Virgil Paulson was a technician employed by the California State Police in their Los Angeles crime lab. Tonight, as most nights, he was working late. The radio on the small shelf was playing an oldies station, sending Jan and Dean coursing through the lab as Virgil filled out his report on a ballistics test he had done. Twice Virgil thought he heard a tapping at the window, but dismissed it as his imagination. The third time, the tapping was louder; he looked to see a masked face peering in at him.
“Red Arrow!” Virgil cried in surprise. “Come on in!” The young lab tech moved quickly to unlock the window to allow the crime-fighter to enter.
“You shouldn’t listen to loud music at work,” Red Arrow said jocularly. “I was out there knocking for five minutes before you heard me!”
“Sorry,” Virgil said, switching off the radio. “What have you got for me?”
Virgil was a friend of Red Arrow and always dropped whatever he was doing when the hero needed help. As a boy, Virgil had been raised on tales of the heroism of Green Arrow and Speedy, and Virgil’s grandfather had owned and operated a small newsstand in the lobby of an office building in Star City. It had been his livelihood and his sole means of supporting his family. In 1942, the ace archers saved the building from destruction at the hands of the costumed arsonist called the Blaze. (*) The Paulson family had been eternally grateful.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Wings of Flame,” World’s Finest Comics #7 (Fall, 1942).]
“Hopefully this is an easy one,” Red Arrow said, handing Virgil an arrow. The arrowhead was covered with a plastic baggie, and there was some kind of foreign substance on the head. “I scraped this out of a tire tread. I’m hoping you can tell me where the car’s been.”
Virgil took off the baggie, peered at the substance on the arrowhead, and sniffed it a little. “I’ll run the standard battery of tests,” he said. “I assume you want this ASAP?”
“Yes, please,” Red Arrow said. “I’ll call you in, what, an hour?”
Virgil looked closely at the substance again. “Forty-five minutes,” he promised.
Shortly afterward, Christopher Raymond, MacDonald, Red Arrow, and Jennie-Lynn Hayden were gathered in Raymond’s office. Detective MacDonald had figured it would be the likely place for the kidnappers to get in touch. No one spoke; the atmosphere was tense and anxious.
Raymond broke the silence, speaking to MacDonald. “Your men are working on this?”
“We’re watching Malo and Dee,” MacDonald said. “If you can think of any other suspects, let me know.”
Raymond snorted. “Try Marva Jackson.”
MacDonald looked at Raymond oddly. “Isn’t she the head of Pyramid Studios?”
“That’s her — the iron bitch, as she’s known in the industry,” Raymond said. “She’s been trying to lure Melvin to her studio for years! Maybe she got tired of hearing no.” Raymond chuckled mirthlessly. “Do you know she started out as the secretary of the guy who owned the studio? His secretary!”
Just then, the phone rang. Raymond bolted to answer it; MacDonald grabbed his wrist.
“Put it on speaker,” he said, then released Raymond’s arm.
The studio chief hit the speakerphone button. “Hello? Christopher Raymond here.”
“Hello, Raymond,” a voice came through the speakerphone. It was high and shrill, reminding Jenn of Alvin and the Chipmunks. “The police are there, aren’t they?”
“Why — no,” Raymond said, nervously. “No, they’re not!”
“Don’t insult my intelligence!” the shrill voice squeaked angrily. “I know the police are there, and Infinity Inc., too! I’m not going to stay on long enough for you to trace the call, so forget about that! Here are your instructions. I want two million dollars, unmarked bills, in an alligator suitcase. Have the twerp who was driving the car bring the suitcase to the Griffith Park Zoo and drop it in the garbage can in front of the reptile house at eleven o’clock tonight. I see any cops or super-heroes, and Pilchik is dead. If you think I’m bluffing, that’s your prerogative, but I don’t suggest you test me!”
“Wait–” Raymond cried, but the line went dead. The dial tone rang through the room.
Silence reigned in the room again. Red Arrow was the first one to break it.
“Pilchik?” he asked.
“He means Melvin,” Raymond said. “James Melvin’s real name is Melvin James Pilchik.”
“Who would know that?” MacDonald snapped.
“Anyone who reads the celebrity magazines,” Jenn said, shrugging.
“Could you trace the call?” Raymond asked. “Call your people, find out–”
“No need,” MacDonald said. “I can tell he wasn’t on long enough. And that voice! Old trick, using helium to disguise your voice; but it’s an old trick because it works. He’s shrewd, this one.”
