The next night found a full house at O’Malley’s Pub. The simple eatery was frequented by policemen and policewomen, and they enjoyed both the sense of camaraderie and the friendly welcome of their waitress and barmaid.
Babs Gordon was a fiery redhead with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. She enjoyed talking to her customers and listening to them talk.
“This Wraith is going to pay. All of us want a chance at him,” said a cop named Corrigan.
The black officer continued his conversation as Babs leaned over and offered him a refill. “It’s on the house,” said Babs with a smile as she freshened their cups, her red curls cascading down over large shamrock earrings.
“Thanks, hon,” said Olinger as he stopped Corrigan. “What about Vengeance? I’d like to see Wraith run into that guy… before we bring ’em both in, of course.”
“You know, all kidding aside, there’s something to that guy’s law and order talk,” said Corrigan. “Taking back the streets from the punks is the right idea.”
“Careful! You sound like old Barrows, the janitor,” laughed Officer Meg O’Connor as she passed their table.
Babs put one hand on her hips and said in mock indignation, “And who’s this Barrows when he’s at home?”
Meg said, “Babs, I like that tattoo. A Celtic cross, isn’t it?”
Babs smiled and lifted her hem slightly. “Yeah! It’s only visible when I wear a short skirt.”
“Barrows is or was a janitor at Police Headquarters,” said Meg. “A sweet old man, but he’s a bit of a nut when he starts going on about crime and taking the streets back for good folks.”
Babs nodded and flounced back behind the bar. “O’Malley, take over,” said the true owner of the place. He nodded and watched his silent employer race off.
She rounded a corner to an alley and shed her 1980s New Wave/Irish romantic gear to reveal the costume of the Huntress. She rubbed the chemical across her red curls, and her dark hair returned to normal.
Babs is a success, she mused. Barrows may be just the man I want to see. I hope my other new roles work as well.
That night the Huntress injected herself with a clear substance and rolled up her long gloves.
“I take it that is not just an influenza vaccination, Miss?” said Alfred Beagle.
Helena Wayne nodded. “It is a different type of immunization. I believe I have the identity of Vengeance now. Barney Barrows, the janitor Dad fought back in the 1950s, matches Vengeance’s rhetoric and basic abilities. He is a mutant. He has this extra power that allows him to increase his own mental and physical prowess at will. He’s also a fanatic about law and order. It may all come from a frustrated desire to have been a policeman himself. I can stop him, but I’m not feeling overly proud of the method I need to use.”
“You and Master Richard both learned well from Master Bruce,” said Alfred. “He never believed the end justified the means. I’m pleased that you don’t feel that, either.”
She kissed him on the cheek and said, “Thank you for believing in me. I’ll be back soon!”
Alfred carefully picked up gloves and placed them on his hands. He opened a container and examined the ruined remnants of the costume Helena had worn during her battle with the Wraith.
“My! This one is ruined. I doubt anything can be salvaged. She is as rough on clothes as Master Bruce was.” He smiled.
As the expert gentleman’s gentleman tried to cleanse or mend the garments, he noticed the odd gooey substance that remained on the purple rags.
Strange… This substance is the one Miss Helena ran a chemical check on this morning, he thought. The print out here looks exactly like the notations on the blueprints I found in Mr. Bishop’s home. The memory-helping tricks Master Bruce taught me paid off well. I greatly fear this means the Wraith is Shirley’s troubled son!
He reached for a phone, then turned and resolutely hurried out.
As Barney Barrows prepared his breakfast, a shadowy figure crashed through his window. The shadow was a legendary one in Gotham City.
“Barrows, your vigilante killing spree is over! We’re having our rematch now!” said a grim Huntress as she charged the old man.
He cursed and said, “You tracked me down! Well done, Helena! May I call you that? My enhanced mind allowed me to deduce your secret.”
She ignored him, since she had expected as much after reading about his battle with her father. “You don’t want to face me!” she said. “You don’t want to use that mutant curse of yours. It makes you different. It makes you unlike others. What would the police think of someone as odd as you?”
He frowned. “I can defeat you as easily as I did before!”
The Huntress stepped closer. “No, Barney, you can’t. Those powers won’t work anymore. You know that. You don’t really want to be different, do you? You surely don’t want to fight Batman’s daughter. Batman stopped you before. You cowered for over twenty years after that! How long will you hide when I beat you?”
