“Bruce!” a friendly voice called. “Bruce Wayne! It’s been a long time.”
“Roger!” Bruce said affably, taking the offered hand and shaking it firmly. “Roger Montrose — my God! It has been too long! What brings you out from your study? Usually we can’t tear you away from your work!”
“Tell you the truth, I partly own this place,” Roger said.
Bruce’s eyes popped. “You’re kidding, Roger! You? The man whose chief interest in life is cataloging the many species of Lepidoptera, part owner of a nightclub?”
“Silent partner,” Roger said. “I put up forty percent of the costs, but I let Paul Kratz make all the decisions. It’s a business investment, nothing more. All of my share of the profits will be going to the World Wildlife Fund.”
“I see,” Bruce said. “A noble project, to be sure. How’d you ever get hooked up with Kratz in the first place?”
“He approached me,” Roger said. “Met me at our club, on one of the rare occasions that I went. Told me his idea, and it sounded good.” Roger frowned slightly. “Not sure I care for the change of decor from his original idea, but he knows a lot more about nightclubs than I do.”
“I’m sure,” Bruce said, his right eyebrow raising ever so slightly.
“I’m here,” Paul Kratz said to the greeter at the front door of the club. “What’s the emergency?”
The greeter looked at Kratz with a quizzical expression. “Emergency, Mr. Kratz? There’s no emergency.”
“What?” Kratz asked. “But one of the waiters gave me this!” Kratz handed a piece of paper to the greeter. The man looked at it and read the words written on it.
MR. KRATZ — PROBLEM UP FRONT. NEED YOU A.S.A.P.
The greeter shook his head and handed the paper back. “Someone’s playing silly buggers with you, Mr. Kratz. No problem here.”
Kratz’s head snapped around to peer back into the club. His eyes narrowed to serpentine slits.
“Wow,” Jimmy Olsen whispered to himself as he stood in the darkened office. He rifled through a sheaf of papers in the desk drawer using a pencil flashlight. “Interesting stuff!”
Jimmy gasped as the light came on suddenly. He turned around and quickly put up his hands. He was staring into the barrel of a gun.
“Nosy, aren’t you?” the man behind the gun snarled. “Well, you’ve found more than you bargained for!”
“Sheesh!” Jimmy said. “I’ve never heard anyone actually talk like that, outside of a Republic Pictures serial!”
The man chuckled. “Then just call me J. Carrol Naish,” he said. The he waved the gun barrel toward a door in the far wall of the office. “Get moving.”
Jimmy marched obediently to the door. The man with the gun warned him against trying anything as he fumbled his ring of keys out of his pocket one-handed, unlocked the door, and opened it. Jimmy walked through the door down the steps into the basement. The man with the gun led him to a small chamber in the basement, wherein a man sat against a wall, bound in chains.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Jimmy said.
“Roger!” said a rotund man in a navy blue suit, coming up to the reclusive millionaire. “Didn’t I see you talking to Bruce Wayne a moment ago?”
“Wayne was here, Tunney,” Roger said. “But he had to leave suddenly. He had one of those beeper things, and it went off. Foundation business, he said.”
“Pity,” Tunney said. “I wanted to discuss a new project with him. I’ve got the chance to invest in something new, and I wanted to get his thoughts.” The portly businessman shook his head.
“Probably a bad idea, anyway. I mean, portable telephones are fine for us big business tycoons, but they’ll never interest ordinary people in them.”
Beneath his midnight-blue mask, Bruce Wayne smiled grimly. He crouched on the roof of the club, listening to the conversations within through an electronic listening device. His faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth had paged Bruce at a predetermined time to allow him to slip away and change to the Batman. If the Planet-Master were going to strike, Batman would be waiting for him.
“So how long have you been here?” Jimmy asked his fellow prisoner when their jailor had left.
“Few weeks, maybe a month,” the man said, shrugging as much as his chains allowed. “I’ve lost track of time. What are you in for?”
“I ask questions, I snoop around,” Jimmy said, shrugging in his own chains. “Nobody likes that.”
“Well, I wonder how much longer he plans keeping us down here,” the other prisoner pondered.
Jimmy grinned. “Not much longer.” He pushed the shoe off his right foot with his left. In the dim light of their prison, his fellow prisoner caught the slight glitter of something metal inside the shoe.
Batman shifted slightly, his body tensed nervously like a coiled spring. Had he guessed wrong? Was the Planet-Master going to strike some other target tonight? Gordon’s men were staking out every other possible Pluto target, but…
He smiled grimly as he heard a scream from within the club.
“You all know the drill,” the man in the black costume snarled, waving his submachine gun around. “Hand over all your money and valuables! Quickly, now!”
“Drop your gun!” the special-duty policemen commanded, aiming their service revolvers at the Planet-Master.
“I don’t think so!” Planet-Master declared, hurling a bluish-white pellet at the police. The pellet exploded in a flash of white light at the policemen’s feet. When the light cleared, the police were encased in ice from the floor to their waists. They had dropped their guns and were violently shivering with cold; they vainly tried to chip away the ice with their hands.
Planet-Master threw back his head and laughed. “It’s amazing what you can get on the black market these days,” he laughed to himself. “These ice-bombs are everything Snart said they–”
“The Batman!” a club-goer cried. Planet-Master whirled on his heel, catching sight of the Caped Crusader. Batman frowned. So much for the element of surprise.
“You again?” Planet-Master growled. “Am I never to be free of you?”
“Not as long as you break the law,” Batman declared, tensing to spring.
“Well, no ice-bomb for you,” Planet-Master said, swinging his submachine gun around. “Simple lead is good enough for bats!”
