by Christine Nightstar
Tony Deltonio arrived home at the same time every afternoon, except during football season in which case he would be a few hours late. Normally Ticks would either play a game with Tony or help him with homework until they had dinner in the deli. But in the last week of February, Tony was nowhere to be found.
“Betty, have you seen Tony today?” asked Ticks.
“Not since he got on the school bus this morning, Ticks, why?” asked Betty Canardo.
“I’m sure Tony is okay,” she reassured him. “He’s probably just over at a friend’s house.”
“I hope so,” replied Ticks, “but we were supposed to finish our game of chess tonight.”
“Don’t be so worried,” Betty admonished him. “Go upstairs and see if he’s with Mama or the other kids.”
Ticks walked up the stairs to the Deltonios’ apartment and knocked, even though Mama had told him many times in the last few weeks that he didn’t need to knock every time.
“What’s up, Trenton?” Mama asked, opening the door.
“I was looking for Tony,” he explained. “I thought he might have come in the back way.”
“I thought he was with you,” Mama replied with concern.
Ticks was really starting to worry now. “Why doesn’t this make me feel any better, Mama?”
Frank called the school at 4:30 to see if Tony stayed behind to play basketball in the gym, then called the local youth center, and finally each of Tony’s friends. The youngest Deltonio wasn’t at any of those places, nor at any of the places his friends suggested, either.
Frank Jr. arrived home late after six, having called and told his parents that he was going to be with his friends at the mall. Tony wasn’t with him, and he hadn’t seen his brother since he shoved him out of the upstairs bathroom before school.
Now it wasn’t only Ticks who was concerned about Tony, but Frank, Betty, and Mama as well. It wasn’t like Tony to do anything so reckless as to not call if he was going to be late.
It was almost seven o’clock when Tony Deltonio finally walked into the deli, explaining that a couple of men had picked him up after school and taken him to a bar near the tracks on the way to Bludhaven, where he was given dinner, and only now just dropped him outside a few moments ago.
Mama and Frank immediately accosted their youngest, not only for accepting a meal from strangers, but going to a bar with them. Tony defended himself by saying he didn’t willingly go anywhere, but that they’d grabbed him before he could get on the bus, and had been handcuffed for the majority of the time that he’d been held. And when they fed him, their boss had one of his goons taste one bite of everything before he laid a finger on it.
“One of them in a strange suit told me to give you this, Ticks,” Tony said, holding out a cassette tape.
Cleo quickly gave Ticks a cassette player, and he put the tape into it.
“Greetings, Clockwork,” said a formal-sounding, erudite voice. “You have heard the account of your young friend. Believe me when I say that I can easily arrange for the entire family to be eliminated before your eyes before even you can react to save them. I trust that young Anthony has told you about the establishment in which we held him. Be there alone before the clock strikes ten, and if you call the police, or if Gotham’s other notable protectors take an interest in you tonight, well, let’s just say that the deli that you currently reside in will not be open for business in the morning. Good evening.”
“I’m calling the police,” Mama said, and was about to pick up the phone when Ticks stopped her.
“No,” he said. “Whoever this is has the ability to monitor our movements and obviously wants me. I can’t risk your lives for mine. I’ll go, but just because he wants me alone doesn’t mean I can’t go unprepared. Tony, what was the name of the bar that you were taken to?”
Ticks made his way slowly to the bar, taking in everything on the street, above the street, and beside the street. Time was a factor, because the tape had instructed him to be at the bar before the clock struck ten. He had donned a ski mask in order to disassociate himself somewhat from his family.
It was 9:55 when he reached the bar, a small hole-in-the-wall, and circled it once, taking in everything from the locations of doors and windows to the people standing around the bar.
Seeing that a few lurkers were taking an interest in what he was doing, he said to one, “Tell the man in the strange suit that Clockwork is waiting for him outside.”
“Do it yourself!” The man was clearly intoxicated, and unable to do much of anything.
At 9:59, a trash can lid flew through the plate glass window, lodging itself into a table inside.
“It would seem that our guest has arrived, gentlemen,” said the Clock, who was wearing a purple cape and gloves over a formal black suit and tie. Over his head was a stylized black skullcap with a yellow arrow or clock hand pointing down, and he wore shaded glasses that looked like two analog clock faces.
“I came to protect the family you threatened today,” stated Clockwork, as Ticks had officially now named himself.
“Oh, I hardly threatened them,” explained the Clock. “I merely made my intentions known, so you would see and understand that you have no choice but to comply with my wishes.”
“What do you want?” Clockwork asked.
