The sleek black motorcycle pulled up in front of the Bellamy Arts Center. The building was large but low, only two stories. It was pitch dark, as befitted the early morning hour.
“Place looks quiet,” Green Arrow said, dismounting from the back of the cycle. “But then, I wouldn’t expect them to be shooting off fireworks.”
“You heard the police call, same as I did,” Black Canary said. “Someone tripped a silent alarm in there.”
“Amateurs, or else a pro using very dumb hired muscle,” Green Arrow said. “Hey, check the sign.” The emerald archer pointed to a sign advertising the current exhibit at the arts center: Marvels in Miniature, the Creations of Sheldon Jarrett.
“I read about this in the paper,” Black Canary said. “This artist makes scale-model replicas of famous world landmarks in precious metals and jewels. The Taj Mahal, the Sphinx, the Empire State Building, the Coast City Bridge… they’re all here.”
“Interesting,” Green Arrow mused. “Precious metals and jewels? Probably insured to the hilt. Crooks probably plan to sell ’em back to the insurance company. Cheaper than paying out the premium.”
“Maybe,” Black Canary said. “Unless we stop them from getting away with it.”
“Well, yeah, I meant hypothetically,” Green Arrow said. “C’mon, let’s get to work!”
The two Justice League champions made their way to the front door. A few seconds of work with lock-pick tools from her canary amulet, and Black Canary had the door open. She and Green Arrow crept stealthily inside. Black Canary stopped short and pointed to the floor. Two uniformed security guards lay sprawled on the floor, breathing in irregular gasps. Green Arrow caught a faint chemical odor and spotted fragments of glass and wood on the floor. One large glass fragment had a vague bell shape.
“Looks like a gas-filled hourglass,” Green Arrow said.
“Now, who do we know who uses that kind of weapon?” Black Canary asked.
“Well, there’s Lachesis, one of your dancing partners from last month,” Green Arrow said. (*) “And Chronos, of course; maybe the Time Commander. But I’m betting it’s someone else.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Black Canary and Hawkwoman: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.]
The two costumed crime-fighters crept deeper into the darkened museum. As they rounded a corner, Green Arrow stopped suddenly, motioning for Black Canary to do the same. A group of men in black turtleneck sweaters and black pants were carefully removing jeweled models from the display cases. The men seemed able to see just what they were doing, even though it was very dark. They all wore large goggles over their eyes. Their sweaters were emblazoned with clock faces, each showing a different time. Standing near the far doorway, supervising the operation, was a man in a garish blue and green costume.
“The Clock King!” Black Canary hissed in a whisper. “I didn’t think this was his style of crime.”
“He probably figures on keeping the Big Ben model for himself,” Green Arrow mused, “and selling the rest. Well, shall we throw a wrench into his clockworks?” The emerald archer lifted an arrow from his quiver and notched it to the bowstring.
As he drew the string, a loud voice suddenly boomed out, “Hold it right there!”
All heads in the room, including the two costumed crime-fighters, turned in the direction of the shout. That direction was up; the display room had a very high ceiling, going the full height of the building. The skylight was open, and a figure in a colorful red and black costume stood at the lip.
“Who’s that?” Black Canary asked.
“Blasted if I know,” Green Arrow replied.
“Put your hands up and step away from the models, all of you,” the newcomer ordered, aiming a strange-looking pistol at the criminals.
“Blast him!” Clock King demanded. His henchmen whipped guns from shoulder-holsters and aimed them at the challenger. But the newcomer was prepared to fire his weapon. With a sound like a great bass fiddle, the gun discharged. Green Arrow and Black Canary watched thin white projectiles strike the ground at the feet of Clock King’s henchmen, and suddenly the room was full of thick, choking smoke. The henchmen were obscured from sight, but they were heard coughing loudly. Clock King, seeing the way the tide was turning, moved to the door.
“Ah-ah-ah,” Green Arrow said, firing a two-pronged arrow. The double arrowheads sank into the door and the doorjamb, sealing the door closed. Clock King’s clock face mask whirled around to stare at the direction from which the arrow had come. “Green Arrow!” he snarled. “I might have known! Well, now I’ll punch your clock for good!” The chronological criminal’s hand flew to his belt and pulled out a metallic weapon in the shape of a small sundial. Green Arrow prepared to parry the strike, but another bass-fiddle sound signaled the strike of another projectile. Clock King cried out in surprise as his weapon was knocked from his hand. He, Green Arrow, and Black Canary watched it tumble to the floor, a white rectangle of metal half-buried in its length.
