A man in a purple suit paced the gigantic room he used for a home amidst the abandoned companies that dotted Gotham City like eyesores.
“Franko, Franko, Franko,” said the man, running his hand through his hair. “I send you to kill someone, and you botched it. (*) That makes me look bad. The next thing you’ll tell me is that Catwoman came out of retirement to help him out.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Adam Blake: Times Past, 1954: Blake’s Seven, Chapter 2: Flight Plan.]
“Honest, boss,” said Franko Morelli. “Morrigan’s hooked up with a heavy hitter somehow. The guy was all over us before we seen him coming.”
“Did you at least find out who this hitter is?” said the boss.
“He’s some Joe calling himself Blake,” said Franko. “Word is that he’s some kind of private eye.”
“This is what we will do,” said the boss. “Botch this and you’re out, got me?”
“I got you, boss,” said the gunsel, sweating profusely. He had just skated past death’s door, and he knew it. The Joker was volatile, to say the least. Franko would be very glad to get away from there for a while to let the boss calm down.
Cully Morrigan and Paul Twitchell walked the streets of a blustery Gotham City silently. They were colleagues but not friends.
Morrigan had been a professional hatchet man and hijacker until a chance encounter with the Joker had marked his face with a hideous grin. The Joker had himself taken a bullet, so he wasn’t exactly pleased with the exchange of pleasantries.
Twitch, a bag of jangling nerves on legs, had been an informant. He was also somewhat of a gambler and pool shark when he could con someone into a game. The pair now worked for a mystery-man named Adam Blake.
They had been out of the country for a few days to the South Pacific, and the Gotham winter weather was unpleasant for both of them.
“Excuse me,” asked a beautiful dark-haired young woman, standing in front of the pair. “Do you know where I can find this address?”
Morrigan frowned when he saw the address, instantly recognizing it. “Why don’t you call a cab, lady?” the gunman asked.
“I don’t have that much money,” explained the lady.
“Here’s a twenty, lady,” said Morrigan in an uncharacteristic display of charity. “This is a long walk from here.”
“But I don’t–”
“Take it, lady,” said Morrigan.
The young woman took the bill with some hesitation. “Thank you,” she said. Then she flagged a passing cab to take her to her destination.
“Call the boss and tell him company’s on the way,” Morrigan said.
Kathy Kane Carson stepped out of the cab at the address where it stopped. It was a door in the middle of a block of buildings. A plate gleamed slightly on one side of the door.
The door opened before Kathy could touch the plate. An impassive man in a black suit with metallic green eyes stood in the doorway. A gold pin sparkled briefly on the black lapel of his suit jacket.
“How can I help you?” Adam Blake asked in a clear voice.
Kathy paused. She checked the address on the paper again. “Are you Adam Blake?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Blake.
“I was expecting someone taller,” Kathy said. “Can I come in? I have a problem, and someone said you could help me out.”
Blake stepped aside to allow her to enter. Kathy realized, when she stepped past the foyer, that the buildings were connected into one single building. The visitor’s sitting room was spartan, but appointed with things that fit whatever niche they filled.
“What is your problem, madam?” Blake asked in his calm way, noting her wedding ring.
Kathy had the thought this man would flinch at nothing by his manner. “My name is Kathy Carson,” said the dark-haired beauty. “I’m a stunt rider for the Hillman Brothers Circus. Several days ago, our top clown was kidnapped.”
“I do not mean to sound uninterested, but this seems like a job for the regular authorities, Mrs. Carson.”
“Mr. Hillman is too afraid to call the police. Bobo is a regular draw for the circus. If anything happened, Mr. Hillman would lose a lot of money, one way or the other,” said Kathy.
“I see,” said Blake. “Why come to me, then?”
“The kidnapper said he wants either you or a man named Cully Morrigan to deliver the ransom.”
“Myself or Morrigan?” said the mystery-man. The only change in his expression was a raised eyebrow.
“Here’s the note,” Kathy said. She dug into her purse and produced a handwritten note. She handed it over. “It’s in Bobo’s handwriting.”
Blake perused the paper intently. His metallic eyes seemed to glow in the soft light of the overhead lights. “Do you mind if I examine this more closely?”
Taking the note into his laboratory, Blake took some dust and sprayed it over the paper methodically. Several whirls presented themselves immediately. He ran a wand connected to the smallest television set Kathy had ever seen over the paper, dust and all.
“What are you doing?” Kathy asked, perplexed.
“A routine check,” said Blake. He sat down in front of the TV and began typing on a typewriter that was also connected to the screen. A box next to the whole setup whirred slightly as images flashed across the television screen.
“What are you checking?” Kathy asked.
Each whirl had a name and a face placed to a side. Blake blocked Kathy’s view by accident as he shifted in his chair. A tap from one finger made the screen clear instantly. “Nothing,” said Blake. “Do you have a picture of Bobo with you?”
“Right here,” said Kathy. She pulled a publicity shot of the clown from her purse and handed it over.
Blake held the photo up. He seemed incapable of anything but calm placidity to the trick rider, but was there a hint of a smile?
