Times Past, 1960
Suicide is Murder
Mister Terrific investigates the apparent suicide of a former student’s father, which from all appearances seems like an open and shut case. But when he learns that others have supposedly committed suicide the same way, the man of a thousand talents realizes that an old villain is at work!
The Gateway City University Board of Directors could not really boast about their athletic program, nor could the college claim a large number of notable alumni. However, luckily for the college on this warm day in 1960, it could at least celebrate the fact that the head of the English Department, Professor Terry Sloane, was once again topping the best seller list with his latest novel. As the handsome blond teacher sat at a table in the library and exchanged greetings with pupils while signing copies of his new mystery, he noticed one girl standing to the side of the line of students.
His photographic memory instantly recalled her name to be Beth Daniels, a student from a class a few years ago, and his keen sense of observation revealed that she was upset and uncertain if she should approach her former teacher or not. He smiled and stepped around the table to make the decision for her. She had already turned away, but his lithe athleticism allowed the former Olympian to easily catch her.
“Miss Daniels! I thought I recognized you!” he said. “How are you? Couldn’t let my best Chaucer student get away without a few words!”
The girl, who was pretty with auburn hair and dark eyes, smiled nervously and said, “Professor Sloane! I’m so pleased you remembered me, but then you never seemed at a loss for words or facts! I can’t say I’m the same! I… I wondered if we might talk? Oh, maybe I’m being silly.”
“Of course we can talk,” said Terry. “I’m always glad to help any student in any manner I can. I needed to give my hands a break from signing, anyway!”
She smiled. “I noticed you alternated signing with both hands. You’re ambidextrous!”
“That was a talent I picked up years ago,” he said. “Now, what can I do for you?”
They sat at a table in the back of the library. As they talked, Sloane heard a student ask a puzzled library staffer for King of Pain. As the worker frowned and scanned a catalogue, Terry listened to Beth’s tale while idly writing a note and slipping it to the worker. It read “The poem is by Swinborne. It is in a collection of Victorian verse in the 800s.”
The librarian glanced in surprise at his memory and followed his suggestion as Terry heard Beth tell her story.
“You see, my father Bill Daniels — he died recently in New York City,” she said tearfully. “It was suicide… or so they say! I just can’t believe it! I knew him so well. I know he would never have ended his own life! The insurance people won’t accept that he was murdered. Mom and I are so desperately upset and low on funds! I thought maybe you could help. You are so brilliant and all!”
Terry Sloane nodded. “I’ll help. Let me make a call. A friend I met through the youth clubs I sponsor could be just the man for the job. Mister Terrific is his name.”
Beth smiled appreciatively.
Later, in New York City, Mister Terrific listened as Mrs. Daniels and Beth recounted their sad tale.
“My husband was a quiet, happy man,” said Mrs. Daniels. “He loved his work and his family. He became an accountant because he liked the orderly progression of numbers and accounts. Nothing too exciting appealed to him. He was also a devoted family man. That’s why I can’t accept that he ended his own life, though the police insist it was suicide. He was found with a knife in his heart, and the room was locked from inside. No one was seen entering or leaving. The madness and violence of the act are so out of character for him.”
“No prints on the knife?” asked Mister Terrific.
“His own. No others. It was his knife,” said Beth.
“Let me see the study,” said the champion of fair play. “You said it happened there. You and Beth were out at the time.”
Acknowledging he was correct in his facts, they led the red-and-green-clad hero to a small but tidy room.
“The door was locked in the inside,” he noted. “The only window is too small for anyone to enter. Not even a child could crawl inside.”
Glancing at a wood stove, he examined it slowly. “This stove was lit. It had a fire that night, correct?” he asked.
“Why, I don’t know,” said Beth. “It was a warm evening. I wouldn’t think so. I don’t recall anyone saying. I know no fire was going when we found him!”
“Mister Terrific, please, can you make sense of this tragedy?” pleaded Mrs. Daniels.
Patting her arm gently, he said, “Sudden death is always senseless, but maybe I can at least bring about justice.”
Mister Terrific jumped over the shoulders of a charging thug and spun around to kick him flat. Then he ducked a left hook thrown by the thug’s partner. With a swift jab, he dropped the second mugger and rushed to check on the elderly lady they had attacked.
“It’s OK,” he assured the old woman. “You had a scare, but they won’t be troubling you again. The police are already coming. I see them down the street!”
“Thank you! You’re wonderful, Doctor Mid-Nite!” she said.
Mister Terrific grinned to himself and hurried on his way. While checking on another alleged suicide in the New York area that was equally unlikely, based on the previous character of the victim, Mister Terrific had spotted the muggers stalking the lady in Central Park and had acted decisively. He wasn’t as well known these days around here, so he didn’t take offense at being mistaken for someone else.
When he first became a mystery-man, Terry Sloane had split most of his business between his ancestral home in Gateway City and his adopted home in New York City, and as a consequence his crime-fighting cases had been split between the two cities rather evenly, much like the way Starman operated in both New York and Opal City. But it had been several years since he had moved all of his operations out of New York City and into his primary residence in Gateway City, and it had been a long time since he had fought crime in New York. It was no wonder that he was mistaken for a native New York-based hero, though being mistaken for the alter ego of his friend Dr. Charles McNider was an honor, indeed.
Mister Terrific soon reached the apartment loft where he had arranged to meet a Detective Bradley. The rugged young man smiled as the hero entered.
