by Martin Maenza
Jefferson Pierce sat at the luncheon counter of Gert’s, a small convenience shop that also served the best chili-cheese fries in Suicide Slum. As a boy, Jeff would come to Gert’s to pick up the latest comic-book or to get some nickel candy. The place had a quaint feel to it with its old formica counters and colorful tile floor, both of which had faded over the years. Originally the shop was run by Gert and her husband. When Gert passed on a few years back, Arnie decided to keep the place open with its original name in honor of her memory.
Jeff’s thoughts shifted to what had brought him to this familiar refuge on this day. Just an hour earlier, he had been back at Garfield High School, having a normal day for an English teacher. But his conversation with Principal Mac Chapin had ended abruptly when the subject of Lynn Stewart came up. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “One Man’s Poison,” Black Lightning #6 (January, 1978).]
I can’t really be mad at Mac, he thought to himself as he poked at the last of the fries with a fork. It wasn’t his fault, really. He was only trying to understand the dynamics between his teaching staff and why the combination of Lynn and I is like oil and water. He took the last bite of his food. It’s not like he knew how intertwined the past between us is. I certainly had no plans of mentioning it, even after she showed up again after all this time.
The black man stood up from his stool, retrieved his wallet from his pocket, and placed the money on the counter to pay for his food. “Hey, Arnie!” Jefferson called out. “You keep the change, all right?” The white-haired old man gave a friendly nod as he saw the young teacher leave the money by the plate, then went back to sweeping the floor at the far end of the counter.
Jefferson Pierce turned and started for the door. Yet Lynn’s unexpected arrival just changes everything, he thought. As Black Lightning, I have no problem facing down the likes of Merlyn or the Cyclotronic Man, or even Superman. But the thought of having to talk to Lynn about the past? Now that scares me.
Almost on cue, the attractive young black woman entered the store before Jefferson got to the door. She wore the same bellbottom slacks and top he had seen her in earlier at Garfield High. “Lynn!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“Jeff, there you are,” Lynn Stewart said. “When you bolted from the school, I should have figured you would end up here.” She approached him. “We need to talk.”
Jefferson Pierce crossed his hands in front of him in a quick motion. “Save it, Lynn! I’m in no mood to rehash the past with you, especially here and now. Let’s just leave it buried and be done with, just like our marriage.” Seeing that she blocked his path to the front door, he whirled around and made a beeline for the side door.
But before he could leave the shop, another figure came in through the front door. It was a tall black man dressed in yellow pants and an open blue shirt. Blue boots and a blue headband completed the outfit. “Yo! Where is he at?” he called out rather cockily. “Anyone in this joint know where I can find that jive turkey Black Lightning?”
Jefferson Pierce slipped out the side door of Gert’s, having overheard the man’s statement about looking for Black Lightning. If he were going to face the bold newcomer, he couldn’t do it in his white sweat top and black pants. Time for a quick change, he thought as he raced down the alleyway.
Inside, the tall man considered for a moment the idea of pursuing Pierce, but all that changed when he caught sight of the lovely Lynn Stewart. “Sweet Arbor Day!” the well-built man exclaimed. “If you ain’t the finest woman I’ve seen in a while.” He sidled up to Lynn and tried to put his arm around her. “Tell me your name, sweet momma.”
Lynn slipped away from his grasp. “Uninterested,” she said firmly.
The strong black man frowned. “Now hold on a second, sugar,” he said. “Don’t go playin’ me like this. Ya don’t know who ya messin’ with.”
“And just who do you think you are?” Lynn replied.
“The name’s Power Fist, villain-for-hire,” said the man. “And I’m gonna be the richest brother you’ll ever meet in Suicide Slum, just as soon’s I find Black Lightning.”
Arnie finally came out from behind the counter, the broom still in his hands. “Well, he ain’t here, so why don’t you just git?” the elderly white shopkeep said. He shook his broomstick at Power Fist, but the costumed black man merely laughed at him.
“Back off, old man!” Power Fist said, snatching the broom from Arnie’s hand and snapping it over his knee. “Ya don’t want to end up like this here broom, now, do ya?” The elderly man backed away in fear.
“You aren’t welcome here,” Lynn stated. “So you best be running along.”
