It was nearly midnight when the man known jokingly among the guards as Lock Jaw finally made himself understood to a young guard. Unaccustomed to hearing him speak, the guards had ignored the incoherent grunts and cries from Doctor Trap’s cell. One of the older guards, curious as to why this normally silent prisoner should be making such a fuss, shined his light into the darkened cell. There, he spied a message written in the man’s own blood on the wall.
The jaw will kill before dawn!
A close examination found the heart specialist, with Emil Trapp’s mechanical jaw wired on to his own. Once they removed the contraption, he explained that Trapp overpowered him during the exam, using one of the monitoring devices to deliver a stunning charge of electricity and knocking him out. When he regained consciousness, he was on a gurney, being wheeled out of the hospital and into the prison transport van. Of his attacker’s plans or whereabouts, he didn’t have a clue.
On a train headed north, a man sat with his face wrapped in bandages. The eyes, visible through slits in the gauze, gleamed with malicious delight. The doctor had no idea that he had been studying the equipment in the treatment room, planning which devices could be the most useful in an escape. The jaw provided by the prison should keep the fool quiet long enough to reach New York, thought Emil Trapp. That was where his quarry was last reported. Once there, he could quickly obtain and assemble the parts for anything he might need in snipping off the one loose thread of his vengeance for his beloved’s death.
The following day, a busy pair made the rounds of San Francisco. At lunch time, they met in their office.
“OK, I got all the basic stats: Cameron Chase, age twenty-six, born February 13, 1960. Father, Steven Chase, mother, Marie Gaither Chase, both longtime Bay area residents. Sister, Terry, born September 26, 1966. Father, deceased August 16, 1968. Mother, deceased March 3, 1981. Graduated from East Side High School, 1978, high honors. Bachelor Degree in psychology from U.C. Berkeley, 1982, Masters in Criminology, UCLA, 1984. Interned with the FBI, took a position with the DEO after graduation.” Ace Bradley slapped the file folder on the desk next to his Big Mac.
“Looks like I picked the plum on this one, then. Seems dear old Daddy made quite a few headlines when he died.” Rita Raymond pulled a photocopy of a newspaper out of her folder. “I think I even recall my dad featuring him on his show.”
The newspaper headline read, Local Masked Hero Slain in Home. Under the large type, a series of three pictures showed, from left to right, an ordinary-looking man, with tousled hair and a dark moustache; a lean, athletic man dressed in multicolored tights with a mask covering half of his face, the upper corners of the mask drawn up into points; and a photo of a body covered with a sheet, the dark stain of blood visible on the floor around it.
“Ho-ly jeez! Who the heck is that?” asked Ace, reaching for the sheet of paper.
“Steven Chase, known also as Acro-Bat, the leader of a group called the Justice Experience. Killed in his home by some creep calling himself Doctor Trap, if you can believe that!” Rita reached for the phone. “What’s the number for that friend of yours? This Chase woman may have some serious problems.”
“Hell, yeah, I remember the Justice Experience! Bunch of kids who thought all it took was a fancy costume to play hero. Acro-Bat was just the first one of them who got killed. That Trapp creep did in pretty much the whole team before he was caught.” Ted Grant paused to take a drink from a bottle of beer.
“What a mess that was. Trapp was this mechanical whiz kid who’d been caught in an accident in his lab. Tore off half his face, and he built a robotic replacement for it. Thought it made him a freak, but there was this woman — I forget her name — who saw the man behind the tin mouth. I guess they were pretty happy together, until they got caught up in a fight between the Experience and these clowns that called themselves the House of Pain. One of the Pain guys unloaded a clip from a machine gun into a crowded restaurant, and Trapp’s lady friend got killed.”
“That’s awful, Ted.” Irina Grant sat down next to her husband, a sheaf of faxes in her hand. “I take it he blamed the Justice Experience for her death?”
“Both the Justice Experience and the House of Pain. He adopted this Doctor Trap name, spent a couple of months tracking down who the members of the Experience and the House really were, then started killing them all off. Steve Chase was the first, and the simplest. Waited for him at home and ripped him apart with that mechanical jaw. The daughter is the one that found him. After that, he started setting elaborate traps, either in their homes or someplace that he could lure them into. The Manx and Mister Action, he trapped in their homes. She was clawed to death by mechanical hands while she hung from the ceiling like some kitty toy. Mister Action was caught in a solid steel box and suffocated.”