“The Ace of Clubs?” Green Arrow asked aloud.
“Courtesy of Cardshark,” the newcomer cried, rapidly descending to the display room floor on a length of rope.
“Cardshark?!” Clock King cried indignantly. “And here I thought I had a silly name! Of all the ridiculous–”
Before the gaudily costumed villain could finish his statement, Green Arrow fired a rubber-tipped arrow at the floor, which rebounded up and under Clock King’s elaborate mask, striking his chin in an uppercut that snapped his head back against the wall. Unconscious, the costumed criminal sank to the floor.
“Nice shot!” Cardshark said, clearly impressed.
“You, too,” Green Arrow said, indicating Clock King’s card-pierced weapon with a thumb.
“So, you’re called Cardshark?” Black Canary asked the newcomer.
“Yes, that’s the name I came up with,” Cardshark acknowledged. “What do you think of it?”
“Different,” Black Canary said, smiling. “It’s got a kind of edge to it.”
Green Arrow opened his mouth to comment, but a noise from behind drew his attention. The smoke cloud had mostly dissipated, drifted out through the open skylight, and the Clock King’s henchmen were becoming oriented again. Green Arrow moved swiftly to take them down. “Is this your first case?” Black Canary asked.
“My first public appearance, yes,” Cardshark said. “I’ve had a few cases prior to this, but they didn’t make the newspapers.”
“Uh, people?” Green Arrow said, knocking one henchman down with a right cross.
“Well, there’s enough crime to go around,” Black Canary said. “We can always use the help. Will you be operating exclusively in Star City?”
“Probably,” Cardshark said. “I’ll go wherever I’m needed, and you and Green Arrow do excellent work here. But I was born and raised in Star City, so I’d like to stay close to home.”
“Speaking of help–” Green Arrow said, delivering a smashing uppercut to another henchman.
“So, why the playing card motif?” Black Canary asked. “I mean, no offense, but that’s more popular among villains than heroes.”
“I know — people like the Joker and the Royal Flush Gang,” Cardshark said. “But I have my own reasons, which are a bit too personal to reveal.”
“Little help over here?” Green Arrow asked as a henchman wrapped his arm around the archer’s throat. A second henchman prepared to punch Green Arrow in the stomach, but the hero beat him to it with a double-footed kick. He then came down hard on his feet and yanked the thug holding him over his head in a judo throw Black Canary had taught him.
“Oh, I don’t mean to pry,” Black Canary said. “I’m just naturally curious, I guess.”
“No harm done,” Cardshark said. He extended his gloved hand. “I hope we’ll be working together again.”
Black Canary took his hand, feeling a little tingle as she closed her own around it. “Sure,” she said, a little breathlessly. Her confusion was interrupted by police sirens.
“Well, that took long enough,” Cardshark said. “But I guess they were busy tonight.”
“Yeah,” Black Canary agreed. “Well, not much left to do here but clean — oh!” She turned her head to look at the henchmen and saw them all lying on the floor, unconscious. Green Arrow stood in the center of them, leaning forward, his hands on his thighs, gasping for breath. “Green Arrow!” Black Canary gasped. “Why didn’t you say something if you needed a hand?” The archer shot her a very nasty look.
“Look, I already said I was sorry!” Black Canary said, as she leaped the space between rooftops the following night. “What more do you want?”
“Ahh, nothing,” Green Arrow said, leaping the distance as well. “Guess I was just ruffled. I’m sorry.”
“What’s the matter?” Canary grinned. “Not jealous, are you?”
“Jealous?” Green Arrow snapped. “Of a walking Bicycle deck? Not likely!”
“Oh,” Black Canary said, walking across the rooftop. “What is it, then?”
“Well, I dunno,” Green Arrow said. “Maybe I’m just cautious of new heroes, after the Futurian thing last year.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Fear the Future.]
“Knowing our business the way I do,” Canary said, “I’m suspicious of anyone new who wants to get into it. Of course, they don’t know it like we–”
“Hang on!” Green Arrow snapped, stopping at the edge of the rooftop. “Look down there!”
