A motorcycle sped through the streets of Washington, D.C., darting in and out of traffic, taking turns at a low bank, its rider nearly scraping on the pavement. Everywhere it passed, drivers and pedestrians alike waved and cheered as they recognized the rider. No leather-clad biker or thrill-seeking yuppie, the big, beefy rider’s features were hidden behind a distinctive mask — the mask of the two-fisted crime-fighter known throughout the world as Wildcat.
Emotions battled within him. On the one hand, the ex-prizefighter in him loved the applause and adulation of the crowds, and he smiled and waved back whenever he dared. On the other hand, he was mildly frustrated in his search for an inconspicuous place to pull off the road and doff the black costume and mask and resume his somewhat more mundane role as Ted Grant, ex-fighter, personal trainer, and husband.
Got to get back to the hotel soon, before Irina thinks I’ve gotten mixed up with the Injustice Society again, he thought as he finally spied an alley with no spectators in sight. He turned down the alley and shut off the modified Harley Davidson. Climbing off, he removed the mask and stowed it in one of the cycle’s saddlebags. From that same compartment, he took a pair of well-worn chino slacks, a flannel shirt, and a pair of high-top canvas basketball shoes. He then turned a pair of levers on the handlebars and removed the cat’s-face cowling from the front of the cycle. This collapsed down and fit into the other saddlebag, leaving a perfectly normal-looking black motorcycle. He climbed on and sped back out of the alley with a smile on his face. Gotta remember to thank Red Robin for that little gimmick.
Ten minutes later, Ted was greeted by his wife in their hotel suite. “I saw the press conference, Ted. I expected you to be up there with him.”
“Nah,” said Ted, giving his wife a long, slow kiss. “Jay asked us to keep a low profile, at least until the main parties have their conventions next summer. Poor guy. I think he feels a little uneasy about tipping the apple cart with this new All-Star Party. How did he come off on the cameras?”
“Very well. Lots of polish. Whoever staged the conference knows their stuff.” Irina grabbed a remote control and pointed it at the television. “Except for that tie he was wearing. Ewww. They should be replaying it in a few minutes.” She turned back and noted the frown on Ted’s face. “What’s the matter, dear?”
“Oh, it’s probably nothing. It’s just, well, I had a talk with one of the DEO people that’s watching out for Jay and his family now that he’s in the race.” Ted’s face took on a serious look, something that Irina wasn’t accustomed to seeing. “Tell me, hun. Does it bother you that I hide my identity from the world?”
“Bother me? Good God, Ted, how can you ask me that? After what we lost when one of your foes found out who you really are? Just imagine if they all knew! Or even worse, if all of the villains that Batman or Superman battled over the years knew who they were outside of their costumes! They would never have a moment’s rest!”
“That’s the way I always figured it. Not that I had any family to protect for most of my career.”
“Ted, that question, it’s not like you. What happened today?” Irina led Ted to a couch and urged him to sit with her.
“This DEO agent, Cameron Chase, she seems to have a problem with masked heroes and secret identities. The good thing is, she’s got a lot of admiration for Jay because he went public with his identity.”
“Ted, you don’t suppose she had a mystery-man or woman in her family, do you?”
“I thought of that. I heard that Chase is from California, so I put in a call to Syl Pemberton out in L.A. I thought his detective girlfriend, that Jonni Thunder, might want to look into it. Won’t work, though; she’s getting a rep for hanging out with the Infinity Inc. crowd. I figure if Chase smells anything related to a mask sniffing around, she’ll raise seven kinds of hell.”
“West Coast? Maybe I can help out, darling.”
In a richly furnished row house in the hills of San Francisco, a phone rang. The hand that reached for it bore the marks of too many fistfights and trembled slightly as it lifts the phone.
“It’s your dime!” said a gruff voice.
“Slam! How are you? It’s Irina Grant!” said the voice on the other end.
“Irina MacDonagal! I got married when I moved, remember?”
The recipient of the phone call, a big man with all the signs of a fighter despite his seventy years, smiled broadly. “Irina! Great Scott, how are you? It’s been months since we’ve heard from you!” Covering the mouthpiece with one hand, he turned toward a door and yelled, “Claire, pick up the other line! It’s Irina, calling from back east!” From elsewhere in the house, a female voice was heard. He turned his attention back to the caller. “That big lug treating you all right? He better be, or I’ll–”
“Ted’s treating me just grand, Slam. We’ve been traveling the country, sort of an extended honeymoon, before we settle down.”
“Settle down! Heck of a thing, a woman your age, rambling around and talking about settling down.”
“Don’t mind him, Irina.” The new voice on the line was soft, soothing, the polar opposite of her husband. “I think he forgets about your little, ah, change.”
“That’s OK, Claire. To tell you the truth, I practically forget about it, too. Who would think that you could adapt so easily to losing thirty years?”
“I’d love to try it myself, dear.” Claire’s laugh tinkled like broken ice. “So, have you called to tell us you’re coming back to Frisco for a visit?”
“No. Actually, I wanted to find out if your grandson still has his agency there in the city.”
“Ace? Sure, he and Rita are still plugging away. Doing pretty good, if you don’t mind my saying so! Takes after his granddad, he does!”
“Yes, dear. Everyone knows that he takes after the world-famous Slam Bradley. I wonder if he’s been thrown in jail as many times.” Irina could practically hear the smile on Claire Bradley’s face. “Now, let me find his card so I can give you the number.”
Across town from the Bradley home a short time later, another phone rang. “R-n-R Investigations, Rita speaking. How can I help you?” The owner of the voice, a stocky brunette, leaned back in a wooden office chair.
