“Before we adjourn, ladies and gentlemen,” Hawkman said, addressing the meeting of the Justice Society of America, “we have a small matter that needs attention. Mr. Gaimen from AAC Comics has an appointment at three. Who wants to talk to him?”
“Gaimen?” Wildcat asked. “I thought Jerry Thomas was our liaison at AAC.” AAC Comics published fictionalized adventures of the Justice Society of America, with a share of the profits going to various charities. Once a month, the writer of the comics met with the JSA to discuss story ideas, to assure that the heroes were being properly represented.
“Didn’t you hear?” Atom asked. “Thomas has been kicked upstairs. He’s going out west to oversee production of the Batman movie they’re making.”
“Oh, yeah,” Wildcat said. “Didn’t they get that wimpy-looking kid from Mr. Mom to play Batman? I bet Bruce is turning over in his grave.” Wildcat remembered his manners, and turned to the Huntress. “No offense, of course, Helena.”
“None taken,” the Huntress returned. “But for the record, I think my father would have been pleased with the choice.” She paused, then added, “I can meet with Mr… Gaimen, was it?” she said. “I have an appointment at Gotham Mercy Hospital at five; this should kill the time between now and then.”
“Excellent, Helena, thank you,” Hawkman said. “Therefore, if there is no further business, I declare this meeting adjourned.” Hawkman banged a gavel on the meeting table, and all the members rose.
Half an hour later, the Huntress was seated in the JSA reception room, drinking a cup of tea. She looked across the small table at Eric Gaimen, a thin, gangly young man in his early twenties. Gaimen sipped an iced tea as he talked with the Huntress.
“And for next month, we were thinking of bringing back the Alchemist,” he said.
“The Alchemist?” Huntress said. “He hasn’t been seen in years, has he? Decades, really.”
“That’s the rage these days: nostalgia,” Gaimen insisted. “Everything old is new again. We think the time is right for bringing back some of the old villains.”
“I see,” Huntress said. “I’m sure we’ll have no objection to that.”
“Very fine. As I understand it, the Alchemist possessed four ancient alchemical weapons: the Elixir of Youth, the Philosopher’s Stone…”
The Huntress glanced at the clock. She hoped this meeting didn’t run much longer; she didn’t want to be late for her appointment at the hospital.
“Ms. Huntress!” the middle-aged hospital director cried upon seeing the costumed woman walk into the lobby.
“Just make it ‘Huntress,’ please, Mrs. McIntyre,” Huntress said, shaking the woman’s hand.
“Oh, of course. Huntress! My, this is a thrill; I’ve never met a real-life super-hero before!”
“What, never?” Huntress asked. “Have you lived in Gotham City long?”
“All my life,” the woman said. “My father met the Green Lantern once, a long time ago, but you’re my first! Anyway, I want to thank you again for coming. It means so much to young Jason.”
“His letter touched me,” Huntress said. “I’ve seen death dozens of times; seen it fast, seen it slow. But it’s so tragic when it happens to one so young.”
“And he’s facing it so bravely,” Mrs. McIntyre said. “He’s an example to all the other children in the ward.”
“So if his fondest wish is to meet me,” the Huntress said, “it’s the least I can do. Lead me to him!”
The Huntress followed the woman to the children’s ward. It was full of children in hospital gowns. She spotted one or two with obvious signs of chemotherapy; it tugged at her heart. Many had casts on arms or legs; one was in a wheelchair. Huntress was a little surprised to see a man in the ward, a man dressed as a hospital patient. He was very thin, his cheeks sunken, his eyes deep in their sockets. His hair, white as snow, was very thin across his skull. He was smiling as he sat on the side of a bed; children surrounded him, smiling and laughing.
“That’s Ed,” Mrs. McIntyre explained. “He’s a patient, too; he comes down to the children’s ward often. They love him, and he enjoys their company, too. It’s good for them all, really.”
“I see,” Huntress said.
“Ed! I’ve got a new one,” a little girl with a bald head squealed as she scampered up to the old man.