Ted looked over at his wife as she sat with her arms wrapped tightly around herself. “You OK, honey? I know you ain’t used to hearing about things like this.”
“No, I’m all right.” She looked at one of the old newspaper reports. “What about these other two they mention — Song Bird and Major Flashback?”
“The Major got shot up in a gang fight staged by the Doc. He might have made it if the bullets weren’t all loaded with LSD. The overdose killed him before they could get him to a hospital.” Ted looked at the photo of the Justice Experience group, with a small, black-haired woman soaring above them on wings that seemed to sprout from her arms. “Song Bird was the only one of them I ever met — a Navajo girl who claimed she used her grandfather’s magic to give herself wings and the ability to fly. Didn’t do her any good when Trapp bound her up in chains and dropped her from the tower on the Golden Gate Bridge.” He bowed his head, and silence reigned in the hotel room for a few moments.
“Ted, I was over in Europe when this was all happening, so it’s all new to me. How did Trapp get caught?”
“I ain’t surprised that you didn’t hear about it. The press tried to keep a lid on the story; didn’t want people to panic when they heard super-heroes were getting killed off. We didn’t hear about it in the JSA until a couple of us got calls from old friends of ours.”
“Old friends?” Irina’s had a puzzled look on her face.
“It turned out that there were a couple members of the Justice Experience with connections in the JSA.” Ted located another group shot of the Justice Experience team, this one with some additional members. “These two: Bronze Wraith and Plasticman.”
“I thought Plastic Man died in World War II.”
“He did, but not the way you think. I’ll fill you in on that story some other time. This Plasticman was Marty O’Brien, the son of the original. He inherited his dad’s powers, and tried his hand at the hero biz for a while. By the time the business with Trapp started, he had found that his power was fading, and he had retired from the mystery-man game.” Ted decided to leave out the part about Marty having a son of his own, a young man who had taken to stealing in the streets before joining a band of second-generation villains to attack the Junior JSA. (*) “He got wind of what was happening and gave Hourman a call.”
“What was the connection that the Bronze Wraith had?”
“He was a former member of the All-Star Squadron from World War II. Back then he called himself Amazing-Man. Will Everett was able to turn his body into any substance that he touched. Apparently, by changing into metal, he found that he could still hold his own with the younger heroes. He tried tracking down Trapp himself, but he didn’t have any luck, so he got in touch with Hawkman.”
Irina got up and walked toward the kitchenette in the hotel suite. “Ahh, I probably know what happened next. Six or seven of you from the JSA went out to California and tracked down the killer, right?” she called back as she poured another glass of wine.
Before Ted could respond, the phone rang. “Hello, Grant here.”
Irina leaned her head back around the doorway as she heard her husband’s tone drop. “What do you mean he’s — Oh, hell! They don’t have any idea where he got to?” He paused, listening. “Whose stupid idea was it to put him in that rehab program, anyway? Good grief, Steel’s damn lucky he didn’t kill the whole damned team!” Another pause. “Look, Carter, I’m working on something related right now. You wouldn’t happen to know if Steel has told Cameron Chase, the agent he has on Jay’s tail, do ya?” As Irina came back into the room, she could clearly see the worry on Ted’s face. “Yeah, Chase. That’s right, his daughter. No, I didn’t know it, either. They tried to keep her and the rest of the family out of the picture throughout the trial, but she’s the kid that I.D.’d him at the trial.” As Irina sat down, Ted wrapped up the call and turned to her.
“We got a problem, babe. Emil Trapp escaped from Belle Reve Prison this afternoon.”
Three days later, Ted and Irina had traveled up to Keystone City, only to find that Cameron Chase had accompanied Jay Garrick on a trip to St. Louis and New Orleans. Satisfied that Chase was far enough in the background of the campaign to keep from being an obvious target, Ted elected against contacting her directly. Instead, he called the man on the scene that he trusted regularly with his own life.
