One Marcel Avenue was a shabby rundown tenement in a neighborhood that had long since surrendered to what might be called the underworld. It was not the kind of place one would choose to live, but it was perfect for a temporary hideout.
Barbara Gordon, dressed in the gray and blue costume of Batwoman, dropped over the edge of the roof of One Marcel Avenue and crashed through a window to confront a startled blond man in jeans and a T-shirt. Papers were spread across a coffee table, and a beverage rested on the arm of a chair.
“Give up, Cluemaster!” she cried as she recognized Arthur Brown. “Game over!”
Brown scrambled across the room, kicking over a table as he tried to flee. “You found me!” he gasped.
Batwoman snared him in her rope and said, “You didn’t phrase that in the form of a question.” She drew the struggling villain closer and connected with a right hook.
“How did you find me?” he said as he rubbed his mouth.
Batwoman could see his genuine surprise, and she thought, He is clueless, so to speak. He doesn’t know my secret, nor was he the one who sent those clues!
“You got nothing on me!” he said. “I’m through with the Cluemaster bit.”
“You gave up the costume, and who could blame you?” said Batwoman. “It was really tacky. But you’ve been planning crimes for other less-tricky crooks. I see other planned jobs on those papers on the floor.”
Brown bit down hard and then spat out a pellet that had been concealed within a fake tooth. The room suddenly burst into flames from the incendiary pellet as smoke filled the room, and Batwoman ripped off her cape.
I can’t let this fire spread! she thought. Other helpless and innocent folks might be hurt! She used the specially treated garment to smother the flames and then turned to see that Brown had made good his escape.
Before she could make her next move, she heard gunfire from the street below. Batwoman dived out the window and gracefully arched her back as she swung down to see Arthur Brown frantically hurling other pellets from his pocket as a rather well-endowed, brown-haired woman and two large men opened fire in his direction with handguns.
Arthur Brown cried out as his pellets broke open with no effect, and the bullets struck him.
Batwoman crashed into the trio and swiftly dispatched the two men with deftly delivered judo jabs before turning to see the brown-haired beauty speed off in a nearby car. I recognized her from crime files — Carolyn Dole, former Inter-Gang mob boss! she thought as she hurried over to treat Brown. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Winner Take Metropolis,” DC Comics Presents #12 (August, 1979).]
He stared up at her in disbelief. “My gas pellets!” he said. “They’ve never failed me before!“
“Keep still,” said Batwoman. “We’ll get you medical care!”
Boss Dole must have hired him to plan the museum robbery, but someone else got wind of the scheme and decided to tip me off via those clues so I could stop the gang and ruin Brown’s new career, she thought. I wonder if he or she anticipated this outcome. Carolyn Dole is too ruthless a gang boss to allow anyone to mess up her plans. I guess she assumed Brown had alerted me to the job and decided to pay him back.
Arthur Brown groaned, then lapsed into unconsciousness.
High above from behind the shadows of a chimney, a cloaked and masked figure watched in horror and tried to stifle her own sobs.
Later, a pretty blonde teenager entered a small apartment in another bad part of Gotham City and rushed inside her bedroom. Stephanie Brown gasped as she saw a costumed figure sitting on the bed. “Batwoman!” she cried.
Batwoman looked at the girl and said, “Stephanie, we need to talk. I knew your mother would be at her job. She doesn’t know about your new hobby, does she?”
Stephanie pushed her long blonde hair away from her eyes and slowly sank down to the floor. “Mom doesn’t know. She has no idea about any of it. She doesn’t know I’m a killer!” she said in a rapid burst of words.
“You aren’t a killer,” said Batwoman. “Your father Arthur will recover, but you already knew that. I actually trailed you here from the hospital. I knew you’d go see how he was doing. You saw him get shot, didn’t you?”
Stephanie’s slender shoulders began to tremble as she wept. “Yes. I never meant for this to happen! He’s a terrible father, and I grew up hating him. I never really got to know him; he was in jail so often. I blamed him for the hard times Mom and I have had. She’s had to work so hard that her health has suffered. He ruined us all when he put on that stupid costume!”
“You’ve been slipping into a costume of your own, too!” said Batwoman. “Right?” She reached over and gently raised the girl’s sweater sleeve to reveal a purple shirt beneath the garment.
“I found out my… Arthur Brown — I can’t call him my father — was free, and I tracked him down,” explained Stephanie. “I’m good at stuff like that. I spied on him and learned he was trying a new racket. He was going to plan crimes for others to pull off for a fee. He was hired by that mob boss to plan a way for her goons to rob that museum. I decided that I would pay him back for his rotten treatment of Mom and me by using his style of clues to tip off the authorities. So I sent those clues and led you to stop the robbery. Then I figured you could just bring him in, too, so I sent clues to his hideout address. I’d already slipped in and out when he was away.”
