kosumi,' and I would advise you to grab your glue gun and switch off the laptop, as you are going to be attacked by four well-armed men and women in exactly thirteen seconds." The line went dead.

Pete wasted two seconds realizing that the voice had been the Answer's, and then spent another five seconds turning off his laptop, sliding it under his bed, and grabbing up his glue gun. The remaining six seconds were spent turning off the light in the room, backing up against a wall and crouching behind his bed.

Pete waited, counting the seconds off in his head. On the thirteenth second two figures jumped into his apartment via his windows and two figures crashed through his doorway. The four were clad in tight-fitting, all-black costumes, complete with black masks and hoods; the only flesh that was revealed was around their eyes, which were looking around the room for Pete. All four held long, curved swords and knives.

Pete was greatly tempted to let them keep looking - only the top of his head, and his gun, were visible above the edge of the bed. But he knew that wouldn't be smart, and so he opened fire before they found him. Pete fired at the two by the window, who were closest to him. The spurts of paste (Pete had redesigned the gun so it could shoot in pulses of paste, rather than in one continuous stream - less wasteful that way) took the two first on their weapons, and then in their chests, gluing them to the wall and immobilizing them.

Pete was shifting his aim when he saw, or felt, something flying towards him. He flinched and jerked his head to the side, and heard something thunk into the wall to his left. Then something hard and fast-moving hit his gun. Pete stared at it; a throwing star had been driven deep into the barrel and glue well of the paste gun, and it was now oozing glue on to his bed, the barrel wrecked.

One of the black-clad figures said, "You will come with us. We can wound you, or not. But you are coming with us."

Pete's thoughts speeded up, as they sometimes did when he was thinking hard about a trap, and he grabbed what was left of his gun and poured a long, thin stream of glue along the length of his bed. He then looked at the two figures and said, "Oh, am I?"

The one who'd spoken pointed a long knife at him and said, "We know you, Petruski. We know about your glue gun, and your nightly patrols, and your work-outs with Captain America. And we know that without your gun you are no match for us, recent training or no."

Pete glanced momentarily at the glue on his bed - it was almost dry and solid. He said, "You think so?" He briefly touched the shuriken embedded in his gun. "Shuriken, katanas, black're taking this ninja-wannabe thing all the way, aren't you? A shame you didn't adopt their cleverness. Didn't you think about my name: the Trapster? Didn't you think that maybe the first thing a man with that name and over 30 years of experience fighting supertypes would do is make his apartment into a trap? Didn't any of this occur to you?"

The `ninja' chuckled and said, with amused, good-natured contempt, "No, of course not. This is Paste Pot Pete we're dealing with, not Daredevil."

Pete grabbed the hardened paste from off his bed. It was now a six-foot-long, two-inch-diameter cylinder. Pete whipped his pseudo-staff around into a starting defensive posture at his side, mentally blessing Captain America for training him as thoroughly as he had, and said, "You should have."

The second `ninja,' who hadn't spoken, suddenly threw two more shuriken at Pete, who whipped the staff up, and the shuriken bounced off the hardened paste, their points bent from the impact. Pete stepped on to the bed, pointing his glue-staff at the ninja, and said, "It hardens, my glue, into something harder than steel - something the Thing can't break. I'm the Trapster, you morons, and I can make a trap out of anything." And with that he leapt forward, using the springs of his bed to propel him.

The first ninja' swung his sword at Pete's right arm in a fast stroke. Pete, holding his staff vertically, took it in the middle of his staff, feinted once with the low end, and then tapped the `ninja' once on the temple, hard. Pete then smashed the bottom of the staff down on the foot of the `ninja' and then brought it up into the man's jaw. The `ninja' fell onto his back and lay there, out cold.

The second ninja,' stared for a moment. Pete could see his jaw open beneath his mask. Then he leapt forward, thrusting at Pete. Pete spun the staff into a block, but it was only a feint, and before he could do anything the `ninja' had whirled and neatly cut the throat of his fallen comrade. Then he jumped for the window.

Pete's staff caught the `ninja' in mid-leap; the blow, landing square in his ribs, sent him to the floor, and Pete cracked him on the side of his head as he rose.

Pete immediately retrieved one of his spare glue guns from his dresser from and pasted the ninja's hands together. Then, curious, he pulled the hoods off the two ninja. The dead one was a white male, and the unconscious one was a black female. Both were teenagers. When Pete went to unmask the two on the wall he found that they'd somehow cut their own throats. Pete inspected them, to make sure they were dead, and said, "Shit." He turned to look at the unconscious one, and found that she'd torn her own throat open. Pete swore again, then called the cops.

After the police had taken away the bodies (with a surprisingly minimal amount of fuss or paperwork; Pete had started to explain, fearing what would happen and knowing that lying to them would be a bad mistake, but they'd seemed to accept almost immediately, and as a matter of course, that someone in Pete's position would end up killing his enemies, especially in self-defense. They'd kept telling him, "Don't worry about it, pal, we'll take care of it," and they hadn't even taken a statement from him. Pete wasn't sure how to feel about that. It was darned useful to him, to be certain, but it still didn't feel quite right. Pete wondered if this was how Spider-Man and Daredevil and all the rest of them caught so many crooks - did the cops cut corners for them, too?) Pete tried to get some sleep. By that time, though, it was almost four, and he had to be at work in a few hours, so he spent the remaining time cleaning his apartment and thinking about what the Answer had said.