“So that’s the situation, Jay. She’s there to protect you, but at the same time, I think you ought to keep an eye out for her safety. Especially seeing as how Belle Reve ain’t that far away from there.”
“Sounds like you’ve got the right idea, Ted. I’m not too keen on these Secret Service and DEO types tailing me all the time, but in this case, it keeps her where I can watch out for her.”
“So where’s the next stop on the whirlwind tour, buddy?”
The man known for whirlwind action as the Flash sighed. “We fly to New York tomorrow, so I can film spots for the Today Show and 60 Minutes. Then they let me go home for a few days.”
“I don’t know, Jay. Less than a week into it, and you sound like it’s dragging on you already.”
“I don’t know how you ever did it, Ted. Please tell me that touring as a boxer wasn’t as grueling. It gets so frustrating, trying to just sit and talk with some people, without having some security or P.R. hack come up and drag me off to another interview.”
“You’re still learning about the game, pal. For now, it seems like everybody else is calling the shots. But here’s the trick: you are the boss. Lay down the law; let them know that things are gonna be done your way, or no way.”
“You make it sound so easy, champ. Look, I have to go now. Joan’s in the doorway, checking her watch. We’re going down to the French Quarter for lunch.”
“If she ain’t picked out a place already, try Maison de Luca. If Fahim Saiba is still the headwaiter, tell him I said hello. He’ll take care of you.”
Jay laughed. “Please don’t tell me how it is that you know the maitre d’ of one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans, Ted. I’m afraid you might just tell me! I’ll call you if anything happens.”
“Great, Jay. Thanks!”
Hanging up the phone, Ted turned and saw Irina coming in from the balcony with a smile on her face. “Maison de Luca, hmmm? You’ll have to take me there sometime.” She came over and slipped her slender arms around her husband’s waist.
“Anytime you want, baby,” he promised.
“Well, I could suggest flying down there today, since Cameron is there, and Trapp might be in the area…” she started. She stopped when she saw Ted shake his head with a grim smile.
“He ain’t in the area. FBI got a positive I.D. on him from a couple of Amtrak workers who recognized him on a train bound for New York. That’s where Chase has her listed address, and she hasn’t been seen or mentioned in any of the press reports about Jay’s trip. He’s probably looking for her there, and he’s had a couple of days to plan. To top it off, Jay’s entourage arrives in New York tomorrow.”
“Sigh… So, are we going up now, or in the morning?”
“We’re staying here for the night. Tomorrow morning, I’m taking the bike up to New York.” Ted kissed his wife. “I don’t want you in the same city with that nutball, baby.”
Ted spent the rest of the afternoon working up a plan and making phone calls.
The next morning, the front page of the New York Post bore the headline Daughter of Deceased Do-Gooder Protecting Prospective Prez! Next to the headline was a photo of Cameron Chase, along with a smaller photo of her father in his Acro-Bat costume. The story briefly outlined Steve Chase’s career as a costumed mystery-man and his death at the hands of Doctor Trap. Prominent in the story was the fact that Cameron Chase herself was going to be interviewed live that afternoon on WPIX, one of New York’s independent television stations.
The fact that Cameron Chase knew nothing about the article nor the planned interview was not mentioned.
Wildcat smiled as he looked at the newspapers hanging from a corner newsstand. The proprietor recognized him and noted the object of his attention. “Hey, Wildcat! You need a paper? Here, on the house!” He reached one down, folded it, and tossed it overhand to where the hero’s cycle was idling, waiting for the light to change.
Glancing at the name on the stand, Wildcat took a guess and answered “Hey, thanks, Freeman! I’ll bring it back autographed when I’m done reading it!” The light changed, and he gunned his cycle and roared off toward midtown.
In a bowery hotel, Emil Trapp smiled as he placed an identical newspaper down on a chipped and worn table. “So, she has been out of town. I was afraid nobody had heard her screams in that fancy apartment building of hers. Now to decide. Let well enough alone and let her die when she returns to her home… or exterminate her in the full view of the public eye for the pain she, her father, and his kind caused me?”
There was no decision to be made, of course. It had been made when the newspaper article appeared on the street.