by Dan Swanson
For some reason, Doris Knight had been restless all day, and when her husband Ted Knight headed out to his private observatory that evening, she came along. She knew how to operate all the equipment, and occasionally enjoyed helping Ted make his observations. As they headed out of town on State Road 33, about a mile from the turn off to the observatory, Ted pointed out a beautiful 1936 Cord parked off the road. They shared a quick grin; it was a popular parking spot, and had been so for many years, even before they had started dating. But the Cord was a few cuts above the jalopies that usually used that spot these days.
Shortly after they arrived at the observatory, the road alarm went off. The closed circuit TV monitoring the long driveway showed the same gold Cord.
Vic Valor had installed the alarm and TV for security reasons. Ted had never felt the need, as there was a gravity rod on his desk, disguised as part of an abstract sculpture. He tested it occasionally, but hadn’t used it otherwise for several years. A few of his other gravity rods were similarly located in stately Knight Manor and in the cars he and Doris used most regularly. He wasn’t a practicing super-hero any more, but there was no reason to just throw away weapons as powerful as the gravity rod.
The Cord’s driver turned out to be a woman, who was tall, with long black hair, very athletic looking, and stunning. Well, she wasn’t quite as lovely as Doris, to be honest, but she was definitely a peach. She was wearing a fedora and a dark brown trenchcoat, and she looked quite mysterious. She also carried a large athletic bag.
Although she trusted Ted implicitly, Doris was a little suspicious of a woman coming to visit at his observatory at night. The Vic Valor episode had left her disconcerted and worried; how could she ever know if Valor was really gone? She told Ted to sit down while she answered the door. She used a certain tone of voice, and Ted wisely sat down and waited. If their visitor was disconcerted when a woman opened the door to the observatory, she didn’t show it. Instead, she immediately broke out in a large, very infectious smile. “Good evening, Mrs. Knight! I’m Lily DeLuna, from the Opal City Morning Register. I’m working on a story, and I’d like to talk to Mr. Knight for a few minutes. I know it’s a strange time for an interview, but there’s a strange story behind it all.”
Doris recognized her name. This woman had written several stories about Vic Valor. Did she know anything about the relationship between Ted and Valor? It didn’t seem possible, but Doris had seen stranger things.
Lily continued, “Maybe you’d have a few minutes to talk to me as well? I’ve been really impressed with the Knight Foundation, and I’ve been thinking of writing a story about your work.”
Maybe it was just flattery, but Doris was warming to this lady. She was certainly well-informed, and very poised. “Of course, I’d love to talk to you about the charitable works of the Knight Foundation.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Knight. I look forward to it.” They shook hands. “Is Mr. Knight here this evening?”
Doris led her into Ted’s office, and watched them both closely when she introduced them. She would have bet that Ted had never met Lily before, but from his reaction, she was just as certain that he had somehow recognized her.
“Good evening, Miss DeLuna. I’ve read some of your work. Your series on election fraud in the last mayoral election was a great piece of investigative work, and your explanation of brown dwarf stars in that Vic Valor article was very well-written. But Kerry Roundelay doesn’t believe in them, which certainly colored your article.” Ted disapproved of Dr. Roundelay, whose mind was closed to any theory he hadn’t developed himself.
Lily had a serious look on her face. She hated it when her stories weren’t accurate. “I thought that might be the case, but the other astronomers at his institution agreed with him.”
“That’s because disagreeing with him would get them fired! I haven’t actually observed a brown dwarf yet, Miss DeLuna, but the theory is sound. Anyway, I was impressed with how well you explained the theory, especially given your source.” Ted then changed the subject. “Do you usually drop in on people this late for interviews? Most everyone else in the world is getting ready for bed at this hour!”
So, for the second time that day, Lily told the whole story. Ted paid special attention to the parts in which Lily was using Vic Valor’s bunker as a hideout. It was quite amusing, considering he had built it himself. He had never intended anyone to actually use it.
“That’s a pretty wild story, Miss DeLuna,” said Ted. “But you still haven’t answered the question. I’m guessing you aren’t interested in astronomical theories tonight.”
“Nope, you’re right. In fact, I’m wondering if you can help me learn about this?” She pulled something from the duffel bag and casually tossed it to Ted.
Ted recognized it while it was still in the air and lunged across the desk to catch it before it hit anything. “Hey! If that’s what it looks like, it could be dangerous! Xenon used it to knock down a building!” It actually was Xenon’s scepter. Ted knew quite a bit about it already from the police interview with Woodley Allen the night Xenon was captured, but he had never expected anyone to walk into his office and throw it at him.
Lily shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure it’s inert right now. But be careful with it — I accidentally figured out how to turn it on, and it blasted a big hole in my living room wall!”
