Big Lou’s had been a recruiting station for hired thugs in Gotham City for as long as anyone could remember. It rested squarely on the waterfront, with a nice view of the harbor.
That night in 1954, a stranger walked into the bar. He was tall, with regular features, and a slight scar over one eye. His dark hair was swept back from his forehead. He walked over to the bar with a quiet confidence, the clientele regarding him with the suspicion of men in their profession. The bartender tried to move away from the stranger while serving drinks to his customers.
“I am looking for Paul Twitchell,” the stranger said. His voice cut across the bar noise while sounding normal.
The bartender took a look at the stranger’s metallic green eyes and swallowed what he was about to say. “He’s over there at the table,” he finally choked out.
“Thank you,” the stranger said. He walked over to the pool table and regarded the two men playing for a second.
“Mr. Twitchell, I would like to hire you,” the stranger said. “My name is Adam Blake.”
“Can it wait?” asked one of the pool players. He was a ferret-like man wearing a loose sweater over a pair of brown pants. His hands shook visibly as he took aim with the pool cue. “I’m about to clean this sucker out.”
“Big talk, Twitch,” said the other player. “You’re three-hundred points down. All I need is three or four balls.”
“Go ahead, Mr. Twitchell,” said Blake. My business can wait for the necessary minutes.”
Paul Twitchell closed his eyes after making sure he was on line with the cue ball. His hands became still as he took two practice strokes. He broke the rack with a sure stroke. Every ball went into a pocket.
“How did you do that?” said the other man. “That’s crazy.”
“Watch me do it again,” said Twitchell, racking up the balls. Blake noticed the man’s body was vibrating again as he moved.
He said nothing as he calmly watched Twitchell sink two more racks in the same fashion. He was only still when he aimed his shot, and constantly moving otherwise.
“So, what’s the job?” asked Twitchell after he had picked up his winnings from the table. He smiled slightly as he shook in place.
“I am looking for certain men, and was told that you could help me find one of them,” Blake said as he led the way to an empty table.
“Who’re you looking for?” Twitchell said. He had brought a bottle of beer and sipped at it. “I know lots of guys.”
“I am looking for Culver Morrigan,” Blake said.
Twitch spit his beer on the floor in surprise. “I don’t know him,” declared Twitch, trying to stand up. “I don’t know anyone named Morrigan.”
Blake held him in place with one hand on his shoulder. “What about his alias, Mr. Twitchell?” he said. “I know you have heard of Deadman.”
“Cully Morrigan doesn’t like people looking for him,” said Twitch. “He’s one guy I don’t want to come looking for me.”
“I understand your fear,” said Blake. “He is essential to the group that I am putting together, as are you.”
“What are you gonna do,” asked Twitch, “rob a bank?”
“How do people normally contact Mr. Morrigan?” Blake said.
“Through the personals,” said Twitch. He finished the remains of his beer. “He’s been a bit paranoid since the Joker tried to off him.”
“I can imagine,” said Blake.
Twitch sat back in his chair, regarding his visitor. There was something strange about him. It was like he was wearing a mask over his true face. Something just didn’t add up here. Paul Twitchell was a small-time gambler and stoolie. Cully Morrigan killed people as a profession. What kind of organization needed two diverse types like that? More importantly, how much was he paying?
The two men seemed odd as they walked together. Paul Twitchell continually moved some part of his body in a fidgety dance, while Adam Blake was as calm as a sheet of glass.
“Are you sure you wanna do this?” Twitch asked nervously.
“A few minutes of Mr. Morrigan’s time will tell us if he is the man I think he is,” said Blake. “I doubt he will shoot us for asking if he wants to be employed for a limited time.”
“You don’t know Cully, do you?” asked Twitch.
“I am afraid we have never met,” said Blake.
“Oh, boy,” said Twitch, sweat dripped from his long nose and chin.
The two stopped in front of a dilapidated house. A broken stone wall with a rusty iron gate was the only barrier to the wide expanse of a yard. Blake squinted in the moonlight, examining the house.
“Stay here, Mr. Twitchell,” Blake said.
“Sounds good to me,” said the stool pigeon, but Blake had already leaped over the wall with ease. He glided across the lawn like a phantom.
Blake paused here and there as he circled the house. He used the wall to ascend to a second story and entered through a window. He worked his way down to the first floor, avoiding debris and wreckage as if he could see in the pitch black.
A man stood looking out the window. He held a pistol in one hand as he stared at where Twitch’s hat paced outside the gate. Apparently he had not seen Blake’s entrance onto the grounds.
“I am here to talk as stated, Mr. Morrigan,” Blake said calmly.
The man spun and emptied the pistol at Blake. As the slide on the .45 locked back, his smiling face seemed puzzled. His target still stood by the staircase.
“Can we talk now, Mr. Morrigan?” Blake said mildly.
“You’re lucky I was shooting to miss,” said Morrigan. His skin was chalk white, and he couldn’t seem to stop smiling. He calmly reloaded.
