“So what you’re saying is, the Icicle is basically a recreational criminal?” Dr. Charles McNider said into the phone in his room.
“That’s right,” Alan Scott, President of Gotham Broadcasting, said on the other end of the line in his plush office overlooking the city. “He was a brilliant scientist in line for the Nobel Prize when he became the Icicle. With his talents, he could legitimately earn more money than he could ever steal. He just does it for kicks.”
“His idea of ‘kicks’ could stand some serious adjustment,” McNider commented. “His rap sheet includes trying to foment a South American revolution and stealing the Washington Monument, not to mention the numerous times he’s tried to kill you and the rest of the JSA.”
“I never said he was entirely sane,” said Alan, recalling the times that he had put the Icicle away as Green Lantern. “Do you need some help out there? I could ring myself in before you could say–“
“No, thanks,” McNider said. “I believe I can handle things. I just wanted some background on the man. From what you tell me, he could be after anything in that vault.”
“Don’t rule out the Morados entirely,” Alan said. “They’re still a very likely target.”
“I won’t. Thanks for the background info, Alan.”
“You’re welcome. Don’t hesitate to call if things get weird.”
“Alan,” McNider said, thinking of last night’s discussion about Shocking Torture Stories versus Chilling Horror Tales and which had the most gruesome covers, “I doubt things could get any weirder than they already are.”
The main ballroom of the hotel had been taken over as the dealer’s room. Rows and rows of tables choked the room, set up to hawk pulp magazines and related ephemera. Guided by Skip Havelock, Dr. McNider walked up and down the aisles.
“I wish you could see this, Doctor,” Havelock said. “The pulp artists were denigrated by their peers because they worked for the pulps, but the attention to detail is amazing!” Havelock pointed at a particularly gruesome cover. “Why, in this one, you can almost hear the girl screaming as the branding iron touches her flesh!”
“I’m afraid I’ve never found anything about pain entertaining,” McNider said. “As a doctor, I have experienced too much of the real thing.”
“Of course, Doctor, of course,” Havelock said. “I was speaking from a purely aesthetical standpoint, of course. Say, tonight in the auditorium they’re re-enacting a classic radio show; you might enjoy that.”
“I might. By the way, I’m interested in the Morado paintings. How did the pulp show acquire them?”
“Oh, we don’t own them,” Havelock said. “I only wish we did. Morado herself didn’t own them, actually; they were considered work-for-hire and the property of the magazine company. When the magazine folded, its assets were sold; private collectors bought most of the paintings. A collector named Ed Selzer, from Pennsylvania, owns these. He lent them to the show to display this year. We’ve asked him to do it many times, but he always declined, afraid to let such valuable paintings out of his home. But this is the last year he may own them, so he acquiesced under condition that the strongest security measures were taken.”
“The last year he may own them? Why?” McNider asked.
“Mr. Selzer’s wife is very ill, and her care is quite expensive. He may be forced to sell them to meet expenses. It’s good that he held onto them as long as he did, though. Ms. Morado’s death last year has only made the value of the paintings go up.”
“I see. I wish I’d known the paintings would be here. A very close friend of mine, Wesley Dodds, is quite the art aficionado. Most of what I know about it, in fact, comes from talking to Wesley. If only I’d brought a camera…”
“Why, I have one,” Havelock said. “I’d be glad to take a few pictures for you. It’s the least I can do, for your agreeing to be our guest this weekend.”
“Thank you, Mr. Havelock. I appreciate that very much.”
Havelock got his camera and took McNider to the exhibition room. It was not open to the convention-goers yet and was under heavy guard. The paintings themselves, three of them, stood on large easels and were covered with dark cloth. After closing the door behind them, Havelock took off the cloths and began taking pictures.
Without letting on that he could see, McNider looked at the paintings. Each depicted a nearly-nude woman in some sort of peril, like many of the other covers he had seen. This work was somehow different from the others, though, and it only took the experienced doctor a second to tell why. The women depicted, while no less beautiful, were somehow more realistic. It was a genuine representation of a beautiful woman, rather than an idealized one. McNider assumed that, because the artist was a woman, she understood the female anatomy better, or perhaps she could depict it with more objectivity, without thoughts of lust tainting her perceptions. Whatever the reason, the paintings were magnificent. Havelock insisted on taking one with McNider in the picture for his friend Wesley. McNider was sure Wesley would get a big laugh out of it.
“The exhibition room will be open tomorrow only,” Havelock said. “The paintings will be under heavy guard until then.”
“That’s a very good idea,” McNider said. “Especially because there has probably been one attempt on them already.”
“The Icicle?” Havelock said. “We don’t know for sure he was after the paintings, do we?”
“Neither do we know for sure he wasn’t,” McNider said. “In any case, we were lucky Doctor Mid-Nite happened to be on the scene. We might not get so lucky next time.”
“What do you mean?” Havelock asked, genuine concern in his voice.
“I have a suggestion…”
Long after midnight that night, the convention floor of the hotel was dark and silent. The hotel bar had finally closed at two, and the pulp collectors had broken up their discussions of who would win in a battle between Doc Savage and the Shadow and stumbled up to their beds.
