“Good afternoon, Mr. Queen!” the maitre d’hotel said, all smiles and pleasantries. “It’s been too long since you’ve dined with us, sir!”
“I agree, Maurice,” the bearded man said, returning the smile. “What do you recommend today?”
“Well, Mr. Queen, the coq au vin is excellent,” Maurice said, “and the shrimp diavolo is sumptuous!”
“What did you have for lunch, Maurice?” Oliver asked.
“The coq au vin,” Maurice answered.
“I think I’ll have that,” Oliver said with a smile.
“You are too much, Mr. Queen,” Maurice chuckled. “Come, we have your favorite table for you!”
“Thank you, Maurice,” Oliver said, following the maitre d’. “I’m expecting a guest for lunch.”
“Your party is already here, sir,” Maurice said. “I took the liberty of seating him at your table.”
Oliver Queen looked ahead of Maurice and saw a tall, broad-shouldered man in a blue suit and red tie, seated at the table by the window, reading a menu. The man had slicked-back black hair and wore black-framed glasses. He looked up when he heard Maurice and Oliver coming.
“Mr. Queen!” the man said, rising from his chair and extending a hand. “Clark Kent, Daily Planet. Thank you so much for granting me this interview, sir!”
“You’re entirely welcome,” Oliver said, shaking his hand. “I’m always impressed by the Planet’s level of honesty and impartiality in its reporting.”
“We do try,” Kent said, as they sat down. “I’ll tell my editor you noticed.”
“I hope you don’t mind doing the interview over lunch,” Oliver said. “I have a pretty hectic schedule today.”
“Not at all, not at all,” Kent said. “Shall we start right away, or shall we wait until we’ve ordered?”
“I pretty much know what I want,” Oliver said, “so why not get started?”
“Very well,” Kent said, taking out a miniature tape recorder and setting it on the table between them. After pressing the record and play buttons, he looked up at Oliver. “I guess the main question is, why did you give away your personal fortune?”
“This will sound clichéd,” Oliver said, “but I felt the money could be put to better use. I thought the world needed scholarships for underprivileged kids more than I needed a new Armani suit every month.”
“To say nothing of the Star City Downtown Youth Center,” Kent said. “You’ve done a lot for the young people of this city and, in fact, for the world. How does it make you feel?”
“Pretty good,” Oliver admitted. “Of course, I didn’t do it to make myself feel good, but when you see a kid graduating college who wouldn’t have had a chance otherwise, and you know you gave him that chance? There’s no better feeling in the world.”
“Oliver, hello!” a new voice said, coming up to the table from the side. “How are–? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see the tape recorder. Am I interrupting something?”
“No interruption,” Kent said. “In fact, I’d love a quote from a close friend of Mr. Queen’s!”
“Then this is your lucky day,” Oliver said. “Barry, let me present Mr. Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. Mr. Kent, one of my closest friends, Barry Allen.”
“A pleasure,” Barry said, shaking Kent’s hand.
“How long have you known Mr. Queen, Mr. Allen?” Kent asked.
“Make it Barry, please,” Barry said. “I’ve known Mr. Queen for, what is it, Oliver? Seven years?”
“Is it that long?” Oliver asked. “I suppose it is, six or seven.”
“We met at a fundraiser for Kirkley University,” Barry explained. “I’m in the chemistry department. We got into a friendly argument about politics and have been good friends ever since.”
“That’s great copy,” Kent said. “Can you tell me what the educational community thinks about Mr. Queen’s many scholarship endowments?”
“What would you expect we think?” Barry said. “We think it’s wonderful. It isn’t often a wealthy man gives back to the community the way Mr. Queen has. To him, everybody is a person. That may sound like a simplistic view, but it’s one shared by sadly few wealthy men.”
“Excellent,” Kent said, grinning. “This is going to be perfect for my article!” The muscular reporter reached over and switched off the recorder. “Would you gentlemen excuse me a moment? Call of nature.” Barry and Oliver nodded assent, and Kent got up and left.
“What I wanted to tell you, Oliver,” Barry said. “I had lunch with Hal yesterday.”
“Hal?” Oliver repeated, surprised. “I didn’t even know he was in town!”
“He wasn’t, for long,” Barry said. “You know how it is, owning and operating your own charter flight service. He was in Star City for exactly ninety minutes. We barely had time to grab a cheeseburger. We tried to call you, but you were in a board meeting.”
“Business,” Oliver said, making a face. “A pox on it!”
“I hear you,” Barry said, grinning. “Anyway, he brought me a copy of Ralph’s new book. Just hit the stores in the U.K.; won’t be out here until next year.”
“I’ll want to borrow it when you’re done,” Oliver said.
“I thought you would,” Barry said. “This one is called Riddle of the Red-Handed Robber. I’m already three chapters into it; it’s a real page-turner.”
“Ralph does have a nose for mystery,” Oliver commented.
“Sorry about that, gentlemen,” Kent said, returning to the table. “All right if we continue with the interview?”
“Certainly, Mr. Kent. That’s why we’re here,” Oliver said.
