by Martin Maenza
It was another Saturday night, the first in September and part of the Labor Day long weekend. Everyone was out trying to get the last bit of excitement and enjoyment out before the Fall routine would set in. It was the same everywhere, and Gabriel’s Horn on Lombardi Street in San Francisco was no different.
Inside, the crowd was energized as D.J. Twist continued to mix hit after hit. The base was thumping, and the strobe lights bounced off the dancers on the floor. And behind the bar, things were hopping, too, as the group attempted to keep everyone’s glasses full.
A well-built African-American man smiled as he stepped behind the counter. “How we doin’, Bobby?” he asked one of the bartenders dressed in black pants and a white shirt.
“Good,” the man with dark wavy hair brushed to one side said. “We could use another couple cases, though. Some Ibers and Koul-Braus.”
“Got it,” Mal Duncan said. He moved his way through the crowd to a set of tables where a young blonde woman was picking up glasses. He reached up behind her and gave her a gentle squeeze on the arm. “You doin’ OK, Dawn?”
Dawn Granger smiled. “It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” she said.
“Thanks for helping us out on such short notice,” Mal said. “We appreciate that.”
“Glad I could. Jonny’s out of town working on a case, so this beats a Saturday night at home with an old movie.”
“You seen Hank?”
“I thought I saw him over there.” Dawn pointed across the way. “Karen grabbed him for something.”
Mal nodded. “OK, thanks.” He proceeded to move through the crowd again.
As he approached the little recessed hallway, Mal saw his good friend Hank Hall exit the men’s room. Karen, Mal’s beautiful wife, was talking to him. “…messy, but it’s taken care of,” the brown-haired young man said.
“Thanks,” Karen said.
“Hey, just the man I was looking for,” Mal called.
“What? Got another stopped-up toilet for me to unplug?” Hank asked.
“Nah, nothing so messy,” Mal said. “Thought you could help me get a few beer cases from back.”
Hank nodded his head. “Sounds good,” he said. “Think I can have a beer myself?”
“After we’re done, sport,” Mal said. He turned to the African-American woman. “Was Sarah going to make it out tonight?”
Karen shook her head no. “She was taking Victor to the airport, remember? He’s heading back home after being out to visit.”
“Right, right,” Mal said. “Sorry, I forgot. Just one of those crazy nights. Come on, Hank.” The two men moved off to the back storage room.
Karen smiled as she watched them go. Her husband loved the club business and often got so caught up in it that he forgot about things. Still, she knew he was a good man who cared a lot about his friends and was very dedicated. As she headed back toward the bar, she couldn’t help but think about her coworker. I hope things are going OK for Sarah, she thought to herself.
In Terminal A of the San Francisco International Airport were a number of individuals saying goodbye to family, friends, or loved ones as their flights were about to take off. But one couple in particular was a bit different than all the others. The African-American woman was in her late twenties, dressed in a navy skirt and a light blue blouse. She sat very close to a African-American man aged twenty-two who was dressed in a long-sleeved, white T-shirt and jeans.
His metallic fingers, glinting in the fluorescent light shining down from the recessed bulbs in the ceiling above them, gently held her hand. “I had a good visit,” Victor Stone said.
Sarah Charles smiled. “I’m glad you came out,” she said. “Things were so crazy between May and now.”
“Tell me about it,” Vic said nodding. The left side of his face was covered with a metallic shell, and the eye on that side had been replaced with a red optical sensor. The right side of his face was exposed and normal-looking. His entire appearance garnered Victor Stone quite a few stares, but he had long since learned to ignore them. If they had a problem with him, that was their problem. The hero known as Cyborg was who he was. “How often does one get to pilot a space-ship to Pluto, with Batman in charge of the mission, no less?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 3: The Return.]
“I’m just glad you weren’t hurt,” Sarah said, touching his right cheek. “I worry about you.”
“I’m fine,” Vic said. “A few system checks and a quick buff here and there, and I’m good to go.”
“So they’re taking good care of you at the New York STAR Labs facility?” Sarah asked.
“Can’t complain,” he said. “They do a good job.” He smiled. “But no one takes as good care with me as you did — do. Oh, you know.”
Sarah blushed a bit and turned her head down for a second. He always made her feel special, which made things all that much harder. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and looked up. “Victor?”
“I know our being separated is hard,” Sarah said. “I moved out here for my career, and it’s going very, very well. It was the right move at the right time.”
“I know,” Vic said. “I’m happy for you.” He tried not to let his voice waver.
“We both have our responsibilities,” she added. “I — I guess I just wanted to say to you that, if you wanted, we can keep our options open.”
“Options?” Vic asked with a slightly raised eyebrow.
“I felt really bad when you came out to visit last time,” she said. “I got all upset about you and your friendship with Sarah Simms. That was wrong of me. Sarah was in your life before you and I became involved. I never should have been jealous.”
“It’s OK,” Vic started to say.
“No, I shouldn’t have been jealous,” she said. “You’re a handsome man, a good, kind, and giving man. I should never begrudge you your involvement with anyone.”
Vic paused, not sure what to say. “OK…”
“I just want us to promise to always be honest with one another,” Sarah said. “No matter what. OK?”
Vic nodded. “OK.”
Just then, a flight attendant stepped up to the podium and announced over the microphone the boarding of Flight 514 to Chicago with a connecting flight to New York City.