“I want you: the only known functioning clockwork robot in existence.”
“You see me before you now, and you’re going to have to settle for just that,” Clockwork replied, keeping an eye on the men beginning to circle around him.
“Professor Avery was a mechanical genius,” began the Clock. “He built your immediate predecessor years earlier, which has never been found but inspired a crude knockoff made by his rival, Thaddeus Morgan, that still was decades ahead of its time. It was unlikely that you would ever be found, either, but ten weeks ago you turned up. Seven weeks ago you even stopped a bank robbery.”
“So? What’s your point?”
“My point is that I would hate to resort to destroying the delicate balance of your works with this magnetic disruptor,” the Clock said, pulling out a strange-looking rifle from his cape as he pointed it at Clockwork, “but to add you to my collection it may be necessary, unless you’re willing to come with me now.”
“I don’t break that easily,” said Clockwork. “And the only thing I’m about to do is make you pay for threatening my family.”
“That Italian boy is part of your family?” the Clock chuckled. “How quaint.” He ulled the trigger.
There was a crack as a thug from behind him whipped a metal coil around Clockwork’s arm a moment before hundreds of volts of electricity shot through his body. Clockwork howled in pain.
“Submit, and you can spare yourself further pain,” said the villain. “It would be a shame to break you.”
Something in Clockwork’s eyes flashed gold, and golden light ran down his restrained arm. His voice full of anger as he pulled off the electric whip around his arm, he said, “I don’t break that easily, and I won’t be part of your collection.” With a gesture, the whip went flying.
In an equally quick movement, Clockwork dodged gunshots from both the Clock and his hired thugs, leaping from one location to another as he staying ahead of the weapons fire.
Running at one thug, Clockwork extended his left arm, clotheslining him with a speed that knocked the thug flat. Checking the man to ensure that he was still alive, Clockwork jumped as a magnetic blast from the Clock’s rifle hit where he’d been standing a split-second earlier.
The Clock was both impressed and somewhat terrified by his would-be prize. The automaton had no real fighting style and was taking care not to irreversibly injure or kill its foes as it moved with superhuman speed and skill.
Several men used the electric whips to try to restrain the automaton once more, but Clockwork dropped to the ground to slide into their midst before getting up quickly to fight his opponents up close. One thug ran at Clockwork, who just raised his leg to intercept the attacker, meeting the attacker’s face with his foot. The automaton was brilliant, imaginative, and unpredictable. The Clock decided that he must either possess it or destroy it.
After carefully waiting for the right moment, the Clock’s shot finally struck Clockwork. As the electromagnetic pulse moved through the metallic skeleton of the automaton, it looked like lightning striking a human repeatedly. But still there was that unnerving golden glow in its eyes.
Slowly, Clockwork seemed to shrug off the effects of the electromagnetic disruptor, and began to slowly walk toward the Clock, despite being struck by blast after blast. Finally, Clockwork grabbed the weapon and struck the Clock three times, then crushed the barrel of the rifle, causing an electrical discharge from the weapon that took the Clock out despite all the efforts he’d taken to insulate himself from electric shock.
“Put that in your collection, and remember that I don’t break,” said Clockwork. “And if you ever threaten my family again, I’ll go against my better judgement and make sure you’ll never threaten another again. Time is on my side, not yours. And just so you know, I did call the police on my way here.”
Sirens wailed around the corner as the police approached from a distance. Clockwork felt more powerful than ever with the collected electricity in the battery on his back. Climbing the railroad trestle, he left without being seen as the police arrived to arrest the Clock and the hoods, bringing them all for a stay at the hospital before heading to jail.
From a nearby rooftop, a dark figure lowered his binoculars. The Batman had been tracking the Clock’s movements ever since he arrived in Gotham City under the obviously false alias of Temple Fugate. The first foe he’d ever fought as the Batman turned out to be Clockwork’s first true enemy as well. Somehow that seemed fitting.
Ticks was sitting on the rooftop of Deltonio’s Deli when an expected visitor arrived.
“You were rather brutal on the Clock and his hoods tonight.”
“He threatened my family and home,” replied Ticks. “I gave him something not only to remember me, but the extent that I’ll go to protect them.”
“I understand the sentiment,” Batman said, standing behind Ticks.
“Did I cross that line you spoke of last time?” asked the automaton.
“That has yet to be determined,” replied Batman. “Right now I’d say that you were… overly enthusiastic.”
“He was going to add me to a collection, like I was a souvenir,” explained Ticks.
“I understand. I heard that you called the police. Gordon will ensure that it will be fair.”
“Will I have to go to jail?”