Batman stood tensely, waiting for the first click of the trigger. He wanted Planet-Master to remain focused on him, not to vary his target area. Hearing the telltale click, Batman quickly flattened to the floor to allow the bullets to sail harmlessly over him. The Darknight Detective gasped when he heard a scream of pain.
He looked up to see Roger Montrose holding his right arm, blood seeping between his fingers, his face a grimace of agony. But Montrose had been nowhere near Batman; no one had. The Planet-Master was spraying the room wildly. Batman had to put a stop to that. From his prone position on the floor, his hands moved quickly. His right hand came around in a flourish, whipping a batarang through the air. His left hand moved more furtively, sending a tiny spherical object rolling across the floor. Planet-Master saw the batarang coming — he could hardly have missed it — and dodged it easily. But the marble exploded at his feet into billowing clouds of thick yellow smoke. The black-clad villain was seized by a fit of coughing that forced him to drop his gun.
In a blur of midnight blue, the Batman was upon him, grabbing a fistful of the villain’s costume in his left hand. The grim avenger drew his right arm back for a crippling blow, but the Planet-Master slipped easily from his grasp. Batman realized that his costume must be treated with something to make it extra-slippery, difficult to hold. Realizing what the desperate villain would try, Batman’s booted foot shot out to kick the machine gun out of Planet-Master’s reach.
“Just what I needed!” a new voice cried. Batman turned in the direction of the voice — and did a double-take.
A second Planet-Master had joined the battle, and he grabbed the gun.
Batman prepared to leap into action, expecting this new Planet-Master to turn the machine gun on him. To the Caped Crusader’s surprise, however, the newcomer aimed the weapon at the first Planet-Master.
“Here’s where you get paid back, you lousy creep!” the newcomer snarled.
“Burke, no!” a new voice from behind the second Planet-Master cried before Batman could react.
Burke? Batman repeated in his mind. But — if this one is Burke, then who–?
“Batman!” the first Planet-Master yelped in fear, cowering behind the hero. “Don’t let him kill me! Y-you have to protect me!”
“Move aside, Batman!” the second Planet-Master snarled, motioning with the barrel of the machine gun. “I don’t want to hurt you, but by God I’m going to kill him, even if I have to take you with him or–”
The gunman’s threat ended with a grunt of pain. He crumpled to the floor, revealing Jimmy Olsen standing behind him, massaging the side of his right hand.
“Good ol’ karate,” Jimmy said. “Give me that over klurkor any time.”
Batman turned to the Planet-Master cowering behind him. “I take it you surrender now?” he asked in severe tones.
“I-I–” he stammered.
“Thought not,” Batman said before delivering a powerful right cross to the masked villain’s jaw.
Batman looked down at the unconscious Planet-Master but turned his head as Jimmy Olsen came up behind him.
“Quite a switch for me,” Jimmy said. “Usually it’s the guy in the cape showing up at the last minute to get me out of a jam!”
“Hrm,” was Batman’s only comment on that. “Let me see who this one is, if that one is Edward Burke.”
“I could tell you that,” Jimmy said, but Batman bent and pulled off the unconscious man’s mask. If he was surprised by the sight of Paul Kratz’s face, he did not let it show.
“Paul!” Roger Montrose gasped, running up to the costumed men. He was still holding his wounded arm.
“Someone call an ambulance for Mr. Montrose,” Batman called to the crowd. Three uniformed waiters rushed to comply.
“I see you caught some fire, Mr. Montrose,” Jimmy said. “I’m just glad Kratz’s plan didn’t succeed!”
Now Batman was surprised. “Montrose was Kratz’s target?”
“Sure,” Jimmy said. “Back in Metropolis, I thought it was a bit too coincidental that Kratz suddenly changed the theme of his new nightclub to the Plutocrat Club, and next thing you know the Planet-Master goes on a crime spree.”
Batman silently cursed himself. His own feelings of guilt at having possibly egged Burke into that crime spree had blinded him to that obvious fact.
“So I did some background checking, called in some favors from friends in the financial circle,” Jimmy continued. “It seems that a lot of Kratz’s investments took a turn for the worse. When the smoke cleared, he was practically penniless; every solvent cent he had was tied up in the building of this club.”
“I see,” Batman said, extrapolating from there. “I’m guessing there is an insurance policy tied up in this somewhere.”
“Why, yes,” Montrose said. “Paul had me sign a policy with the club as beneficiary. He told me it was standard business practice!”
“For five million dollars?” Jimmy asked.
Montrose blinked. “How much?”
“You mean you didn’t even read–? Oh, skip it,” Batman began. “But where did Burke come into it?”
“I had a little chat with him down in the basement,” Jimmy said. “A couple weeks before his release, Kratz wrote to him in prison, offering him a job on his release. Burke came straight here from the prison, and Kratz marched him down to the basement at gunpoint. Been keeping him there ever since.”
“My God!” Batman exclaimed. “So it was Kratz I was fighting all along, not Burke! And I suppose he planned to kill Montrose during the staged robbery, then set Burke loose in the club to be shot dead by the police!”
“That’s why he had Burke dressed up and ready to go,” Jimmy said, nodding. “I know Burke threatened to kill Kratz for that, but that’s really a natural reaction. I don’t think he really did anything wrong, do you?”
Batman smiled grimly. “No, Jimmy, I don’t. And I want to thank you for your help tonight.”
“Aw, Batman, I didn’t do much!” Jimmy said dismissively. “Nothing you wouldn’t have done, certainly!”
“Maybe not, if I had stayed focused,” Batman said. “It’s just lucky someone kept a cool head during this case.”
“Not luck, Batman,” Jimmy said, nudging the unconscious Kratz with the toe of his shoe, touching the large orange circle representing the planet Jupiter. “It was written in the stars.”