The next day, Stephanie Brown frowned as she sat in study hall, pondering the events of the night before. Oracle told me that the police report did not indicate the cabbie-turned-thief was really drugged, she thought. In fact, he seemed perfectly lucid by the time he was questioned at the police station, although he denied having any memory of even going to the store, much less robbing it!
She noticed Julia Denver holding court with some of the other popular girls, and she briefly wished that she was also part of the popular crowd. Julia is like the queen bee of the place, she thought. Even the teachers like her. I don’t know why she seems to really have it in for me, though. Just because I’m not wealthy doesn’t mean I don’t belong here. My grades are better than hers!
She tried to return to thinking over her case, but thoughts of Paul Jackson kept racing through her mind. I have a bad feeling about him. Mom says he lives on investments, but I don’t trust him. He just strikes me as being a fake. Maybe I wouldn’t like any man Mom dated, though. She and I have been on our own for so long.
Later that evening, after returning home, Stephanie made a hasty decision. I’m going to search Paul’s apartment, she mused. I mean, I don’t exactly know what I’m expecting to find, unless he has dismembered co-eds in his closet or something, but it couldn’t hurt to check the place out while he’s out with Mom.
Stephanie was wearing faded jeans and a pink T-shirt, having decided that there was certainly no need to use her Spoiler costume for her mission. “It’s not like this guy is a super-villain in disguise or something,” she said softly.
She crossed the hallway and, after ensuring that no one was watching, deftly and soundlessly picked the lock on Paul Jackson’s apartment. I know Babs hasn’t been training me for this kind of thing, but I’m worried about Mom, and I hope she’d understand, she thought.
The apartment was sparsely furnished, and that in and of itself did not surprise Stephanie. After all, Paul had admitted to traveling light. She searched the rooms swiftly, feeling a growing consternation over how little she discovered. I don’t see anything that would mark the room as being lived in by a person with a normal history. He doesn’t seem to have anything here that could be called distinctive in terms of family items or awards or personal papers. Could that mean Paul Jackson is not is his real name? Is he on the run?
Stephanie gasped as she noticed a slight crack between the panels on one wall. “That’s not normal wear and tear,” she whispered to herself. “That’s a concealed storage space!”
She pried it away from the wall and found a locked metal box within. I don’t think I can open this, she thought. It has a sophisticated lock, and I might very well damage it or leave scratch marks.
Hearing the jangling noise of keys in the lock, her heart pounded as she raced across the room, replaced the box and the panel, then climbed out the window and slipped across the ledge and into her own home. She had deliberately left her window open in case such a quick escape would became necessary.
She closed her window and sank down to the floor. What was in that box? she thought. I’ll feel like an idiot if it turns out to be his will or a passport, but it was heavy, and I feel more suspicious of him than ever.
Before she could do more than go to the kitchen and fix a bowl of soup, the door opened, and Agnes Brown walked in with Paul close behind. “Hello, Stephanie!” said her mother. “It’s just Paul and me.”
“Hi,” Stephanie replied nervously, her heart still pounding. “Uh, I was, uh, just having soup.” She grimaced at her own words. That’s really smooth, Steph. Just having soup. Why didn’t I just scream something like, ‘I wasn’t searching your apartment,’ while I was at it?!
“Good, dear,” said Agnes. “I’m glad you’re home. Paul and I were going to get a bite to eat. Stay and join us.”
Stephanie hesitated until an idea came to her mind. “Sure. Paul, would you like something to drink?” she asked in her most charming manner. “We have tea, or maybe a Pepsi?”
Paul smiled slightly and said, “Thank you. I would like tea with lemon.”
“Coming up,” said Stephanie. “Oh, and Mom, this is my night to treat you. I’ll do the dishes!”
Agnes beamed with pleasure and said, “Paul, this is a rare offer. You must dine here more often!”
“I hope we will have many happy meals together in the future,” said Paul.
Stephanie smiled to herself as she made the tea. We’ll see about that, she thought.
