Barbara Gordon smiled as she stepped out of a taxicab and approached a small, cozy house. There was something comforting about the old but brightly painted or repainted porch furniture.
Dad and I used to spend a lot of time out here when I was little, she thought. I always had a book, and he had his pipe. We didn’t need anything more to be happy together.
The attractive young woman had long, red hair and intelligent eyes. She moved swiftly up the steps and across the porch as a front door swung open, and her father greeted her. “You’ve not lost your sense of timing, Dad,” she said as she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “I never even have to knock.”
James W. Gordon smiled in return as he embraced his daughter and led her inside. “I’m ever vigilant,” he said. “It goes with the job description.”
Babs laughed as she hung up her beige coat and called over her shoulder, “Which one? Protective father or Gotham City police commissioner?”
The older Gordon chuckled and said, “Both! Not that my highly liberated daughter needs an old watchdog.”
She hurried into the kitchen and deftly moved a steaming pot off the stove and into the sink, where she added a bit of water. “Your daughter doesn’t need watching, but our dinner does,” she said.
Jim Gordon threw his hands into the air in resignation and replied, “Some modern kitchen! Too bad the stove can’t tell us when something is burning.”
“You mean you want a Bat-signal for the stove?” she said, tongue-in-cheek. “A little light in the shape of a bottle of anti-acid could flash when things get too hot.”
As the father and daughter worked together to finish and serve the meal, Jim gazed at her with pride. She’s a remarkable woman, he thought. Even without her former Congressional career, Barbara has really made me proud. Of course, I can’t exactly go around bragging that my daughter is Gotham City’s famed Batwoman!
He referred to the fact that Barbara Gordon had held down more than one career. In addition to her work at the Gotham City Public Library, she was also the costumed crime-fighter known originally as Batgirl and currently as Batwoman. She brought more than a brilliant mind and considerable physical prowess to the role; she also enjoyed the respect and support of Batman himself. However, it was his younger partner that occupied her thoughts now.
“Dick is doing a terrific job at the Wayne Foundation,” she said. “Of course, I knew he had that kind of talent back when I hired him as my summer intern during my time in Congress.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Invader from Hell,” Batman Family #1 (September-October, 1975).]
James nodded. He had known exactly how exceptional young Dick Grayson was for years. “He also did an admirable job filling in for Bruce in his other capacity,” he said. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Arsenal: Guys’ Night Out.]
Babs nodded and said, “I think he was the only one who had even the slightest doubt that he would. After all, he actually started on-the-job training at a much younger age than even Bruce did!” She knew that her romantic partner Dick Grayson brought a determined desire to succeed to everything he did, both in and out of his heroic role of Nightwing.
She frowned as she glanced down at a counter and saw a stack of mail. “Dad, it isn’t like you to let the mail pile up,” she began. “What would Ed McMahon think? I mean, you may have already won!”
Babs hesitated as she spotted a strangely addressed envelope. It had no return address, nor was there any recipient name; only Gordon’s street address above the customary Gotham City address.
Jim opened it up and said, “I just tossed it all aside so I could put the sauce on.” He frowned as he withdrew from the envelope a small card with a brightly colored series of images drawn across one side. “This isn’t the lottery. I think it’s from someone with a more sinister intention than luring me into buying some magazine subscriptions.”
Babs nodded and said, “Strange. Nigma usually sends those riddles to the police station.”
Jim nodded and said, “The Riddler was captured days ago and is safely behind bars. My staff makes very certain that the main Bat-foes are accounted for regularly. I’ve learned that, all too often, our prison seems to have a revolving door.”
“OK, I suppose it isn’t exactly a riddle, anyway,” said Babs. “It’s more of a rebus or pictogram.” She pointed to a drawing that showed several arrows in a line pointing toward two large eyes.
“Follow the eyes? Two eyes in a row?” muttered Jim.
Babs hesitated and then said, “Two eyes or two letter I’s? Plus, look at dots above and between the eyes — dotted eyes. Three dots in a row, two of which are over letter I’s in a row, while the middle dot is above a space between the two letters.”
“The decorative border looks Oriental in nature, too,” noted Gordon.
“Of course, the paper itself is ordinary,” said Babs. “There is nothing special about it. It has no imprint or maker’s name. It could have been bought in almost any store.”
“It almost goes without saying that there won’t be any prints on it,” said Gordon. “I’ve grown accustomed to that by now.”
The red-haired librarian began to scribble on the pad on the desk. “There aren’t many words with three consecutively dotted letters. That Eastern-styled border makes one seem especially suggestive: Beijing.”
Gordon nodded and said, “In lower-case printing, the I, J, and second I would all have three dots in a row!”
Babs smiled and said, “And certain Eastern antiquities are on exhibition at the Gotham Museum — priceless relics from China.”
“Shall I make the call, or do you want to look into it?” asked Gordon.
