Back at the Batcave, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd sat across from a table elegantly set with breakfast foods while Alfred Beagle served their meal. “You both could use some sleep,” the English butler said. “You’ll do yourselves harm by going on so without a bit of rest.”
“We’ll both catch up some sleep after the meal,” said Dick. “I intend for us to be ready for patrol tonight. I think our killer may strike again. We have to be ready. I ran a check for known associates or financial interests for both Rogers the critic and Archer the trainer. They don’t seem to have anything in common. I can’t say for certain that they even knew each other. Still, there’s a pattern there somewhere.”
“Could the key be how they were killed?” suggested Jason. “A guy who is rumored to mistreat animals dies by becoming a meal to go for a loose lion. A man who used his thumbs as a means of rating the films he reviewed has both of them cut off.”
“Sure,” said Dick. “The meaning is obvious. Both murders had an irony about them.”
“Sir, how can one possibly anticipate what form of ironic death will strike a particular person out of a city this large?” said Alfred.
“We can’t,” said Jason. “All we can do is work with the two known victims. We can try to find some link between them.”
Dick shook his head. “With the criminal minds we deal with, the problem is that they may in fact have nothing at all in common except in the mind of the maniac who sees life in a twisted manner.”
The meal was concluded in a grim silence.
That night, the Dynamic Duo stood over a city pier near Gotham River. The police had retrieved a body from the dark waters. The officer in charge looked to Red Robin for guidance.
“He was murdered,” said the officer. “See the heavy case chained to his leg? It pulled him to the bottom. He’s a singer, Johnny Arness.”
“Johnny Arness?!” exclaimed Batwing. “He’s the leader of the neo-punk group, Pinhead. He’s known as Johnny Airhead.”
“‘Airhead’?” said Red Robin incredulously. “Ah, but of course, the big band leaders of my youth had some odd nicknames, too.” He examined the case chained to the dead man’s leg. It was loaded with bricks, but it showed no other distinctive feature.
“That’s an odd suitcase,” said the cop.
“It’s not a suitcase, it’s a writing case,” said Red Robin. “It is used, or was used, for carrying paper, pencils, et cetera. It is an antique. You don’t see them anymore. They’ve gone the way of the dinosaur, you might say.”
“Johnny Airhead was not the kind of guy who was into antiques or writing!” said Batwing.
“Johnny Head in Air walks in the river with a writing case!” said Red Robin.
Batwing smiled. “You’ve got it figured out?”
“I do believe a pattern is forming,” said Red Robin. “Have you ever heard of Heinrich Hoffman? Our killer certainly has. You mind going solo for the rest of the patrol? I want to get back to the cave and do some checking.”
Batwing nodded. “No sweat! I know when you get that look in your eyes that ‘the game is afoot’!”
Hours later, Batwing returned to the hidden lab beneath Wayne Manor, and Red Robin explained, “Hoffman was a German author who published a book in 1844 called Struwwelpeter. The title is roughly translated as Shockhead Peter. The title character was a youth with wildly disheveled hair. He was a self-appointed nemesis to those who committed bad actions. The idea of the book was to show cautionary examples of what could happen to kids who had bad habits. The whole thing was so morbid and bloody that it received more notoriety than it did acclaim. In the book, a child who abused animals ended up being eaten by one. That’s roughly what happened to Archer. Another daydreaming, irresponsible kid named Johnny Head in Air walks into a river, and his writing case pulls him to the bottom. That’s what happened to your musical Johnny ‘Airhead’ Arness.”
Batwing snapped his fingers. “And Rogers lost his thumbs like some other character in the book?”
Red Robin nodded. “Exactly. In the book, a tailor lost his thumbs. I guess in our modern age, Rogers the critic with his thumb ratings was a close enough approximation.”
“So, someone is killing people who fit the examples found in Hoffman’s weird book,” said Batwing. “I guess there really is nothing else to link the victims. They just had the bad luck to have those traits or that kind of name in Johnny’s case.”
Red Robin frowned. “That’s what one would assume.”
“However, you think there is a link?” asked Batwing.
