It was well after midnight that night when Roy Harper returned to the observatory. But he was not Roy Harper now, for he had donned the garb of the Red Arrow. Surefooted and silent, as his Native American guardian Quoag had taught him to be, he crept past guards and avoided security systems, penetrating into the heart of the film set. He made his way, silent as a shadow, to the trailers that housed the stars of Hoodlum Without a Motive. He intended to search for some clue, some identifying mark left unwittingly behind by the killer.
Just as his hand approached the door of the late Ron Highe’s trailer, he heard a noise, faint, muffled, but unmistakable — the rasp of a steel saw-blade on metal. Quick as a hare, he ran in the direction of the sound. He found himself running toward the crane that lifted the cameraman high above the ground to film from an aerial view. He saw a human figure, in a cloak and slouch hat, sawing through the supporting struts of the crane. He was rigging the crane to plunge the cameraman to the hard pavement below.
Quick as thought, Red Arrow pulled an arrow from his quiver, notched it to his bowstring, drew, and fired. The arrow sped like a hawk to its prey, knocking the saw from the man’s hand with a sharp metallic clang. The man’s head snapped around to stare at Red Arrow, and the hero suppressed a gasp. The face was hideously ugly; it seemed to be a mass of healed-over scars and twisted bone. The skin around one eye was apparently ripped away, making that eye appear larger than the other. The man stared at Red Arrow with undisguised hatred.
Before the startled archer could recover, the man drew a knife from the folds of his cloak and threw it. Red Arrow’s instincts took over, and he dodged the knife. The ugly man bolted, fleeing rapidly through the darkened observatory grounds. Red Arrow gave pursuit, but the man tossed a small, globular object behind him. When it struck the ground at Red Arrow’s feet, it burst into flames; the archer was forced to halt his pursuit. By the time he could put the fire out with a couple of well-placed fire extinguisher arrows, the man was gone.
Red Arrow stood in the darkened movie set for a long time, the hideous face burned into his mind. A name rang through his memory, clear as a bell.
“Clayface?” Nuklon repeated. “Are you sure, Roy?”
“Pretty sure,” Red Arrow said, standing behind his large friend in the Infinity Inc. communications center at Stellar Studios. “He was sabotaging a movie set, and he wore theatrical makeup that made him look uglier than Solomon Grundy with a two-week hangover.”
“Fits the M.O., all right,” Nuklon said. “Let me punch up his file and see what we get.”
Nuklon’s large fingers flew over the computer keyboard faster than Red Arrow’s eyes could follow. He marveled at the manual dexterity of one so large and strong, and quickly chalked that observation up to conditioned stereotypes. As Roy finished this inner contemplation, an image appeared on the computer screen. The screen was split into two pictures, one of Basil Karlo as he normally appeared, and one of Karlo in his Clayface makeup.
“What does C.D. mean?” Red Arrow asked, reading the large red letters beneath Karlo’s name and alias.
“That stands for Classification: Dead,” Nuklon pointed out. “If Karlo was your saboteur last night, he’s taken a page from Jim Corrigan’s book.”
“What? Dead? Are you sure, Al?” Red Arrow demanded.
“Certainly. Says here he died in his cell in Arkham on October 31st, 1968.” Al chuckled a little. “Halloween. How fitting for the king of the old-time horror movies. I can punch up a copy of his death certificate, if you like.”
“No, that’s OK,” Roy said. “Dead, huh? I guess that eliminates him as a suspect.”
“He’d be over ninety by now, even if he hadn’t died,” Nuklon pointed out. “But, you know, it wouldn’t be the first time someone new had adopted an old villain’s style.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Roy said with new enthusiasm. “Someone who wants the remake of Hoodlum stopped!”
“And you’d like me to find out who that someone might be?” Nuklon anticipated.
“I’ll owe you, buddy,” Red Arrow said, smiling.
