One week later, in the offices of Bannermain Chemical Company in New York City, the telephone rang.
“Rex, hi. It’s Ted.”
“No, Knight. Starman.”
“Oh, Ted! Sorry, bad connection; having a storm here.”
“Understood. Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Not at all. Does it involve science or costumed heroics?”
“The latter, I believe. Do you plan on attending the All-Star Squadron reunion dinner this year?”
“Afraid not. I have this thing in Baltimore, near your neck of the woods, the same night. Pity, too; I was looking forward to seeing everyone again.”
“I see. Baltimore, you say.”
“Yes, I had a case there, years ago — before the war, even. Someone dug it out of the newspaper archives and declared ‘Hourman Day.’ I have to go accept a plaque.”
“Well, I’m sure it will be a pleasant affair. We’ll miss you at the dinner, of course, Rex.”
“Give my best to everyone, Ted,” Rex said. “Say, when are we going to get together again for chess? Been a while.”
“I’ll call you after the dinner and set something up. How’s that?”
“Fine. Looking forward to it. Talk to you then!”
“So long, Rex.” Ted Knight hung up the phone, and put his pipe in his mouth. His brow creased in concentration.
For you see, I had arranged for Ted Knight to learn of the grand scheme in Baltimore. Not all of it; only enough to attract his attention and draw his concern. I had thought at first of my own sparring partner, the Flash, but I didn’t want to risk his learning of this side of my nature. Starman had experience fighting invisible men. While I doubted that our mysterious employer was the Mist — he had no reason I knew of to hate Hourman — that experience might come in handy. So I arranged for word of the villains’ gathering in Baltimore to filter down to a smarmy little chap named Donovan, a social parasite whom Starman sometimes used as an informant. Now, Hourman would have an ally on his side in the joust. The odds seemed more fair now.
And if I could prompt Opal City’s gallant protector to come out of retirement after three long, boring years, then all the better.
December 7, 1948:
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the tall man in the yellow and black costume began, as he stood proudly behind the podium, “it is indeed a great honor to be here tonight. I want to thank everyone whose efforts made it possible. I especially want to thank Baltimore’s hard-working police force for keeping the peace in your beautiful city. We of the Justice Society may seem glamorous, but it is they, who risk their lives for you every single day without benefit of super-strength or flying, who are the real–”
“Good Lord!” the chief of police exclaimed, bolting up out of his chair. Hourman looked at him a moment, confused, wondering what he could have said that had offended the chief so.
Then Hourman noticed the young man in a hotel staff uniform standing beside the chief’s chair; obviously he had come in with a message for the chief. The chief turned his gaze on Hourman at the podium. “I beg your pardon, but I have to go. An emergency.”
“What’s the problem, Chief?” Hourman asked, his fingers straying to the compartment on his belt where he kept his Miraclo pills.
“Someone is stealing the C&I Bank downtown!” the police chief exclaimed, his emotion apparently making him forget caution.
“Stealing the bank?” Hourman asked, an eyebrow raising behind his mask. “You mean robbing it, don’t you?”
“No. I mean stealing it!” the chief declared. “According to the message I was handed, someone is stealing the entire sodding bank!”
Citizens stood as close as they felt they safely could, which was not close at all, considering the numerous uniformed police who lay sprawled on the street. They gaped in awe and horror as they watched the four-story bank building, where many of them personally did their saving and checking, as it floated in the air like some colossal concrete balloon. Broken water pipes stood in the torn foundation of the bank, spraying water into the air like open wounds gushing blood; snapped power lines lay writhing and hissing in the rubble. But perhaps the most awe-inspiring sight of all was the ship, a Spanish galleon, which floated in air alongside the bank. Cannons on the ship had fired on the police that had threatened it; fortunately for the police, they had fired only knockout gas.
“Now that’s what I call a bank hold-up, eh, matey?” the man in pirate’s garb cackled as he stood on the deck of his ship. Next to him stood a tall apparatus, similar in design to a motion picture camera but with a more futuristic design. A bald man in suit and cape stood next to this apparatus, manipulating its dials.