The Morado paintings were still in their special display room. Two armed security guards stood on either side of the door, barring entry. They were prepared for any conventional form of attack. The attack that came, however, was not conventional by any means.
A tiny pellet, thrown from somewhere they did not see, burst at their feet. A cloud of bluish vapor instantly engulfed the two guards, and they were overwhelmed with cold before they knew what was happening. Twitching and shivering, they passed out from the cold within moments, before they could raise an alarm.
“Sleep well, boys,” the Icicle said as he strode past their unconscious forms. “You’re certainly earning your $3.50 an hour. Well, it’s the Bicentennial; maybe you’ll dream of being on guard at Valley Forge.” Taking the keys from one of the guards, and brushing frost off it, Icicle unlocked the door to the exhibit room. Inside he saw the three paintings on the easels, covered by dark cloths. His eyes glittered beneath his insulated mask. With greedy hands he reached up and ripped the cloth off the painting in the middle. His look of joy turned into an angry scowl, however, as he beheld the canvas beneath. It was a blank canvas with the words TRY AGAIN, ICICLE written on it in black magic marker.
“What the devil?!” the Icicle snarled. “I — I’ve been tricked!”
“You have, indeed,” came a voice from the corner of the room. The Icicle watched as the shadows in the corner resolved themselves into the form of Doctor Mid-Nite, cloak drawn around his body. “The real paintings are back in the hotel vault. This was a trap to draw you in, and you fell for it grandly.”
The Icicle was indignant, but before he could utter a reply, he heard the door slam shut behind him. Instinctively he whirled.
“That’s right,” Mid-Nite said. “There was another guard stationed, one you didn’t see. You’re trapped in here, Icicle.”
“So are you, Mid-Nite,” the Icicle said, bringing his freeze-ray pistol into play. “And where you never kill your opponents, I have no such compunctions!” A blue-white stream of light shot forth from the pistol.
Doctor Mid-Nite leaped out of its way, and the beam struck the wall behind him, sheathing it in ice.
“That won’t save you forever,” the Icicle declared, adjusting a setting on his gun. “This is a small room; I can set my gun for wide spray and get you yet!” The Icicle then made good on his threat, spraying the room with a wide-angle freezing beam. Mid-Nite flattened out and rolled across the floor, staying under the beam. He rolled to another dark corner of the room, scooped up something that lay there, and lobbed it at the Icicle.
The villain had barely enough time to register what the object was before it collided with his freeze-ray gun. The water balloon burst when it touched the metal, splashing water all over his gun and gloved hand. The Icicle felt the water freeze to the metal and his fingers, the ice holding them rigidly in place. He could not pull the trigger, nor could he let go of the gun.
“I uncovered your weakness, Icicle,” Doctor Mid-Nite said as he rose to his feet. “Your gun is somewhat like a Co2 fire extinguisher. Whenever you discharge it, the gun itself becomes bitterly cold. Your gloves protect you from it, but anything else that happens to touch it…”
“…freezes,” Icicle finished for him, resignedly. “Brilliant, Doctor. I thought Green Lantern was clever foe, but he never tumbled to that trick.”
“Thank you,” Mid-Nite said. “But I’m afraid I’m not brilliant enough to puzzle something else out. Stealing paintings from a pulp convention scarcely seems like a glamorous enough crime to attract you, Icicle; even if they are Johanna Morado originals.”
“You don’t know?” Icicle asked. “Doctor, her name wasn’t really ‘Johanna Morado’ any more than it was ‘Joan Brown.'”
Doctor Mid-Nite watched himself do a double-take. That had never occurred to him before. The name Johanna was just a fancy way of saying Joan, and Morado was Spanish for Brown. “Then, what was her real name?” he asked the Icicle.
“Her name was Margaret Garbun. She used the nom de plume so nobody would know that she was the daughter of Big Ed Garbun.”
“Big Ed Garbun — you mean the bank robber?”
“I don’t mean the headwaiter. He was notorious in the 1920s, until they finally caught him in 1930 and put him in prison. The loot from his biggest heist, you may recall, was never found.”
Mid-Nite put two and two together. “Oh, come on, Icicle. That sounds like the plot from one of these pulp magazines.”
The Icicle chuckled. “It does, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it’s true. Big Ed died in prison last year. I was his last cellmate. He could tell the end was near, and he told me where he hid the map to his stolen loot.”
“Inside one of his daughter’s paintings?”
“That’s right. She never even knew it. He hid it between the canvas and the matting, a skillful job. Nobody would ever be able to tell anything was there. He picked the one with the big silver snake; it appealed to him, somehow.”
Doctor Mid-Nite shook his head. “I still can’t get over it; it sounds like such a fantastic story.”
“This is the right place for fantastic stories, isn’t it?” the Icicle commented. “Well, it was a good game while it lasted. Well played, Doctor.”
Mid-Nite led the defeated Icicle outside the door, into the waiting hands of the police. For the briefest second, he wished he were still writing mystery stories, because this would make a good one.