The cab driver reached up and adjusted his rearview mirror so he could see his passenger’s face. Keeping his cigar clamped tightly in his teeth, he spoke with a gruff voice. “Hope you don’t mind me askin’, but you sure you want to go to this address?” He held up the small slip of paper that his fare had given him upon entering his cab at the airport.
“Is there a problem?” the gentleman in the back seat asked.
“Not really. It’s just that this part of town is pretty much deserted.”
“Pretty much, but not completely. Actually, I’m meeting a colleague.”
The cabbie furrowed his brow.
His passenger wasn’t sure if it was because he was thinking, or if he was trying to figure out what a “colleague” was. He finally turned his head and glanced out the window.
After a couple of seconds of silence, the cabbie spoke, his voice a low whisper. “I ain’t doin’ nothin’ illegal, am I?”
The man in the back seat laughed. “Oh, heavens, no. My colleague is a fellow scientist who does research around here. Her work requires her to be near the river.”
The cab driver let out a sigh, and his shoulders sagged slightly in what the passenger guessed was disappointment.
“Well, Professor, we’re here,” the cab driver informed his fare as he rolled to a stop in front of a warehouse. “That’ll be $15.28.”
The back door opened, and the gentleman got out. He pulled a twenty from his pocket and started to hand it to the driver. “Hey, wait a minute. How did you know I was a professor?”
“You said your colleague was a fellow scientist, yet you are dressed too neat to spend all of your time in a lab somewhere. I figured that meant that you were still in the scientific field, somehow. Since your voice is clear and strong, I figured that you were used to speaking. That only leaves a lecturer or a college professor, and since, like I said, you mentioned a colleague, I guessed you to be a professor.”
The professor handed him the twenty. “I think you are in the wrong business, my friend.”
The cabbie shook his head. “Nah, I’m right where I need to be.”
The professor stood and watched the cab drive off before walking to the door. He was laughing to himself when he tapped a button mounted on the wall. A few moments later, the door opened, and the professor was led inside by an attractive, brown-haired girl.
Less than a minute after the door closed, the cab pulled back up in front of the warehouse. The driver opened his door and climbed out.
“I am definitely where I need to be.”
While Kelli Lockhart was showing her guests around the laboratory, a bell sounded overhead. “Excuse me a moment.”
As she walked away, T.J. Dalton lightly elbowed his companion. “How’s that, Doc? We’ve got a secret hideout with a doorbell.”
Doctor Occult grinned but said nothing.
Kelli returned a couple of minutes later, followed by a gentleman who seemed to be around the same age as Richard. As she approached, Kelli began to make introductions. “T.J., Richard, this is Professor Richard…”
“Raleigh,” Doctor Occult said as he extended his hand. “Son, you look a lot like your father.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“So,” T.J. said as he shook hands with the newcomer, “have you come to join our little legacy team?”
“Not quite,” Professor Raleigh said, smiling.
Naturally curious, T.J. asked, “Don’t you have a legacy that you want to carry on?”
“I’ve been down that road before,” the professor said, “with a less than desirable outcome. I never knew my father, since I was born a few months after his death, but my mother told me all about him, his secret identity, and all the adventures he’d had. I grew up thinking that I should take my father’s place. But many years ago now, I learned the hard way that I could do his memory just as proud by being my own man and not his replacement. (*) Besides, I have it on good authority that the Red Bee didn’t need my help in gaining respect.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See World’s Best: Superman and Batman: Times Past, 1959: ‘Tis the Season for Death.]
T.J. nodded. “I remember hearing about him. He died during World War II; sacrificed himself to help save some of his fellow heroes on that other Earth.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “That Earths May Live,” All-Star Squadron #35 (July, 1984).]
Professor Raleigh smiled. “Your last name’s Dalton, right?”
“You’re related to Tom, right?” the professor asked.
“Excuse me for saying so, but I didn’t think Tom was married,” Professor Raleigh said.
“He wasn’t. My mother was his niece.”
A puzzled look appeared on the professor’s face.
T.J. smiled and continued. “Mom married young. My father turned out to be a drunk and a loser. It was the typical situation; he beat her when he was drunk and tried to pretend everything was all right when he was sober. I was still a baby when he died. Mom decided that I wasn’t going to have the last name of a drunk, so she retook her maiden name and had my last name changed as well.”
