The Huntress had wasted no time upon her arrival in Paris, France. She had conducted a similar search for a likely target of a “clown crime” and had selected what appeared to be her best choice. “American actor Danny Harris, the so-called Nutty Kid or Little Guy, is beloved by the French. Since he is performing here tonight and being honored as well, he makes a perfect target for Harley’s copycat comedy crimes.”
She sat in his dressing room within the large theater that overlooked the pleasant public park known as Place des Vosges. She frowned as the manic funnyman paced back and forth wearing only an immaculately pressed black tuxedo jacket over a white shirt and black bow tie with boxer shorts and dark socks.
“What? You never seen knees before?” he gibed. “You should get outta the Batcave more often! Whoa!”
“I was a bit startled, that’s all,” said the Huntress. “I am aware of the showbiz tradition of leaving your pants off until right before showtime. Sitting in pressed pants would wrinkle them. I understand that.”
“Sorry, Bat-lady!” said Danny. “I didn’t mean nothing by it. You know, I teamed up with Wonder Woman once in the comic they useta put out about me! I’m almost a super-hero, too, in a way! I really did meet one of you JSA types back in the ’50s! I helped Johnny Thunder — what kinda name is that, I ask you? — once!”
The Huntress crossed her legs and leaned forward on the rickety chair. “Danny, we still have time to cancel the show. It is not necessary for you to perform like this. The actual award ceremony can continue elsewhere in a more secure venue.”
“Bat-lady, I gotta deliver for the fans,” said Danny. “It’s the little people that made me what I am! What am I, anyway? Yaaa!”
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll be watching. Don’t be nervous!”
Harris grinned. “Nerves work just fine for me. The more jerky I act, the better the fans like it!” he said.
As the orchestra began to play a raucous jazz number, Danny Harris raced out on the stage with all of the enthusiasm he had possessed in his youth.
The Huntress watched the show from above and smiled to herself as she realized just how hard the comic worked for his laughs. He’s manic! she thought. A man his age with that kind of energy is pretty amazing! Hmmm, I wonder if Danny also received a dose of age-retarding chronal energy like Dad and many of his associates?
Suddenly, an old man stepped out of the orchestra pit and shed his tuxedo in one gesture as the pull-away fabric broke apart to reveal an odd costume. He wore a brilliant red jacket that was far too small for his bulging stomach, while his velvet red breeches stopped over bony knees. He brandished a sword and shouted in a thin, reedy voice, “Pulcinella!”
A shrieking laugh rang out as a young woman answered his scream and bounded on the stage and crossed it with an exaggerated swing of her hips. She had blonde hair upswept in a tightly pinned bun, but it was her exaggerated facial contortions and heavy makeup, including a black diamond pattern across one eye over black lips, that caught one’s attention. She wore a filmy black dress that ended below the hips in a black tutu and revealed black hosiery and short boots.
“Pantalone! Dearest father, you should be home resting your aged bones!” she said in tones of mock horror.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that when I’m dead! Now, insolent child of mine, help me capture Mr. Harris!” cried the old man.
He raised the sword and moved closer to Danny Harris as the comic removed his microphone from its stand and swung it idly from one hand to another before lashing out with it and striking the sword out of the old man’s gnarled hand.
“Huntress, take them! I’ve secured Harris!” he cried in a richly modulated voice that was nothing like the high-pitched whine Harris affected while on stage as his comic persona, the Little Guy.
The Huntress dropped down from above and hurled herself at the wildly flouncing form of the woman called Pulcinellla. She grabbed the mincing blonde clown and received a knee in her chin.
“Nobody strikes my father!” she cried as she clawed at the Huntress with what turned out to be metal-studded gloves.
The Huntress spun around and connected with a kick that flattened the wild female clown. She glanced over to see that Danny Harris had shed his tux to reveal a black bodysuit and an expanding dueling blade. “The Musketeer!” she cried.
The Musketeer bowed low and said, “At your service, mademoiselle! Forgive the deception, but I could not allow anyone to know I had arranged to take the place of Monsieur Harris!” He used the gleaming sword to deftly drive Pantalone backward until the snarling old man was pinned against a wall.
“You should respect your elders, you miserable lout!” whined the old man.
The Musketeer smiled enigmatically and said, “When I meet one, I shall!” He nodded in approval as the Huntress bound Pulcinellla in a bat-rope.
“She was a real vixen, but she lacked any real fighting skills,” said the Huntress.
“And Pantalone is truly as elderly as his role would deem necessary,” said the Musketeer.
“Ah, but Pulcie merely had to look good in the outfit, and she does that by all accounts!” said a newcomer.
The Huntress frowned as two more costumed figures rushed the stage.
“You may have tricked us by secreting Harris away, but we will still find satisfaction in your death!” cried the newest clown as he swung a battered medical bag at her head.
The Huntress ducked, but the bag struck her a glancing blow, and the bound Pulcinellla swung her legs up and caught the distracted heroine in the face.
“The Plague Doctor makes house calls!” laughed the weirdly garbed clown with the medical bag. He wore a waxen face mask that concealed his true expression but displayed an artificially cruel and mocking demeanor.