Black Canary peered over the rooftop edge. In the alley below, a battered old van was backed up to the rear entrance of a video store. Young men in dirty jeans and T-shirts were carrying armloads of video cassettes out of the store. “Must have left their rental cards at home,” Black Canary quipped. “Shall we go down there and check them out but good?”
“Sounds good to m — oh, for crying out loud!” Green Arrow swore as he pointed. “Look!”
All of a sudden, Cardshark was standing in the mouth of the alley, facing the thieves. “OK, fellas,” the colorfully clad crime-buster called, “put down the videos and surrender, and things may go easier on you!”
“Gets around, doesn’t he?” Green Arrow commented sourly.
“Eat lead, turkey!” one thief snapped, whipping out a pistol. Cardshark fired his own weapon; the bass-fiddle sound accompanied the launch of a playing-card projectile. The metal card struck the barrel of the thief’s gun, followed by a loud crackle and a shower of electric sparks. With a shriek the thief crumpled to the alley, unconscious.
“Split, man!” another thief called; as one, the remaining thieves dropped their booty and sprinted for the open door of the video store. Cardshark fired his weapon at the ground just ahead of the door. This time, the card-projectiles burst into a thick, sticky film. When the fleeing thieves’ feet hit it, they stuck fast, inertia carrying their bodies forward to slam onto the ground.
“Looks like he’s got this situation in hand,” Black Canary said, smiling in admiration.
“You sure of that?” Green Arrow asked as the van started up. The driver had been in the seat the whole time for a fast getaway. He now gunned the engine, preparing to run the lone Cardshark down.
Cardshark made no move to get out of the van’s way, but took a pair of tiny cubes from a pouch on his belt.
“Is he nuts?” Green Arrow asked. “How’s he gonna stop that van with dice?”
Cardshark reared back his arm and flung the dice at the van. When the cubes struck the hood of the vehicle, they exploded with great concussive force.
“Guess they were loaded,” Black Canary joked.
The van, rocked by the explosion, flipped over onto its passenger side and continued along the length of the alley, bypassing Cardshark and striking the alley wall. Green Arrow and Black Canary watched the new hero pull the unharmed-but-terrified thief from the van.
“So much for that robbery in progress,” Black Canary said. “Shall we go down and congratulate him?”
But Green Arrow was already gone, drawn across the rooftops by his arrow-line.
“OK, Hal, you’re relieved,” Green Arrow said as he walked into the communications center of the JLA Satellite.
“Hi, Ollie,” Green Lantern said, looking up from the monitors. “I was just watching a news broadcast from Star City.”
“The scores from the Comets game, I hope?” Green Arrow asked.
“No, it was an item on a robbery attempt stopped by this new hero, Cardshark,” Green Lantern said. “Seems he caught Bull’s-Eye breaking into a sporting goods store.”
“Bull’s-Eye?” Green Arrow repeated. “I haven’t heard from him in years! I thought he’d retired.”
“Apparently not. You’ve met this Cardshark, haven’t you? Dinah mentioned it to me.”
“Yeah, we met him,” Green Arrow said, a little distastefully. “Seems like a nice enough kid.”
“I detect a hint of disapproval there,” Green Lantern said. “What’s wrong, Ollie?”
“I don’t know, Hal,” Green Arrow admitted. “I just don’t know. I’ve got no reason not to like the guy. He’s doing good work, and for a newcomer he seems pretty good at it. But for some reason — I dunno.”
“Well, let me take a crack at amateur psychology,” Green Lantern said. “It’s one of two things. Either you’re subconsciously worried about endorsing him before you’re completely certain of his motives, after the Futurian debacle…”
“Or?” Green Arrow prompted.
“Or,” Green Lantern proceeded cautiously, “you don’t like all the attention he’s getting.”
“What?!” Green Arrow demanded. “Hal, do you really think I’m that shallow?”
“No, Ollie, I’m not saying that at all,” Green Lantern said. “But you are only human. You’ve been Star City’s number-one hero for a long time now. Someone new getting the limelight can’t help but sting.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Green Arrow said, noncommittally. “Dinah talked to you about it, huh?”
“She mentioned it,” Green Lantern said. “Asked me if I’d heard of the new hero, then went on to tell me about the Clock King case he helped you clean up. Interesting weapon, trick playing cards.”
Green Arrow winced at the words. Dinah had been talking a lot about Cardshark lately, much more than Ollie liked.