In the Batcave, the Huntress was frowning down at a screen. “The tracing device I planted on the Wraith is dead. He either found it, or it broke during his flight,” she said as she crossed her legs and sat down wearily in front of the computer.
“I fear Jake Bishop is on a one-way path to ruin,” said Alfred. “If he is found, can there be any treatment for his mental illness? He seems so very ill.”
“Remember one of father’s other tenets,” said Helena Wayne. “There is good in everyone, and while there is life, there is also hope.”
Alfred smiled. “True enough. I think of Harvey Kent and your mother. Both of them certainly turned their lives around.”
Helena agreed. “Now, I have to change. Our neighbor Cal Trent is worried about his ball. With so many wealthy ladies gathered in one spot, he fears this mysterious flight syndrome will occur. A large number of women who have nothing in common except for high social status and wealth have taken all their assets and vanished. The annual Ebony and Ivory Ball is being held next door, and I’m invited.”
“Wonderful. Shall I lay out your Versacci?” asked Alfred.
“No, I’m not going to the party as Helena Wayne. Helena is busy with legal work. I’m going in a different role entirely. It is a chance to try out another role,” she said with a smile.
“The Babs character was a success,” he replied. “As one who mingles so freely with law-enforcement circles, she should be a aide to your work.”
“Right,” she said. “Well, now I’m going for access to the jetset. As you must know from your father’s tales of his own employers before grandpa hired him, most rich people don’t even notice their hired help! What better way to listen and learn than to be a maid?”
“I have to agree,” said Alfred. “Pater never had such problems with Dr. Wayne, but he did seem invisible in the eyes of many of his earlier employers.”
“So, I’ll be using my dye and donning this outfit as Monique Renoir, the Trents’ new temporary maid for the ball. I hope to learn enough to solve these disappearing debutauntes,” she said as she held up a short black dress and heels.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” he said.
“Yes… I mean, oui,” she said as she rubbed dye across her dark locks and transformed into a blonde.
The Huntress dressed in the maid’s outfit of fishnets, heels, and black dress, and with her blonde hair she easily made her way among the guests as Monique Renoir. She missed nothing. She noticed every moment, every incidence, and after hours of serving and observing, she was bored beyond belief.
Nothing is going to happen here, she thought. I’ve done nothing more than practice my French.
She then saw Margo Martin stride down a long hallway suddenly. That’s odd. Margo is always the last to leave any party, she mused.
High heels clattering, she followed the heiress to see her confront a woman in gray.
This is it, she thought. That gown may be worth a fortune, and the woman in it cuts quite a figure, but it’s too old-fashioned to be normal. That lace veil also spells trouble.
Sure enough, her keen ears heard Margo say, “You sent a message in for me? Just who are you?”
Mademoiselle Fantome raised her dainty veil and revealed blonde curls surrounding Margo’s own features. “You may call me Mademoiselle Fantome,” she said in French.
She raised one gloved hand, and a ray shot out of the tiny device she held in her hand.
Monique jumped over the railing to shove Margo aside just as the ray struck. She gasped and watched as the scene replayed itself as Mademoiselle Fantome cooed, “You are quite the daredevil, oui?”
She struck Margo with the ray and led her away even as a dazed Monique Renoir watched in vacant stupor.
“You there, girl? I need a refill!” cried a fat man who staggered into the hall.
“What?” said the Huntress slowly.
“You’re the maid! I need a drink!” he snapped.
“Oui, monsieur! Right away!” she said, as she clung to the single fact that she was a French maid at a big party. She recalled nothing else about her past or her true identity.
The excitement that night had truly just begun. Mademoiselle Fantome had pulled off another identity theft. However, this time when she abandoned the real Margo, there was no Earthworm gang to collect the amnesia-stricken heiress.
She wandered off… directly to Charles Bullock.
Those eyes — glassy, he thought. I believe I’ve just stumbled onto a victim of Earthworm’s mysterious partner. He must have one. No way that creep could mingle with high society! And he gently stopped Margo and led her back inside.
Police efforts to cure the victims Charles had rescued from Earthworm had been failures thus far. The women retained no sense of their true names, roles, social status, or past histories.
Charles, in a dapper black tuxedo, had deliberately wrangled an invite to the ball for the purpose of being on the scene should trouble arise. He wondered too if a bit of socializing could help his law career as well. To his credit, this desire came a far second to just helping others.
He gently led Margo to a chair and wondered if her attacker was even now among the finely dressed guests.
“This is a robbery! No one move, and you won’t get hurt!” cried a man as he led four others inside from the patio. They wore chain mail and carried guns. It was a very odd juxtaposition of old and new.
Charles slipped back and returned as Blackwing. “You guys going to knight school?” he joked as he tackled one and knocked the gun flying out of his hand.
“Nightwing! Ah, no!” cried the punk as Blackwing flattened him.
“Close enough, I guess,” he mused as he ducked a punch and kicked the next man aside.
The other two started to fire when the blonde maid kicked the gunman nearest her down the stairs. She flipped through the air and stunned the final one as well, all this without even getting a run in her fishnets.
Charles smiled in amazement. He gathered the thugs together and bound them. “That was some show you put on!” he said.
She smiled demurely. “Thank you. It just came to me. I don’t know how. Self-defense and athletics were part of my education,” she said in a perfect French accent. This had been part of the background Helena had devised for Monique in anticipation of being forced into action while still dressed as the pretty maid.