“Strange thing is, the Clock didn’t see Trenton Avery,” said the Batman. “He only saw a man in a ski mask who implied that he was the Clockwork hero that he was after. And the man disappeared before police arrived after the Clock’s weapon was crushed.”
“You, I, and Jim Gordon know who it was, don’t we?” asked Ticks.
“Probably a few more, too, but Gotham City has always been considerate of its heroes and their secrets, at least since James Gordon and I came to our agreement.”
“But what if I’m questioned on where I was?”
“Is Trenton Avery the same as Clockwork, who was seen those many weeks ago?”
“We know he was,” replied Ticks.
“Clockwork and Trenton Avery can have separate existences now,” suggested Batman. “That should answer your question.”
“I was out walking.”
“Call this man,” said the Batman, handing him a simple business card with a name and a phone number. “He should help Clockwork get an outfit that separates him from Trenton Avery further. Ski masks can only be worn for so long before they wear out or get torn.”
“You sound as if you have some experience in this.”
“We all start out somewhere,” the Batman said before swinging away into the night.
Ticks looked at the business card, then the darkness where the figure had disappeared into, and wondered what lay behind the cape and cowl, and why the Batman would help him.
The capture of the Clock was in the news the next morning. Ticks listened to the radio as they attributed the capture to either the Batman or Nightwing.
“It would have been nice to get some credit for bringing him in, Frank,” Ticks said as the news ended. Inwardly he realized that, if they had given credit to Clockwork so soon after the bank robbery, Ticks might rise to people’s minds when they heard the name Clockwork.
“You did something that few people ever get a chance to do, Ticks,” replied Frank.
“Then why do I feel that so much about it seems wrong?”
“There are things that Shaun and I carry with us from our time in the army that we aren’t proud of — can’t be proud of.”
“Is it the same as letting someone else take credit for what you did?”
“You faced a super-villain to protect your family, Ticks, because it was the right thing to do,” said Frank. “Do you need credit from anyone else that you did that?”
“I guess not, and as long as my family understands what they mean to me…”
“We do, Ticks. We do.”
“Are you going to see that blonde girl Tina tonight?” Mama asked, pulling a rack of breads from the oven and sliding them onto the cooling rack.
“Did Frank tell you about her at the Policemen’s Ball?” asked Ticks.
“Oh, I didn’t need to push him all that hard,” she said with a grin. “The big romantic was practically bursting to tell me when you two got home afterwards.”
“Ticks has a girlfriend!” Tony said in a teasing voice as he rushed down the stairs.
“It’s none of your business, Tony,” replied his sister Cleo, following him downstairs. “But I think it’s nice that Trenton has his eye on a girl.” She winked at Ticks.
“I don’t have my eye on a girl,” Ticks said in exasperated voice.
“Then why are you blushing all of a sudden, Trenton?” asked Cleo’s twin Alicia as she grabbed her lunch from the counter.
“Don’t you kids have to get to the school bus?” Frank said in a voice that showed he was trying to help.
“Yes, please, just go to the bus stop,” Ticks said a bit more forcefully.
“Buses are running late today, half-hour because of the snowfall we had last night,” Frank Jr. said, casually munching on an apple as he placed his feet up on a table.
“Get your feet off that table, Francis Julius Deltonio Jr., or you won’t going to school today, because you’ll be spending it cleaning all the tables,” Frank said sternly.
“Fine with me — I have a Trigonometry test today that I’d much rather miss,” Frank Jr. replied, taking his feet off the table after Frank whacked at them with a meat tenderizer.
“Just go, Junior, before your father breaks a blood vessel,” Mama said, trying to act as peacekeeper. Frank was already turning an interesting shade of red, Ticks noticed, at the younger Frank’s reply. It seemed that only Frank Jr. had the ability to make his father turn that color in the several weeks that Ticks had known the family.
“What are you doing here, Fatality?”
“You left out some pertinent facts about that foiled bank robbery, Number Four.”
“I told you everything you needed to know about your targets and their location.”
“You didn’t tell me that it was a robotic hero that foiled them. I got that from the newspaper.”
“It wasn’t relevant to the job of liquidating them. Besides, the so-called Clockwork hero hasn’t reappeared since then, and we’ve been keeping an eye on our suspect.”
“Give me everything about the suspect, or I’ll make sure your Gotham City operation doesn’t grow any further.”
“What business is it of yours anyway, Fatality?”
“It may be nothing, but if I’m right, this Clockwork might be Professor Josiah Avery’s second creation. And my boss would be extremely interested, as I am, to find out if it is indeed my ‘little brother.'”