Barbara stood up and smoothed down her light green dress. “Well, as much as I hate to eat and run, I think I’ll do just that.”
“Be careful,” said Jim. “Even if it isn’t the Riddler, it could be someone dangerous.”
Babs blew him a kiss as she headed for the door. “Don’t worry. The second-most-likely suspect isn’t exactly a major threat.”
As she hurried out, Gordon reached for his pipe and thought, No matter how old they get, you never stop worrying.
That night, after parking her motorcycle safely out of sight, Batwoman silently entered the vast Gotham City Museum.
Bypassing the security system was simple enough for me, but the average intruder would have trouble with it, she thought. Contrary to popular opinion, most Gotham institutions have excellent security systems. But Gotham also has exceptional criminals!
She could see in the dark because of the infrared feature of the lens in her cowl. Thus she made her way stealthily through the museum until she came upon the wing housing the Beijing exhibit. I can’t think about China without seeing poor Tony in my mind, she thought. Tony Gordon, Babs’ older brother, had lost his life while on a mission in the Orient. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Quick Death in China,” Detective Comics #482 (February-March, 1979).]
Batwoman shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, then froze as she heard furtive footsteps. She grabbed a line that she had secured to a railing above and swung out of sight to perch precariously on a narrow cornice. She saw four men in dark suits hurry into the area as flashlights produced crisscrossed beams of filtered light.
“The guards were exactly where he said they would be!” said a burly man with a growth of stubble on his fat jowls. “The alarm’s code was what he told us, too! We got our money’s worth!”
His companions nodded, and one replied, “No man gets the better of our boss-lady! If she pays for info, then the source better be good!” They moved closer to the display cases where various works of art rose up around the room.
“How can she fence this stuff?” asked a short, bald man.
“She wants the loot,” the burly leader said. “That’s enough for me. What she does with it is her business.” He added, “We gotta move fast. The guards won’t be out for long. That gas he gave us isn’t lethal.”
“I guess it’s just your charm that’s fatal, huh, boys?”
The mocking words came from above as Batwoman dropped down to scatter the gang. She kicked a gun out of the burly man’s hand and spun around to flatten a second thug with a punch to the chin. Before they could regroup and take aim, she had vanished into the shadows.
“Batgirl! We better get outta here!” cried the gaunt man who still clutched his flashlight with both hands.
Laughter echoed as Batwoman rolled forward across the floor and rose up to stun him with a precisely delivered jab to his nose. “I’m Batwoman now, but seeing as how you and I are such old friends, Bones, you can just call me repo-woman. I’ll be returning you to jail!”
She dodged a blow from behind and elbowed the attacker in the face. “You won’t make it as a sneak thief with aftershave that strong,” she said. As she cuffed him, she turned to see the final goon racing around the corner.
Batwoman stopped for a moment as one of the fallen thugs groaned. She glanced down and assured herself that he had not injured himself severely in his fall, then swung into the air. She flipped agilely into a series of loops and then landed gracefully to find the last thug sprawled on the ground, rubbing his eyes.
“It burns!” he yelled.
She cuffed him and then wiped across his eyes with a small cloth taken from her belt. Pepperspray? she realized. How’d he run into that? That certainly isn’t standard issue for the museum staff.
After checking on the museum guards and making one last sweep of the place, she turned the gang over to the police.
“Thanks, Batwoman!” said a blonde policewoman. “Nothing is missing, thanks to you!”
“You’re welcome, Officer Sheridan,” she replied. However, there’s more to this case than meets the eye, or should I say I, she thought. Someone stopped that goon. Someone tipped Dad off to the robbery. Is it a jealous crook or a would-be hero? Since nothing was taken, I’d guess the latter. Still, much of what those goons said makes me think my original suspect has a hand in this.
Batwoman climbed on her motorcycle and rode off, lost in her own thought. As she drove off into the night, she didn’t realize that a cloaked figure was watching her from behind the shrubs.
Cool beans! thought the masked watcher.
The next morning, Barbara Gordon tossed her purse down on her desk at the Gotham City Public Library and reached down to pull her chair closer as she sat down. She heard a noise from the nearby archives and glanced up to see a pale but pretty and demure blonde girl emerge from within.
“Debbie? I thought you were some unwanted visitor like a mouse or a bookworm,” she said.
Debbie Cress smiled and said, “I may be new here, but even I’ve heard that one before. I was a work-study student once, you know.”
Babs grinned and said, “What were you doing? I can’t remember the last time anyone used that section.”
“Oh, well, I was just catching up on a few things,” said Debbie. “Putting the library scrapbooks back and so on.”
Babs smiled in mock disbelief. “The library scrapbooks? Don’t tell me someone actually used those things! They were a joke back when I started here! I remember thinking I was wasting my time clipping things out, but poor old Miss Hall insisted that we keep the books up to date.”