“Thanks for having dinner with me, Roy,” said Maggie O’Toole as they sat in their booth in the small Italian restaurant. “I’m having a wonderful time.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Roy said. “Ron Highe’s death was all over the TV and newspapers today. This may be the last chance I have to have you all to myself, before you’re besieged by reporters.”
Maggie blinked. “Reporters? Why would they want to talk to me?”
“You were on the set when the body was found,” Roy pointed out. “You may have been one of the last ones to see him alive.”
“God, I hadn’t thought of that!” Maggie shuddered. “The whole thing frightens me. I mean, Ron was kind of stuck on himself, was a bit snappish on the set, but who’d want to kill him?”
“Maybe someone doesn’t like the idea of Hoodlum being remade,” Roy suggested.
“Huh! That would mean about three-fourths of the old movie buffs in the world are suspects!” Maggie said. “A lot of them consider it defacing a classic, like that awful remake of King Kong DeLaurentis did.”
“What about the people working on the movie?” Roy asked. “Any of them express any distaste for it?”
Maggie narrowed her eyes to stare at Roy. “You sure you’re not a cop?”
“Maggie, I promise you I’m not,” Roy said. “But, I do have some… friends in law enforcement. They did ask me to fish around, see what I could find out.”
“Well, they probably already know about the Clayface theory,” Maggie said.
“Clayface?” Roy asked, feigning ignorance. “Wasn’t he an old-time costumed villain? Let me see, he used to fight… the Sandman?”
“The Batman,” Maggie corrected. “Anyway, it seems Speedy was prowling around the set last night, and caught someone he thinks is Clayface in the act!”
“Red Arrow,” Roy blurted.
“What?” Maggie asked.
“Uh, I think he calls himself Red Arrow these days,” Roy said.
“Whatever,” Maggie said dismissively. “Anyway, he told the police what he’d seen. They said the original Clayface is long dead; they think it’s someone copying his old methods. But who?”
“Who, indeed?” Roy wondered aloud.
“So,” Maggie said, spearing a piece of ziti with her fork, “your cop friends asked you to find out what you could about the case, huh?”
“Something like that, yes,” Roy said, concentrating on his plate of stuffed shells. He didn’t like lying to Maggie; he liked her a lot and wanted to trust her. But duplicity went with the super-hero business like the funny name and the outré clothes closet.
“Well, then, Nick, could you use a Nora?” Maggie asked.
Roy looked up in surprise. “You want to help?” he asked.
“Sure. I could ask some questions,” Maggie said. “The people on the set just met you; might not be as likely to open up to you. Except for Gene — he’d open up to anyone who’d listen, especially anyone who remembers him for anything other than Mr. Powell the billionaire!”
“Sounds like a plan,” Roy said thoughtfully. “Why don’t you see what you can get out of Carlinger, and I’ll pump Gene for information. My friends are trying to find out who might have a reason for wanting the movie stopped.”
“It’d have to be a really big reason, to stab someone to death for it,” Maggie said a little coldly. The fear that had been in her voice whenever she mentioned the murder was gone, replaced by icy anger.
“I don’t think you understand,” Carlinger was shouting into the phone. “You do realize that, when someone is stabbed seventeen times in the chest and stomach, they generally die? And that means they can’t act in any more scenes? Oh, that’s very funny, Mr. Crump, but in very poor taste, don’t you think? Look, not even today’s moviegoing audience is going to believe that Ron Highe suddenly morphed into Chuckie Gleem midway through the movie! Not even Ed Wood would have pulled something like that! If Gleem is going to take over the role, we have to reshoot all the previous scenes with him! And that will take more money! What? I know, I know. Look, I’ll call you back. Goodbye.” Carlinger slammed the phone down in disgust. He looked up to see Maggie O’Toole standing patiently by, waiting for him to end his phone call.
“Lord save me from financiers who think they know a damned thing about film,” Carlinger spat.
“That was Darwin Crump?” Maggie asked. She knew the famous real-estate tycoon was financing the movie. The original had been a childhood favorite of his.