Doctor Doog had recovered the power rod and armor that had been used by a villain named Xnon, who fought the Spectre in 1940. Xnon had never been seen again. Funny how that happened to so many of the Spectre’s foes — or not so funny, actually; very frightening, in fact.
While Ted and Doris examined the scepter, Lily told them how she had obtained it, and her experiences trying to make it work. While their attention was occupied, Lily wandered about the room, looking at the books, knickknacks, and trophies on shelves and tables around the office. When she saw the baseball bat autographed by Ted Williams, she startled the Knights by speaking. “Mr. Knight, may I?”
Ted nodded. Lily picked up the bat and dropped into her batting stance. Suddenly, her gray outfit reminded Ted of a baseball uniform, and he realized who she was. “Tedi Villas! I thought you looked familiar! I saw you play a couple of times back in ’45 and ’46.”
She smiled merrily. “Yes, that was me! I was a charter member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and ain’t that a mouthful! Right out of high school, I played four years, from ’43 to ’47. Used a phony identity, of course. But I’ve been ‘retired’ for two years now, and almost nobody recognizes me anymore.” There was some sadness in her voice. Ted understood that; he had been retired as Starman for over three years, and sometimes he missed it greatly.
“Say, Mr. Knight, do you really know Ted Williams?” She said, followed by a complete non sequitur. “Boy, this bat is heavy. It’s almost twice as heavy as my regular bat, and I used one of the heavier bats in the league.”
“I met Ted during the war, when he was in the Marine Corps.” Ted didn’t tell her that, a couple of years before Ted Williams became a naval aviator, Ted Knight had his own short career as a pilot in the Army Air Corps until the War Department released the members of the Justice Society of America from military service in order to form a special battalion. (*) “I wish he played for the Sky Sox! Say, would you do me a favor and autograph that bat, too?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Justice Society Joins the War on Japan,” All-Star Comics #11 (June-July, 1942).]
Lily blushed slightly. “Are you sure, Mr. Knight? I’d feel awkward signing Ted Williams’ bat.”
“It’s not Ted Williams’ bat, it’s my bat! I’d be thrilled to have your signature as well as his. Think of the novelty — lots of people have bats autographed by Ted Williams, but I’m the only one in the world who will have a bat signed by Ted Williams and Tedi Villas!” Lily was embarrassed, but she did sign.
Ted remembered something else. “Weren’t you the Blue Sox team MVP in 1946? And that’s where you got the Cord, too, wasn’t it? I read something about it in some car magazine; your team owner wanted to reward you, but the Blue Sox were short on cash, so he gave you the car. Don’t I remember that it was kind of beat up at the time?”
“You’ve got an impressive memory, Mr. Knight. Mr. Baker bought the car new in ’36 for his sons, and they beat the crap out of that car.” She blushed, but Ted and Doris realized she was still very angry over the way her precious car had been treated. “When the war came around, it was more trouble than it was worth getting gas, so they parked in Mr. Baker’s garage, and never reclaimed it. Mr. Baker knew I liked working on cars, so he thought he could solve a couple of problems — getting rid of that poor wreck, and giving me a bonus that didn’t really cost him anything. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to restore it. And it’s a blast to drive!” Her enthusiasm showed in her voice. Ted knew just how she felt; when he had time, he enjoyed working on cars, too.
Now Lily looked a little shy and flustered. She wanted a favor, but didn’t know quite how to ask. She stammered just a little, and then blurted, “Do you think you could get Ted Williams’ autograph for me?”
“The next time the Red Sox are in town, why don’t you and a friend join us for the game, followed by dinner with ‘Teddy Ballgame’?” And so it was settled. Ted picked up the scepter and asked her, “This is a very interesting device, and I’m really looking forward to studying it, buy why me? I’m an amateur astronomer, not an engineer.”
“Well, Dr. Knight, since you’ve figured out my secret, it only seems fair that I know one of yours!”
Ted and Doris both started at Lily’s use of the title of doctor, and wondered if she had just misspoken, or if she knew? After all, it was only an honorary title, and Ted never advertised it. After his experience at Oxford University in 1937, Ted wasn’t impressed with the letters Ph.D.
“I figured Starman would be the best person to show me how to use it. But he’s retired. So I did some research, and figured out his secret identity.” Doris gasped, while Ted looked interested. Lily pulled a stack of papers out of the bag and dropped it on Ted’s desk. He and Doris stopped examining the scepter, and checked out the papers. Ted was shocked to recognize his Oxford thesis, with a big rejected stamp across the front. And paper-clipped to it was a late-1939 picture of Professor Abraham Davis announcing the gravity engine to the world, with Ted standing next to him. She had certainly done her research.
