“But, Ted,” Hourman argued as they walked down the hallway, “if Black Nemesis isn’t out to hurt anyone, as all the evidence suggests, don’t you think our first priority should be the Sunset Killer? He really is killing people, at an alarming rate!”
“OK, first, we don’t know for sure that Black Nemesis won’t kill people if it suits him,” retorted Wildcat, alias Ted Grant. “And second, every time this Nemesis chump gets away from a JSAer, it tarnishes our image! Not being a pro fighter, maybe you don’t understand the importance of reputation, but sometimes battles can be won just because the other guy expects you to beat him! If Black Nemesis keeps humiliating us–”
“Hey, who’s this?” Hourman asked, stopping as they passed the conference room. Hawkman, Superman, Doctor Mid-Nite, and the Huntress were there, with an apparent guest: a small, frail-looking old man, his body shrunken with age. He held a steaming mug of coffee in both hands, and stared down into it; one did not need a degree in psychology to read the stark terror on his face.
Hawkman looked up to see Wildcat and Hourman outside the conference room. “Come in, please,” Hawkman said. “We were just about to hear what this gentleman has to tell us.”
The old man looked up briefly, then returned his stare in his coffee.
“Please,” the Huntress said in a kind voice. “Please, we know you’re frightened. But we can’t help you unless you tell us what frightened you.”
The old man nodded, and then began. “M-my name is Abraham Hoover, but I was b-born Friedrich Emil Nelson,” he stammered with a slight German accent. “I-I was a villain, once, a long time ago. I-I called myself Mister Who.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mr. Who,” More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941).]
“You did?!” Hourman gasped, astonished. He had battled the original Mister Who, once, and had a hard time reconciling that powerhouse with the frail little man before him. (*) The man’s withered appearance made him momentarily forget that less than two years ago he’d also battled the second Mister Who, his grandson. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Monster Society of Evil,” All-Star Squadron #51 (November, 1985) and All-Star Squadron: The Return of Captain Triumph.]
Hoover managed a weak smile. “I’ve changed a great deal since then, sir,” he said. “Faking one’s death does that to a man.” It was clear that he remembered Hourman, as well. “You all know about this Sunset K-Killer, all over the news,” he continued. Hawkman nodded. “Well, h-he has a lot of us retired villains scared — really scared. And ever since he killed that poor Quinn boy, some of the active villains are scared, too.”
“I see,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “But he isn’t what has you so scared now, is he?”
“Yes!” Hoover exclaimed. “And no. I mean, well, not just the stuff on the news. You see, s-some of us were contacted… b-by the Puzzler.”
“The Puzzler!” Superman snapped. “That wily old–”
“What did the Puzzler contact you about?” Hawkman prompted.
“W-well, he s-s-said that if I didn’t want to be n-next, that I sh-should join him. A-a-assist his efforts.”
“To do what, exactly?” the Huntress asked.
“W-well… Puzzler s-said he was gathering villains to — to hunt down the S-Sunset Killer. A p-p-pre-emptive strike, he c-called it.”
“Why, that irredeemable old reprobate!” Superman spat, smacking a fist into his palm. “Just like him, too!”
“And did you agree to this plan?” Mid-Nite asked.
“I-I did,” Hoover admitted. “I-I was scared! N-nobody else seemed anxious t-to help an old con like me! For years I’d thought m-myself protected because I’d faked my death and was living under a n-new identity, but if the Puzzler could f-find me, others could, too! W-what was I to do?”
“But something happened,” Hawkman prompted. “Something went wrong.”
“Yes!” Hoover fairly shrieked. “I-I went to the address Puzzler gave me! I-I was a bit late… b-but when I got there… w-w-when I g-g-got there…”
“Yes?” the Huntress encouraged. “When you got there…?”
“They were all dead!” Hoover cried, tears in his eyes. “Dozens of them! Bodies everywhere, ripped to shreds! The blood! Oh, dear God, the blood!”
“Ripped?” Mid-Nite repeated. “Not shot, like his other victims?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hoover cried, pressing his fists into his eyes. “I-I got out of there quickly. But everything was in pieces, bits of bodies everywhere!” Hoover looked up at Hawkman, insanity in his eyes. “Do you remember Anti-Electric? Fought Wonder Woman a long time ago. I met him in prison. He got a tattoo there. On his left arm, up near the shoulder. A black lightning bolt. I remember it well; he was very proud of it, when he first got it. I-I saw a dismembered arm, lying on the floor… with that tattoo on it!” Hoover buried his face in his hands and began to cry.
“Did you inform the police?” Mid-Nite asked.
“N-no,” Hoover sobbed. “No, I ran out of there, and straight here. It-it was the first thing I thought of.”
“Where was this place?” Hawkman asked. Choking down sobs, Hoover gave them the address.
“Huntress,” Hawkman said, in an authoritative tone, “contact the police and tell them what Mr. Hoover just told us. Have them send their crime lab boys down there. Hourman, Mid-Nite, I want you down there, too. If this Sunset guy left so much as a drop of sweat in that place, I want it!”
With only a nod of acknowledgement, the two JSAers sped from the room. They understood that, as a physician and a chemist, they were the best choices for the crime scene. And they would do everything they could; if there were a clue to be found, they would find it.
“It’s all right, Mr. Hoover,” the Huntress said, patting the sobbing villain’s shoulder. “You did the right thing, coming to us. Everything will be OK.”
Hawkman strode to the window of the room, placed his mighty hands on the sill, and gazed out. Dozens, Hoover had said — dozens murdered.
He had to do something. The JSA had to do something. But what? Dear God in Heaven, what?