“Yes,” said Red Robin. “I did some research while you were finishing the routine patrol. Shockhead Peter was turned into a play by a writer named Rich Daniels. He sought backing from several important groups. Archer, Arness, Rogers, and four other people were among those initially considering backing him. They changed their mind when he failed to deliver a working final act. I learned that from talking to Archer’s lawyer, Barry Gray.”
Batwing whistled. “So, they were connected after all, but only by their intent to finance the play. Since it fell through, nothing came of it!”
“Right. Gray said he didn’t even know about Archer’s involvement until going through the dead man’s papers after he passed away. Archer didn’t tell Gray, because Gray frowned on investing in the arts.”
“A real Republican, huh?” said Batwing.
“Very droll,” said Red Robin. “Nevertheless, we need to protect the other backers and find Rich Daniels.”
“Yeah, Daniels must be killing them in revenge for not financing his Shockhead Peter play!” said Batwing.
“I told O’Hara, and his men are rushing to find those four other investors,” said Red Robin.
They drove off into the night and soon reached a large house outside of the city. “Gotham Heights — money, money, and more money,” said Batwing. “I thought Rich Daniels was a poor writer who needed backing? If he had this kind of cash, why did he seek help from Archer and the rest?”
“This isn’t Rich’s home,” said Red Robin. “It is the house of the lawyer, Barry Grey.”
Batwing frowned. “Huh? What do you mean? Why are we here? Do you want more data?”
“No,” said Red Robin. “I think I know all I need to about this case.”
They moved toward the manor and slipped silently up to a window. They quickly disarmed the security system and entered through a window. Red Robin pointed ahead, and Batwing saw three figures below them on the first floor.
One was a woman with bright red hair. The second was a timid man with glasses and a beard. The final figure wore a garish costume of black and gold. It was created to look like a series of rags bound together like a mismatched scarecrow’s costume. Still, the oddest feature of the costume was the wild mane of blond hair that rose from his head in a manic peak.
“Shockhead Peter, or should I say, Rich Daniels!” said Batwing as he jumped forward.
“Not quite,” said Red Robin. “Daniels is the bearded man. He’s also the victim of a cruel scheme.”
“Thank heavens!” the bearded writer cried. “They lured me here. Gray the lawyer said he’d back my play. When I got here he was wearing that costume, and my wife was with him!”
The woman scowled. “There is no crime against a couple having an affair!”
“Right, Mrs. Daniels,” said Red Robin. “There is a moral law, but in any case, you and your lover Gray are wanted for murder. You and Gray killed those poor people in such a way as to make it appear that your husband had snapped and was behind it. You tipped me off about Archer’s involvement and the refusal of the group to back the play so I would assume poor Daniels had a motive and was bringing Shockhead Peter to life to kill those who ‘killed’ his play. In truth, you wanted to frame him so the two of you could be together!”
“I’m a Catholic. I would never have granted Delia a divorce!” said a frightened Rich Daniels.
“You have no proof I’ve done nothing more than dress in this costume and summon Mr. Daniels,” said Barry Gray. “Delia and I wanted to frighten him into granting a divorce. That’s what the costume is for. We figured he might give in after seeing it. He is a bit nervous and high-strung, like most writers!”
Red Robin shook his head. “It won’t work. When you told me about the play and tried to make me think the victims were being killed because they would not back the play, you slipped up and said Rogers had lost his thumbs. We kept that bit of detail to ourselves. The police agreed not to release that fact to anyone. You knew he had lost his thumbs, because you sliced them off as Shockhead Peter. You lured Daniels here to incriminate him more. You wanted to give him the drugs I see on that table. Perhaps you planned to dress him in your costume and leave him where the cops would find him.”
Gray cursed and pulled out a gun, even as Batwing kicked it out of his grasp, and Red Robin connected with a right hook that knocked him flat.
“Mr. Daniels, I’m sorry about this,” said Red Robin. “Your wife and her lover will pay for their crimes. That does nothing to soften your own pain, but it is justice.”
Rich Daniels nodded sadly as the hero summoned the police. “Yes, I suppose it is, at that,” he said.
With those words, another odd scene from Gotham City’s nocturnal life came to a close.