“You do? Well, tell me, Katie!” Ed said enthusiastically, placing his palms on his thighs and leaning forward.
“What would you call someone who crossed the ocean twice without taking a bath?” Katie asked.
Ed rolled his eyes up in his head and moved his lips silently, pretending to really think it over. Then he looked back at the little girl. “I give up, Katie. What would you call such a person?”
“A dirty double-crosser!” Katie said smugly.
Ed laughed robustly. “Oh, that’s a good one, Katie!” he laughed. His laugh finished as a cough, and he discreetly covered his mouth.
The Huntress smiled at the sight.
“Ed, look!” one of the little boys cried, pointing. “It’s the Huntress!”
Ed turned his head and smiled in surprise. “Well, so it is! Jason, she got your letter!”
The children started crying out in glee and clustered around the Huntress. Ed got up and started gently chiding them. “Now, kids, I know you love the Huntress, but she’s here to see Jason!”
“That’s right,” Huntress said, smiling. “But I’ll try to say hi to each and every one of you before I go! Now, where’s Jason?”
After the Huntress spent half an hour telling Jason about her adventures, she walked over to where Ed was reading a Dr. Seuss book to a little girl in a wheelchair.
“Hi,” she said. “I just wanted to say, I think it’s wonderful what you do with these kids.”
“I could say the same,” Ed said, extending a palsied hand. “The name’s Ed Nashton.”
The Huntress shook his hand. “I guess you know who I am,” she said, smiling.
“I’ve heard,” Ed said, returning the smile. “Tell me, is it true that your father was the Batman?”
“Guilty,” the Huntress admitted. “Did you meet my father sometime?”
“Once or twice,” Ed said, “a long time ago. He was a great man, the Batman; worked tirelessly for this city.”
“He loved Gotham dearly,” Huntress said. “So tell me about yourself, Ed. How long have you been in the hospital?”
Ed sighed. “In and out, the last five years. They tell me this is my last time in, though.”
The Huntress gasped a little. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
“I’m resigned to it,” Ed said, looking out the window. “Life is a puzzle, really. And I’m about to find out the solution. I try to look at it that way.”
“You’re very brave,” Huntress said.
Ed looked back at her and laughed. “Brave? No, I’m not. I’m an old man. Kids like Jason, who’re younger than the undershirt I’m wearing but are facing death with a smile — they’re brave.”
The Huntress choked back a tear.
That night, the Huntress prowled the Gotham City streets, looking for a crime in progress. She was angry from her day at the hospital — angry that she could do nothing to keep the hand of death from a child like Jason, or from a sweet old man like Ed. She wanted to punch something, anything.
The police band on the Huntress’ motorcycle blared out an alert. “Break-in in progress, Gotham History Museum!” A prowl car responded. “Car 54, we’re nearby. We’ll take it.”
“Not if I get there first,” Huntress said, gunning her motor.
Minutes later, the Huntress burst through the delivery entrance of the Gotham History Museum. She heard sounds coming from her left, and dashed down a hallway in that direction. She found a street gang, five young men in leather jackets, trashing the exhibit of wax statues of Gotham City’s colorful villains. The statues of the Joker, the Penguin, the Scarecrow, Mister Zero, Killer Moth, the Cavalier, and others lay in pieces, the costumes torn.
“Having fun, boys?” Huntress asked.
“The Huntress!” one of the gang cried.
“Man, what you worried about?” another one demanded. “She’s one girl, and we’re five tough guys! Let’s get her!”
The Huntress smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
When the police arrived, they found the Huntress dusting off her hands and the gang members lying on the floor among the wrecked statues.
“Beaten to it again,” the older cop said with a wry smile. “Dunno why I bother, in Gotham.”
“You’re just in time to take out the trash, officers,” Huntress said.
“Man, wait’ll I get my hands on Nashton,” one of the gang members said as the officer was cuffing him.
“What?” Huntress demanded. “What did you say?”
“Nashton,” the gangster spat. “Old fart named Nashton; he paid us to wreck this place.”
The Huntress was silent.