by Al Clover, 1482 words

Dwayne had always been odd. During his early childhood his fellow younglings couldn’t let the odd spelling of his first name go. There was lots of “Duuuwayne” and other insults that only nine- and ten-year-olds could conceive of. He had retreated into books and then when the used book store he frequented bought a comic collection he discovered comicbooks. Specifically, Batman. He spent many a rainy Saturday perusing those comics. Relaxed in his favorite chair with a hot chocolate filled to the brim with those yummy little marshmallows, he devoured the stories. Stories of Batman fighting crime his way. Taking the night and making it his own, Batman caused justice to storm throughout his body, and he knew that was his future. He knew Batman was fiction but also knew there was some truth behind Batman’s search for justice in today’s world.

Dwayne began checking out books from the local library. This was where he slacked his thirst for justice at the well of knowledge. He was amazed at the information available for learning. The library became his Bat-Cave. He had access to computers (where he could be anonymous) and he found books on the FBI and many other organizations pertaining to the defeat of villainy.  After his high school days, he attended law enforcement classes at the community college. Justice became his obsession. And Batman was his mentor.

He stood in the darkness surrounded by the flickering lights of the fire engines and the flames. Sven had drug his sleepy ass out of the burning building, his soot-covered shirt showed a burned spot or two where embers had fallen during the miraculous escape. Among the chaos he drew a lung full of oxygen than coughed in the smokey air. The thought, that was dumb, bounced around while he heard the firemen shout commands while they attempted to keep the flames from consuming the town. Something felt off as he looked around at the crowd. He realized Jerome hadn’t shown up at the scene. Hmm, that seems like a red flag. Was Jerome somehow involved? Dwayne remembered the instructor in his Law and the World Around Us telling him that when a crime was involved there are no coincidences and Jerome not showing up at the disaster of the Excelsior burning down seemed odd. Dwayne remembered the talks they’d had in the kitchen during slow times. Jerome had said more than once how much he loved his job.

He was super bummed that the fire had consumed his “tech” books—every Batman comic he’d purchased and dissected with annotations in the important parts—but he had a good memory and knew what his next step was. He needed to find Jerome. And if Jerome was a bad actor then Dwayne would see justice done.

Fortunately, Dwayne didn’t keep his most precious crime fighting equipment in his room. That was now gone. He’d been going out at night and patrolling the small-town finding crime in progress. In the dark of night, he was a shadow. He forged an understanding of the town residents. None of them were evil doers but Dwayne didn’t slack in his self-appointed duties. Of course, Mr. James wasn’t cleaning up after Tootsie, but Dwayne understood as Tootsie was a Saint Bernard that tipped the scales at one hundred pounds and when Tootsie went, it was a landfill of a dump. Still, he left a note on Mr. James’ door after that last time when Dwayne, in the dark, had stepped in the leavings of a Tootsie evacuation. He was proud of the fact that he didn’t puke when his shoe sunk into and was covered with poop. He’d observed Jimmy the Snoop, as he was known around town, peeping in the windows of the local hot MILTHSW (his version of the NSFW MILF) and rather than confront the kid about his unacceptable conduct he shoved a note under the suspect’s door reminding him that that type of behavior was wrong and he, the suspect, should mend his ways. It seemed to have worked as Dwayne hadn’t noticed any more late-night spying by Jimmy.

Dwayne had a 1959 Aston Martin that his great-grandfather had left him after his Grandpa passed. It sat low to the ground and its jet-black exterior gave it a mean “don’t mess with me look”. When necessary it could also take your breath away when you put the pedal to the metal. This was Dwayne’s Batmobile and he kept his most prized possessions in the boot of the fancy car. Not that he drove it much, gas was expensive. Still, he did keep it washed and maintained. He didn’t have a covered area (garage or covered parking) but he was able to use a car cover that kept most of the weather from affecting the car. It was the only part of his life that he still had after his parents essentially kicked him out when he graduated from high school. Not that he was complaining. Most kids in his high school graduating class got a Pinto or a Chevy Vega. And those were the lucky ones. In hindsight maybe not so lucky?

Dwanye had spent the day trying to find Jerome. His conversation with Flora had been frustrating but he wasn’t going to let that deter him from his self-appointed assignment. The sun had shown brightly throughout the day in an attempt to drive away the sadness that encompassed the town. For Dwayne waiting had been tough. He spent the time mindlessly wandering around town listening to the town talk about the fire. But now that darkness had descended on the sunlit hours, Dwayne needed his crime solving equipment to crack the mystery of Jerome’s disappearance. Approaching the Aston Martin and looking around, he popped the car cover off and lifted the lid to the boot. Pulled out his detective equipment, he’d modeled his “Detecting” belt after Batman’s utility belt. There were pockets for finger print analysis—fine scrapings from a #2 pencil—and a small brush, one he’d found in the bathroom at the Excelsior, probably left by a woman who was re-doing her make-up. He also had a pouch attached that held a pepper spray canister. He’d practiced with the spray but never planned on using it after he’d caught a whiff and spent twenty minutes throwing up from the effects. At least he hoped he wouldn’t have to use it. But if he did, remember he told himself, stay up wind. There were other items essential to crime solving on the belt. He ought to get moving though, if he was going to solve any possible crime associated with the burning of the buildings.

He closed the boot, adjusted his black stocking cap, and settled the belt around his waist. The belt fit snuggly and didn’t make a sound when he moved. Zipped up his dark hoodie and drew the hood about his head. His face sank into the inky blackness. Then pushed his hands into dark blue driving gloves. The gloves provided a more tactile feel for those moments that needed a discerning touch. Catching his reflection in a store front window he saw a mysterious hooded figure who would solve the mysteries of the night.

The murkiness was broken only by the moon slithering out from behind drifting clouds in an otherwise starry sky. A chiaroscuro effect deepened by the ebb and flow of the passing clouds. Night-time was his time to explore and follow the clues that were laid out before him. All was quiet. He drifted from one veiled spot to the next staying just out of reach of any street light or any errant lights. It was a good thing that even though Flora hadn’t offered up Jerome’s address when Dwayne first asked, he’d been able to convince her to tell him.

He gave his heels and toes a workout that would take him to Jerome’s apartment. There, Dwayne hoped to begin the journey to solving the mystery he felt was at the heart of the fire. Passing an alley, the night came alive with a cry of pain and Dwayne jumped at the sound. He reeled back a step and peered into the alley but couldn’t see anything other than the deep darkness.

Who knows why, but that sound sent Dwayne’s imagination into overdrive and the prominent thought that forced its way to the forefront of his mind involved the possibility that someone was trying to silence him.

Yes, the Excelsior had burned but so had his rooming house with Sven. And if not for Sven, Dwayne might not have survived. Not having thought of that, Dwayne stood there going over his activities during the last few months. Oh, crap he thought. Yes, but don’t they say it’s not paranoia if it’s true?

Of course, he could be wrong? Were the clues all in his imagination?