“So, why are you here?” Doctor Occult politely interrupted.
“I invited him,” Kelli said.
“Kelli and I met a couple years ago when she was working on a project at Metropolis University. I mentioned to her that, according to the stories my mother told me, my father had once met a gentleman by the name of Lockhart, and we began to compare notes. We soon found out that my father and her grandfather had met and teamed up for a case in the summer of 1941. It was a mere coincidence that Uncle Sam happened to choose each of them for two different groups of Freedom Fighters.”
“Right,” Kelli said, continuing the story, “and when Doctor Occult contacted me, I thought the son of the Red Bee might be interested.”
“I appreciate the offer, but like I said, I’ve been down that road before.”
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but why are you here, then?” T.J. asked.
“I wanted to bring you this.” Professor Raleigh reached into the pocket of his overcoat and pulled out what appeared to be a gun of some kind. He handed it to Occult.
“Your father’s stinger gun.”
“He didn’t use it very often, but when he did,” the Professor laughed, “the bad guys sure remembered it.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to hang onto this?” Doctor Occult asked.
“I’m positive. You’re looking for legacies; use this to carry on Dad’s. Besides, I can’t look at it without wondering — if he’d had this with him on his last case, would he still be alive?”
Doctor Occult handed the weapon to T.J., who accepted it as though he had just been asked to hold a baby. “I’ll take care of it. I promise.”
Professor Raleigh smiled. “I’m sure you will.”
While Doctor Occult and Professor Raleigh let their conversation drift back to the good old days and remembrances of the Red Bee, Kelli motioned for T.J. to follow her to one of the worktables. He did so without having to be asked twice.
“Let me see the gun,” she said as she held her hand out.
“Why?” he asked as he handed it to her.
“If you intend to use it, and expect me to keep it in proper working order, then I need to know what it does.”
T.J. shrugged. “Makes sense to me.”
“Amazing,” she said as she turned it over and over in her hands. “Did you ever stop to consider the level of genius the early mystery-men exhibited? I mean, the novel methods of miniaturization alone involved for mechanical devices in a pre-computer chip, pre-transistor age is phenomenal.”
“Well, now that you mention it… no.”
Kelli shot him a you’re an idiot and not even a funny one look.
“Sorry,” T.J. muttered as he put his head down. He never saw the quick smile play across Kelli’s face.
Without warning, a buzzer sounded, causing everyone to jump in surprise. Kelli handed the stinger gun back to T.J. and ran to a monitor. “We’ve got an intruder.”
“I’ll say you do.”
Professor Raleigh let his mouth drop open. It was the voice of the cab driver.
“I promise you I don’t mean any harm,” the cabbie said as he stepped out from behind the submarine. “I need your help.”
“Who are you?” Doctor Occult asked as he stepped forward.
“That’s the cab driver who dropped me off here,” the professor said.
Slowly, the intruder reached up and grabbed a piece of flesh behind his left ear. As he began to tug, the onlookers were amazed to see his face begin to peel away.
“It’s a mask,” T.J. said, stating the obvious.
Once the mask was removed, T.J. again stated the obvious. “It’s a woman.”
Doctor Occult felt a tug on his memory. The face looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. “I… don’t I know you?”
“In the good old days, I was called the Witch.”
“Of course!” Occult exclaimed. “You were a frequent adversary of the King.”
“Yes, but we got past that. We’ve been married for almost thirty-seven years.”
Although it wasn’t unheard of for a hero to marry his adversary, Doctor Occult was still caught off-guard. “Uh, congratulations.”
“Excuse me,” T.J. said. “I don’t want to sound rude, but why are you here?”
“I need your help.”
“How can we help you?” Occult asked.
“My husband has disappeared.”
“Shouldn’t you go to the police?” T.J. asked. “I mean, finding missing persons is part of their job.”
The Witch looked at the young man. “The police would need to see a picture of King, and that was one thing my husband was adamant about; he was never to be photographed. He felt that if a photograph was ever taken, and it fell into the hands of one of his enemies, they might figure out his real identity.”