“I’m Blackwing,” said Charles. “I see with my stellar detective abilities that you’re a maid, but I want to know more. How about having dinner with me afterward?”
“I would be delighted!” she said.
Later, after the Crimelord’s thugs had been turned in to the police, and the party had ended with poor Margo being taken for treatment where the other heiress victims had been residing, Blackwing sat across from Monique Renoir.
“You can really move,” he said. “You took those thugs down like Black Canary or something. That’s impressive. I can’t fight that well myself. Could you teach me those moves? I’d be glad to pay you.”
Falling back on the backstory she had developed, Helena could only reply, “I took this job as temporary work. I am new to the city.”
“Look, there’s a vacant room at my folks’ place,” said Charles. “They would welcome any friend of mine. How about it? We could work out together while you find a real job.”
Monique, for that was the only identity intact after the effects of the ray of Mademoiselle Fantome, agreed readily.
It took Charles little time to feel completely at ease with his new protégé. Monique had no trouble accepting the hero as a friend. Something about crime-fighting and costumed roles seemed natural to the blonde maid.
She enjoyed being his confidant and became enthralled when he mentioned Red Robin, the Huntress, or the late Batman.
“They inspire me,” he said after one workout. “I’m really a hero in progress. I guess I’m still trying to get my act together. Those moves of yours still amaze me.”
“Perhaps I could help you on the streets,” she said as if from some inner urge.
He grinned. “I hoped you’d say that. With every moment we spend together, I see us as a real team. I had my mother whip this up for you.” He held out a costume of red, gold, and green.
She slipped it on and returned, now wearing a green mask, red sleeveless vest, green gloves, and green miniskirt and slippers. A bird emblem in black blazed across her chest.
“So, how do you like it, Redbird?” he said.
“I like it very much,” she said, smiling.
Because of the skimpiness of her maid’s outfit, Helena Wayne had hidden her Huntress gear in the garden alcove of the Trent estate. The sudden entrance of Mademoiselle Fantome had made action in the maid costume a necessity, so she had never reclaimed the well-hidden purple costume.
Thus, Alfred’s efforts to summon her via her JSA signal did little good. He fretted as days passed without word from her.
The Wraith had not been seen since their last battle, but Alfred feared the troubled son of his old love was still in the city.
With Master Dick away with Miss Kara, it seems as if Miss Helena is on her own. She had weathered many a peril, so I can only pray she is safe on a case, he thought with worry.
Unknown to him, she was on a case. As the colorfully clad Redbird, she had become a sensational new partner to Blackwing. Their frequent foes were members of Crimelord’s gang. He seemed to be increasing his activity for some reason.
“Many of these crimes are almost pointless,” mused Blackwing. “It’s like training or busy work for these goons. What is their boss planning?”
“This Crimelord, he shall be but one more victim of the duo of Blackwing and Redbird, oui?” she said.
“I do admire your attitude!” replied Charles.
Jake Bishop, the Wraith, paced restlessly in the crumbling old manor that housed the Crimelord and his mob. “I know I need to get outta this berg, but I also want to carve the Huntress,” he said. “When do I get the chance? Hanging about this old tomb does me little good.”
Lady Crimson said, “You’d best hold a civil tongue in thine head, lest you lose it!”
Crimelord smiled at her devotion. “Melissa of Lyons, you honor me. Still, I bid you allow our peer his way. He is unduly stressed by his wrongful seclusion. He little sees the larger picture as I do.”
“Look, get Red Sonja, here, out of my face,” said the Wraith. “What grand plan do you supposedly see that I miss?”
“I’ve been sending our would-be peers to test their prowess before letting them hold a place at my Table Round,” said Crimelord. “Those who fail are thus weeded out as if by a survival of the fittest. When I have concluded, then only the finest criminals shall sit round yon table. Then, with you, good sir, we shall hold what I call the Grand Joust, the end of which will leave the Huntress, Red Robin, and all their ilk bloodless corpses.”
Wraith grinned. “You know, for a maniac, you do talk well!”
They laughed into the darkening night.
The police led Barney Barrows into a private office.
“This babe could draw top fees. Why’s she do free work for the police?” asked Corrigan.
“Why question it?” said Meg O’Connor. “We need a doc like the brilliant Dr. Strand just to keep Vengeance, Joker, and Truncheon off the streets.”
The blonde and lovely Dr. Strand greeted her patient. “Mr. Barrows, I’m so sorry you’ve been unwell. Let’s talk this out,” she gushed. Turning to the officers, she said, “We’ll be fine if you two want to wait outside.”
“Sure, Doc,” said Meg.
As the door closed behind her, the pink-clad Stephanie Strand said, “You have been wronged by one who should have fought beside you,” she said with her eyes gleaming. “The Huntress made you doubt your skills. She did so for the same reason her father made you believe your powers were a fluke or accident. She is jealous. But we can rise up from that. We can make a stand for true justice.”
Barney shivered as she said the name Huntress. He began to protest, but the blonde hushed his concerns and started motivating him to be her pawn once more. That was her strength. That was what she did so well under the fake name of Stephanie Strand and under her true name of Sharon Stephanie Strange, daughter of Professor Hugo Strange — hater of all things related to Batman.