“None other,” Carlinger said. “Doesn’t want to spend any money reshooting Ron’s scenes with the new star. Wants to just pretend Ron suddenly turned into Chuckie Gleem. God, Maggie, if it weren’t for my contract, I’d sooner dig a hole to the center of the earth with my tongue than direct this piece of garbage!”
“Your contract?” Maggie asked.
“Yes, yes,” Carlinger said, waving his hand dismissively. “I had an offer from Third Millennium Studios to direct an adaptation of a Steinbeck novel. Steinbeck, do you hear? But this Roman galley masquerading as a film studio wouldn’t let me out of my contract to do it. Said I owe them one more film.” Carlinger spat on the ground. “That for contracts, and the gray men who write them!”
“That’s too bad,” Maggie said, watching the display with wide-eyed awe.
“Mr. Frontis, do you have a minute?” Roy asked, approaching the aging actor as he relaxed in a folding chair, reading a script. The old man looked up and smiled brightly.
“Roy, my boy!” he said warmly. “You’re as bad as Maggie! I’ve told you, it’s Gene! Come, sit. What can an old man do for you?”
“I just wanted to talk,” Roy said, sitting down in a chair next to Frontis. “It’s not often I get to meet a real movie star; I don’t have the contacts that Maggie does.”
“Oh, you’re too kind, my boy,” Frontis said, smiling. “I’m afraid I can’t legitimately call myself a movie star anymore, if I ever could. The best I ever did was second banana in pictures like Man of a Million Masks and Hoodlum.”
“But those were classics,” Roy said. “All the more so because of your performance. Without you to interact with, where would Jack Masters have been?”
Frontis smiled. “Thank you, Roy. I know that’s hogwash, but I appreciate it all the same.”
“Isn’t it tragic about Ron Highe, though?” Roy asked. “You have to wonder about the mind that could do something like that.”
“Not so much,” Frontis said. “It’s a mind that accepts death, that’s all. We all die, you know. Life has a hundred percent mortality rate.” Frontis sighed. “Some of us even know when.”
Roy’s eyes widened. “You mean, you’re… sick?”
“‘Sick’ is a polite word for it, my boy,” Frontis said. “Plain and simple, I’m dying. The doctors give me another year, tops.”
“I’m so sorry,” Roy said, and meant it.
“Well, it’s been a good life,” Frontis said. “I don’t have any real regrets. The thing is, I wanted to go out on a high note, make one last picture before the end. But nobody would give me a part. All the producers and directors I went to, kids not much older than yourself, said in their best Mulligan voice, ‘Gee, Mr. Powell, you can’t play this part.’ Devil take them. Crump and Carlinger gave me this advisor’s job as a charity, really. But they meant well.”
“I’m sure they did,” Roy said, pensively.
“Roy? It’s Al,” the big man’s voice came over the wireless telephone.
“Hi, Al,” Roy said. “I’ve got a couple of leads you can try running down. It seems John Carlinger, the director, was forced to pass up a movie he’d much rather have done to work on Hoodlum; he could be doing it for revenge. And I’m sad to say Gene Frontis could be a suspect, too. He’s dying, and he wanted to make one last movie, but nobody would give him a part; all he could get was the consultant’s job on Hoodlum.”
“I’m afraid I’ve got a third suspect for you, Roy,” said Al Rothstein, alias Nuklon. “Darwin Crump, the real estate tycoon. You knew he was bankrolling the movie, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did,” Roy said. “But where’s his angle?”
“You’ve heard about his recent financial troubles? Tax audit, wife suing him for divorce?”
“Turns out he had the production of Hoodlum insured for a tidy sum. Probably more than he could ever make in profits if the movie were made.”
“But he couldn’t have done it,” Roy protested. “Isn’t he in New York?”
“Nuh-uh. He’s in L.A. this week, closing a development deal.”
“Oh, great,” Roy groaned. “This is turning into a Fredric Brown novel. Too many suspects, and it’s bound to be the one we least expect.”
“Fredric who?” Al asked.
“Skip it,” Roy sighed, realizing that he had dated himself again.