by Dan Swanson
It was going to be the news conference to end all news conferences, or, at least, that’s how Lily DeLuna saw it. It certainly was going to be the biggest news event in her life, up until now. Tomorrow’s announcement of awarding the airport contract wouldn’t be that big a deal, but John Ross’ other announcement would sure stir things up in Opal City.
Paige called the two local papers, three radio stations, and both local TV stations to announce that the city was ready to award the contract for the new airport buildings. She managed to “accidentally” leak just a little information, that it was a local company and that their low bid had come as something of a surprise, but their project plan had been the best and most convincing. Also, their bid was significantly less than what the other firms were bidding. This raised some interest, because none of the business reporters could quite figure out which local architectural firm fit that profile.
Doris Knight had called in a big gun to help protect the Ross family. Starman was retired, and they had always kept Starwoman secret, but she still had contacts. The Justice Society of America had been missing for the last couple of months, but she was able to contact Lance Gallant, and he was happy to help out. (*) Captain Triumph flew into town that afternoon. Lance checked into a local hotel, and his ghostly twin brother Michael stood invisible sentry over the Ross home.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Secret Conquest of the Earth,” All-Star Comics #52 (April-May, 1950).]
Lily called her police officer friend Fred Johnson, the police corporal she sparred with at the gun club. He normally worked on weekends, and today and tomorrow were his off days. She told him John’s story and asked if he might be willing to hang around with John, just to keep him safe, until the press conference tomorrow. Ross claimed he had his own bodyguards, but Lily hadn’t been impressed with them the other night.
In his plans for his own future, Fred hoped that someday he might work his way up to police commissioner. If and when that time came, it sure couldn’t hurt to be on good terms with Opal City’s powerful politicians. And if he got a chance to help take down an important criminal figure, that was all the better. He was a cop because he wanted to make a difference.
It turned out to be a peaceful night. Ross brought Fred home with him, and he shared dinner with the family. When the kids had gone to bed, Captain Triumph dropped in and chatted with Ross, his wife, and Corporal Johnson. Ross had previously told his wife the whole story, and she was very glad he had managed to get such powerful protection. She, John, and Fred all wondered how it was that Lily could get in touch with Captain Triumph, but he just smiled and refused to answer that question. “She’s a reporter, and reporters have their sources to protect.” Since he didn’t actually know Lily, he didn’t want to take a chance on giving anything away.
When Ross and his wife went to bed, Fred returned to the hotel with Captain Triumph. Michael headed back to the Ross house, promising to hurry back and let them both know if anything turned up. Fred was sort of surprised that Captain Triumph didn’t try to conceal his secret identity. However, the next morning, he didn’t remember anything about Lance and Michael. Over the years of his career, Captain Triumph had realized that he must have some kind of built-in memory-clouding ability, as people who saw Lance change into Triumph almost invariably forgot what they had seen. Only those folks who knew Triumph’s identity independently of seeing him change retained that knowledge.
Once Fred showed up to protect John Ross, Lily had headed for stately Knight Manor. Doris had invited her back for more power rod practice that night, and she had suggested that, if Lily was really going to use the power rod in public, she needed a costume. Lily told her what she had in mind, and Doris called around to some places and located fabric in the colors that Lily had specified, and the other things she wanted as well. By the time Lily arrived, everything that Doris had ordered had been delivered, and she and her staff tailor were ready to get started. The tailor had been entrusted with the secret identities of Starman and Starwoman years ago, and had just recently helped Doris design her own new costume.
Lily and Doris argued about Lily’s costume design. They ended up compromising, and two costumes were created. Lily’s design was mostly midnight blue, with a hood and cape, long sleeves, and baggy pants. Doris’ design was more revealing. She kept the hood and cape, but Lily’s shoulders and legs were mostly bare.
Lily blushed when she modeled the Doris design. “You know I’m not modest, Doris, or I could never have played baseball in those short skirts! But how could I wear something like this in public? And won’t it be really cold?”