Her shadow grew closer as she relentlessly backed him up. “No costume this time,” she said. “No element of surprise. I know all about you. I’d suggest you give up. No one ever beats the Bat!”
Barrows trembled. “I… I won’t use the gift. I don’t want to be different! Please, just don’t harm me!” he pleaded.
The Huntress nodded. “Surrender. We’ll find you help.”
Barrows allowed her to lead him out to waiting police cars. “I just wanted to help, but I won’t use the powers again,” he said. “I won’t face you again!”
The Huntress frowned. She had saturated Barrows’ apartment with a clear gas developed years before by Professor Achilles Milo, an old foe of Batman’s. The gas temporarily made those who inhaled it develop powerful crippling phobias. It had been simple enough to wait until the gas had affected Barrows before entering and using the mystique of the Bat to convince the suddenly fear-ridden man that his powers were both useless against her and were somehow wrong in and of themselves.
I made him develop a fear of using his mutant gift, she thought. His entire physical and mental prowess could only be enhanced as long as he believed they could work. Without any confidence, he was unable to use them. I stopped the killings, but I wonder if I can live with myself after doing this to that deluded old man.
“It’ll wear off; I know that, but by then he’ll be under proper treatment,” she assured herself, but she still felt no better.
Blackwing had been bound in the tunnels beneath Gotham City by the minions of the eerie Earthworm. His keen mind stayed active even as he tried to free himself.
This group of misfits isn’t just a collection of disenchanted have-nots, he thought. I recognize Cyndi Summers, Debra Domaine, and other missing wealthy women. I surmise they all were brought here, and they all have that dazed look about them. They seem to be in shock or have memory loss. So, if he is forming an army of the homeless and the altered rich, what’s he doing with the money? He sure isn’t spending it on clothing! I bet this place is full of weapons, too. He’s planning some coup.
He flexed, and a thin blade protruded from his gloved right hand. He slowly sliced through his ropes and bided his time.
Earthworm was a deathly yellow figure with ragged clothes, a rank smell, and a body out of a Gumby cartoon. He contorted himself maniacally as he enthralled his admiring army.
“This hero of the world above seeks to hurt us and take away even this small sanctuary!” cried Earthworm. “I say we make an example out of him before we march on the world he champions!”
They jeered and drew closer to Blackwing, who made his move. “Sorry, but I don’t care to serve this zoo crew as an example,” he said. “I will make examples out of you if you try to stop me!”
“Get him, my children!” cried Earthworm.
Blackwing frowned. Great. I don’t wish to beat up amnesia-stricken blue bloods. But he didn’t have to, since the children Earthworm referred to appeared suddenly from out of the sewer waters around them as two large alligators came to menace Blackwing.
This is not an improvement! he mused.
Blackwing dodged a pair of snapping jaws and fired a rope upward. It hooked into a rusty pipe, and he heaved with all his might. The pipes burst, and water flooded out to sweep the alligators back long enough for the hero to drop two pellets in their midst.
“This narcotic should slow them down so I don’t have to make luggage out of them,” he joked. He now faced the crowd of homeless people and mentally dominated wealthy kidnap victims.
“Earthworm, if you are such a man of the people, why don’t you do your own fighting?” he shouted as he shoved back two men who obviously served Earthworm freely.
“It is not my way to soil my hands in gross physicality,” he said.
“Soil, you? You’re a bit late for that, pal,” said Charles Bullock. “Those funky rags don’t exactly proclaim you to be Mr. Clean!”
He dropped a pellet, and a bright magnesium flare exploded in the darkened tunnel. Only he had been prepared for the sudden blinding light. He swung up and over the blinded army to tackle Earthworm himself.
“You are low in every sense of the word,” he said. “You use these folks. They need compassion, and you make them some mindless mob. They need a helping hand, and you use them as your own personal fists of fury. I’m ending your war on society now!”
“That remains to be seen, dear boy!” cried Earthworm, twisting out of Blackwing’s grasp, leaving the hero holding an empty coat. He ran for a corner of the tunnels and slipped into darkness.
“What the–? No way out except for… that tiny pipeline! That freak actually slipped through that narrow drainpipe!” marveled Charles. “Well, at least I cut him off from his mob. Maybe I can restore them. He hurled a pellet and swung back as the explosive ripped open the tunnels to let sunlight stream in from the slums above.