“You were watching when I closed in on him,” said Batwoman. “You knew I’d capture him, since you’d already switched his gas pellets with harmless duds.”
Stephanie nodded and slowly looked up at the heroine through eyelashes damp with tears. “That’s why I called myself a killer! By removing his weapons, I made him helpless before those gunmen! I figured you’d bring him in before anything like that could happen. I knew you didn’t kill!”
Batwoman reached out and gently put one arm around the upset teenager. “It’s OK. You had no way of knowing he was going to be in that tight spot. You were trying to do the right thing. Still, why didn’t you just send a direct description of his intentions and his location to the police?”
“I guess I’m more like him than I thought,” said Stephanie, shrugging. “I liked the idea of playing mind games with you. See, I knew how to contact you, because I’d already figured out the truth. I know you’re Barbara Gordon! It’s ’cause of those stupid clues that he was free long enough to get shot! I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I could have brought in a friend to help stage some stunt to throw you off the truth, but I’m not going to do that,” said Batwoman. “I’m going to take a chance on you, based on the fact that I see a lot of qualities in you that I had when was your age. I’m going to respect you enough to trust you.”
She slipped back her cowl to reveal her lovely features. “I never was too careful about my secret in the early years.”
“I wanted to try to understand my father, so I studied all the old newspaper clippings and microfilm about him, and of course that led to stories about Batman and you,” said Stephanie. “It was pretty simple for me to conclude that Robin must have been a student at Hudson University, since he started showing up there at lot, and then abruptly stopped and returned to Gotham City and New York. Still, I had no real desire to learn his secret. Yours was more appealing, since I looked up to you.”
“You read about some of my old cases, right?” asked Babs.
Stephanie nodded and said, “Batgirl started appearing in D.C. at the exact time you moved there after your election to Congress. Your daily schedule as Barbara Gordon was public record through things like your office’s press releases. It was pretty cool to see that where Congresswoman Gordon went, Batgirl followed. I found stories that placed both of you at places like Provincetown, Massachusetts, the Valley of the Copper Moon, and Mexico at the exact same times. You both had red hair and similar builds. As soon as you lost your seat in Congress as Gordon, you and Batgirl both started appearing in Gotham City again.”
“You came to the library to do your research, and you looked at the library scrapbook that traced some of my other job-related trips to places like Hudson U. and Madrid, Spain,” said Babs. “You told a co-worker that it was a school project.”
“Right,” said Stephanie. “The more I learned about you, the more I liked you. I mean, I figured if you could do so much, then maybe I could be somebody someday, too!”
The girl stood up and said, “Since I’d figured out your secret before he got free, I figured it might be fun to send those clues about his plans to you. You found me out, though. I guess I’m not in your league.”
Barbara put her cowl back on and said, “You’re not there yet, but you’re impressive.”
“I also figured out that for a while you were sighted the most around one neighborhood,” said Stephanie. “I found a garage there owned by a guy named Jeff Cotton. I figured he was letting you store your cycle there. I even talked to some street people who said you used be seen there a lot.”
“Arthur will recover,” said Batwoman. “The doctors assured me of that. I bet I’ll be able to track down Carolyn Dole soon enough, too, and perhaps learn why she wanted those relics from the museum. That brings me to you.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Stephanie. “I won’t tell anyone your secret! You saved his life! I owe you a lot!”
Batwoman smiled and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not like I was planning to wipe your mind of all memories of me with my Bat-Amnesia-Ray or something. I’d like to help you and your mother. How’d you like a part-time job at the library? Your research skills would make you a natural. There is a job for a page opening up soon.”
Stephanie smiled and said, “You mean it? I’d like that!”
Batwoman winked at her and said, “Good. Consider it a done deal. After all, you’ve got an in with one of the head librarians!”
“I guess I can get rid of this,” said Stephanie. She removed her sweater to reveal a purple costume she had concealed beneath her outer clothes. “I was calling myself Spoiler, since I wanted to spoil Cluemaster’s plans,” she said with a shrug.
“At first I wasn’t taken seriously, either, when I first started being Batgirl,” said Batwoman. “I take you seriously. If you’d like, I could teach you a few things. Not that I recommend that you try something as dangerous as becoming a costumed heroine in your own right. Still, a girl could use some special skills, and I could share some of my experience with you, if you promise not to try any solo adventures again.”
Stephanie beamed with please as she said, “I do! This is wonderful!“
Batwoman nodded and said, “OK, Spoiler. Oh, and first thing tomorrow, I think I may misplace the library scrapbook. I don’t need so many trails to my secret being open to public access.”
They laughed, and Stephanie Brown looked beyond her father’s unhappy shadow to a brighter future.