by Martin Maenza
About twenty minutes later, after making statements and ensuring the criminals were hauled off to jail, Steel made his way back up the street and changed back into Hank Heywood III. A few minutes after that, he was standing in the family room of one of the tenement homes off of Cameron Street.
“It’s so good to see you again,” a dark-haired Hispanic woman in her fifties said as she wiped her hands on her apron. “You look good. You eating well?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hank said politely.
“We’re about to sit down for supper in a bit,” the woman said. “I can set another plate.”
“No, ma’am,” the young man said politely. “We’re going out.” He glanced around the room. “Is she ready, Mrs. Ramone?”
“I’ll check. Rosa!” the woman yelled at the bottom of the stairwell. “Rosa! Hank’s here!”
From upstairs came a voice yelling from behind a closed door. “I’m just doing my makeup, mama! Can you send him up?”
Hank pretended not to hear it.
Mrs. Ramone turned to him with a smile. “She’s just doing her makeup. You can go up if you’d like.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Hank said with an appreciative nod. He took the rail and carefully walked up the old wooden steps that were covered with a tacked-down brown carpet. When he reached the top of the stairs, he turned left down the hallway to where the voice came from.
A couple of the younger Ramone kids ran by. Hank gave them all nods and winks as they passed and greeted him. He then stood before one of the closed doors, raised his hand, and knocked gently.
“Come in,” called a voice from the other side.
Hank reached for the knob, turned it, and stepped into the room.
There, at the small vanity mirror on top of the desk, was a dark-haired young woman of nineteen years of age. “I’ll be ready in a minute,” Rosa Ramone said, applying some powder to her cheek. “Sorry I’m running late.”
“Not a problem,” Hank said, watching her carefully. “I was running late myself.”
“You were?” she said. Watching him in the mirror, she smiled, then reached for the eyeliner.
“We’re just going to dinner, right?” she said. “Then we can just talk and catch up. It’s been so long since you called. I thought you forgot all about me.”
“How could I forget?” he said, glancing about the room. Her closet door was ajar, a black boot visible on the floor under a pile of other things. And was that a hint of red and a hint of yellow at the bottom of the pile?
“So,” Hank said, crossing his arms, “you were running late… from work?”
“Yeah,” she said, raising her eye to apply the mascara. “Things were crazy at the grocery.”
Hank nodded. “I bet. Gets kind of crazy around here, huh?”
“Well, you know…”
“I guess,” Hank said. Then he stood up and moved closer. “Not like I’m ‘slack-jawed and stupid,’ a’right?” He gave her a knowing grin.
Rosa bit her lip. “Why, whatever do you mean?” she said, a slight blush to her cheeks.
“I know all about Vibra,” he whispered in her ear.
Rosa just smiled and let out a little giggle.
At Deleano’s, a candlelit restaurant in the downtown area, Dale Gunn and Mari McCabe were finishing their main courses. “How was the linguini?” the man asked of his dining companion.
“It was good,” Mari said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had such a rich clam sauce.”
“Do you have room for dessert?”
“I don’t know,” the woman replied. “I’ve been working lately to try and get myself back in shape.”
Dale smiled. “Your shape looks good to me.”
“Oh, stop,” she said with a smile. They both chuckled. “Seriously, though, next week it’s back on a strict diet of salads. Especially if I plan to try and revive my modeling career.”
“Then you deserve one last hurrah,” he said, grabbing the dessert menu. “I know for a fact that they have a chocolate cheesecake here to die for.”
Across the way, another young couple entered the establishment. Mari noticed them and said, “That’s Hank. Who’s the girl with him?”
Dale turned to look. “I can’t tell for sure,” he said squinting his eyes. Still, he watched them with a careful eye. He noticed Hank slip the maitre d’ some money, and then the two were immediately shown to a table in the already-crowded restaurant.
“Hank, this is so fancy,” Rosa said as he pulled out her chair. She sat down, and then he sat as well. “I’ve never been to a place like this before. I hope I’m not underdressed.”
“You look wonderful,” he replied. Then he leaned in closer and whispered, “Besides, this place isn’t nearly as pretentious as it would appear to be on the surface.” He leaned back. “And I thought I would do something nice, especially since I’ve been really bad about getting back to town, and bad about seeing you.”
Rosa smiled. “You have been,” she agreed. “When you moved away, after…” Her voice trailed off. He knew exactly what she meant by her voice and the sadness. She was referring to when her brother Paco went missing during the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. She shook her head. “Anyway, I really missed you.”
“Me, too,” he said. “We didn’t have so much time together before. And then things got crazy with my grandfather disappearing and me inheriting his company, et cetera. I had a lot on my plate.”
“And you and the others moved away, too,” Rosa said firmly. “That’s what hurt.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Hank said, knowing she was referring to the Justice League moving out of the Bunker and eventually back to their satellite headquarters. “I really didn’t have a say in any of that. Compared to the others, I was the rookie on the block.”
“Well, maybe that can change now,” Rosa said. She gave him a wink.
Hank looked at her oddly. “Huh?”
“You know,” she said, winking again. “Now that I can…” She made a little wiggling motion up and down with her fingers.
“Oh,” Hank said, as if a light bulb went off in his head. “Right. Speaking of, how do you… you know?” He wiggled his fingers in a similar manner.
“Unlike Paco, I don’t do that naturally,” Rosa explained. “I guess I was really feeling the loss of my brother. The whole neighborhood was. He was very well-loved there, you know. He took care of things. He was more than just a street dancer. He was a protector.” Hank nodded.