The light seemed to daze them, and he radioed for police help. The mob had lost all will to fight without their propagandist leader. He saw that the abducted heiresses still had no clue as to who they truly were.
No weaponry down here, either, he mused. He just wanted the people. So, who took their money? How did someone give them amnesia, too?
The answer to these questions was simply that Earthworm had an unlikely partner. The weird sewer dweller had formed an alliance with the extremely fastidious duchess in gray gowns. The elusive Mademoiselle Fantome had perfected the amnesia ray and had taken the wealth for herself, while leaving her victims to form Earthworm’s cult below the city. Even now she prepared for her next victim.
“The Gotham social registaire… et ees my blueprint, no?” she said to herself in a beautiful penthouse. “Next on my list ees the debutante called Margo Martin.”
As Officer Meg O’Connor walked her beat, she was followed. The Wraith watched the young policewoman and drew closer with every step she took. He drew a knife from his belt and started to grab her when a voice called out insistently from the shadows.
“Jake!” said the voice.
Wraith whirled and let Meg turn the corner as he entered the alley. “Who in the–?” he muttered.
“A friend — Alfred!” said Alfred Beagle nervously.
“How’d ya know me?” said Wraith.
“I knew your family history,” he said. “I saw your weaponry design. Please don’t make this harder, son. Let me help you.”
“You were Ma’s friend,” said the Wraith. “I found old letters. She loved ya as well as my old man, but I won’t let you turn me in. Just walk away and keep your mouth shut.”
The Huntress dropped down and said, “Just try and make me shut mine, killer!”
The Wraith turned and snarled, “Legs! Time to die!” He hurled his knife, and she swatted it aside even as she kicked him in the chin.
Thank goodness I found Alfred’s note in time, she thought. If he hadn’t left word about Bishop, I would have arrived too late, if at all! The fiend won’t hurt Alfred if I have to die trying to stop him. She saw Alfred watching from the alleyway.
The Huntress received a wicked left hook for her efforts. Got to stay focused, she mused. He released another sphere, and as it burst against her shoulder, she slugged him with all her might.
“Treated my gear this morning so your acidic mist can’t leave me bare,” she said with a grin. “Your goo won’t work, either.”
The Huntress ducked his punch and kicked him, only to have him snatch her leg and spin her around into the brick wall. She then flipped backward and dodged his knife thrust.
“You and Batman — costumed cops, but cops all the same! I’m gonna enjoy this!” he shouted. He slammed her against the wall and twisted her neck with both hands.
She flipped him over her shoulder and stomped on his arm until he dropped his blade.
“Your mother would be appalled by what you’ve become! Did you ever think that under different circumstances she could be one of the cops you’ve killed?” demanded the Huntress as she danced away from his clutching hand.
“Shut up!” cried Wraith as he drew back.
The Huntress leaped through the air and brought him down hard. She connected with a pressure point and said, “You’ve lost feeling in one arm. Don’t make me hurt you more!”
The Wraith bit down and spat in her face. She yelled and fell back from on top of him. “Toxin in my fake molar, princess!” he laughed and thumbed her in the eyes. “Now, you die!” he screamed.
Alfred shoved himself forward. “No!” he shouted. “I won’t allow this!”
The Wraith lifted his machete and hesitated. “Move, old man!” he whispered.
“Never!” said Alfred.
The Wraith cursed and ran away into the night.
The Huntress stood up and said, “That was close.”
Alfred agreed. “He needs help, too.”
Huntress held the butler and said, “I know… I know.”
The Wraith sighed as he cleared the rubble of a decayed wall and raced through the night. Stupid old man! he thought. Should’a done him!
He reached up to where something seemed wrong on one arm. “Tracker!” he gasped. “That witch planted a tracker on me when she numbed my arm! Those meditation techniques he taught me helped me restore feelin’ in time to find the thing!”
Then a shadow entered his line of view.
“OK, Huntress, you die now!” he vowed.
“I am not the Huntress,” said a redheaded woman in armor. “She is my sworn foe, but if you be her own enemy, then we have much in common.”
“I am Lady Crimson,” she said as she drew a glowing sword. “My liege and I would welcome you to our Table Round.”
The Wraith grinned. “Lead on, Guinevere!”