The Musketeer raced forward and flipped through the air to nimbly land between the fallen Huntress and the Plague Doctor. “Forgive me, but you will need to heal yourself when I am done with you!” he quipped. He ducked the faux physician’s lunge and tripped him. A swift kick to the head left the Plague Doctor stunned.
Hurling his foil, the Musketeer smiled as it pinned the struggling Pantalone to a nearby sandbag. “And that brings down the curtain on this sad show!” he said.
The Huntress stood up and fired her crossbow before either man could move again. The bolt shot over the Musketeer’s shoulder and struck a fourth villain. He cried out as the dull-headed bolt hit his chin and dropped him to the stage.
This man wore a flowing white robe that enveloped his entire body except for his white-gloved hands and his bald head. His entire head was covered with white makeup, and no color could be seen even in his strangely pale eyes.
The Huntress punched him in the mouth and found the odd figure to be more of a problem than she expected as he ignored the blow and smashed a pellet in her face. She gagged as a noxious odor and a burning powder filled her senses and covered her face. She had no time to remove the thick material as it blinded and choked her, since the eerie pale clown was on top of her before she could raise a hand. He pummeled her with a savagery unseen in the other three, but she managed to flip him over her head and rolled away.
The Musketeer spun his sword around and brought the hilt down on the white-shrouded villain’s bald pate. “Heads you lose — is that not your American humor?” he said.
Bending over the Huntress, he helped her wipe the white film off of her face. “Are you hurt?” he said. “This substance is infernally difficult to remove!”
“I am fine, although I might have had a much harder time of it against all four of them without your help,” said the Huntress.
“The Musketeer is a one-man army!” said a woman who entered from backstage along with several uniformed policemen. She was a lovely blonde with very short but attractive hair and a pleasing manner. She moved forward with a confidence and certainty that made her status readily apparent.
“Huntress, this is the lovely and talented Michelle Mimieux,” said the Musketeer. “In addition to her stunning beauty, she is the leading inspector in the Police Nationale’s Directorate of Criminal Investigation.”
Inspector Mimieux inclined her head in approval and said, “The Musketeer is charming, but he presumes that flattery always carries the day with a woman.”
“I noticed,” said the Huntress. “Still, he certainly is capable.”
“Capable of succumbing to the fair Michelle!” said the Musketeer.
Inspector Mimieux said, “Huntress, you will be glad to know that, in addition to the four rogues you two defeated here, we also received a report that France’s heroine Fleur-de-Lis brought in two other clown-themed criminals named Columbine and Hobbledehoy. The two villains were attempting to abduct the true Danny Harris from his hotel. It seems all of the gang was not fooled by your impersonation. Their leader, Harley Quinn, escaped.”
“Harley was cunning enough to separate her forces,” said the Huntress. “I wonder if her club of villains is going to turn out to be a real army of crime.”
The Musketeer frowned and said, “I feared that might be the case. When I saw villains dressed as certain characters from the European carnival tradition, I wondered if we might not face every possible one of those bizarre creations!”
The Huntress nodded. “Some names like Pulcinella come from the Italian culture. That might be meant to alert me that Harley Quinn and her Jokers of All Nations are heading for Rome next!”
She shook hands with the gallant Musketeer as Inspector Mimieux and her men led the beaten criminals away. “Thank you for your help!” said the Huntress.
The Musketeer kissed her hand and said, “No thanks are necessary. Your esteemed father was my friend. He inspired me to adopt this role.”
“Are you saying that you are the original Musketeer?” she asked. “You seem no older than I am!”
He shrugged ruefully and said, “Early in my career, I ran afoul of a woman who claimed to be Angelica, the enchantress from the tales of Charlemagne and his Peers. She cursed me with eternal life, or so she said. Since that encounter, I have never aged. It is more curse than blessing, since all those I would love do age and die. It is why I have largely adopted the role of the laughing cavalier. I romance the fair sex, but I may not commit myself or my feelings, since I know no relationship can last while I remain young, and my paramours wither and die.”
The Huntress nodded slowly as she recalled the Knight’s certainty that she would find the Musketeer to be of interest. He was certainly a colorful and complex figure in spite of his assumed role of the careless gallant.
“I don’t know anything about this female heroine, Fleur-de-Lis, but I wonder if Harley is really trying to pull off these clown crimes or if she just wants to recreate her father’s criminal image across Europe,” said the Huntress. “It almost seems as if her main goal is to spawn these pseudo-Jokers and to counter Batman’s role in inspiring the creation of so many foreign heroes.”
“Huntress, Fleur is the most capable woman I had ever met who fights for law and order,” said the Musketeer. “Still, you know your foe better than I could ever do. If it is aid you seek in Rome, then I fear you will be disappointed. I am needed here because of the threat of one of my own old enemies. I can’t accompany you, and I know of no one in Italy who would help you.”
“What of the Legionary?” asked the Huntress. “He was Italy’s member of the Club of Heroes!”
The Musketeer shook his head and said, “No, ma petite! He died years ago, and I mourn his loss.”
The Huntress exchanged a few more pleasantries with the French hero before leaving.
As she drove through the night, she recalled a story she had read not long ago. “I know the Legionary was active recently. Why would the Musketeer insist he was dead? Perhaps he merely inspired a successor, or is his story even stranger than that of the Musketeer’s!”