Gotham City Police Headquarters:
“Homicide. Corrigan here.”
“Detective Corrigan? Your presence is required this evening. At the Brownstone.”
Jim Corrigan’s blood ran cold. The voice at the other end of the line was not to be denied. Woe to those who had dared to do so over the years.
“Whenever you get there. I’ll know.”
The line went dead, and Corrigan wondered why he would resort to something as mundane as the telephone.
A hospital room in New York City, Earth-One:
“What’s the prognosis, doctor?”
“I wish I could tell you, Chief. He’s been here for months, getting worse each day.”
“And no idea what is causing it?”
“The only thing I’ve ever seen like it is when a terminal patient decides to stop fighting. It’s like he’s lost his whole reason for living. Did he lose a family member or a lover during the Crisis?”
The chief of New York’s Police Department snorted. “Him? Who could tell? In the fifteen years I’ve known him, I haven’t seen any sign of a family, a relationship, or any kind of life outside of the department. He’s been my best homicide detective for quite a long time. Nobody puts anything over on this guy, and you don’t find out anything he doesn’t want you to know.”
“Somebody, or something, did. I can’t think of anything that I can do for him.”
The doctor led the top cop from the room. As they walked out, the chief glanced back. “Pull yourself out of it, Corrigan.”
The JSA Brownstone, Gotham City, 7:30 P.M.:
A middle-aged man in a long coat walked up to the door of headquarters of the legendary Justice Society of America. As promised a long time ago, the door still opened to him.
Inside, he wandered the large foyer, noting the changes to the public displays. At one end of the room, shrouded in dark curtains, he bowed his head for a moment and uttered a prayer for the departed spirits of Batman, Mister Terrific, and others whom he once stood side-by-side with.
“It is reassuring to see that you still believe in the power of prayer, Corrigan.”
It was the voice that summoned him. The detective did not bother turning toward it. It belonged to one who was very familiar to Jim Corrigan, and at the same time a total stranger.
“Spectre. I heard you had returned to Earth-Two recently. What do you want?” Corrigan made no attempt to disguise his distaste for the earthbound spirit to whom he had once been bound for over two decades.
“Much.” The green-shrouded ghost spoke quietly, but forcefully. “My existence in this world is endangered, and you may be the only one who can save me.”
“Me? Save you? What could this lowly policeman possibly do that could save the all-powerful spirit of vengeance?” Even as he spoke, Jim Corrigan started to realize what this summons meant. “No. Not that. I spent the prime of my life shepherding your ectoplasm around. God gave me a second chance at my life when you left this world. I know he suppressed my memories, allowing me to forget much of what we did, but I remember enough to know I don’t want to remember any more! While you were saving the multiverse, I was taking a wife, starting a family. Find someone else to be your host, spook!”
The pale figure in the flowing green hooded cloak stood by silently, allowing the man who knew his nature best to vent his rage and frustration at their one-time shared existence.
“The worst thing I remember is the realization that I wasn’t alone! For my first five years as the Spectre, I honestly believed that I was in control. When I died, I thought I was being given a second chance, to come back and right the injustices myself! But all the time, I was just channeling for you! Why did you mislead me?”
“Understand, Jim, that when your soul was imbued with my might, that might had not gone forth in this world for many centuries. Good and evil may be constant, but the circumstances in which they manifest changed so much that I needed time — and a guide — to gain a proper understanding. You, with your sense of righteous justice, were that guide, as well as a means of providing the necessary connection to the world of the living. Without that connection, even the agent of divine retribution cannot dwell long in the mortal realm.”
“I see. But I cannot help you this time, Spectre. My wife and daughters come first now.”
The grim ghost extended his hand over his former partner’s bowed head. “I understand. Go forth — finish the life that is set forth for you.”
Three days after his meeting with the Spectre, Jim Corrigan prepared for a night out with his family.
“Andrea, have you seen my tie?” he called from the bedroom.
“I left it on your pillow, dear,” his wife replied from the bedroom shared by their daughters Diana and Libby. He could hear the giggles and laughs as his wife helped the twin nine-year-olds into their formal dresses. He reflected on the small miracle they would be celebrating tonight — the fiftieth wedding anniversary of his wife’s parents. Married before the second World War, they had survived some of the worst that the world could throw at them, and in the process they had raised a wonderful woman, a woman who found a dazed Jim Corrigan wandering lost in the streets of Gotham City fifteen years previously, disoriented upon finding himself returned to the age he had been when he died the first time, given a new lease on life after the departure of the unearthly being with whom he had shared the previous thirty years. Her concern led her to help him, and her heart helped to heal his battered psyche. Now married for twelve years, they were looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together.
Jim’s reverie was broken by the sound of the doorbell.
“I’ll get it!” came the voice of Diana Corrigan, followed by the sound of small feet running down the stairs.
Jim started out of the bedroom, and then he heard his daughter’s cry. He raced down the stairs to find six large men in his living room, one of them holding his daughter in a bear hug.
“What’s going on here?!” he demanded.
“You’ve got a meeting tonight, Corrigan,” replied the largest of the group. “You and your family.”
“My family? What do they have to do with this?” he yelled as three of the men pushed past him up the stairs.
“Awww, I shouldn’t have to explain the idea of insurance to a bright cop like you.”
Bound, gagged, and blindfolded, Jim Corrigan was thrown into the back of a van and taken through the streets of Gotham City. Jim tried to estimate where they might be, based on the turns the van took and the time it took, but he gave up after a time. For a seeming eternity, his world was only darkness and the rumble of the van’s engine. When it finally stopped, his ears hurt. Then he heard the back doors being opened, and he felt himself being lifted out of the vehicle. He was half-pulled, half-carried up a long flight of stairs. Finally, he was released to stand on his own.
“Good evening, Detective Corrigan,” came a smooth voice. “Glad you could join us tonight. I do hope we haven’t inconvenienced you too much.”
“Antonio Scalzo. I’m surprised. I didn’t think you had a death wish. After all, we will be meeting tomorrow when the district attorney comes to serve the arrest papers.”
“That’s what I wanted to discuss with you. You see, an arrest would put a real crimp in my business, and after all that business with the red skies last year, I just don’t need that, you know what I mean?” said Scalzo, a heavyset man in an expensive navy blue running suit.
“Yeah, I know. Now ask me if I care. Your business has been bringing cocaine into Gotham for years now. It ends tomorrow!”
“Now, Detective, I asked you here to discuss a deal. And I had the boys bring along something to convince you I mean business, right boys?” The men holding Corrigan nodded grimly as they turned him around. Before him, the floor opened into a large pit. Corrigan realized they were in an oil refinery. Forty feet below, in the great oil reservoir, sat a battered black van, probably the one he was brought in. It sat in liquid, up past its wheels. Jim’s nose tipped him off to the nature of the liquid.
“Gasoline? Are you crazy? How is this going to convince me, Scalzo?”
“By itself, it’s nothing. But, Corrigan, you didn’t come here alone.” Scalzo lifted an odd-looking pistol and fired into the pit. The magnesium flare struck the gasoline, and the great tank burst into flame. “See, this is how they clean these tanks. They burn off the residue in them, and that cover above drops down and extinguishes the flames. But not very quickly.”
Jim’s eyes, riveted on the van, spied movement within. Horror tore at his soul as he recognized the faces of his daughters in the windows, just before the flames rose up to block the view.