“I want to go with you,” Anthony Scarlotti, Jr. said. “This is my project this giant firebug wants to wreck, and I–”
“No, you stay here,” Doctor Mid-Nite insisted. “If I find what I think I’m going to find, it will be too dangerous for you.” Mid-Nite reached into a concealed pouch on the inside of his belt, took out a small electronic device, and handed it to Anthony.
“The ghost gave us one hour. If you don’t hear from me in forty-five minutes, use this to contact the JSA. My code word is Libra; use it to convince them I gave you my communicator willingly. I’m going to scout around in those woods up there.” With a wave of his hand, Mid-Nite indicated a thickly wooded area on a hilltop overlooking the reservoir.
“OK, but please be careful,” Anthony said to the man who had been the only father he had known since his own had died when he was ten, thirty years before. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Justice Society Fights for a United America,” All-Star Comics #16 (April-May, 1943).]
Doctor Mid-Nite put a hand on Anthony’s shoulder. “I will, Anthony. I promise.”
The walk up the hillside was short and swift. Mid-Nite soon stood on the edge of the woods, looking at the line of trees. From this close, there was something about them that seemed… somehow not right. Mid-Nite adjusted the infrared goggles that gave him vision in daylight, as if trying to bring something into focus. His goggles translated the upper spectrums of visible light into the lower spectrums that his altered eyes perceived, but if adjusted properly, they could also be used as heat-sensors. And right now they were telling him that there was something hot in that forest, something very hot, indeed.
Doctor Mid-Nite cautiously walked forward toward the source of the heat. He carefully kept thick tree trunks between himself and the heat source, in case of attack. He was so intensely concentrating on the great heat source, that he did not notice a smaller one very close to him. As he passed in front of what appeared to be a tree, a hand holding a blackjack whipped out and caught him on the side of the head. After that, he saw nothing.
The hero awoke to the sensation of restraint. He tried to move his limbs, but found that he could not. He was bound hand and foot, spreadeagled on a large flat rock. Some sort of apparatus stood on the ground at the foot of the rock, extending over Mid-Nite’s body; it was covered with a black cloth. Mid-Nite craned his head and saw an evil face leering at him. It had been many years since he had seen that face, and its owner had traded in his caped costume for a simple jacket and slacks, but still, Mid-Nite knew who it was.
“Doctor Light,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
“So it has,” the bald villain said conversationally. “You’re looking well. But then, I expect you get plenty of regular exercise.”
“You appear to be in good health as well,” Mid-Nite said. “But recent studies have shown that prisoners, especially lifers, usually are. It’s the regularity of the diet, exercise, and sleep habits. Very conducive to health.”
“Yes, and I seem to recall you prescribing that very course of treatments for me, what was it — twenty-five years ago? It has done wonders for my metabolism. Gave me plenty of time to think and plan, too.”
“I see it did,” Mid-Nite said. “I keep up with the scientific journals; I’ve heard of those three-dimensional light pictures. What do they call them, holograms? But I never heard of any as convincing as the show you put on today. My congratulations.”
“Thank you. I do try to be innovative. You may remember our first meeting, back in ’46, or was it ’47? The concentrated light-beam I used to burn through the vault door?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dr. Mid-Nite and Dr. Light,” All-American Comics #82 (February, 1947).]
“Yes; when the discovery of the laser was announced years later, I realized it as basically the same as your weapon.” Mid-Nite nodded toward the reservoir below. “So what are you up to today? Why are you trying to destroy the reservoir?”
“Haven’t you figured it out?” Doctor Light asked. “I assume you know what used to stand where the reservoir is now.”
“A little town called Jimsonville,” Mid-Nite answered.
“Yes, and the Jimsonville Regal Hotel. Trust me, the name makes it sound a lot more resplendent than it was. But it was a good hiding-place for ill-gotten gains.”
Doctor Mid-Nite’s eyebrows went up beneath his mask. “I thought the police recovered all the loot from your crimes.”
“Most, but not all,” Doctor Light stated. “Shortly before our last encounter, I robbed an armored car on the highway not far from here. Got away with a million two.”
“And you hid it in the Jimsonville Hotel?” Mid-Nite asked.
“Yes, behind a couple of loose bricks in the basement. While I was taking that course of ‘health treatments’ you prescribed, the state flooded my hiding place. Now I have to burn the water away to get to my money.” The criminal scientist shook his bald head. “I had to take out personal loans with certain unsavory characters to fund the technology needed for this operation, but once I recover my money, I can pay them back and still have enough to retire on.”
If Doctor Mid-Nite strained his neck to the absolute limit his bonds would allow, he could just about make out the large, cannon-like device aimed at the reservoir below. “My hologram of the medicine man covers the beam of the laser as it boils away the water. Quite clever, really.”
“And you’ve kept me alive this long to have someone to boast about it to?” Mid-Nite asked.
“Something like that, yes,” Light said as he strolled to the black-draped apparatus hanging over Mid-Nite’s prone body. “But now, I’m afraid I have nothing left to boast about, except this.” With a flourish, Doctor Light whipped the cover off the apparatus. It appeared to be nothing more than a hexagonal-shaped magnifying glass on a long metal arm. But almost immediately, Doctor Mid-Nite could feel his chest growing warmer.