“OK, then,” Kent said, turning the recorder back on. “Why don’t you tell me about Dinah Lance?”
Oliver grinned and looked at Barry. “Happens every time,” he said.
Barry chuckled. “What do you expect when you’re dating a supermodel?“
When lunch and the interview were over, Oliver and Barry left the restaurant together. “Share a cab as far as the University, Barry?” Oliver asked.
“Thanks, but on an associate professor’s salary, I only take buses,” Barry grinned. “Little Jay wants to know when his Uncle Ollie is coming to visit again, though!”
Oliver grinned. “You tell him as soon as his mommy makes her famous pot roast again!”
“If that’s fishing for an invitation,” Barry said, “I’ll see you Friday night!”
“You bet!” Oliver said. Just then, Barry’s bus came. He boarded it, waving goodbye to his friend. Oliver returned the wave with a big grin on his face. Life was good, he reflected. Good friends, a wonderful woman in his life, and he was doing good work. He turned away from the bus stop to hail a cab.
Oliver did a double-take when he caught sight of his own reflection in the restaurant window. For some bizarre reason, he saw himself wearing a green domino mask and a Robin Hood-style hat with a feather in it. He blinked his eyes and looked again; the reflection was normal.
“Coq au vin must have been off,” he pondered, and waved at an approaching taxi.
Later that evening, Oliver Queen returned to his apartment on Star City’s West Side. It was a far cry from the mansion he owned before he gave away his personal fortune, but it was still a very comfortable place to live. First thing he noticed coming through the door was the little green light on his answering machine, telling him he had a message.
“Oliver, it’s Roy,” the voice on the tape said. Oliver smiled at the voice. “I’ve got a free evening tonight. Want to get together for dinner, maybe bowl a few games? Give me a call.”
Oliver smiled with pride. Roy Harper had been his legal ward, an orphan he had raised from boyhood. He was a young man now, having graduated from Kirkley with honors, now in his first year of teaching seventh grade at McGrelle Junior High. Oliver picked up the phone to reply.
“Strike again!” Roy cried out in disbelief as Oliver’s ball sent the pins flying. “Your aim is unbelievable, Oliver!”
“Just lucky,” Oliver said. “I don’t even think about it; I just throw the ball naturally.”
“Then you should go on the pro bowling circuit,” Roy said, getting up from the scoring table to take his turn.
“So how are you liking teaching?” Oliver asked.
“Wonderful,” Roy said. “I’ve got a great class of kids. They’re all so eager to learn! It’s everything I ever dreamed it would be.”
“I’m really proud of you, Roy,” Oliver said, beaming. “I couldn’t be any prouder if I were your father.”
Roy turned at Oliver and grinned broadly. “You are my father, Oliver. In every sense of the word, except biological. Everything I am, I owe to you.”
Oliver felt himself getting misty. “Shut up and bowl, will you?”
Laughing, Roy turned to make his throw. Oliver wiped his eyes, blinking. He gaped at his own hand; for a second it seemed covered in a form-fitting leather glove, dyed dark forest green. Oliver shook his head, and the image was gone.
He’d have to speak to Maurice about that coq au vin.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hall,” Oliver said to his secretary as he entered his office the next morning.
“Good morning, Mr. Queen,” the red-haired young woman returned his greeting. “You have a couple of phone messages. Mr. Bilford from President Mondale’s re-election committee called about the fundraiser next month, and Mr. Wayne from Gotham City wants to reschedule your golf date from the eleventh to the eighteenth.”
“OK, call Mr. Wayne’s secretary and tell her that’s all right, and get me Mr. Bilford on the phone. Oh, and put dinner with the Allens on my calendar for this Friday, please.”
“Will do, sir,” Mrs. Hall said, her long-nailed fingers already flying over the keyboard.
As he entered his office, Oliver had the strangest feeling. Something in the back of his mind rebelled against the idea of dinner with the Allens. Like it couldn’t be done. But why couldn’t it be done? What was wrong with it? Oliver couldn’t put his finger on it.
He sat down in the comfortable suede chair behind his desk and reached for the morning mail. On top of the stack was the morning edition of the Daily Star. Oliver unfolded it, stared at the headline, and gasped. The huge black type read:
DEATH OF A HERO
The Flash Dies a Hero’s Death
Below the headline was a picture of a man in a strange-looking costume, with a masked cowl and lightning bolt symbols. “Barry?” Oliver said, not knowing why.
“Mr. Queen?” Mrs. Hall’s voice came over the intercom. Oliver’s head snapped around to stare at the machine. “Mr. Queen, I have Mr. Bilford on three. Mr. Queen?”
Oliver slowly turned his head to look back at the newspaper. The headline and photo now dealt with Senator Bolt’s proposed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. There was nothing about anyone called the Flash.
“Mr. Queen? Are you all right?” Mrs. Hall’s voice sounded through the intercom.
“I’m fine,” Oliver said, sounding shaky. “Could you… could you please tell Mr. Bilford I’ll call him right back?”
