Night in Gotham City was an evocative time in which the neon glow of large, rooftop advertising props illuminated much of the city below, while other sections remained shrouded in shadows and darkness.
For the present-day Dynamic Duo who haunted those same streets, the entire atmosphere of their home was one that combined the thrill of adventure with the security of the familiar. Still, Gotham City by night offered fuel for the imaginative flights of fancy of those so inclined. Red Robin had developed his own sense of the city in which he had lived for decades. He was a detective with an eye for detail. However, he still retained the creative sense of the absurd that had so characterized him during his youth as a “laughing daredevil” by the side of the legendary Batman. His own youthful partner Batwing knew the streets well from his own time as a street kid. He had added considerable awareness of the nuances of Gotham City’s nocturnal life since the former Robin had taken him in as his ward.
Batwing smiled slightly as the pair gazed out over the city from the rooftop of the Acme Typewriter Company. A huge working model of a typewriter loomed behind them like a relic from Gotham City’s colorful past. “I’d like to see some of my teachers try to grade a paper from that Kong-sized machine!” he said.
Red Robin nodded. “Personally, I’d hate to imagine the kind of paper cut you’d get from it.” Their banter had become second nature to them by now, and it was many one aspect of their tight partnership. They understood one another and could give or take instruction from the other’s slightest gesture or look. Red Robin was proud of their teamwork, and he viewed the success of it to the very same source from which he attributed most of his own success: Batman’s example. He had learned how to be a mentor and a partner from the man whose life had guided him in every way.
It had been a very quiet night. They had stopped a mugging. They had helped the police catch a gang of robbers. It was slow, and they rather enjoyed the change of pace from their normal nights of peril and the bizarre. However, the city being Gotham, such a change in routine could not possibly last.
A scream echoed through the night then, and the pair of heroes swung into immediate action. They dropped down via silken ropes to the scene of the odd cries in the night. An ornate gate and fence confronted them, but they cleared both with acrobatic ease.
“Trouble in the Gotham City Zoo!” said Red Robin. “In former days I’d have associated that with the Catwoman or the Penguin.”
“Yeah, but remember — these days we’ve got the Queen of Cats and the Penguin’s son!” said Batwing.
Red Robin agreed readily as they tracked down the source of the screams. Their night-vision contacts allowed them to see a lurid scene all too clearly. A lion crouched above a wounded man. Red Robin issued rapid commands to his partner. “I’ll tame the cat! You tend to the man!”
The caped crusader reached into his utility belt and swiftly removed an extending line with which he snared the jungle cat and quickly looped the other end to the iron bars of a cage. A toss of a pellet resulted in the lion’s effective sedation.
Meanwhile, Batwing had gently eased the fallen man to a safe distance from the scene of carnage. The young hero had received a capable knowledge of medicine from his mentor, and he saw to his sorrow that the victim had been severely mauled. There was little hope for his survival. The wounds were simply too bad. Batwing called an ambulance as Red Robin secured the sleeping lion. In his youth, or perhaps on less grim an occasion, Dick Grayson might have made reference to the old song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but when faced with death like this, he remained silent and thoughtful.
“Help is on the way, but I don’t think it looks good,” said Batwing. “The poor guy received severe injuries. I guess the lion just escaped, and he was unable to handle it alone.”
Red Robin shook his head as he examined the still body and glanced around at the neighboring cages. “No. The lion was deliberately freed, and this is murder. The victim is Dave Archer, the animal trainer and media personality. His wildlife specials were popular. He was very capable under normal conditions. He ran this zoo for years without incident. Do you notice anything about his condition other than the wounds?”
Batwing frowned and said, “He’s drunk! I can smell it on him! No wonder he was helpless against the lion. You’d think a guy like ‘Daring Dave’ Archer would know not to drink around the animals.”
“He did not drink,” Red Robin said, shaking his head. “He was a rigid advocate of sobriety of all kinds. Somebody drugged him or spiked some harmless drink. Someone tricked him and calculatedly set him up for an accident. The lion cage was opened by Archer’s own key. His killer took it after planting the alcohol in his drink. I can tell, because there are no signs of a forced lock on the cage.”
“I feel like Watson,” said Batwing. “It all seems so obvious when you explain it. Still, couldn’t the guy have slipped off the wagon, so to speak? Maybe he was a closet drinker or doper.”
