Ten minutes later, I was in costume and walking into the hotel lobby. And very wet. The rains of two days earlier had returned, bringing thunder and lightning with them. Looking around, I spied Andy sitting with two other bellboys in a corner of the lobby, and I walked toward him. “Excuse me, Mr. Warwick. Could I have a few minutes of your time?”
The poor boy. He, of course, recognized me. “Um, yeah, sure, Doctor Mid-Nite. Wow, I can’t believe I’m meeting you.”
I put an arm across his shoulders and led him away from his coworkers. “Dr. McNider tells me you might have stumbled on some information regarding the recent, uh…” I glanced around, checking to see if any guests were within earshot. “…the recent events here at the hotel. Is there someplace where we can talk in private?” Andy nodded and led me down the same hallway where the service elevator was located. He led me into a locker room. At one end there was a card table and a couple of chairs.
“Gee, Doctor Mid-Nite, I’m not sure I have any information that will help, but I’ll try.”
“I need for you to recall just what Julian Walton has said about his mother, during his arguments that you witnessed.” I sat down and gestured for Andy to do the same.
“Huh? Julian? He’s always complaining about his mother, that’s for sure. Let’s see, what was it I told Dr. McNider?” Andy drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Yesterday, it was about seven o’clock in the morning, he said something like, Mother, I swear you are tearing me apart! I can’t stand it anymore.”
I had pulled out a notepad and pencil, and took this down. “What about the day before that?”
Andy looked up at the ceiling and rubbed his chin as he tried to remember. “It was just before lunch. He was talking about putting some of his paintings in a local show, and Mrs. Walton had laughed about it. He accused her of cutting his legs out from under him every time he tried to show his artwork.”
I wrote it down, then set the pad on the table. “Andy, do you know how Miss Holden or Mrs. Jameson were killed?”
“No. Mr. Ayers has been keeping mum on details about the deaths.”
“Miss Holden had the major blood vessels in her legs cut, causing her to bleed to death. Mrs. Jameson was literally pulled apart.”
“But how–? Oh, sweet Jesus!”
“What is it?”
“Just last week, Julian had a canvas stretcher delivered up to the penthouse. Said he wasn’t happy with the canvasses he had been receiving. It’s a framework with four posts, each with a pulley on it. It will pull canvas over a frame five feet across.”
“Sounds like it could be the murder weapon.”
“What about Ed Lomax? Do you think Julian killed him, too?”
“Could be. Given their relationship, I bet Julian has accused his mother of suffocating him, or making him want to gag.” I tapped the pencil’s eraser on the table. “Ed Lomax choked to death on his own vomit while sleeping.”
“No bet. It’s his most common complaint. But how would he cause that to happen?”
“Not difficult if you have access to a person’s food, or anything else they might ingest. Mouthwash, toothpaste, anything edible in the hotel room.”
“And I’m guessing Julian has a set of master keys, left over from when his family owned the place.” Andy sat upright, his face turning pale. “Oh my God! This morning! He was screaming about his mother being blind!” Andy stood and raced for the door. “Dr. McNider!”
“Andy, wait!” I reached for him, but he was already opening the door. There were a few people in the corridor, so I couldn’t tell him why his fears were unfounded. So I followed him. Another staff member joined us on the service elevator, so I still had to keep my silence even as Andy fidgeted. When we got off at my floor, we were alone in the corridor, so I grabbed his shoulder as he dashed to my door and started to open it. “Andy, you don’t have to worry about–”
My explanation was cut short as we were both thrown back and knocked unconscious by a high-voltage shock from the door.
Blinding bright light.
Ever since the explosion that cost me the ability to see normally, I’ve been very careful about keeping my eyes covered. The explosion did not render me blind in the traditional sense. It made my eye extremely sensitive to light. What most people perceive as normal light is painful to me. My lenses reduce the amount of light that reached my eyes by over ninety percent.
So when I woke up after the jolt and found my mask’s lenses were shattered, that was more incapacitating than the electrical shock itself.
I closed my eyes and tried to assess the situation. I was seated with my legs bound together with duct tape, and my arms bound around something behind me. Outdoors: the rain was still coming down, and thunder was rumbling around me. And where there’s thunder, there is bound to be…
Lightning. Even through closed eyes, the flash of light was like a hot poker to my eyes. I must have screamed without realizing it.
“Andy!” I called out over the storm. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, just sore all over. I came to as Julian was tying us here. I don’t think he realized it, though. Doc, he knows he’s found out, and he said it’s time to get rid of his mother!”
“We’ve got to get to her, then! Where are you?”
“I’m bound to the antenna, behind you! Turn your head around!”
I did, though I could see nothing. Andy, smart young man that he was, took one look at my face, and realization set in.
“Sweet Jesus! Dr. McNider! You really can’t see, can you?”
“Not without my lenses, Andy. Where are we?”
“Top of the hotel. Used to be a radio station in the hotel, and they never took the antenna down.” There was a pause. “Doc, I think he disconnected the ground cable.”
The ground cable. A heavy wire intended to direct electricity from a lightning strike on the antenna, down to the ground. So if lighting chose to strike, thousands of volts were going to pass through my young friend and myself.
“Andy, how far apart are we?”
“About two feet.”