A possible consequence of dealing with the Joker? Blake thought, noting the man’s appearance. He gestured at a pair of chairs. The men sat, quietly regarding each other.
“What do you want?” Morrigan said first.
“I am hiring a small group of assistants,” said Blake. “Your name was recommended as a shooter.”
“Who recommended me?” Morrigan asked.
“Private sources,” said Blake.
“Who?” said Morrigan.
“So I should take your word, right?” said Cully Morrigan.
“Mr. Twitchell has informed me of your problem with certain individuals, Mr. Morrigan,” said Blake in his regular voice. “I am in a position to help you with that, and will if you enter my employ.”
“You’re smooth, but I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” said Morrigan.
“It is your choice,” Blake said. He stood up. “Sooner or later, your problem is going to come home. You will be alone when that happens.”
“Safety in numbers, huh?” Morrigan said.
“Not perfect safety,” Blake said. “I have a dangerous task to undertake, so I cannot promise that you will even be safe helping me.”
“How much are you paying?” Morrigan asked.
“Double whatever you are charging,” said Blake.
“I’m in,” said Morrigan.
“Good,” said Blake.
The two men left the house. The gunman didn’t see Blake drop the seven bullets he had caught by the door as they went.
Blake and Morrigan walked out to the street. Twitch grimaced without thinking when he saw the gunman’s pale face.
“Mr. Twitchell, meet Mr. Morrigan,” Blake said calmly. “Mr. Morrigan, this is Mr. Twitchell.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Twitch said with a sickly smile, holding out a hand.
Morrigan stared at the hand until it was redrawn shakily.
“Mr. Morrigan, I need you to secure a pilot and airplane,” said Blake. “It will need to be able to fly long range fast, and land on water as well as land.”
“Got it,” said the gunman. “Any preferences?”
“A cargo carrier will be in line with what I want,” said the mystery man.
“Call this number when you find one.” Blake handed him a white card with just the phone number on it.
“On my way,” said Morrigan, walking away silently.
“Mr. Twitchell, I need you to find out whatever you can about an island in the South Pacific,” said Blake. “Its name is Kolanskia.”
“On it, chief,” said the nervous man. He took a card and walked away.
Blake walked to his next destination.
Adam Blake walked purposely through the night. He wondered if he was doing the right thing, involving others in his war. He told himself that he had no choice.
He regarded his destination as he approached the square building he had set up as a headquarters this time. It looked like all the other abandoned buildings he had bought around it. He wondered how much time he had before he had to wander again. That didn’t matter, he chided himself. He was here to do a job, not settle like a hen upon eggs. That was what mattered. Still, it would have been nice to remain in one place for a while, even if it was job-related.
Blake placed his hand on a metallic plate next to the door. The door unlocked and opened for him. He stepped inside, letting the door shut and lock behind him.
“Hello, Adam,” said a balding man in glasses, who stepped into the lobby of the building from a room at the center of the block of buildings. “How did it go?”
“Mr. Morrigan and Mr. Twitchell are exactly what I need,” said Blake. “Mr. Morrigan is extremely quick and accurate, and Mr. Twitchell can change probabilities just as you surmised.”
“So they have joined your cause?” asked the balding man, taking off his glasses and polishing them with a cloth.
“I would not say that,” Blake responded. “They are acting for me because I have offered them some money.”
“That might not be wise, Adam,” said the other man.
“I know, Professor Nichols, I know.”
Cully Morrigan had gone to the airport from his meeting with Blake. He knew the place well from a couple of smuggling deals he had taken part in.
Morrigan thought of himself as one of the more successful criminals in Gotham City. Out of all the deals he had taken part in, he had the good fortune of never seeing the Batman. He knew how rare that was in a city that was practically seeing the crime-buster act every day.
He bypassed the airport terminal and headed for the private hangars away from the main buildings. He rubbed the numb flesh of his face and wished he had never met the Joker. That had been a costly mistake, no matter how you sliced it.
Morrigan wondered about missing Blake back at the house. He had never done that before. He had noticed there were no bullet holes anywhere around the spot where Blake was standing, or in Blake, either. That was what had made up his mind to join up with the stranger. If he could make bullets disappear in midair, maybe he could make the Joker disappear also.
He walked along the private hangars until he found the one he wanted. It seemed broken down on the outside of the corrugated building. Morrigan knew the pilot and mechanic kept their plane in top condition. He had even used them a couple of times for fast trips across the country.
The gunman knocked on the plain wooden door. The sign above the door swung lazily back and forth on rusty chains. The sign said Harrigan Aviation Services in a faded blue and silver.
“What can I do for you?” said the blond man who answered the door. Hop Harrigan, known during the war as America’s ace of the airways, still retained his youthful features but now had a more mature, world-weary look about him.
“I need to hire a plane, Hop,” said Morrigan.
“Come on in, Cully,” said the once-famous pilot, stepping out of the way.