Red Robin shook his head grimly. “No. Beneath the cloud of alcohol on his breath and shirt, his whole body reeks of something more incriminating. Some type of raw meat has been smeared across his shirt. He was practically served on a platter to the lion.”
“This is pretty strange,” said Batwing. “So, who hated Dave Archer that much?”
“We’ll find out,” Red Robin vowed. “I can see that it was someone with a warped mind. That may mean we’ll hear from him again all too soon.”
That night Batwing munched on a cookie as he sat in front of a computer screen in the Batcave. Alfred Beagle stood nearby and smiled approvingly. “Master Jason, you are a wizard with that device. Are you having any luck?” he asked.
Jason Todd looked up at the butler and shrugged. “I don’t know if it’s good luck or bad. It looks like Archer was serious about sobriety. Dick was right as usual. He led a pretty clean life, except for one scandal that was hushed up a few years after his TV deal began. Dave Archer was accused of being cruel to the animals in his care. It came from an animal-rights group. They said one of his past employees charged the famous wildlife expert with abusing the animals in his care.”
“My word!” said Alfred. “‘Daring Dave’ was associated with animal protection and conservation! I am surprised to learn that beneath that façade of humanitarianism was a cold-hearted brute. Still, one sees such conduct in those who hunt big game. Before my late father went into the gentleman’s gentleman field, he was an aide to Colonel Montgomery in India. The Colonel was a distinguished man, yet he had a fierce temper and was intolerant to the natives and cruel to animals.”
“I wonder if some animal-rights advocate decided that he could no longer stand Dave’s hypocrisy,” suggested Jason.
Dick Grayson entered from above and said, “That is very possible, and I’d suggest we follow up that lead, except for one thing. The police are flashing the Bat-Signal. We’re needed again! Our quiet night has turned into a crazy morning.”
They raced out into the early morning light in their high-tech Red Racer and soon reached Gotham City Police Headquarters, where the Commissioner of Police, Clancy O’Hara, wiped a cloth over his bald head and sighed.
“I’m mighty glad to be seeing you two,” explained the rugged old cop. “I hate to bother you, but we’ve had a very odd murder. One of the men on the beat was called into a posh townhouse on the East Side when he made his rounds. A maid had found a body. Her employer, Bert Rogers, was found dead in his own study.”
“Rogers was a film critic,” noted Red Robin. “He hosted a TV show in which he reviewed new films.”
“Yeah!” said Batwing. “He hosted a show called Thumbs Up Theater. He’d give a flick his approval by saying thumbs up. He’d give a thumbs down if he hated a movie. I can’t say I agreed with some of his reviews.”
“Aye, laddie!” said O’Hara. “Someone must have disagreed enough to kill him. His throat was sliced as neat as a ribbon!”
“There’s something more to the case, isn’t there?” asked Red Robin.
O’Hara looked at the hero he had known for decades and nodded. “You know me too well, Robin. The poor man’s thumbs had also been sliced off!”
Red Robin followed the old commissioner down to the morgue and examined the body. The corpse had been mutilated exactly as O’Hara had described it. Red Robin turned to Batwing and said, “I think we’ve seen enough. Thanks for calling us in, sir. We’ll try to bring this killer in before he claims a third victim.”
“Third victim?” said Batwing. “You mean Archer died? I assume his attacker is the one you think is behind the murder and mutilation of Rogers.”
Red Robin nodded. “Yes. One of the officers told me that Archer died from the wounds he had received. It happened shortly after he arrived at the hospital. I admit that I have no pattern beyond a vague idea, but I think the two crimes were committed by the same person.”
“I agree,” said O’Hara. “Call it nothing more than a cop’s instinct, but I feel like the same devil is behind both acts. Still, what links the two victims?”
“Batwing has been checking into Archer’s life,” said Red Robin. “He had a theory regarding animal-rights activists, but this changes the picture. An urbane man about town like Rogers didn’t even own a dog. They are linked by some business or personal tie, or they were killed because, in the mind of the killer, they fit some twisted pattern only he can envision.”
O’Hara shrugged wearily. “Right you are, son. That’s how I see it. We’re facing another Joker or Scarecrow — a maniac with a vision only he fully understands!”
“We’ll be on our way,” said Red Robin. “We have plenty of work to do.”
They departed, and Commissioner O’Hara gazed down the hall for a moment. “Praise be that Gotham City has a man like that defending it against the rogues who come along with increasing frequency,” he said. “Batman himself, rest his soul, would be proud.”