“Believe it or not, a high school girl asked to see them a couple times in the last few weeks,” said Debbie. “She said something about a school project.”
Babs nodded and resumed her own day’s work. When Dad confirmed that the Riddler was safely in prison, I had Oracle check on the location of some other old crooks. Sure enough, Cluemaster has been loose for a while. He wasn’t on Dad’s red flag list of the most deadly Bat-foes, so no one alerted Dad personally.
She pressed a pencil against her cheek as she continued to think over the matter. Cluemaster: Arthur Brown used to send clues to his crimes almost like the Riddler, but there was a big difference between them. Edward Nigma was psychologically compelled to do so before committing a crime. Art Brown did so as part of schemes of deliberate misdirection. He wanted to distract Batman by occupying him with such mind games while he tried to achieve some secondary goal like deducing Batman’s real identity or luring him into deathtraps.
Looking at a piece of paper, Barbara nodded to herself. Lyla was able to pull together a list of fake names Brown used before, as well as the names and addresses of his past associates, she thought. I’m amazed at how skilled she is at what she does! She referred to the enigmatic Oracle, who often aided Batwoman and other heroes with information or research from some mysterious location. The gang said they were working for a woman, but while they refused to name her under questioning, they also referred to getting facts about the museum from some hired man. I suspected that was Cluemaster.
She frowned as her earring vibrated slightly. Crossing the room, she closed the door and then spoke softly into the special device. “Go ahead, Oracle,” she said.
I accessed the police medical reports as well as insurance claims from the museum, came Oracle’s voice over the two-way communicator. The gas used on the guards was, in fact, the same kind used by Cluemaster in the past. Due to its chemical nature, it has a short shelf life, so he could not be using a supply from old jobs. He had to have made it fresh. A search of chemical suppliers in the Gotham City area brought up exactly one source that listed recent purchases of the necessary chemicals needed to create that gas. They were bought by Winston Martindale. His address was a fake one, but his name suggests a lot.
“I must be missing something,” said Babs. “Martindale wasn’t on the list of aliases you gave me.”
Oracle sighed and said, “Winston Martindale — better known as Wink — was a popular quizmaster on various television game shows. No doubt that irony appealed to Arthur Brown when he selected the fake name.”
Babs slapped her head and laughed; thanks to her photographic memory, she knew the name but hadn’t yet made the association to the Cluemaster. “Of course! Any suggestions as to who hired him?”
“I know of no collectors of Orientalia who could be called a boss-lady by thugs like the ones you caught,” said Oracle. “A better question might be: why would Cluemaster warn your father of this particular robbery, if he was, in turn, supplying the gang and their female boss with the gas and other necessary tools?”
“I did some checking, too, and found no scorned women criminals in Brown’s past,” said Babs. “I don’t think he was trying to sabotage the gang. It is entirely possible Brown has retired his costumed role and is trying to make a name for himself as a master planner for other criminals. I think someone else might be trying to make him look bad by using his old M.O. against him.”
“I do have an address for his ex-wife,” added Oracle. “She had filed insurance claims on her own job and has been under the weather. I don’t imagine her health or what I have ascertained about her character from employee records, et cetera, would allow her to take that role.”
“Thanks, Oracle,” said Babs. “You’re a winner!”
She turned around as a boy with thick glasses and bad hair entered, handing her a stack of mail. “Thanks, Eric,” she said. “I sure am sorry that you’re moving. You’ve been a great page!” He smiled with pleasure and thanked her before departing.
Barbara Gordon frowned as she recognized the writing on an envelope addressed to her. This is the same writing that was on the envelope Dad got, she realized. Maybe that clue wasn’t meant for him! Maybe it was meant for me all along! I suppose someone could have learned about our weekly Friday night dinners.
She pulled out a card with one word written upon it. The first two letters were blue, as were the last two:
“Once in a blue moon,” she remarked. “That rebus is ancient. Still, it serves its purpose if my memory of oldies is accurate.”
She grabbed a crisscross directory and turned to the M section. “Blue Moon was a hit for the doo-wop group, the Marcels. There is a Marcel Avenue in the city. Looking at the crisscross directory listing for Marcel Avenue shows the names of the current residents. One Marcel Avenue shows no current occupant, but I didn’t expect there to be one, since occupancy changes so swiftly.” A call to the city housing authority will give me the name of the landlord, and he can tell me who is renting that house, she thought.
After making two calls, Babs put the phone down, recalling the renter’s name as being that of another quizmaster. “Jim McWilliams. That was the name of one of the earliest national radio game show hosts. Arthur Brown is staying true to form.”
She frowned as she stood up and walked toward the door. “A more pressing concern is why he or someone working against him would send clues to me instead of Dad. Has someone found out my secret identity? Am I going to have to hang up my costume, after all?”