“But, Dr. McNider,” Myra Mason said pleadingly, “this award dinner has been planned for months. The American Mystery Writers are honoring you as the best writer of the year. You can’t just cancel!”
“I’m afraid I have to, Myra,” Dr. Charles McNider said firmly. “Please extend my sincerest apologies. Something vitally important, something unavoidable, has come up.”
And it had, for the coded message Dr. McNider had received commanded his presence at a special emergency meeting of the All-Star Squadron.
That evening, as Doctor Mid-Nite strolled up the walkway to the Perisphere headquarters of the All-Star Squadron, he chanced upon his JSA comrades Starman and the Atom chatting as they stood in the doorway.
“Evening, Charlie,” the Atom said amiably. “Ted and I were just wondering what the big emergency was.”
“Yes, Charles, have you any idea?” Starman asked.
“I’m as much in the dark as you, no pun intended,” Mid-Nite said. “However,” and here the man of the night glanced inside at the meeting room, “my prognosis is that we have a mission in occupied territory.”
Starman raised an eyebrow. “What brings you to that conclusion?”
“Take a look inside,” Mid-Nite said. “Whom do you see?”
“I see our fellow All-Stars,” the Atom said. “There’s Wildcat, and the Vigilante; over there’s the Guardian, Green Arrow and Speedy, Robotman…”
“Anyone missing?” Mid-Nite asked.
“Well, I don’t see Superman anywhere,” Starman said. “Green Lantern’s missing, too, and Spectre… Wonder Woman… Johnny Thunder…”
“I get it!” Atom ejected. “No magic-users!”
“Correct,” Mid-Nite said. “All our friends who use, or are vulnerable to magic — which, for some reason, includes Superman — are absent. This leads me to the conclusion that we have a mission in Axis-occupied territory, where those heroes would fall under the sway of the Spear of Destiny or the Holy Grail.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Day of the Dragon King,” All-Star Squadron #4 (December, 1981).]
Starman shook his head, marveling at Mid-Nite’s deductive powers. “Excellent hypothesis, Doctor. I couldn’t have come to a better conclusion myself.”
“Shall we go in and see if my theory bears out testing?” Mid-Nite asked. He and his fellow scientist, Starman, entered together; the Atom excused himself to get a Coke before the meeting began.
“I want to thank you all for coming on such short notice,” Liberty Belle said, addressing the company of heroes. She and her co-chairman, Hawkman, stood before the auditorium seats of the meeting room. Nearly every non-magical member of the All-Star Squadron had answered the emergency call and was hanging on her every word.
“As some of you may have guessed by the conspicuous absence of magic-based heroes, we have a mission in occupied territory, or at least very close to it,” Belle went on.
“We received a communiqué from British Intelligence this morning,” Hawkman continued. “They intercepted a coded message between members of the Abwehr, the Nazi spy ring. It seems they’re planning a big strike in London, to commence shortly.”
“MI-5 was unable to decode the entire message,” Belle said. “They have determined that the Abwehr intends to kidnap a British citizen and take him or her back to Germany. To assist them, they have hired an American super-criminal with apparently no patriotic scruples. The identity of both the intended kidnap victim and the hired criminal are unknown.”
“Due to the exotic nature of the threat, IE the super-criminal, British Intelligence has asked for our help,” Hawkman concluded.
“What about the Shining Knight?” Firebrand asked. “Isn’t he in London now?”
“Sir Justin is away from the city at the moment,” Belle answered. “Prime Minister Churchill is making a tour of the shipyards in the coast towns, and the Knight is accompanying him as bodyguard.”
“The Brits have asked for two of us to go to London and tackle this problem,” Hawkman said. “As London is so close to the Spear of Destiny’s influence, for safety’s sake we’re not asking any magic-users to go. Do we have any volunteers?”
Every hero in attendance raised their hand.
“Thought so,” Hawkman said, smiling. “OK then, our two representatives will be chosen by lot.”
When the selection was over, two heroes had been chosen to go to London. The Sandman and Doctor Mid-Nite would leave the following morning.
“You say this is for the Daily Mirror?” the middle-aged shopkeeper asked the young man who stood before him with notebook and pencil.
“A special Sunday piece on how the shortages and rationing have affected the typical family,” the young man replied. “Any insights you can give would be appreciated.”
“Well, ‘ere’s a funny. Just Monday last, old Mrs. Thompson tried to sneak a carbon-copy ration ticket by me, t’get extry eggs. Can you imagine the cheek?”
“Indeed not!” the young man said with a smile as he made notes in his book. “Tell me, have you had any unusual requests recently? Anyone looking for things you don’t normally carry? Sometimes the shortages drive people to desperation.”
“Funny as ‘ow you mention it, squire,” the shopkeeper said. “Just this mornin’, a bloke was in ‘ere askin for somethin’ called ‘Dr. Potter.’ I think it was; mebbe ‘e said ‘Pepper’, come to think. Anyway, I didn’t know what ‘e was talkin’ about. ‘E explained it was a drink, fizzy, like ginger beer. I told ‘im I didn’t ‘ave none. ‘E thanked me and went on ‘is way.”
“Did the fellow have an American accent?” the reporter asked.
“Matter o’ fact, ‘e did,” the shopkeeper said, mildly surprised. “‘Ow did you know that, squire?”
“Oh, I’ve been to America on journalistic assignments. This soft drink the chap wanted is an American product.”
“Oh, that explains it, then. Say, when will this be in print? Want me missus to see me name, y’know!”
“We’ll let you know. Thanks for your time, Mr. Bingley.”
“Anytime, squire.” The amiable shopkeeper insisted the reporter take a free cigar, which the reporter seemed not to want, but accepted to spare the shopkeeper’s feelings. Then the reporter left. After tossing the cigar into a dustbin, he rounded the corner and ducked into an alley, already darkening in the setting sun. He met another young man with a notebook and pencil there.
“Any luck?” the second man asked.
“I think so,” Charles McNider said. “I found a shopkeeper who had a request for Dr. Pepper this morning.”
“An American drink,” Wesley Dodds said. “That means an American nearby.”
“And no American military units anywhere in the area,” McNider affirmed. “Most likely the Abwehr’s out-of-town talent.”
“Narrows the search, anyway,” Wesley said.
The mantle of night was fully drawn when Doctor Mid-Nite and the Sandman, now in full costume, approached the darkened Campion Theatre. For the stealth of the occasion, the Sandman had opted for his original gas mask and cloak outfit rather than the brightly colored yellow and purple outfit he’d worn since he took on Sandy the Golden Boy as his partner.
“This is the most likely place,” the Sandman said. “It’s been closed for over two years now, and yet it has blackout curtains in the windows to keep what’s inside hidden from prying eyes.”
“And it’s an easy walk from Bingley’s Grocers,” Doctor Mid-Nite added. “Yes, I’d say it’s a likely candidate for the Abwehr’s hideout.”
“Shall we look further?” the Sandman asked. Mid-Nite nodded, indicating with a pointing finger that they should go around the back. The two caped figures crept around the theater, sticking to the shadows. As they emerged in the rear court of the theatre, they saw a young man with close-cropped hair standing on the back stairs, smoking a cigarette. He spied them out of the corner of his eye, and was about to raise the alarm, when the Sandman’s quick hand came up holding his gas-gun. A stream of violet-scented gas issued forth and swept into the young man’s face; he went down almost immediately, without making a sound.
The Sandman and Doctor Mid-Nite examined the man’s possessions and found a Luger pistol. They nodded silently, their suspicions confirmed.