“Rather an obvious pun,” the man said, never taking his eyes off the bank, “but a fitting one nevertheless. This bank will be held up as long as I keep my antigravity ray trained on it!”
“Good, Alexander, good,” the Sky Pirate said approvingly. “Me boyos and I will loot the bank now, then! Best to grab what we can before Hourman comes!”
“True,” Alexander the Great agreed. “We only have to keep him busy until the next attack begins; then we can be off with the cash!”
“Avast, me hearties!” Sky Pirate shouted, waving his cutlass about dramatically. “Prepare to be boarded!” The Sky Pirate’s henchmen, dressed like extras in a road-company production of The Pirates of Penzance, threw a rope-bridge across from the ship to the doorway of the bank. A confederate of theirs who was already in the bank secured this, and the criminals poured across it into the bank.
It wasn’t long after this that Hourman arrived on the scene. It was seven blocks from the convention hall; powered by Miraclo, Hourman had run the distance in nothing flat. He quickly assessed the situation, then raced into the building next door to the bank. The hero elected not to wait for the elevator, instead sprinting up the stairs to the roof. There he took a running start and jumped into space toward the hovering bank. His clutching fingers found purchase on a ledge beneath a window; that was all he needed.
“Hurry, me lads!” Sky Pirate directed as he stood over the pirate-garbed criminals busily stuffing canvas sacks with greenbacks. “We haven’t much time until Hourman arrives!”
“Not much at all,” a voice behind the villain agreed. “Hardly any, in fact.”
Sky Pirate whirled and faced the caped hero, who stood there with arms folded. “So soon? Ye’re not one to waste time, hero!” The Sky Pirate’s right hand, full of gun, jerked up from his belt. “But neither am I, by Blackbeard!” A cloud of greenish vapor puffed from the gun and headed for Hourman, but the hero had sucked in a lungful of untainted air when he saw the criminal’s weapon, for Green Lantern had told him of it before. The yellow and black thunderbolt charged through the cloud of gas, fists flying in all directions. In less time than it took to tell, the Sky Pirate and all his henchmen were unconscious.
Back on the galleon, Alexander the Great continued to manipulate the dials of his antigravity machine. “I wish that comic-opera Long John Silver would hurry up!” he muttered to himself. “The vacuum tubes on this thing won’t stand continued output like this! I have to work on that aspect of the device.”
“You’ll have plenty of time where you’re going,” a voice behind and above the criminal scientist declared.
“What?” Alexander gasped, turning his head. He saw a scarlet-clad figure hovering behind him, green cape fluttering in the summer breeze. “Starman! But how? The All-Stars’ dinner — you–!”
“I decided to skip the dinner this year,” Starman stated. “They’re serving chicken croquettes in a white sauce. I don’t care for that.”
“Then maybe you’ll care for this!” Alexander said, and with a swipe of his hand, he cut off the antigravity ray. Starman watched the hovering bank begin to plummet, but only for a second. The astral avenger quickly caught the building in a beam of energy from his gravity rod. Alexander could see the hero straining with the effort as he slowly lowered the building.
Grinning, Alexander drew a revolver from his coat pocket. “You should have eaten your chicken croquettes like a good boy,” he mocked. “Now all you’ll eat is lead!”
Starman gritted his teeth, waiting for the shot. It never came; instead, he heard a loud thump, followed by a muffled one. He looked and saw Hourman standing over the unconscious Alexander.
“Not that I’m not glad to see you, Starman,” Hourman said, “but what’s going on?”
“I had a tip that there would be some criminal activity here tonight,” Starman said as he lowered the bank gently back to its foundations. “I didn’t say anything to you, because the source was dubious, but it merited checking out.”
“Glad you did,” Hourman said, watching the clouds of dust as the bank came to rest on the rubble once more. “Well, we’ve got this wrapped up. Care to join me back at the ceremonial dinner?”
“Sounds good,” Starman said. “I think — wait!”