“Oh, I’ll go,” Power Fist said. “But maybe you should come wit’ me. We could have some fun.” He reached for Lynn once more.
“I think the lady said she was uninterested,” a voice came from the front door. “What’s a’ matter? You got wax in those big old ears, or maybe that headband’s too tight?”
Power Fist spun around and saw a black man dressed in a dark blue costume with lightning bolt trim standing in the door. “Black Lightning!”
“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out!” the hero said, smiling. “Let’s take this outside, okay?” He then bolted down the sidewalk with Power Fist in hot pursuit.
Having been an Olympic athlete, Black Lightning knew he could outrun this loudmouth easily enough. But ditching this guy isn’t the point, the hero thought. No doubt he’s after that reward that was posted in yesterday’s Daily Planet. Too bad he’s going to have to find out the hard way it won’t be so easy to collect.
Having led his pursuer far enough away from the shop, Black Lightning whirled around to attack. Surprisingly, Power Fist was nowhere to be seen. “He can’t have lost interest that fast,” the hero said.
“Nope!” a voice boomed as Power Fist dropped down behind the hero. He wrapped his powerful arms around Black Lightning, pinning his upper arms in a bear hug. “I’ve got my eyes on the prize! That reward money will be mine!”
The hero of Suicide Slum maneuvered his left hand free and tripped a control on his special belt before grabbing Power Fist’s wrists. “Don’t go spending what you ain’t collected yet,” the hero said as he released an electric charge into his quarry. “It takes more than puttin’ on one’s disco clothes to take me out.”
“Ha-ha! Ya make me laugh!” Power Fist squeezed really hard and then released the hero, letting him drop to his knees. “These boots of mine ain’t made for dancin’. They’ve got special soles to ground me so’s your little lightnin’ tricks can’t shock me. Momma Case didn’t raise no fool for a son.”
Power Fist grabbed Black Lightning by the leg and hoisted him into the air quickly. “But if ya want to do the hustle, I have no problem dancin’ all over your face. See, the reward didn’t say I had to turn ya in alive!” The large man cocked back his arm and snapped it forward. As he did so, he let Black Lightning go sailing through the air and into an open-trash Dumpster.
“Just call me Dr. Jay, since I just made a three-pointer from center court!” the villain joked as he made a little victory dance.
Though his body was starting to ache from the battle already, Black Lightning did his best to claw his way to the top of the trash. Can’t let this punk get the better of me, he thought. I’ve got to think up a plan. Suddenly he felt the whole Dumpster lurch. As he peered out over the opening, he could see that Power Fist was lifting the whole thing off the ground. And I better think fast!
“Time to take out the trash!” Power Fist said as he hoisted the large Dumpster over his head. The man looked strong to begin with, but this act further proved that he had strength well beyond that of normal men. He flexed the muscles in his arm and prepared to toss the whole thing, with Black Lightning inside.
The hero pulled himself to the open edge of the Dumpster and leaped away from it. Black Lightning flipped through the air and tumbled twice as he hit the ground before rising to his feet.
“Hey, get back here!” Power Fist exclaimed. He threw the Dumpster across the road, attempting to hit the hero with it.
Black Lightning leaped away as the metal receptacle clattered across the sidewalk, spilling some of the refuge as it went. “Now you had to go and be a litterbug!” the hero said. “Messin’ up my home turf’s gonna cost you.”
Power Fist charged at the hero, swinging his mighty fists. “Yeah? Well, how’s a pounding for a downpayment?” Black Lightning moved swiftly, avoiding one blow after another. “Hey, hold still!”
Some were fairly close calls, and Black Lightning knew that sooner or later the powerhouse would connect. This guy’s like a locomotive, and I doubt my force-field is enough to stop those punches, the hero thought. My best bet is to try and use his strength to my advantage.
Black Lightning took a second to orientate himself to his surroundings. And I think I know just how to do that, he thought.
Spinning around quickly, Black Lightning nailed Power Fist in the gut with a solid kick. While it wasn’t enough to stop the man, it gave him pause. “Yo, Power Fink!” the hero called as he darted away. “You want to collect that reward money, you’re gonna have to catch me first!” The former Olympian took off in a dead sprint once more, down the street toward an older-looking building.
Power Fist took the bait.