“Makes sense to me,” Kelli spoke up before T.J. could say anything else.
Suddenly, Doctor Occult’s eyes widened. As his dream replayed itself vividly in his mind, everything became clear. He heard T.J. speaking.
“I still don’t understand why you came to us. Why not one of the more established groups?”
“Because,” Doctor Occult spoke up, “this mission the reason we are here.”
In all of his years as a costumed adventurer, the man known only to the world as the King had never felt a pain like that which now racked his body. The bones in his arms and legs stretched and lengthened, while those in his hands, feet, and chest began to reshape themselves altogether. The cartilage in his face began to reshape as well, painfully reproducing along the bridge of his nose and lengthening into the muzzle of a great canine. Muscles kept firm from years of exercise began to expand as well, stretching and tightening wrinkled flesh.
For one brief moment, King had full control of his own mind. And he hated it. With each change, there was always that instant when he was forced to realize what he did in the dark of the night. If his tears would come, he would weep for the innocent lives he had taken.
He had also discovered something else. At this moment, which he dreaded so fiercely, he could feel the supernatural energy surging through his body. Tonight, he was ready for this moment. He had suppressed his anxieties over the deeds he had done, and focused on the power. From his time as an adventurer, he had known individuals who could sense things from the realm of the unexplained, and tonight, he was going to attempt to contact one of those heroes.
King began to feel his skin begin to tingle and knew that the coarse, silver-gray fur was beginning to grow and cover his body, completing his transformation into a werewolf. At the precise moment his mind began to be overcome by the mind of the hunter, his mind screamed out, “I am King!”
His final thought was one of hope. Maybe, just maybe, someone heard his call.
Detective Brian Walker of the Charleston Police Department glanced at his calendar. Two more days, and he could leave the boredom of the desk behind him and get back out on the street where he belonged. It had been a little over three weeks since the shootout that had sent a bullet flying close enough to crease his temple.
He would have been back on the street the following day, but the doctors weren’t certain everything was all right. They wanted him to stay away from the streets for two months, but he wouldn’t hear of it. In the end, they had reached a compromise; he’d ride a desk for one month and then submit to an examination. If the exam showed nothing wrong, then he was away from the desk; if something did show up, then he’d do whatever they told him, no argument. With a sigh, they agreed.
The detective looked at his calendar again. Two more days, and then I’m free.
“Hey, Detective,” Brian heard the desk sergeant call.
“We’re sending out for something to eat. You want anything?”
Brian thought for a moment. “No, Pete, I’m fine. I could go for another cup of coffee,” he said as he stood up.
The detective took three steps before he collapsed to his knees. With his hands on the sides of his head, Brian loosed a scream that drew the attention of everyone in the room.
Within seconds, Pete was at his side along with another officer.
“Detective Walker. Brian.” Pete called his name a couple more times.
“Hey, Sergeant,” the other officer asked as they got Brian into a chair, “what’s he saying?”
Pete put his head down next to Brian’s mouth. After a moment, he looked up at those who had gathered around to see what was wrong. He shook his head as a tear began to form in the corner of his eye. “He’s snapped.”
“But what’s he saying?”
“He just keeps repeating over and over ‘I am king, I am king.'”
Detective Brian Walker awoke two days later in a dark hospital room. It took him a few minutes for it to sink in where he was. Still woozy, he hit the button on his bed to summon a nurse. When she appeared, two men in white coats accompanied the nurse. Brian recognized the men immediately.
“Well, boys,” he said, trying to manage a smile, “I guess you were right.”
The doctors looked at each other. Finally, one of them spoke. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Brian asked.
“We ran some tests,” the other doctor said. “Everything came back negative.”
Brian was puzzled. “If I’m all right, then what happened?”
“Well,” said the first doctor, “we’re not really certain what happened.”
“Perhaps I can help,” came a voice from the door.
As the doctors and nurse turned, a rather tall, well-built man in his middle years entered. The stranger was distinguished looking, despite his attire; a double-breasted brown suit, a brown overcoat, and a white fedora, just like he stepped out of an old Clark Gable movie.
“Permit me to introduce myself.” He smiled. “I am Dr. Richard Occult, and I think I can be of some help.”