By the day's end he thought he knew what the Answer meant. He hadn't gotten much done at the lab - at his age, missing a night of sleep was nothing he could laugh off, and he couldn't concentrate through his fatigue nearly so well as he used to - and he'd spent most of his time thinking and and finding out what that word, "kosumi," meant, rather than concentrating on his lab work - but he thought he had an answer.

"Kosumi": a diagonal move, in the game of Go, towards an enemy target. Go was a game of envelopment, where being flanked and surrouned led to a quick death. Pete wasn't being flanked or surrounded, that he knew of, but he had been enveloped, he thought; they knew where he lived and where he'd been, and had obviously, somehow, been following him on patrol. They must somehow have been steering the crime away from him; they couldn't steer him away from the crime while he was on patrol, and they knew that if he saw anyone following him that he'd go after them, so they must have maneuvered the crime and criminals around, instead.

Pete thought long and hard about what to do about this. Pete had the idea when he was thinking about what Spider-Man would have done in his position; he he snapped his fingers and smiled, and then placed a call to Precinct 14. The desk sergeant there, once he was satisfied that Pete was who he said he was, was surprisingly eager to help; Pete was pleased to learn that the police really did trust him.

Pete spent the next three days at the lab, sleeping on one of the cots provided for the doctoral students working on dissertations which required them to stay overnight in the lab. Pete caught up on his work during the day, and at night concentrated on making his new ideas a reality.

The fourth day was Saturday, August 1st, and he spent that day and night catching up on his sleep; the marathon session in the lab had exhausted him, and he knew he'd have to be at the top of his game if he was to pull this move off successfully.

Sunday night he went out on patrol, as he had usually done. He went on his normal route, only slightly encumbered by the bulk of his new equipment. As usual, he swept through the South Side, and then down to the boroughs of the Southwest, and then into the downtown. As usual, he found only the most basic of street crime.

It wasn't until he was running along the canal, by the railroad tracks at Roosevelt Ave., that he made his move. He suddenly leapt into the water, swam down to the bottom of the canal, slapped his oxygen mask on, and waited. The tank in his backpack only had enough oxygen for 10 minutes, but that should be enough, Pete thought.

As the ninth minute started Pete took his new, modified glue launcher from his backpack, quickly assembled it, loaded the ammo onto it, pointed it straight up, and fired.

Those watching the canal, looking for Pete to emerge, saw something shoot up from the water, fly a hundred feet into the air, and explode. They felt but did not see what seemed to be a fine mist settle on their skin, but unlike water this mist was somewhat tacky to the touch, and did not wipe away - it instantly adhered to their skin.

Then Pete emerged from the canal and resumed his patrol, dripping with the filthy water of the canal but grinning to himself. An hour later Pete ran to a payphone on Navy Pier and dialed up the desk sergeant at Precinct 14. He said, "Now, Sergeant, as we agreed."

Within ten minutes a sleek black police helicopter arrived and dropped a ladder down to him. He climbed it, and at his direction the pilot took him up over the center of the city.

From his bakcpack he unwrapped a box about the size of his laptop. He turned it on and began adjust various knobs and dials. Finally satisfied with its results, he began giving directions to the copter pilot, who brought him to the spot in Chicago his directions led him to, and then let Pete out, as he requested.

Pete, standing on the sidewalk, looked up at the Sears Tower and said, "Shit."

From across the street he heard a familiar voice say, "Indeed." He reflexively turned and aimed, gun in hand, then relaxed when his brain registered who was speaking. He said, "Answer. What are you doing here?" Then, seeing the others behind the Answer, he said, "And who are these?"

The Answer said, "I'm here because I need to be. These others...well, I'll introduce you to them in a minute. But first - tell me, what chain of reasoning brought you here?"

The Trapster shrugged. "They were following me, and I couldn't see them. And they killed themselves rather than talk or be captured. So I had to find a way to trace them back to their headquarters, and in such a way that they wouldn't know they were being traced. So I whipped up some radioactive glue in the lab, lured those following me to a place where I knew they'd be watching - down by the tracks there's no high point to watch me from, so they had to be somewhere near the tracks - and shot up a glue balloon rocket. It burst and sent the radioactive glue down as a mist, and coated everyone within, oh, a two-hundred yard radius with it. Then I just got one of the cops I know - well, sorta know - to fly me up over the city. From there, I used a modified Geiger Counter to trace where the emissions were coming from; I figured they had to be rotating the men following me, and some of them would go back to their headquarters. Back to here."

The Answer smiled and turned to the leader of the other figures. He said, "You see?"

The leader of the group, a young man (Pete thought he couldn't be more than 20 or 21) with blond hair, wearing a business suit and a strange blue cape, said, "You were right, Mr. Answer. I should never have doubted you."

The Trapster said, "Answer, what's going on here?"

The young man said, "Mr. Petruski, I'm the Kabbalist. My companions are Brota of the Stone Men, Mr. Doll, Flimjab of the Xartans, the Advisor, the Bookworm, Constrictor, Crossfire, and the X-terminator. We're the Rejects, and we've come to help you free Chicago from the crime lord you've been hunting."

The Trapster muttered, "Swell." And then the shooting started.

Author's Notes:

I'll go into the Rejects more next issue.

Next issue: A Trap