by Martin Maenza
“Do you need another angle?” asked a man in an orange and green costume. “I can adjust the view some.”
“It’s OK, Sam,” said a tall female with blonde hair pinned up and back. She was dressed in a gray skirt with a crimson blouse, the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. “I’m done with your special mirrors. I have a good view of the crowning head now.”
“Do you need another blast of my slowing beam?” asked the other man in costume, this one with a green tunic, white-and-black-striped pants and a yellow cape.
“No!” the female doctor said sternly. “She’s fully dilated and ready to push. See?” She shifted slightly, but did not move from her position at the end of the small table.
“Yeah?” the second man said, grinning under his white mask with two clock hands on the top. “Let me see…”
“Aaa-aaagh!” grunted the dark-haired woman who lay on the table, her legs propped up in the air. “Do you… aaa-aaahhh-hhh… mind?! I’m trying to have a baby, here!”
Mirror Master tagged Chronos on the shoulder and pulled him back. “Give the lady some dignity, Clinton,” he whispered to the man.
“The doc asked me to look…” the time thief replied in a muffled voice with a slight smile.
“You’re such a pervert.”
“I take what I can get.”
Dr. Harleen Quinzel ignored the two chattering men and focused on her patient. About an hour ago, the woman’s water had broken, causing her to go into labor. There was no time to rush her to the hospital, not to mention the fact that the pregnant mother-to-be had a checkered criminal past. Too many questions would be involved. No, Paula Brooks’ baby would be born right here in the Sinister Citadel, the San Francisco headquarters of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.
“OK, Paula,” Harleen said in as soothing a voice as possible. “You can push now.”
“About time!” the brunette said through gritted teeth. While she’d had many months to prepare for this moment, and in a number of ways was concerned about it as well, it seemed her body was ready instinctively for the task. Paula was ready for her baby to be born.
Harleen was a doctor of psychology by profession, thus obstetrics were not her field of expertise. Still, she’d been around enough deliveries to know her way around a procedure such as this. If it all went smoothly without complications, she would be able to deliver the child with no problem at all. Still, if a problem did arise, the two costumed men in the corner with their amazing gadgets should be able to come through for her in a pinch. She certainly didn’t have them around for their charm and sparkling personalities.
Paula Brooks continued to let out anguished cries as she forced down with her pelvic muscles. With every push, Dr. Quinzel encouraged her. Mirror Master moved up by the woman’s head, encouraging her as well and offering suggestions for breathing.
Chronos stood by ready, watching the whole situation. If someone had said he would be observing one super-criminal help another deliver a child, he would have called them crazy. But that was what made this so-called organization so unique, so intriguing. They were more than just a loosely thrown together group of criminals, each out for their own financial or powerful gains. They seemed to actually be friends. The time-thief shook his head in disbelief. Strange. But so full of potential, too, that he simply couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by. He just had to bide his time.
Soon the room was filled with the sound of a shrill, high-pitched cry.
Dr. Quinzel reached forward and wrapped a clean blanket about the infant. “Congratulations, Paula,” she said.
Paula Brooks collapsed back on the table, exhausted. Sweat covered her brow and chest. Still, the sound of the crying newborn was like music to her ears. “Is… is everything all right?” she asked.
“Right as rain,” Dr. Quinzel said as she cut the umbilical cord, then wrapped the child. “Sam, here.” She passed the child off to him.
The reflective rogue smiled as he looked down at the face. “Aw, what a looker…” He poked at the blanket, checking the hands and feet. “Looks good. Ten fingers, ten toes.”
“Let me see her,” Paula said.
“Him,” Dr. Quinzel corrected her patient.
“Him?” Paula asked with surprise. “You sure?”
Mirror Master pulled back the blanket and checked. “No mistake,” he said. “Definitely a boy.”
“But… but,” Paula Brooks stammered. “The ultrasounds. My old doctor said I was having a girl.”
“Sometimes doctors just get things wrong,” Dr. Quinzel said. “It happens.” She glanced around the room. “But not me, though.”
“Of course,” Mirror Master said. “Not you.” He handed the wrapped child to his mother. “There you go, Paula.”
The brunette sat up and held the bundle of joy close to her body. Tears of joy started to form in her eyes. “Hello,” she said softly, glancing down into the brown eyes of the child. “I’m your mommy.”