Doris smiled. “Well, you keep it around, dear. Someday you may change your mind. You never know when you might want a cooler costume, or you might want to tease one of the boys!” Lily wasn’t sure she would ever wear that outfit, but she did realize how good she looked in it. Maybe after she was more confident in using her new power rod, she might consider it.
Once it became dark, Ted and Doris Knight once again joined Lily for a practice session. She wore her new costume, baggy pants and all. She was pleased at the freedom of movement she had, once she got used to the cape. It was getting on toward fall, and it was a little chilly out, and the pants and long-sleeved top were just what she needed to keep toasty warm.
This evening, they concentrated on practicing with the energy blast and the light beam. Ted was amazed at how proficient Lily became with her power rod, and with the wide range of effects she could generate with just two different powers (energy-blast and light-beam), and three different controls (focus, intensity, and duration). If the controls on the gravity rod had been as primitive as the controls on the power rod, he was sure he could never have been a successful hero. He was almost ready to feel sorry for any bad guys Lily might face — almost, but not quite.
Ted Knight saw some puzzling indications that the power of the power rod had actually increased from the night before. It was only a small difference, and he finally decided that it was just because Lily was using the power rod to much better effect than last night. But he wasn’t quite sure. If he noticed this same kind of change again in the future, he would ask Lily if he could examine the power rod again.
Finally, they were satisfied with Lily’s progress with the power rod, and Ted suggested that Lily might want some training in hand-to-hand combat. Neither he nor Doris knew about Lily’s brown belt in the extremely obscure martial art known as Sinshido. Ted didn’t appear to remember her widely publicized fight with Freeda Hammond, which was actually sort of a relief. She had to put up with a lot of grief from other players and the public before her infamy from that fight had died down. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Files: Lily DeLuna: Times Past, 1943: The Summer of ’43, Chapter 1: Take Me Out of the Ball Game.]
“I don’t think that’s necessary, Ted. I can take pretty good care of myself.” Lily smiled slightly. “I’ve always been able to hold my own in any fights I’ve been in.”
Ted wasn’t reassured; he couldn’t imagine Lily in a fight with someone like Vandal Savage, or even the Sportsmaster. It was a good thing he didn’t say so, though, because she had already held her own twice with the Sportsmaster, although there was no way Ted could have known that. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Files: Lily DeLuna: Times Past, 1943: The Summer of ’43, Chapter 8: Master of Sports and The Brave and the Bold: Lois Lane and Liberty Belle: 1948: Women of Journalism, Chapter 3: Catfight.]
“Most of the bad guys I’ve come up against were pretty good with their fists. There were a lot of times when, for one reason or another, I had to fight without the gravity rod. If I hadn’t had some serious training from Wildcat, I’d probably be dead many times over.” Ted’s main strength as a hero wasn’t fisticuffs, but he was quite proud of his hand-to-hand skills. “Tell you what, let’s have a round or two. Pretend I’m a villain, and I’m trying to knock you unconscious so I can capture or kill you. I’ll be careful, and then I can give you some pointers on what you need to work on.”
Well, thought Lily to herself, if that’s the way you think, Mr. Big Shot Hero, let’s see just what you’ve got! Lily was used to being underestimated by men, but she was a little stung by Ted’s lack of respect. Hadn’t he learned anything from their earlier practices?
“Umm, Ted, promise not to hurt me?” she asked, a quaver in her voice. Doris was just about to voice her concerns, but Lily winked at her and shook her head. Not quite sure what was happening, but willing to follow Lily’s lead, Doris decided not to say anything.
“Of course not, Lily! But if you’re scared of being hurt in practice, maybe you shouldn’t even be thinking of using that power rod!”