“Could I speak to Ace Bradley, please? My name is Irina MacDonagal; I’m an old friend of the family.”
Covering the mouthpiece with one hand, Rita called to a back room. “Yo, Ace! Phone call; says she’s a friend of the family!”
There was the sound of a door closing, and a tall, handsome man with jet black hair and broad shoulders entered the room. “You get a name?”
His eyebrows lifted, and he lunged for the phone on the larger of the two desks in the office. “Irina? What’s wrong? Something happen to my grandparents?” Hanging up the phone, Rita smiled and shook her head.
“Ace? It’s all right. I just talked with Slam and Claire. They’re fine. I’m calling about an investigation I’d like some help with.”
Ace Bradley visibly relaxed, taking a seat and grabbing a pen from a coffee mug on his desk. “An investigation? But I thought Grandpop said you’d gotten married to–”
“To Ted Grant, yes. We have a, um, friend who grew up in the Bay area. I can’t go into details, but we need a background check on her. Especially any connections she might have to a costumed hero.” She paused a second, thinking. “Better make that hero or villain.”
“We can handle that,” said Ace, looking over at his partner. “What’s your friend’s name?”
In the Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary sat a grotesque figure of a man. The lower half of his face was gone, replaced by mechanical jaws that moved only enough to allow him to pass soft foods through to his throat. Rounded edges formed a twisted approximation of lips. His voice, on the rare occasions when he spoke, had a strange echo to it, owing to the metal that formed his mouth.
He sat on a cot in a cell totally devoid of human comforts. The cot was a solid block of wood with a stuffed mattress on top of it. The customary metal sink found in most cells was gone, replaced with a plastic sink with a self-contained water tank that the guards changed each day. The authorities knew that to place any type of metal in the cell with this man was a risk, for he had long proven able to tear and rend any metal into a weapon with his steel jaws. For fifteen years he played by the rules in his former prison before being transferred to Belle Reve. A few months back he took part in a mission with the Suicide Squad in which he was severely injured. (*) Since that time he had taken certain steps, biding his time. That patience would pay off today.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Suicide Squad: The Price of Redemption.]
Today, Emil Trapp was to taste freedom.
He looked around the cell once more as he heard the telltale tread of the pair of guards coming to escort him to a hospital for a series of tests — tests for a heart condition believed to have resulted from his injury at the hands of the man-shark Carcharo, but which actually came about due to his ingestion of certain drugs while he was in the prison infirmary. He took in the bare walls, bare except for a single picture of a young woman who showed great promise serving her government, a young woman who he had seen in person only twice — one he would soon see again.
Of course, none of the guards ever associated the picture of the lovely young woman with the eight-year-old who helped put him in prison all those years ago. None of them had any idea who Cameron Chase was.
“What a day! I don’t know if I can take two years of this. That man is impossible to keep up with!” In a hotel room in Keystone City, Cameron Chase slumped in a chair and kicked off her shoes. “He must have held interviews with all three networks, two cable news channels, every local station within a hundred and fifty miles, and I can’t begin to guess how many newspapers. Where the heck did they all come from? They weren’t there for the press conference! Then back from D.C. to Keystone!”
The only response was a rattle and hum from the room’s heating unit.
“Guess it’s late enough to catch her at home.” She reached for the phone and tapped out a long-distance number. “Hey, sis! I’ve got bad news about this weekend.”
“Oh, no. No. Don’t you tell me you can’t make it. You said that you marked it on your calendar two months ago!”
“Try telling my boss that. They put me on special assignment. I don’t know when I’ll be able to take a weekend off; I’m on a round-the-clock assignment from now till doomsday, I think.”
“Cam! Come on, I already paid for those tickets! And if my new boss can let me take Friday afternoon to drive back here for that concert, you should be able to make it!” The voice at the other end was petulant, like a small child. Cameron ran a hand through her short blonde hair. “And who knows if the Dead will be touring again after this?”
“Yeah, yeah. Let me tell you something, Terry, the Dead will never stop touring. We’ll see them together sometime, I promise. Meanwhile, find yourself a date for Saturday; I’ll wire you the money for the tickets, and you can think about me while Jerry and the boys are jamming.”
“Yeah, sure. So, what’s the big assignment? You scouring through traffic tickets, looking for signs of an upcoming crime wave?”
“Ha-ha, very funny. Actually, I’m working alongside some Secret Service guys, guarding a candidate for the next presidential race.”
“Oh, my God! You’re on the Garrick detail? Does he know about your little hangup?”
“No, and he’s not going to. I can do my job, and just because he used to hide his identity from the world, I’m not going to hold it against him.” Something her sister said suddenly dawned on Cameron. “What’s this about a new job? You’re not with the Tattler anymore?”
“No, I managed to score a gig with the Daily Star. I’ll be staying with Cat Grant in Metropolis until I get a place of my own.”
“Congratulations! Looks like you’re hitting the big time!”
“Yeah, but if I don’t get packing, I’ll never make it there. Call me Sunday, OK?”
Cameron hung up the phone and got up to pour a glass of water for herself.
Yeah, Garrick came clean with his double identity. The first one in the JSA to get honest with people. Either him or Wonder Woman, anyway. Then came Hawkman and Hawkgirl when those kids in Infinity Inc. blew their own secret I.D.s.
She reached into a suitcase, pulled out a bottle of bourbon, and sat down at the room’s small table. Pouring a small amount into a second glass, she then downed the shot of liquor, following it with a long drink of water.
Beats the hell out of coming downstairs and finding your father, still in some silly costume, mutilated on the living room rug.
Pushing the glasses to one side, she let her head fall down onto her folded arms on the table. The only sound in the room was a long series of muffled sobs.