But he wasn’t about to admit defeat quite that easily. “Miss DeLuna, I’m a dilettante at science and an amateur astronomer. You’ve made a thorough investigation and turned up some interesting coincidences, but that’s just what they are. I am not Starman!” Well, not right this minute, anyway, he added inwardly.
“Come off it, Dr. Knight! I also know about the honorary doctorate from Columbia University for your contributions to atomic energy theory. I know that the Knight Foundation makes most of its money licensing your inventions. You were involved in two of the most significant scientific announcements of our time, and both were ridiculed. Starman uses a gravity rod powered by stellar energy. That’s just too many coincidences. There are a few more, such as Starman retiring just around the time you got married.”
Ted’s head was spinning. But even though he was retired, he still didn’t need his secret identity broadcast to the world; there were a lot of crazy people out there. “Miss DeLuna, assuming for the sake of argument that I really am Starman, I would certainly not want my secret identity exposed. It would put Doris and all my friends in danger. And, whether I’m Starman or not, I don’t respond well to blackmail!” Ted let a little of his anger show, just as a warning. “By the way, please don’t call me ‘Dr. Knight.’ I don’t use the title.”
Lily spoke up hurriedly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Knight!” Ted smiled at how quickly she dropped the title. “I’m supposed to be a professional at using the language, but I haven’t even made myself clear. I’ve no plans to reveal your secret to anyone! All I want is help from an expert in figuring out Xenon’s scepter. You have my word that no one will ever learn your secrets from me. Tell you what — to prove my goodwill, why don’t you keep all this stuff?” She pointed to the thesis, the photo, and the rest of the papers she had brought. “The photo is a copy, of course, but that’s your original thesis, found buried in a dusty box which had not been touched by anyone in years!”
There was probably only the carbon paper copy that the typist had made, then, and Ted already had that copy in his possession. He looked at Doris, standing where Lily couldn’t see her. She had a sort of a half-smile on her lips. Sort of like the Mona Lisa, Ted thought, and she shrugged, then nodded. Well, if he was being honest with himself, he had never really thought his identity would stay secret even this long, given that he had never bothered to wear a mask.
Ted continued to examine the scepter while she talked and figured out how to open it before Lily got a chance to tell him how. He pressed and twisted, and the power rod slid out of the receptacle in the scepter. Lily looked a little disappointed. Apparently she had hoped that she could impress him by opening it for him.
“Now, Mr. Knight, you need to be very careful. Somehow the body of the scepter prevents the power rod from working, but it is now armed and dangerous, as they say.” Lily was very serious.
It looked a lot like a gravity rod. There was a handgrip molded in about the middle of the power rod, and when one held the rod in the right hand using that grip, there were buttons near every fingertip. Near the thumb were two thumb wheels set into the surface. There appeared to be several gauges set into the surface as well. Ted had some ideas, but he wanted to study it more closely.
“May I take this apart, Miss DeLuna?”
Lily looked a little concerned. “Promise me you won’t break it?”
Ted laughed a little. “Sorry, I can’t promise you that. But if I break it, I promise I’ll do my best to fix it for you.”
Lily rubbed her hand across her mouth. She really didn’t know what to do. She knew that when you brought a problem to an expert, you should let the expert do his job, but she clearly didn’t want to lose her new toy, either. Ted thought he knew a way to help her decide.
“Tell you what, Miss DeLuna. I’ll trade you for it!”
Lily was startled. “Why, what do you mean?”
“Right now, before I start, I’ll trade you a gravity rod for this power rod. And I’ll show you how to use it, too. That way, if I bust this thing, you still come out ahead. What do you say?” Doris was standing behind Lily, and she was trying hard to keep from laughing. If that wasn’t just like Ted. In for a penny, in for a pound. And fair and honest as the day is long. And a little devious as well; he wasn’t quite finished. “But if you take the trade, we’ll spend some time tonight showing you how to use the gravity rod.” Doris’ eyes lit up at the word we; she hadn’t used a gravity rod in years, and sometimes, although she never let on, she missed it, too. “But I won’t have time to investigate the power rod tonight if we do that.”
Lily was clearly torn, but in the end, her curiosity over the power rod won out. “I’ll keep the power rod, Mr. Knight. You know…” She smiled, her eyes twinkling. “…that was pretty mean!”
“Watch out for him, dear!” Doris smiled, too. “He pretends to be a Boy Scout, but he’s really rotten to the core!” She was clearly teasing Ted, and she had already decided that she liked Lily.
Ted threw up his hands and covered his face. “Two against one; no fair! Well, you two, I can’t work with a couple of women looking over my shoulder. Give me a couple of hours, and I’ll tell you everything there is to know about this thing. Stick around, and I might learn something in a week or so!”
Doris smiled gaily and led Lily out of the room. “C’mon, Lily, let’s see if we can’t find something interesting to keep us occupied while Mr. Grouchy, here, does his science!”