“Anyway, it was just a couple months ago, around the time of my birthday. I received this package in the mail. Very strange. No return address.” Rosa took a sip of her water. “I was home alone at the time, so I opened it up. Turns out there were these bracelet-like things inside with a typewritten note. It said, make your brother proud, and explained how to use them. Turns out with them, I can do… you know.”
Hank let out a pondering sound. “Hmmm…”
“Hmmm,” she mimicked him. “What’s with the hmmm?”
“Just hmmm,” Hank said. “Kind of funny that someone anonymous would give you something like that.”
Rosa frowned. “Why’s it so funny? Paco was known about the area. He never made it a secret of that. Heck, most of Cameron Street knew who most of you were, and you all only lived there for a few months!”
“I know, I know,” Hank said. “It’s just, I don’t know, so out of the blue, you know?”
“Maybe,” Rosa said, “but what does it matter? I can be like Paco was, carry on his legacy, join the League.”
Hank blinked. “Whoa, back up,” he said.
“Join the League? Carry on his legacy? Are you serious?”
Rosa became defensive. “What do you mean am I serious? Of course I’m serious! You saw what I did earlier. If it wasn’t for me, you might’ve ended up in a hospital or something. And those creeps definitely would’ve gotten away!”
“Rosa,” Hank said, glancing about. “Keep your voice down. You’re making a scene.”
“Well, you’re treating me like a child!” she exclaimed. “Who do you think you are, tellin’ me what I can and cannot do with my life?”
“I never said you couldn’t…”
“You asked if I was serious! You don’t think I’m serious?”
“But you’re not…” Hank said. “That is…”
“It’s not that easy,” Hank said with a sigh. “You can’t just…” He noticed they were drawing attention. He lowered his voice and leaned in closer to her. “You can’t just jump right into this. There’s a lot to consider. And the League…” He shook his head. “I don’t know…”
“You don’t think I’m good enough?!” Rosa exclaimed. “My brother was good enough.”
“Well, things were different a few years ago…”
“Oh!” Rosa fumed. “I see!” She stood up from the table indignantly.
“Rosa, sit down,” Hank begged. “Please.”
“No!” the brunette shook her head defiantly. “If you think I’m gonna go and beg you, forget it! You ain’t the only group around, you know. And I don’t have to go far to look.”
“You wouldn’t!” Hank protested.
Rosa glared at him. “Enjoy your dinner alone! I’m gone!” And with that, the young woman stormed out of the restaurant.
Hank felt as if all eyes were on him. There were some hushed whispers. He grabbed the menu in front of him, opened it up wide, and tried to hide behind it. “Girls,” he muttered softly to himself.
He felt a tap on his shoulder. “A problem?”
The young man turned around to see Dale Gunn standing there. “Dale? What are you…?” The man gestured to over his shoulder where Mari was sitting. “Oh, right. Sorry.”
“Wasn’t that…?” Dale started to ask.
“Yeah,” Hank said. “Paco’s sister, Rosa.”
“She looked mad,” Dale said.
Hank looked longingly toward the door. “Yeah, I would say she definitely was.”
“Maybe you should go after her, son,” Dale advised.
Hank shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. That just might push her further.”
“We’ll just see if this blows over,” Hank said.
A few days later, Steel sat in front of one of the television monitors in the Justice League’s satellite orbiting 22,300 miles above the Earth. One of the cable news channels was rerunning a piece that made the young hero angry. With a low grrr-rrr-rrr, he squeezed the cup he had been drinking from and shattered the hard plastic.
“What’s going on?” asked Black Canary, who had just entered the room. “I was just doing some research when I heard your outburst.”
“Nothing!” Steel said as he bolted from his chair. “I need to make a call.”
The blonde heroine stepped over the monitor to see what had angered the young man so. On the screen was a reporter talking with Guy Gardner. A costumed brunette woman was standing next to him. “Say,” Canary said, “that girl with Guy, she looks a lot like Vibe…”
At Heywood Industries in Detroit, in an office overlooking the downtown area, Dale Gunn was on the phone. “Yes, Hank,” he said. “I saw the piece on the news earlier.” He paused to listen. “No, no, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Dale advised. “If you evict them from the Bunker, it’ll just make things worse. You said yourself that pushing her further was not a good idea.” He paused again.
Dale tried not to laugh. “Hank, I’ve had a bit more experience with women than you, and I still don’t always understand them. Look, just calm down and listen. I told you I would make time to check in on the place, and I will. I’ll free up some time tomorrow. I can use the excuse of watching out for your investments. At the same time, I can check up on Rosa for you, maybe get an idea what’s going on in her head. She’s probably just mad at you and is using this as a way to get back at you for hurting her feelings.” He paused to listen.
“Trust me on this, son,” Dale said. “I’ll give you a call after I’ve checked up on her, OK?” Another pause. “Good. Talk to you then.” Dale Gunn then hung up the phone. The man stood up from his leather chair and walked over to the window. From his view, he could see the neighborhood where the Bunker was situated.
Dale stroked his silk tie and thought to himself, Hank, if I knew that sending those vibro-gauntlets to Rosa would have caused you all these problems, I never would have done it. I truly thought it was a good thing at the time. He sighed to himself. I guess we’ll just have to see where things go from here and hope they work out for the best for everyone involved.