“Well, what can we do?” Raymond asked, the worry and anxiety showing in his voice. “We have to get Melvin back! We’ve already announced his next picture to Variety!”
Red Arrow shot the studio head a frosty stare.
MacDonald shrugged. “So we’ll arrange the money drop,” he said. “The guy is shrewd, I’ll say it again. Not likely to be many people hanging around the zoo at eleven at night. But we’ll have the place staked out, nevertheless.”
“The kidnapper asked for Lawson to make the drop,” Jenn said. “Will he be up to it? He was shot tonight.”
“He’ll do it,” Raymond said, waving his hand dismissively. “I’ll call him.”
“I have a call to make, too,” Red Arrow said, walking to the door. “I’ll make it down the hall.”
Jenn stood in the office while Raymond made the call. “Lawson? Raymond. Yes, yes, fine. We got the call from the kidnappers. They want you to make the drop. What? I know you were shot, you idiot! Don’t tell me things I already know! The paramedics said you were fine. They didn’t send you to the hospital, did they? Look, don’t argue with me! If you’re not in my office in half an hour, don’t bother ever showing up for work again! Do you hear me? Fine.” The studio chief hung up the phone.
Jenn left the office and found Red Arrow in the hall. He was speaking on a pay telephone.
“Fine. Thanks again, Virg.” The young archer hung up the phone. He turned and saw Jenn. “Did they call Lawson?”
“Yes,” Jenn said. “I only heard Raymond’s half of the conversation, but I think Lawson’s going to do it.”
“Of course he is,” Roy said. “Stick close to Raymond, all right? I have to check on something. Hopefully I’ll be back in time for the drop.”
“All right,” Jenn said, not quite comprehending.
“You know what you have to do?” Raymond asked Willie Lawson for the tenth time.
“Yes,” Lawson said, his voice betraying his impatience. He stood there in front of his boss, a bandage wrapped around his upper left arm. “I take the suitcase, drive out to the zoo, put the suitcase in the garbage can in front of the reptile house, and leave.”
“Good,” Raymond said. “Don’t let anything go wrong. This is two million dollars we’re talking about!” Raymond held an alligator suitcase by the handle.
“What do you want me to do after I drop off the suitcase?” Lawson asked.
“What do I care what you do?” Raymond demanded. “Go home. I don’t want you hanging around, scaring off the kidnappers.”
Jenn watched Lawson take the alligator suitcase. If he was nervous that there was two million dollars in cash inside, he didn’t show it. The young man went to the studio parking lot, followed by Raymond, MacDonald, and Jenn. He put the suitcase in the trunk of his own car, an ’83 Cordoba from the look of it, closed the trunk, got in the car, and drove away. The others piled into a studio car and followed at a respectable distance. They parked close to Lawson’s car, but out of sight in the deep shadow of an ornamental hedge. They watched Lawson open his trunk, take out the suitcase, and close the trunk. Looking nervously around, Lawson approached the reptile house, lifted the lid of the garbage can, and stuffed the suitcase inside.
“So far, so good,” MacDonald whispered. “All we have to do now is wait for the kid–”
Suddenly, something struck the ground at Lawson’s feet, making him jump back in surprise. A slender crimson arrow trembled in the crack between paving stones.
“That’s far enough, Lawson,” Red Arrow declared from atop the reptile house.
“Red Arrow!” MacDonald snapped. “What are you doing?”
“Check that suitcase Lawson put in the trashcan,” the archer called down, “and you’ll see.”
MacDonald shot a glance at the terrified Lawson, then strode purposefully toward the trashcan.
“No!” Lawson blurted, which earned him a very frosty glare from MacDonald. The detective pulled out the alligator suitcase and threw the lid open.
“Empty!” he snarled. “Empty as a defense attorney’s conscience!”
“What?” Raymond gasped. “But how? It had two million dollars in it! We all saw Willie put it in his trunk, take it out again! What happened to the money?”
“There’s a reason the kidnapper specified an alligator suitcase,” Red Arrow said, leaping down from the roof of the reptile house. “One looks very much like another. Lawson had a duplicate case in his trunk beforehand. He put the empty one in the can, and while we were waiting for a kidnapper to pick it up, he’d be across the border in Mexico with the money.”
“Willie,” Raymond said in surprise, “how could you do this to me? After all I’ve done–”
“After what?” Lawson cried out, rage in his voice. “I’m a writer, Mr. Raymond! All I ever wanted was a chance! If you gave me a chance, I could write the best film your studio ever made! I took a menial job at your studio, hoping to get into your confidence, get my chance. And what do you do? Make me a nursemaid to a spoiled brat! Do you have any idea what that felt like? Watching him get rich and famous by appearing in crap that any two-year-old could have written, while my ideas sat unread in my desk drawer? Do you?”