I bent my head down, prodding with my chin against my chest. I felt one of the crescent-shaped fasteners and bent my head farther. I caught the fastener between my teeth and yanked my head upward. The piece of brass slipped from my teeth. I tried again, this time pulling it free of my tunic. Keeping it between my teeth, I spoke to Andy.
“I need you to talk to me, let me get a fix on where you’re at. Your back is toward me, right?”
“Hands tied behind your back?”
“Good. I’m going to toss this button to you, trying to hit your back so it drops straight down. The inner edge of the crescent is sharp, sharp enough to cut rope or tape.”
“OK, I’m here, I’m here, turn a little more, that’s it.” I turned my head back and forth until I knew right where Andy was tied. I twisted my head as best I could, put the button between my teeth, then launched it out with my tongue. “Got it!”
“Cut yourself loose, then put the button in my hand and make a run for the stairs.”
“I’m loose!” Andy knelt behind me, sawing at the rope.
“Give it to me! Go!”
“No way! I’m not leaving you alone out here!” I felt the ropes loosen, then fall away. Andy was helping me to my feet when, for the second time today, my entire world turned white. The thunderclap was immediate, and we both staggered back from the antenna. When the echo of the thunderclap subsided, Andy was screaming.
I felt around for him, finding him on his knees next to me. “Andy, are you OK?”
“Can’t see! I was looking at one of the cross braces, and it lit up like the sun. All I can see is a band of white across my vision!”
“Come on, let’s get you inside. Do you remember where the stairs are?”
Andy’s a good man. When I asked him a direct question, he focused on it, driving the panic out of his mind for the moment. He reached back and found the base of the antenna, turned tentatively away from it, then started walking, leading me by the hand. Squinting as much as I could, I could just make out a shadow ahead of me. A larger shadow loomed up in front of him, then I heard him open a door.
Once inside and away from the wind and rain, I reached into my belt and pulled out one of my blackout bombs. “Here, this will help me to see, and it might help you as well.” I tossed it ahead of us, and I heard it go off. As the dark cloud spread, the blinding light of the single bulb above us abated, and I was able to see. “Is that better?”
“A little,” said Andy, as he turned toward me. “But maybe you better lead the way, or just leave me here.”
“You’re in this till the finish, if you want to be. But let me call in some reinforcements.” I pulled the JSA communicator from my belt and used it to place a call to the hotel desk. I asked to have Mr. Ayers meet us at the penthouse, and to bring any police officers who might still be in the hotel. “Now, you know your way around here better than anybody. Which way do we go?”
By the time we reached the penthouse, I had managed to improvise a replacement for my lenses using a strip of dark cloth cut from a curtain in a hallway. Sergeant Cominsky noticed it, but didn’t say anything. Mr. Ayers unlocked the door, and the police officers led the way in. We found Julian standing over his sleeping mother as she napped in a chaise by the balcony in the darkened room. He was shaking when the door opened, and when he saw Cominsky and Matchuk coming toward him, he dropped the knife from his hand and fell to his knees, crying.
“I tried. I tried to get free, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.” He was handcuffed, read his rights, and taken away by the officers.
“Poor man,” muttered Ayers. “His whole life was spent taking care of her. And now, how will she get along without him?”
“I could do it.” I turned toward Andy as he said this. “If this blindness isn’t temporary, I won’t be able to work in the hotel, and my medical career will at least have to wait until I can learn to read braille. Mrs. Walton keeps the lights down all the time, so I can actually make out some shapes in here, but nothing is clear. I know my way around the hotel, and I look enough like Julian that she might not ever tell the difference, what with her failing eyesight and bad hearing.”
“You mean, you’re going to pass yourself off as her son?” I asked.
“I can try. That way, she wouldn’t have to know that her son nearly killed her, as well as killing three others. She shouldn’t have to live with that.”
“But what about your own life, Andy?” asked Mr. Ayers.
“For the past five years, my life has been medical school and the hotel. My parents died when I was in high school; the only family I have is in South Dakota. I can do this.” Mr. Ayers shook his hand as he left the room, explaining that he’d better let the staff know what was going on.
I laid my hand on Andy’s shoulder. “If there’s anything I can do to help, Andy, just let me know.”
“Oh, I will.” Despite his lack of clear vision, he looked at me knowingly. “After all, you understand what I’m doing better than anybody can, I’m sure.”
“Yes, and I also know most of the top opthamologists and neurologists in the field. If your vision can be restored, I’ll see that it’s done.”
“You’d better go, Doc. But before you do, I have a question. Not for myself, but for your own case, you know people like Doctor Fate and Green Lantern, right? How come you’ve never had one of them restore your sight?”
“I believe in science, Andy, and in the power of the natural world. The human body is a product of nature and science, and I, well, I just don’t trust magic when it comes to medicine. I’ve seen it used, and used well. I’ve also seen magic used to heal someone with, well, let me just say… unusual results.” Mid-Nite smiled as he thought of his friend Ted Grant. (*) “I can talk to them if you want–”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1, Chapter 3: A New Future.]
“No, that’s all right. But thanks.”
As I left and made my way back to my room, I couldn’t help but wonder at the selflessness my young friend had shown, ignoring his own injury to help someone else.
And to think, people call me a hero.