“All right, gentlemen, let’s hear it.” Hawkman addressed Doctor Mid-Nite and Hourman, who had come from the scene of Sunset’s latest and biggest kill. Red Robin and the Huntress, the JSA’s best detectives, were also in attendance. All had steaming mugs of coffee before them, except Doctor Mid-Nite, who preferred a glass of vegetable juice.
Mid-Nite and Hourman glanced at each other, silently asking who should begin. Mid-Nite nodded slightly, ceding the floor. Hourman faced Hawkman and began.
“I went over the place thoroughly,” Hourman said. “With so many people there, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to isolate any trace evidence left by the killer from that left by the victims.”
“What about cars?” the Huntress asked. “I’d think the killer would be the only one who left, other than Hoover. Maybe track him by tire prints?”
“I thought of that,” Hourman said. “There were fewer cars there than bodies; some of the victims must have come together. Anyway, I didn’t see any exit tire marks except from the 1967 Dart that Hoover said he drove.” Hourman shook his head in wonder. “I still can’t believe that little pipsqueak was Mister Who!”
“You fought him over forty years ago, Rex,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “The human body undergoes a great deal of changes in that time. At least,” he added with a wry smile, “most of them do.”
“Yes, well, you didn’t see him before, Charlie,” Hourman pointed out. “He was part of that Monster Society that we fought while you, and Carter, and the rest of the then-active team had been shot into space by the Nazis. If you’d seen him then, you’d be just as surprised as I was.”
“Getting back to the crime scene–?” Hawkman prompted.
“Oh. Yes. Well, I did find something odd: a strange-looking, whitish powder. I don’t know what it was, but it seemed… out of place, somehow. I collected some of it for analysis. Once I figure out what it is, I can determine whether or not it’s a clue.”
“Maybe you should find out if such a powder was found at the other crime scenes, too,” Red Robin suggested.
“Hey, good idea,” Hourman said.
“Al has been acting as our liason with local law enforcement on these killings,” Hawkman said. “He can put you in touch with the right people to learn that. Anything else from you, Hourman?” Hourman shook his head. “OK, Doc, what do you have?”
“Well, Mr. Hoover’s estimate of ‘dozens’ of victims was exaggerated, understandably so due to his fear,” Mid-Nite said. “I counted twenty-one. Of course, his description of the conditions of the victims was fairly accurate, so I may have miscounted. The police coroner will have an absolutely accurate count.”
“And the killings themselves?” the Huntress asked.
“Well, I can say this: whatever happened in there happened fast. One body was less mutilated than the others, because it was behind a crude wooden lectern; presumably this would be the Puzzler, whom Hoover said was conducting the meeting. The attack came too fast for him to even step out from behind it.”
“Could he have ducked down behind it for protection?” Robin asked.
“Not likely,” Mid-Nite said. “Above the waist, his body was as torn up as the rest of them. The only part of him shielded by the lectern was that which would have been behind it during the normal course of the meeting.”
“Any thoughts on what caused it?” Hawkman asked. “On what actually happened?”
Mid-Nite frowned into his glass of juice. “I keep coming back to one thought,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but nothing else I can think of does. The damage looks for all the world as though it was done by a fragmentation grenade. But it’d have to be the biggest fragmentation grenade I’ve ever seen. Possibly that anyone has ever seen.”
“Well, that’s certainly interesting,” Red Robin said, frowning.
Wildcat strode purposefully into the JSA’s gymnasium and training facility. He stopped in bemusement when he saw Power Girl and Wonder Woman facing each other across a table. Their elbows were on the table, and their hands locked in the classic arm-wrestling pose. Both women grimaced at each other, sweat glistening on their foreheads. Wildcat began to walk toward them, but a voice to his left stopped him.
“Hey, Ted,” the Atom whispered.
“Oh, hey, Al,” Wildcat whispered back. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Kara and Diana are arm-wrestling,” Atom said.
“I can see that,” Wildcat acknowledged. “How long have they been at it?”
“Couple hours now. Neither one of them giving an inch.” The Atom shrugged. “You ask me, they’re working off frustration at being unable to solve these two cases.”
“That so?” Wildcat whispered. “Maybe I can help with that.” In a loud voice, Wildcat called, “Hey, ladies!”
Wonder Woman’s concentration did not break, but Power Girl glanced up suddenly… and Wonder Woman slammed her arm down to the table. “Hola!” Wonder Woman cried in victory.
“Wildcat!” Power Girl screamed, and in a white and blue blur she had him pinned against the gymnasium wall. “You overgrown alley-cat, you made me lose! I’m going to use your uvula for an ankle bracelet, you–”
“Easy, easy,” Wildcat said, making calming gestures with his hands. “I came down here to see if you — if all of you — were interested in helping me with something.”
“With what?” the Atom asked, hoping to catch Power Girl’s interest and get her mind off of dismembering Wildcat.
“With catching Black Nemesis,” Wildcat said with a grin. Power Girl gaped in surprise, and slowly loosened her grip on his shoulders.
“One question I have,” the Huntress asked. “How did Sunset find out about the Puzzler’s meeting in the first place?”
“It’d help if we knew everyone whom the Puzzler had contacted,” Red Robin said. “But Hoover didn’t know.”
“Hey, everyone!” Johnny Quick cried out as he raced into the room, sending a gust of wind in ahead of him, due to his super-fast body displacing the air. “You should get into the comm room, quick!”
“What is it, Johnny?” the Huntress asked, grabbing her cape to stop it from flapping in the newly created wind tunnel. “Not a new killing, I hope?”
“Well, yes and no,” Johnny said. “Some of the Infinity kids are on the line from California — and they say the Sunset Killer’s finished!”