“So you killed him,” MacDonald said in an even voice.
“No!” Lawson cried, whirling on MacDonald. “I didn’t kill him! When I picked him up at his house to take him to the Silver Spheres, he was high as a kite on coke! Typical; it wasn’t the first time I’d had to drag him somewhere when his brain was twenty miles up! This time was different, though. He was so stoned, he fell down the front stairs and cracked his head on the pavement! I didn’t kill him — his own excesses and stupidity did!”
“So you buried him in the garbage dump,” Red Arrow said, “and took your chance to cash in on his accident.”
Lawson turned on Red Arrow, wide-eyed. “H-how did you know? The dump?”
“The gunk in your tire treads,” Red Arrow said, “contains, among other things, coffee grounds, paper pulp, orange peel, and eggshell.”
“Garbage,” MacDonald said.
“Get back, all of you!” Lawson cried, pulling out a gun. That surprised everyone. Red Arrow cursed himself; of course Lawson had a gun. He had shot himself in the arm to lend veracity to his story, didn’t he?
“Nobody make a move!” Lawson commanded, waving the gun from one person to another. “I’m getting out of here, and the first one who makes a move to stop me dies!”
Lawson whirled on Red Arrow, pointing the gun directly at him. “You! You ruined everything! I didn’t want to hurt you — I didn’t want to hurt anybody! But you couldn’t leave it alone!” Red Arrow could hear the madness in Lawson’s voice. The years of humiliation, the hours of tense anxiety wondering if his plan would work, the shock of exposure, had all taken their toll. The man was crazed now, and there was no way Red Arrow could get an arrow to his bow before he pulled the trigger.
“Willie,” said a gentle, feminine voice behind the crazed gunman. Willie turned his head to look over his shoulder, and gaped. Red Arrow gaped, too. Jenn was standing there, looking at Willie.
Her face and hands were glowing the same bright emerald green as she’d had when her power pulse was working. But how?
“Willie, you know who I am,” Jenn said soothingly. “You know what I can do. It’s all over, Willie. You can’t get away.” Jenn held out her hand. “Give me the gun, Willie.”
Willie hesitated, trembling with fear and rage and indecision. He started crying, softly. Weeping, he sank to his knees. Jenn reached out and gently took the gun from his hand. As soon as she had the gun, MacDonald rushed up to take Willie into custody.
“Jenn, that was amazing!” Red Arrow said. “Your powers! What happened?”
Jenn smiled and took a big step to the left. Suddenly, she wasn’t glowing green anymore. Red Arrow gaped at her; she stifled a giggle.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but the look on your face! I guess I should have told you.”
“Told me what?” Red Arrow asked.
“I figured something would go down here,” Jenn explained. “So I got the special effects department to fix me up with make-up that glows green under ultraviolet light, and a portable UV projector.” Jenn pointed with her thumb; Red Arrow followed the indication to a small, battery-powered lamp set up in the window of the studio car she had arrived in.
“Jenn, that was a pretty gutsy move,” Red Arrow said, impressed. “Lawson might still have shot you!”
“He might’ve,” Jenn agreed. “You, too. Those are the risks we take, I guess.”
Roy grinned broadly. “Yeah, I guess they are.”
Two days later, Roy Harper and Jennie-Lynn Hayden were having lunch at an outdoor restaurant with Maggie O’Toole, catching her up on all that had happened.
“I still can’t believe it,” Maggie said. “It all sounds so bizarre! Like some whacko movie plot!”
“Lawson was a whacko would-be movie writer,” Jenn pointed out. “So I guess, in that way, it makes sense.”
“Maybe they’ll let him write some shows for the prison theater group,” Roy suggested. “He’ll have a long time to work on his masterpiece.”
“You think so?” Jenn asked. “When you think about it, he didn’t really do much that they can make stick. A good lawyer may even get him probation.”
“Didn’t you hear?” Roy asked. “MacDonald called I.I. today. The coroner’s report on Melvin found cause of death to be asphyxiation.”
“You mean–?” Maggie said, wide-eyed.
Roy nodded. “Melvin may have looked dead when Lawson buried him,” he said, “but he was alive.”
“Then, if Willie had called for help, instead of pulling that stunt…” Jenn began.
“Melvin might have lived,” Roy finished. “Lawson’ll be lucky to get man two.”
The threesome were silent for quite some time after that.