Lily dropped the power rod. “OK, tough guy, that tears it!” Lily screamed, and leaped at Ted, swinging both arms wildly. Ted easily managed to block both punches, although he was a little surprised at the power behind them. But he was sure now that this lady had the spunk to be a fighter; she just needed a little discipline. He backed away, dropped into a boxing crouch with his right hand up to guard his head, and started jabbing with his left. Lily got her hands up fast enough to deflect his jabs. Even though he had planned to miss her with them, he was again surprised that she was fast enough to block. But she still appeared to be relying on pure athletic talent rather than any skill. Her great reflexes were just barely enabling her to escape. He backed away and dropped his hands. Lily took a step backward as well.
“You are sure fast, Lily! And stronger than I expected, too. But let me show you how to hold your arms and hands, so you can block punches and then be ready to launch your own punches.”
Lily figured this had gone on long enough. “Sorry, Ted, but I’m not interested. Defend yourself!” And she dropped into a duplicate of his crouch and started to advance. Ted knew she was a fast learner, so he got ready to defend himself. Lily moved in with some quick jabs that kept Ted busy blocking. She then deliberately left herself open, and Ted launched a roundhouse right. He held back a little, because he didn’t want to hurt her, but he didn’t have to worry — she easily ducked under his swing, and he missed by a mile. He was starting to realize she hadn’t been kidding earlier; she could take care of herself.
Lily was still working off a little anger — not much, because anger during a fight could make you careless, and besides, she knew that Ted hadn’t really meant to hurt her feelings. But she still needed to release some tension that had built up over the past few days, and this was a perfect chance. She moved from her boxing stance into her normal Sinshido stance, and launched a spinning kick at Ted. He was too surprised to dodge, and if she had been aiming at his head, she would have knocked him out. Instead, she kicked his left arm aside, which left him wide open to her next move, and she leaned in and slapped him on the cheek, just hard enough to be painful. He was still pulling away in confusion when she leaned in again and slapped the other cheek.
She stepped back, clasped her hands together, and bowed. Ted didn’t know whether to be angry or astonished. He decided on astonished. So he stepped back and bowed as well, and then started to laugh.
“Well, you sure suckered me in good, didn’t you? That’s what I get for not listening. You did warn me!”
Lily was laughing, too. “I surely did. But you know, after the past couple of days, being shot at, run out of my apartment, and betrayed by my boss, I really needed that. Thanks for the outlet, Ted!”
“It’s a good thing for me that you’re on my side, Lily!” Ted said, rubbing his cheeks. “I really am starting to feel sorry for the bad guys!” His pride was a little bit hurt, and he wanted a chance to redeem himself. “Maybe we can try this again in a gym sometime. I’ve still got a few surprises of my own.” Because he hadn’t taken her seriously tonight, he hadn’t had any chances to try some of the tricks that Wildcat had taught him. But on an even footing, he thought he might be able to tag her once or twice, even though he no longer had any illusions about the final outcome.
“I would be honored, Ted. I work out regularly at a dojang in Opal City. We’ll arrange a practice match there for sometime in the future.”
Thinking about the future reminded her of Eddie. “But maybe not the near-future. I have something I need to do first. I’m going to be leaving for Italy as soon as I can arrange it.” Of course, now Doris made her tell the whole story about her brother. She finally finished, and they discussed her situation for a while, and then she reminded them that she had another big day tomorrow. And she flew away to her secret hideout.
“You know, Ted,” said Doris with seriousness, “I wish there was something we could do to help Lily find her brother.”
“She said she doesn’t want help, Doris. It’s something she needs to do herself. We have to honor that.”
“But she’s planning to quit her job and sell all her things to pay for her trip. You know how much she loves the Cord and her bike! It will hurt her terribly to have to sell them. Can’t we do something for her?”
Ted thought it over. He thought about all the things they had discussed with Lily over the past few days. He thought about how good a reporter and writer she was, and how she had done such a great job with two completely different stories, the Vic Valor human interest piece and the mayoral elections scandal. He thought of the companies on whose boards of directors he sat. “You know, Doris, I think we can. I’ll work on it tomorrow.”