A voice then came from Starman’s rod. Ted Knight had long ago devised a way to pick up radio transmissions with the rod, and tonight he had tuned it to the Baltimore police band to ferret out the trouble of which he had been tipped. Now it seemed that trouble was not over yet.
“All available cars to McThomm Shoe Factory on corner of Bernard and Bailey,” came the voice. “Robbery in progress. Repeat: all available cars…”
“Oh, well,” Hourman said, “they’ll probably keep the dinner warm for us. I am the guest of honor, after all.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Starman said, and took to the skies. Hourman was dragged along in a force-bubble created by Starman’s rod.
“Wonder what there is to rob in a shoe factory?” Starman asked as they flew over Baltimore streets.
“Payroll,” Hourman mused. “Most factories pay their workers in cash. Bannermain still does, too. I submitted a proposal last year that we start paying by check. It was voted down.”
“Operating expenses.” Hourman shook his head. “Management. Go figure them out.”
In minutes, the long, low building that housed the McThomm Shoe Factory was in view. Several police cars were parked in front; dozens of uniformed men stood before them in various poses.
“We may not be needed at all,” Starman said. “There are enough police here already to–”
“Ted — something’s wrong,” Hourman stated. “Those police officers aren’t moving!”
The two Justice Society champions were on the ground in seconds. They walked among the police officers like visitors to a statuary garden; the men in blue were frozen in mid-movement.
“Weird,” Hourman remarked, summing it up.
“Come on,” Starman said, heading for the entrance. “Whatever did this to them is… in… side…”
“Starman!” Hourman exclaimed as he watched his friend slowing down. The cowled hero looked up and saw a beam of light stabbing down from a window of the factory.
“It’s… all… right, Hourman,” Starman said, moving through the beam like a man walking waist-deep in water. “Beam caught… me by surprise… but my… gravity rod… can overcome it!” Starman’s steps grew more rapid with each word, and by the time he finished speaking, he was moving at normal speed. A pencil-thin beam of energy from his rod stabbed through the wide beam that surrounded him, and struck at the source of that beam. Hourman heard a crash, and someone scream. The wide beam clicked off. Starman flew up to the window, then flew down a moment later, carrying a limp, cloaked form.
“I read about this one in the All-Star Squadron’s files,” Starman said. “I think his name is Doctor Clever. Invented, among other criminal devices, a paralysis ray.”
“Must be what took out the guards. Why don’t you see if your rod can bring them out of it, while I check inside the factory?”
“Roger that,” Starman said, as he bound Doctor Clever’s unconscious body with his own cloak. Hourman raced into the factory. He found the night shift workers frozen at their tasks, like the police. The place was silent, but Hourman heard small sounds, which he quickly traced to a small office in the rear of the factory. Sure enough, a sign on the office door read payroll. Shaking his head, Hourman raced to that office. There he saw a short, middle-aged man trembling in terror as he fumbled with the lock on a huge iron safe. The ugliest man Hourman had ever seen stood over him, urging him on.
“I said hurry up, you worm!” the huge, ugly man bellowed. “Get that safe open!”
“I-I’m trying!” the little man squeaked in terror.
“Get away from that man!” Hourman barked. The ugly man’s face snapped around in Hourman’s direction.
“You!” Mister Ghool exclaimed, then hurled himself at Hourman. The sight of the giant, hideous man leaping at him took even Hourman aback momentarily, and he flinched; the massive villain hit him head-on in a flying tackle that sent them both to the floor. They grappled momentarily, but Hourman quickly recovered his wits; and Mister Ghool’s strength was no match for his. In moments, the fight was over.
Hourman explained what he had found to Starman. Some of the police, whom Starman had freed from their paralysis, went into the factory to take Ghool into custody.
“This is odd,” Hourman said. “Two super-villain attacks in one night, in a city that hasn’t seen mystery-man activity in–”
“Attention!” a voice crackled from the radio in one of the parked police cars. “Robbery in progress at Calista Jewelers, 61 Aventura Parkway! All available units…”
“Want to make that three?” Starman asked rhetorically.