The next day, Stephanie was pushing a book cart down an aisle at the Gotham City Public Library while pondering the strange robberies seemingly committed by two men who were either in trances or who claimed to have no memories of their crimes.
“It is totally out of character for either Morelli or Eric Duner, the cabbie, to have turned felon,” she said softly to herself. “Plus, I saw how dazed the cabbie was. What would make regular people commit crimes?”
A tall, cadaverous figure suddenly stepped out of the shadows of the stacks and said, “Fear, Miss Brown. Fear would make most of us do almost anything. Fear may be the single greatest motivator known to humanity, although of late I do confess to also considering love or friendship to be of powerful influence as well.”
Stephanie nodded as she recognized Jonathan Crane. The gaunt librarian was a bit frightening, although Stephanie knew that Barbara vouched for his reformation. He had previously been a super-villain known as the Scarecrow. “Sorry, sir. It gets so quiet in the stacks that I guess I sometimes think out loud,” she said.
Mr. Crane stared at her, and then, to her surprise, he smiled. “I’ve watched you. You have a keen mind, and you are a good worker. I know Ms. Gordon thinks very highly of you.”
She smiled and said, “I appreciate that.” He walked away abruptly, and Stephanie hesitated for a moment. Emotional manipulation, she thought. I wonder if the Rainbow Raider’s arrival in the city had anything to do with the crimes. I mean, they were small jobs, but even a super-criminal needs basic income. He could control people by emotion rays. Maybe he already sold his technology to a Gotham resident. None of this solves the mystery of Paul Jackson, though. I wish Dick would get back and give me an answer!
She had used the small laboratory Barbara Gordon had in her home to lift Paul Jackson’s fingerprints from the teacup he had used during their meal the night before. However, there was no easy way to get the prints to the mysterious Oracle, and without Barbara’s help, all Stephanie could do was request Batwoman’s close ally Nightwing to assist her by running a check on them. He was a busy man as well, and Stephanie had been forced to leave the seal request at a predetermined location Batwoman had told her about for emergencies. But she had no way of knowing if the former New Titans leader would even see it in time.
Stephanie decided to follow up on a more obvious avenue of inquiry. “The cab company doesn’t use computers, but the driver’s write their trips down in notebooks,” she said. “I bet if I looked for Eric Duner’s logbook for the night of the crime, it might give me something to go on.”
Later that evening, Stephanie Brown, dressed as Spoiler, made her way to the cabstand and vaulted the wire fence to where the inactive cabs were parked.
Sure enough, there’s Mr. Duner’s cab, she thought. He always drove number 21! He used to pick Mom up from work when she relied on cabs to get back and forth.
Spoiler glanced around the empty lot and quickly forced open the car door. She reached under the front seat and smiled as she grasped a wire notebook. “He always dropped it when he got up to load groceries, and I figured it might still be there,” she said.
She skimmed the pages and found the date of the robbery. “All routine pick-ups, with one big-time exception!” she said with a gasp. “He stopped at our building and picked up Paul Jackson that morning!”
Mom also said Paul loved to eat at Morelli’s, she thought. I wonder if the elusive Paul Jackson could be the link between two nice guys and sudden criminal acts on their parts?
Spoiler made her way home and climbed down a rope from the roof to a vantage point outside Paul Jackson’s window. She peered inside and saw a strange sight. Paul was wearing normal clothes, but a weird helmet studded with multi-colored lights rested on his head. The metal box she had failed to open was on a sofa with its lid thrown back.
A man Spoiler recognized as the building’s landlord, Mr. Phillips, was standing in front of Jackson as yellow lights irradiated his transfixed form.
That helmet came from inside the box! thought Spoiler. It’s glowing almost like the energy Rainbow Raider’s goggles emitted. This proves it. Paul was working with the Raider, and that helmet was the result of some deal between them. I bet he used it to exert some kind of hypnotic mind-control over those poor men. He forced them to steal for him, and he’s doing the same thing to our landlord!
She used a small camera to take a few photos of the scene and then gasped as Jackson whirled around and aimed a beam of red light at her.