“There’s my flight,” Vic said with a sigh, standing up.
Sarah stood, too. “You have a good flight, OK?” She leaned forward and gave him a kiss.
Vic took his arms about her and hugged her. “I will,” he said. “Red-eye flights are a drag, but it allowed us to have one more dinner together. Call me soon?”
“I will,” Sarah promised. “I will.”
A couple of hours could make all the difference in the world. At 2:20 in the morning, the scene was much different at the Gabriel’s Horn. Gone was the music and lights and the crowds. Only a handful of people were left to clean up the place. Even faced with this part of the nightly grind, Mal Duncan was smiling. “Definitely a good crowd,” he said.
Bobby wound up the cord to the vacuum. “All done, boss,” he said.
“Good deal, Bobby — thanks,” Mal replied. “See ya tomorrow, OK?” The bartender nodded, took the vacuum to the back, and prepared to head out.
Hank Hall straightened some of the stools stacked on one of the tables. “Man, I could crash right here,” he said.
“Uh-uh,” Dawn Granger said, shaking her finger. “You’re my ride home, remember?”
“I know, I know,” Hank said. He walked over to the bar and drank down the last of his beer. “We’ll head out in a few, just as soon as the boss pays us.” He gave Mal a wink.
The club owner smiled. “Hey, I really appreciate you two helping us out tonight,” he said. “Holiday weekends are usually so busy.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Hank said wryly. “Thanks is nice and all, but I did it for the dinero. With school back in session, I can always use a little extra spending cash.”
“If you need a part-time job, I can look into things at the lab,” Karen offered.
Hank shook his head. “Let me get into my course load first and see if I have the time. This year’s gonna be brutal.”
“Brutal — ha!” Dawn scoffed. “I doubt your course load’s anywhere near mine.”
“I’m not the one doubling up to try and graduate early,” Hank reminded her.
“I doubt you could,” Dawn shot back.
“Now, kids,” Mal said playfully as he put his hands across the bar between them. “Don’t make me separate you two.” They all laughed.
“That’s what I like to hear,” a female voice called from the front hall. “Laughter.”
“Sorry, we’re clos–” Mal started to say as he turned. When he saw the woman with short brown hair who was dressed in a sleeveless pink sweater and navy pants enter the room, he stopped short. His eyes grew wide with recognition. “Well, I’ll be–!”
Karen let out a squeal of delight and ran to the woman. “Oh, my God! What are you doing here?” She started to hug the woman.
As Mal rushed over to join them, Hank stared as if trying to register the face. He felt he knew the woman but couldn’t place the face. Dawn tapped him on the shoulder and asked softly, “Who’s that?”
Hank was about to answer, as if wrestling with the name on the tip of his tongue, when Mal spoke up. “Dawn, come here,” Mal called. “I want you to meet an old friend of ours. This is Duela Dent!”
Duela Dent! The name registered like a light bulb in Hank’s head. He glanced over at the brown-haired woman as she shook Dawn’s hand. Talk about a blast from the past, he thought to himself.
After a few minutes of small talk, Hank and Dawn excused themselves and left the bar.
As they walked down the street to where his tan Jeep was parked, neither of the couple realized that they were being watched from the shadows. Not yet, the lithe figure in the darkness thought. Not time yet. But soon! The figure smiled with jagged, glowing teeth. And then, whoever it was, faded into the darkness and was gone.
“Who is she?” Dawn asked as she climbed into the vehicle.
Hank got into the passenger side, put the key in the ignition, and started the engine. “Duela’s one of the old Teen Titans members,” he started to explain as he put the Jeep into drive and pulled away from the curb. “From back in the day when the East Coast guys operated out of the first Gabriel’s Horn club. Duela went by the name of the Harlequin at the time. I met her once when the East Coast crew came out here to help the rest of us against some clown named Captain Calamity.”
“Harlequin,” Dawn said. “Interesting.”
“Actually, she started out using the name Joker’s Daughter,” he said. “Had the whole look down, too — white makeup, green wig, the red lipstick, and the purple suit. She dumped that look, changed the wig color, and went with a multicolored checkered costume.”
“Joker’s Daughter?” Dawn repeated. “An odd choice.”
“Yeah, she gave Dick a rough time back when he was Robin. Seems she adopted a number of costumed identities to try and get his attention. First, it was the Joker’s Daughter. Then she did a brief stint as a Catgirl. Then, still later, she posed as the kid of the Penguin, the Riddler, and the Scarecrow. In the end, she settled back on the first costume and name.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Joker’s Daughter,” Batman Family #6 (July-August, 1976), “The Copycatgirl Capers,” Batman Family #8 (November-December, 1976), and “Startling Secret of the Devlish Daughters,” Batman Family #9 (January-February, 1977).]
“All to get Dick’s attention?” she wondered. “I guess that dressing up as the daughter of someone’s foes would certainly do that.”
“Want to know the kicker?“
“Dick eventually figured out who she really was. He deduced that Duela Dent was, in fact, the daughter of Harvey Dent, former Gotham City district attorney.”
“How’s that a kicker?“
“‘Cause Harvey Dent is the true name of Two-Face.”
“Very clever,” Dawn said.
“Ah,” Hank said. “But there’s yet another twist.”
“Yes?” Dawn was intrigued.
“Turns out that all of that was a lie.”