“A little something I devised during my stay as a guest of the state,” Light explained. “The glass was ground to my own particular formula. It magnifies ordinary sunlight to the point where it can burn through a car door. I don’t think it will have much trouble burning through you. Farewell, Doctor.”
“Farewell, indeed,” Mid-Nite returned as Light left him to make adjustments on his laser-cannon. As wisps of smoke began to rise from the material of his jerkin, Doctor Mid-Nite was glad of that adventure of the laughing crooks back in 1948. (*) His life had been saved then by exploding a blackout bomb in his belt, so he had devised a means of detonating one by remote-control, no matter how securely he was tied.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Laughing Crooks,” All-American Comics #99 (July, 1948).]
Doctor Mid-Nite’s right foot moved inside his boot and found the tiny control-stud there. Doctor Light’s laser-weapon was beginning to hum with life, so he did not hear the muffled sound of the bomb’s detonation, and did not turn to see the thick black cloud engulfing the bound Doctor Mid-Nite and the magnifying glass. Cut off from the sun’s rays, the glass ceased to project its deadly beam. Under cover of darkness, Mid-Nite began to work on his ropes, sawing them against the rough surface of the rock. He felt the strands of hemp begin to part.
“Why don’t you call in the JSA?” the governor demanded. “We need the likes of Doctor Fate or Green Lantern to stop that giant flaming ghost!”
“Doctor Mid-Nite said to give him forty-five minutes,” Anthony said sternly. “It’s been only forty now. He has five more minutes before I call in his friends.”
“Oh, come on, you know we should have heard something by now!” the governor ranted. “He must be–”
“Don’t say it,” Anthony said, more forcefully than he had intended. In Anthony’s tone, the governor found something to fear more urgently than a flaming ghost, and held his tongue.
Doctor Light smiled to himself as he twisted the dials and knobs of his laser cannon. It was a sheer work of brilliance; really, it was just his old handheld concentrated light weapon built to a much larger scale. Perhaps after he had recovered his money, he would sell the design to the highest-bidding country. He planned to retire in Mexico, a purely neutral nation, so it didn’t matter to him if the Cold War suddenly heated up. There, all the controls were adjusted; all it needed to set the beam in motion was to pull one lever. Light’s bony fingers moved toward this lever.
Just then he heard a muffled explosion, and suddenly everything went dark. He snarled under his voice, as he had seen this effect before. “Mid-Nite!”
“Your course of health treatments is not complete, Doctor,” Mid-Nite said from somewhere in the darkness. “It’s time to return you to your treatment facility.”
“Not just yet, Doctor,” Light snarled as his hand moved to his belt-buckle. “I prepared myself for your tricks!” As Light’s finger stabbed a button on the buckle, his clothes suddenly burst forth with a brilliant flare, which burned away the smoke of the blackout bomb. Mid-Nite blinked, caught unprepared for this.
“I’ll kill you!” Doctor Light declared, lunging at Doctor Mid-Nite. His hands closed around the costumed hero’s throat and squeezed. Mid-Nite brought all his strength to bear and broke Light’s hold. He followed through with a right cross that caught Light on the point of his chin, sending him staggering.
Doctor Light bumped into the control panel of the laser cannon, his shoulder blades striking delicate switches and dials. He shook his bald head vigorously to clear the haze, then smiled evilly when he realized where he was. He quickly manipulated the controls of the cannon, and the turret swung away from the reservoir to point at Mid-Nite.
“This beam is wide enough to vaporize you before you can reach cover,” Light declared. “Goodbye at last, Doctor Mid-Nite!” And with that, his finger stabbed the firing button.
“Look!” the governor cried, pointing at the hilltop. Anthony saw a brilliant flash of light, followed by flames.
“Call the fire department, the National Guard!” Anthony shouted. “The woods are on fire!”
“I will,” the governor declared, turning to run. “You call in the JSA!”
“Right,” Anthony acquiesced, taking Doctor Mid-Nite’s communicator in hand. He stared at the plastic and metal device, remembering the man who gave it to him. A tear welled up in his eye, and he prepared to make the call.
“No need, Anthony,” a familiar voice behind him said.
Anthony looked up, and joyous relief flooded his face. “Doc! You — you’re OK! But the flash — the fire–”
“An evil dream going up in flames, Anthony, nothing more,” Doctor Mid-Nite said grimly. He remembered the look on Doctor Light’s face as he pressed the button he believed would obliterate his decades-long enemy. Instead it had caused the laser cannon to explode like a giant bomb. Mid-Nite reasoned that, when Light had stumbled into the control panel, he must have upset the switches and accidentally set it to self-destruct. The force of the blast had sent him rolling down the hillside, but nothing more. “I found out something interesting about the site selected for your reservoir, Anthony. There will have to be some salvage teams sent in.”
“What — what about the ghost?” Anthony asked.
“The ghost was a hoax,” Mid-Nite said, watching the flames on the hilltop. “And the man who created it is now beyond our reach… unless there truly are such things as vengeful ghosts.”