“Tell Mr. Hillman he will have Bobo’s freedom,” said Blake. “I, or my associate Mr. Morrigan, will join you at the circus. Where is your present stop?”
Kathy told him with some relief. There was something in his eye now that Kathy couldn’t identify. He looked like a kid preparing to do something mischievous under that plain exterior.
She let herself be led out of the building by an arm. He hailed a cab for her and paid the fare in advance for her trip to the train station. He watched the taxi pull away before stepping back into the converted building.
Kathy arrived at the train station twenty minutes later. She got a ticket and caught the next train south where the circus was located. She didn’t notice the two men who boarded behind her. One shook head to toe as if with ague. The other wore a terrible grin like a mask. They took a seat in the public car and tried to blend in to avoid notice by Blake’s newest client.
Hop Harrigan and his old pal Ichabod “Tank” Tinker worked on the new version of their beloved Jenny. Their trip to the South Pacific had netted them enough bucks to build a newer plane with a better design. Adam Blake had come up with an engine design that was years ahead of its time to give them more speed for less fuel. They still ran charter flights with the old Jenny until they could get the new version on line.
“Here comes trouble,” said Tank, looking out the window. He was struggling to get the work done at this moment and hated interruptions more than anything. So here came the biggest interruption Tank knew.
“It’s a job to pay for those parts,” sighed Hop with a grin as he wiped his hands off and headed for the front door. He opened it as Adam Blake reached for the doorbell.
“Hello, Mr. Blake,” said Hop. “What can I do for you today?”
“I would like to charter the Jenny to Georgia,” said Blake. “I expect it to be a short trip, and will pay for you to wait as usual.”
“Go ahead,” said Tank as he dug into the guts of the new plane. “All the heavy stuff has been done already. I can wait until you get back for the field tests.”
“You had better,” said Hop. “Or there will be trouble.”
“I’m shaking,” said Tank.
Hop and Blake went over to the original hangar for Harrigan Aviation Services. In minutes they were in flight, heading south.
Kathy Carson disembarked from the train south of Augusta. The next leg of the trip would take them through Florida, and then toward the Southwest. It was an annual circuit that the troupe knew well.
Two ordinary Joes fell in behind Kathy as she left the depot. Their hard faces spoke volumes.
“What do you know?” asked Twitch as he and his associate trailed the other two men. “Lefty Burkowitz!”
Cully Morrigan grunted. He’d had a run-in with Lefty, so he kept his face down to conceal the rictus he now wore. It was unmistakable, even to people who had been dodging bullets at the time.
“It’s what Blake thought,” said Twitch quietly.
Cully nodded as he let the two toughs leave the building ahead of him and the former informant. “At least we know they won’t hurt the girl yet,” said Cully. “I wonder what the plan is.”
“Is there a plan?” asked Twitch.
Cully just looked at his shaky partner.
“Right,” Twitch said. “Blake never does anything without a plan.”
Kathy Carson had just reached the gate of the fairgrounds where the Hillman Brothers Circus waited when a disreputable figure burst from a nearby section of woods. She gasped when she realized it was Bobo the clown staggering toward her.
“Bobo, you’re all right!” said Kathy as she gave the weak clown a shoulder to lean on. She helped him through the gate.
Lefty Burkowitz was visibly startled by the sight of the clown. He said something to his cohort. The other man nodded, and the two walked in after their surveillance subjects. Lefty followed Kathy and Bobo, while the other man headed for a set of telephone kiosks at the edge of the grounds.
Morrigan and Twitch also split up, and the gunman followed Burkowitz, while the stool pigeon followed the other to the phone bank. Twitch got as close as he could to listen to the call without being too obvious.
“Operator, I’d like to make a collect call. The number is king 34223,” said Lefty’s partner. “Bobo is back on the job. No, I haven’t been drinking. Lefty is following right behind him now. Matter of fact, that trick rider is helping him to his trailer. Right. I’ll tell Lefty.” The man hung up, wiping the sweat from his brow.
Kathy Carson helped the abused Bobo the clown to his trailer. He looked awful. She got him a bottle of hot soda to sip on.
The door burst in at that moment, and Kathy dropped the Coca-Cola in surprise. She didn’t notice the the clown catch the glass container and place it on the floor.
“The boss wants to talk to you two,” said Lefty Burkowitz. He and his partner stood in the doorway with guns drawn. “He especially wants to see you, Bobo.”
“I wonder why,” said Bobo, getting to his feet and holding up his hands. “I would appreciate it if you left Mrs. Carson out of this.”
That didn’t sound like the Bobo Kathy knew. She couldn’t remember the last time Bobo called her Mrs. Carson.
“OK,” said Burkowitz. He jerked the hand holding his pistol. “Start walking. Tie her up, Slim, and then catch up at the car.”
Slim nodded as he produced a length of rope from a nearby trunk. “Hold out your hands,” he ordered Kathy brusquely. “I want to get this over as fast as possible.”
Kathy held out her hands to be tied. Slim wrapped the rope around her wrists and knotted it tight. He pushed her on the cot that served as a bed for Bobo.
“Too bad I don’t have time for some fun,” he said as he placed a pillow over her face.