The window shattered as Spoiler swung desperately aside and held onto the next window ledge. He saw me! she realized. Either he was faking being blind, or that helmet lets him see!
She reached into her belt pouch and waited until Paul drew closer to the window. As he peered out, she smashed two paint pellets across the helmet, dousing it in a thick black paint.
He snarled and drew backward as she dived back inside. “I don’t know who you are, but your cheap trick won’t stop me for long!” he cried. “My helmet will burn through your paint, and then I’ll turn you into a mindless pawn like all the others!”
Spoiler darted forward and flipped over his head. As she sailed by, she grabbed the helmet and used her full weight to rip it away from his head.
He screamed in pain and clutched his skull as a series of computerized implants broke away. “I can’t see! Not again!” he yelled.
Spoiler hesitated for a moment as Mr. Phillips began to blink and rub his own eyes as if emerging from a trance.
But before she could react, a dark-clad figure climbed into the room and cuffed the now-helpless Jackson.
“Nightwing!” cried Spoiler as she recognized the crime-fighter.
The hero carefully helped the frantic Jackson to a chair and then cuffed him. “Be quiet, Quilt,” said Nightwing. “You’ll be OK. You’ve lost the helmet before. You should be used to it by now!”
“You! I’d know that voice, anyway!” he cried. “It’s always you!”
Nightwing led the teenage girl aside and said, “Glad to finally meet you, Spoiler; Batwoman told me all about you. I did receive your message, and when I ran those prints you left for me, I realized your suspect was an old foe of mine called Crazy-Quilt. As you found out, he uses that specially designed helmet to bypass his damaged eyes and to generate deadly lights or hypnotic effects. From what little I overheard when I arrived, it sounds like he recently received an upgrade of sorts.”
Spoiler helped the recovering Mr. Phillips to a chair and said, “You’ll be OK.” Then she turned to face Nightwing. “He did get an upgrade,” she said. “A felon called Rainbow Raider worked with him to give his helmet the ability to exert emotional control over his victims. That let him do more than just use hypnosis.”
Nightwing smiled and said, “I heard the Raider was picked up entering the city. I suppose he had come for additional money from Quilt or to improve on their earlier work. You did a good job! Quilt can be dangerous. He once hurt Robin pretty badly.”
Spoiler nodded and said, “I guess we can clear his victims of the charges against them.”
“Sure,” said Nightwing. “It may take some doing, but I think it will be fine in the end.”
But how can I fix the damage he did to Mom’s heart? thought Stephanie. She’ll be crushed to learn he is a nutcase!
The next few days were full of emotional highs and lows for Stephanie. She did her best to comfort her mother when the truth about Paul Jackson came out.
Nightwing had explained the story behind his identity. “Paul Jackson was an alias,” he had said. “He took it from Paul Jackson Pollock, the artist. He came here to hide out until he could work with a criminal named Roy G. Bivolo to upgrade his weapon of choice. Bivolo also thought a version of the helmet might cure his own color blindness. Crazy-Quilt was using the helmet to control random people he met and forcing them to steal for him. It was a way to make an income while he figured out what to do about the captured Rainbow Raider.”
Stephanie had also been more than a bit disconcerted by the fact that Agnes occasionally disturbing things, such as, “He must have really liked me. I mean, he could have used the helmet described in the papers to force me to love him, and he didn’t do it!”
I hope she doesn’t still have feelings for him even now, thought Stephanie.
When Batwoman returned to the city, she congratulated Stephanie while cautioning her to be more careful when acting solo. “You did a good job, but you should have just informed Nightwing or Oracle and let them take action on their own,” she said. “Oracle does have other allies that she could have called in.”
“I’m sorry,” said Stephanie. “I guess I acted rashly because I cared about the people involved!”
Babs Gordon placed one arm around the teen and said, “Leading with your heart is never a bad thing. Just be sure your head is engaged, too.”
Stephanie smiled and said, “Thank you. I’ll remember that… until the next time I get carried away!”