The child cooed back at her.
Her heart melted.
A dark-haired Greek woman sat in the back corner of a small restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf, waiting patiently. She reached for another piece of hard bread from the basket, broke it in half, and was about to eat it. She then put it down again on her plate. She’d already had three. Maybe he is not coming, she thought to herself. She pushed back the long sleeve of her shirt, revealing her tattooed left arm and a silvery wristwatch. It was after one already.
He is not coming! she thought firmly to herself. Just as well. She really wasn’t sure why she had even agreed to this meeting.
The man had said one name, though, that concerned her — Rocco Marchetti. That was enough. She knew she had to meet this mysterious stranger, this Mr. Monroe, if nothing else than to figure out what he actually knew.
She was about to stand up when a dark-haired man in a dark suit, a white shirt, and crimson tie approached the table. “Going somewhere, Ms. Anastasios?”
The Greek woman eyed him cautiously. “Mr. Monroe?” she asked. He nodded. “You wanted to talk with me?”
The man smiled. “Let’s order first. I’m famished.” He pulled up a seat and sat down. “Sorry I was late. A little unexpected business.”
Lydia Anastasios didn’t like how he emphasized that last word: business. She sat down, too. “You have kept me waiting a long time,” she said, trying to sound more confident and secure than she actually was. “I want to know what this is all about.”
The waiter approached the table.
The man in the suit glanced at his menu quickly, seemingly familiar with the offerings. “Yes,” he said to the servant. “I’ll have the stuffed flounder and wild rice. Oh, and a Stolie’s on the rocks to drink.” He turned to his lunch companion. “And you?”
Lydia frowned. She wasn’t up to all the pretense, but could do little more than play along. “Lunch is on you, right?” she asked.
“Of course,” the man said with a wry smile.
“I will have the lobster,” Lydia replied. “And another ginger ale.”
“Very good,” the waiter said, and he left them alone.
“You won’t have a drink with me?” Mr. Monroe asked.
“I do not drink with men I have just met,” Lydia replied. “Now, may we talk?”
“That is why I requested the table in back,” the mysterious man said. “Gives us some privacy in a public place.”
Lydia had so many unanswered questions. Now was the time to voice them. “Why did you contact me? For that matter, how did you even locate me?”
Mr. Monroe leaned forward on the table. “You’re a hard woman to keep track of, Ms. Anastasios. For a while you were in Los Angeles, then you seemed to disappear for a few months. Rather curious. But when you opened a new tattoo shop here in San Francisco, under the same name as the old one, well… it wasn’t too hard to know how to reach you.”
“But why?” she asked. “I do not even know you.”
“Ah, but I know you,” the man replied. “Or at least of your reputation.”
“I know what you did to Rocco Marchetti and his boys,” Mr. Monroe said with a lowered voice. (*) “And if you want to keep that little bit of information between the two of us, I would suggest you hear out my offer.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Tattooed Man: Times Past, 1982: Love Inks.]
“Your offer?” Lydia asked.
“More like a little business transaction,” Mr. Monroe said.
There was that word again, with a similar inflection. Lydia took a deep breath, realizing she was sitting in between a proverbial rock and a hard place.
Dr. Quinzel finished cleaning up the lab and was about to leave when she ran into her two assistants in the hallway. She was rather surprised to still see them waiting around, all things considered. The two stopped their conversation when she approached.
“How are they doing?” Mirror Master asked, concerned.
“Mother and child are bonding just fine,” Harleen said. “Thanks for helping back there. I know it’s not what you guys usually do.”
“Not a problem,” the leader of the team said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He tipped his green-masked head to the side and started off down the road.
Chronos waited for Mirror Master to get out of earshot before he turned around. Dr. Quinzel was already turning to leave as well. “Say, Doc, hold up a minute.”
The psychologist turned on her heel. “Yes, Chronos?”
The time-thief leaned up against the wall and rubbed the fingers of his gloved right hand together near his side. “I was just wondering, seeing that we gave you the assist in there and all…”
“Yes?” Harleen asked, intrigued by his starting remarks.
“Well, I was thinking that, maybe, you and I… that is… perhaps we could…”
The doctor cut him to the point. “Are you asking me out?”