“Certainly, sir,” Mrs. Hall said, sounding concerned.
Oliver quickly leafed through the paper, trying to find the story he had seen. Nothing. Nowhere in the paper was there any mention of the Flash. Oliver was sure he’d never heard that name before; so why did he immediately connect it with his friend Barry?
What the devil was going on?
Oliver left his office early that day. The repeated hallucinations were making it impossible to concentrate. He thought of making an appointment with his physician, but he dismissed that idea. He was afraid of what he might hear. Was he going out of his mind?
Pacing around the living room of his apartment, he tried to make sense of it all. He examined the things he had seen a dozen different ways, and none of it made sense.
He stopped pacing as something caught his eye — a framed newspaper headline hanging on the wall. The photo in the newspaper story was of himself. The story described how Oliver Queen had been accused of embezzlement, how a grand jury was convened to investigate, how investors were deserting his company in droves. Oliver read it with a horrible, icy feeling in his stomach.
With a scream he lashed out, throwing a punch at the offending document. His fist shattered the glass, sending the framed newspaper crashing to the floor. He grabbed his fist with his left hand, massaging the bruised knuckles and feeling the blood seep between his fingers. He looked down at the ruined picture frame. The newspaper story was now of himself making the public announcement that he was giving away his personal fortune to endow scholarships and build the downtown youth center. He stared at it with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Oliver whirled on his heel, turning away from the newspaper story. He ran to the bathroom to clean and bandage his fist. When he stormed into the room, his eyes caught sight of a magazine lying near the toilet. It was one of those celebrity photo magazines, and the cover showed a picture of his girlfriend, Dinah. She was dressed in a bizarre outfit, a navy blue leather jacket over what appeared to be a one-piece leather swimsuit and blue fishnet stockings. Beside her face was a blurb that read, Black Canary, Blonde Bombshell of the Justice League. Oliver bent to pick up the magazine. When he straightened up and looked at the cover once again, Dinah was wearing a black bikini, and the blurb read, Dinah Lance, Queen of the Supermodels. With a shout of frustration, Oliver threw the magazine away. He turned to the sink, leaned on it with both his hands, and stood there with his head hanging down on his chest, breathing in great, ragged gulps of air.
After many long minutes, Oliver raised his head. He saw his own reflection in the mirror over the sink and gasped in surprise.
His bearded face was wearing a green domino mask and a Robin Hood-style hat, just as he had glimpsed in the restaurant window. He blinked and rubbed his eyes; this time the image did not go away. His reflection remained in the bizarre mask and hat.
“Ready to talk now, Oliver?” his masked reflection asked.
Oliver leaped backward in terror. He stumbled against the opposite wall of the bathroom and stared at his masked reflection in horror and disbelief.
“Hey, take it easy,” the masked Oliver said. “I’m not trying to scare you. Sorry if I came on too strong.”
“Wh-who are you?” Oliver stammered.
“Who do I look like?” the masked reflection said. “I’m Green Arrow!“
Oliver did a double take. “Green… Arrow?” the name sounded familiar.
“Yep, that’s me,” Green Arrow said. “And that’s you, too. I am you and you are me, and we are all together. Goo-goo ga-joob.”
“I’m crazy,” Oliver said to himself. “I’ve lost my mind!”
“No, pal, you’re finding it again,” Green Arrow said. “This isn’t real. You know it isn’t! You’ve known something was wrong from the beginning, haven’t you?”
Oliver stared at Green Arrow in the mirror, confusion writ large on his face. He didn’t answer.
“Haven’t you?” Green Arrow demanded sternly.
“I — yes,” Oliver admitted, nodding.
“Good. I knew you would,” Green Arrow said. “I’ve been throwing you enough hints so you’d get the picture. But even without them, you knew something was screwy. Clark Kent, for example. When did you first meet him?”
“I — yesterday, at lunch,” Oliver said.
“And yet you felt like you’d known him for years, didn’t you?” Green Arrow asked.
“Well, yes,” Oliver admitted. “But that’s just déjà vu; it happens to a lot of people!”
“Uh-huh. And Barry?”
“What about Barry?’
“It felt weird talking to him, making dinner plans with him, didn’t it?”
“Why would that be?”
“Because he’s… he’s…”
“He’s dead,” Green Arrow said. “Say it, Oliver! Barry’s dead!”
“No!” Oliver shouted. “He’s not! He can’t be! I saw him just yesterday, talked to him!”
“No, you didn’t,” Green Arrow said softly. “You only thought you did. Just like you only think you’re standing in the bathroom, talking to your own reflection.”
“You mean I’m not?” Oliver asked.
“Of course not!” Green Arrow said. “Reflections don’t talk! I mean, we’ve seen some weird stuff, but mirror, mirror, on the wall? Not so far.”
“Then what is all this?” Oliver demanded, waving his arm in a wide arc. “Magazines and newspapers that change their stories! Talking reflections! What the hell is going on? If it’s not real, and I’m not crazy, what is it?”
“You’re dreaming,” Green Arrow said simply.