“You know, growing up I always admired you the most of the mystery-men,” said Bradley. “My uncle — he was a private investigator and ex-cop — met a couple of you back in the 1940s. He was a real scrapper himself, and he told me that he’d bet on you against Batman himself!”
“That’s high praise, indeed,” said Terrific. “Slam was a fine fighter. His pal Shorty Morgan helped Wildcat, Batman, and me solve a case back then!”
Bradley smiled. “My uncle and Shorty are both enjoying retirement after a long career. Now, to business: the late Chuck Cormany apparently killed himself with a knife — one from his kitchen. He was alone at the time in a locked room. No one saw anyone leave or enter. The family claim Cormany’s principles make suicide impossible.”
Mister Terrific glanced around the apartment. “I see no obvious means of entry. Windows were bolted and are high above the street. Tell me, was there a fire in the fireplace that night?” he asked as he bent low to examine the fireplace.
“Yeah! In fact, a weird wax was found there,” he said. “Maybe off of old papers?”
“Tell me more about Cormany,” said Terrific. “Did you check what I asked about his involvement in the court system?”
Bradley nodded. “Yeah! Funny you should ask. He served on a jury like you guessed. Why’d you want to know?”
“I assumed the two deaths were, in fact, murders,” said Mister Terrific. “I also realized no apparent motive could explain either one except for revenge. It seemed that the only possible tie two such regular, civic-minded types could have with crime other than as victims would be as jurors.”
“The names are here,” said Bradley. “Cormany, Daniels, and Jack Jones all served and are all dead now. Suicide in each case. The other nine are under guard as you asked. No nutcase could get to them.”
Mister Terrific frowned. “If what I recall from Hourman about the man they put away is correct, then getting in was never much of a problem for their killer!”
At a silent house in Manhattan, an old man sat before a television and answered Jeopardy questions with ease. (*) He never missed one. He even phrased them in the form of a question.
[(*) Editor’s note: On Earth-Two, Jeopardy appeared a few years earlier than it did in our world, where it premiered in 1964.]
The old man’s front yard was vacant. The police had been there earlier and had departed. He heard a noise at the door. As he opened it, he found himself confronting his exact double.
Instead of jumping back with surprise or fright, he grabbed the double’s coat and flipped him over his shoulder.
“Wax! I was right!” he mused as he spun around and blocked the newcomer’s path.
“It’s over. I know who you serve, and I’m coming for him!” he announced.
The other figure said nothing but glanced around the room. He was a double for Henry Appleby, the jury member who lived in this house. However, the Appleby he fought was Mister Terrific in disguise. The man did differ in that his entire form was made of sculpted wax. Even the garments he wore were only mimicking cloth but were, in fact, colored wax shaped like clothing.
Mister Terrific tossed a pellet on the figure, and it melted into a waxy puddle. “That’s how he did it. He sent these wax doubles to each home. Neighbors saw only what appeared to be the normal owners enter in the night. The wax golems confronted their doubles, stabbed them with any knife at hand, and then built a fire and literally melted themselves within it. Their pliable bodies could easily fit in a fireplace or even, with effort, a wood stove! That’s why only a waxy residue was found. Of course, they locked the doors before melting themselves!
“Now, with the others safe and the theory I formed proven correct,” continued Terrific, “I’d best pay a visit to Hourman’s old foe, the evil Doctor Slight!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Hour-Man, Adventure Comics #56 (November, 1940).]
Mister Terrific slipped inside an old warehouse and climbed down from the skylight. He disturbed nothing except a layer of dust as he made his way down with agility and speed.
This deed tracing was rather easy, he mused. Old Doctor Slight must not be too worried about being found. Noticing huge vats of wax and other containers of a white plaster, he thought, He’s up to his old game, all right! Making golems of plaster or wax for robbery was his style back when Rex Tyler shut down his crime carny, and now he’s using a modification to pay back the jurors who sent him away so long ago!
Rolling some pellets across the floor, he waited for a few moments. Finally, he said aloud, “Come out, Doctor Slight! I know you are here.”
A man with heavy layers of white hair and a broad, arrogant face stepped out from the shadows. “Mister Terrific! I had heard you were snooping around, but little did I suspect you’d connect me to the executions!”
Terrific noticed looming figures emerging from all sides. “You need not send these golems against me. I have prepared for their involvement,” he said calmly.
“You can die as easy as any other man, I’ll wager!” cried Doctor Slight as a mad light gleamed in his deep-set eyes.
Mister Terrific flipped over the head of the nearest goon and watched in satisfaction as their heavy tread broke the chemical pellets he had prepared. The dissolving gas then broke down the chemical structure of the creatures, and they melted as he closed in on their maker.
“You’ll regret this!” cried Slight as he saw his inhuman army crumble into waxy remnants. The old man rushed directly forward, but not for Mister Terrific. Instead, he flung himself onto the nearest unbroken pellet. As he went up in a rush of chemical decay, Terrific heard him laugh.
“You never guessed that I, too, was now a being of wax!” he laughed. “You win this one, but I’ll never serve any jail time. Death is my escape!”
Mister Terrific left quickly as one madman’s brilliant work turned into nothing more substantial than common wax.
The madman! mused the champion of fair play. He ended his unholy life rather than serve time. I guess his hatred was so great that he could not stand the idea of life in defeat! At least now I can clear the names of the murdered men, and the Daniels family may claim their insurance.