“I thought, maybe, dinner.”
Harleen tried to suppress a wide grin. She had been wanting to get the man one-on-one to pick his brain. Now here was an opening. “Tonight is not good for me. How about tomorrow?”
“Um, tomorrow?” Chronos fidgeted a bit. “How about the weekend instead? Friday or Saturday?”
Dr. Quinzel nodded. “OK, Saturday, then. I believe I am free that night. I’ll let you know for sure.”
“Good,” Chronos said, smiling. “Very good.” He started to turn to walk away, proud of himself.
“Oh, and Chronos,” she said. “In public, what should I call you? Can’t go out in the costume.”
He turned back. “David,” he said. “The name’s David Clinton.”
Harleen flashed him a smile. “Until Saturday, David.” She turned on her heel and walked away.
Chronos watched her walk, following her sway with his eyes. Yes!
Mirror Master went up one floor and headed for his wood-paneled office. The leader of the organization was exhausted and was looking forward to a little solitude while he plotted the next course for the group. Between this morning’s meeting, Funky’s departure, and the arrival of Paula’s son, I could use a good cigar, he thought to himself as he approached the door. I’d offer one to the proud father, but I understand the Sportsmaster is currently cooling his heels in Arkham.
Using a special device on his belt, he unlocked the door. This added security measure was new, to help eliminate unexpected guests waiting on him. He liked his privacy. The green-and-orange-costumed man turned the knob and stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
When he glanced over to his desk, the high-backed leather chair was spun around to face the window. A waft of smoke was rising from the hidden figure seated there. Mirror Master’s face began to turn red. “Who the–?”
The chair spun around, showing a man with long, shoulder-length blond hair neatly groomed. He wore a hand-tailored suit of emerald green with a golden silk tie over his large, muscular frame. From his grinning mouth hung an expensive Cuban cigar. “There you are,” the man said between puffs. “I wondered why you weren’t in your office.”
“Neron!” Mirror Master growled, spitting forth the name as if it were a foul taste in his mouth. “What do you want?”
“Why do I ever visit you, Scudder?” the guest said with a demonic look in his eyes. “I came to talk about our little deal. You recall that, don’t you?”
“How could I ever forget?” Mirror Master said with a sigh.
“Indeed,” Neron said. “Why, I am sure every breath you take each morning is a reminder that you owe your very existence to me.”
“I’m in no mood for games today,” Mirror Master said. “It has been a hard day.”
Neron glanced at the man and noticed the few stains of blood on the orange tunic. “Oh, you’re a bit of a mess. Problems?”
“No, no problems.”
“I see blood. I hope no one has been killed.”
“No,” Mirror Master said. “Just helping to deliver a baby, is all.”
“A baby,” Neron said with a raised eyebrow. “Here? Among the likes such as you. That is like an innocent little lamb nestled among a den of wolves.”
Mirror Master noted the look on the evil man’s face. And he didn’t like what he saw. “Don’t get any ideas, Neron!” he found himself saying in a protective tone.
Neron laughed, first a chuckle and then a bit louder.
“What’s so funny?” Mirror Master demanded.
“You are!” the devilish man said as he bolted to his feet. “You think you can give warnings and threaten me?” He strode up to the man in orange and green.
Mirror Master instinctively reached for his blaster weapon holstered off his belt.
With a wave of his neatly manicured hands, Neron gestured. The weapon flew from the holster and rattled across the room. Neron then raised his hand, gesturing with a claw-like move in the air before him.
Mirror Master grabbed at his throat as he found his air supply suddenly cut off. “Ughhh… gaahh,” he choked, falling to his knees on the carpeted floor.
Neron moved closer and stood over the fallen man who gasped for air. “Just remember who is in charge here, Scudder, and who is the pawn!” The blond man stepped away, and Mirror Master suddenly found the invisible pressure against his throat lessen.
“We will talk soon, Scudder,” Neron said. “Next time, I expect you to be more gracious and accommodating!” And with that, the man vanished in a cloud of sulfuric smoke.
Mirror Master rubbed his aching throat and tried to stand up. It was days like this he wished he had ended up remaining dead.
He rose to his feet. At the very least, he thought to himself, I need to install some special mirrors here so I don’t walk into surprises like that again.