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It wasn't that Ivy Town, Connecticut didn't have its charms. In the April sunshine, the trees just starting to bud, the college town made a very nice change from the grime of the big city. If you liked antiquing or used bookstores, it was a great place to visit (and Knox and Rapunzel found a few things for his apartment and her rooms and for their bookshelves).

But it seemed like the last place that needed a super-hero. Which in itself was probably a clue as to who was under the tiny mask of the Atom. A student, or maybe a professor. If Knox really wanted to make a list of possible suspects, he could. Assuming that he could figure out how it was even possible for a man to be six inches tall. And assuming that this was the latest application of science got wild and that the Atom was a shrunken human and not an alien.

Before leaving Gotham, Knox called STAR Labs in Metropolis and got connected with first the Public Information Office and then a biologist named Janet Lang. Dr. Lang insisted that there was no way a human (or anything else) could be shrunk in the first place, and that such a miniature man would be very hard pressed to survive, let alone fight crime. She felt the stories had to be hoaxes, probably college pranks.

And yet - unlike the matter of the faceless man in Boston - there were a lot of witnesses. Three people in a gas station. Seven in a diner. Six in a bank. Each giving the same sort of account to the local weekly paper and the cops and the one lone camerawoman from Hartford who thought it was worth her time to visit. Knox stopped at each of these places, the gas station on his way into town, the diner for lunch, the bank at closing time. Raps watched as he asked his questions, and listened just in case there was any hint the Atom was a Liliputian in disguise.

The gas station was on the edge of town, right off the highway. The clerk was a native of Senegal who worked there while attending classes. He was genial, soft-spoken and seemed to appreciate that Knox didn't think he was crazy. "I get thieves once or twice a month. Usually it is the sort that grab as much food as they can, or accesories, and then run off to a waiting car. This man was different. He carried a gun. I do not think he intended to harm me, but he would certainly have taken all the money had the little man not appeared."

"Where did he come from?"

"I do not know. Perhaps he was following the man. Or he was just in the store. I would not have seen him."

"And he...

"He was on the counter, and told the thief to surrender. We both were rather startled. The thief tried to swat the man, but he leapt away. And then he leapt onto the thief's gun and the gun fell."

"It fell?"

"It seemed much heavier."

"The crook then ran?"

"Yes. He was quite startled. The police caught him the next day." Which Knox knew. The crook, a four-time loser named David Clinton, was caught on the gas station's camera and also was babbling when arrested.

"And did the Incredible Shrinking Man say anything else?"

"No."

The diner was close to the campus, a block from a large used book store and frequented by administrative staff and few students. Two regulars, a male pencil-pusher from the Bursar's Office and an female executive assistant to one of the myriad associate deans, had already told their tales to the camerawoman, and were happy to repeat themselves.

"Some guy tried to grab all the cash from the till," said the pencil-pusher. "No gun or anything. Just grabby hands and a vest with lots of pockets.

"Next thing we knew, he's on the floor," added the assistant. "And there's this tiny little man in a red and blue costume on his face."

"You saw the costume?"

"Well, I think I did. It was red and blue, I am sure." Knox had seen the same thing in the local paper, from other witnesses, but it still seemed unlikely anyone could see that. "And he then told everyone that it was okay, that the Atom had things under control."

"And how did he sound, for a guy with a miniature voice box?"

"He was using a sound system of some sort," Pencil-Pusher said. "Sounded a bit tinny."

"But not tiny."

"Nope." Knox tried to talk to the waitresses, but not a one was willing to stop working.

The bank was a branch of Third Hartford Savings, one of the rock-ribbed financial institutions of a state known for banks and insurance. And this time, the thieves were, according to the state troopers, making their sixth stop on a tour of the Nutmeg State's finer banks. The troopers even admitted that there was a pattern and that the gang was likely to visit Ivy Town soon. Knox was convinced that the Atom knew this too and might have been waiting.

"Yeah," said the chief teller, a transplanted middle-aged Metropolitan man with a pronounced urban accent, "he musta been there the whole time, because I didn't even push the alarm button before he showed."

"And what did he do?"

"That was the crazy part. He was jumping all over the place, from man to man, and every time he landed, it was like he punched them. Hard."

"So...it was like he weighed more than a few ounces?"

"It was like he weighed forty pounds.

"That's ridiculous."

"You need to see the tapes?" Knox said yes, naturally. And to his utter surprise, the bank had the tape. "Didn't the troopers want it?"

"Nope. They got their men. They got here quicklike, and the gang was still dazed. The Atom thanks the cops and vamoosed."

And here was proof. Of something, if not the Atom. The tape was grainy and black and white, but something was clearly hitting the crooks in the face. Jumping on their guns. Making them look like marionettes. "This," Knox said as much to himself as to Raps and the teller, "is no hoax." He was smiling a bit, but still not sure what to make of it.

Later, in their cozy hotel room across the street from the football stadium, Alex sorted through his notes and got his thoughts organized while Raps got ready for a shower.

"Any thoughts, dear," he asked.

"Only that I don't think he's a Fable. The Lillipitians weigh next to nothing. And the skilled fighters among them use swords."

"Times change. But I think you're right. He's one of the heroes. One of ours."

"Is he your story next week?"

"Maybe. I think that people will think we're nuts. That this whole town is nuts."

"You still can't get any cops to talk to you about it?"

"Not a one. Not sure I blame them when a six inch tall guy does your job for you."

"Well, you don't need them, anyway. We know what's real." Raps coiled her hair up and wrapped herself in a hotel bathrobe. "Join me?"

"Of course. Just let me get this put away." She smiled as she entered the bath. And Alex put the notes in his suitcase, and wondered if the world was really ready for a miniature vigilante.

And why the Atom was fighting crime in the boondocks.

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November 2011

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