by Martin Maenza
The bell above the door of the Pretty Bird Flower Shoppe jangled as it opened. Oliver Queen, dressed in a pair of dark slacks and a white turtleneck sweater, entered the florist shop with a large, full green duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
Dinah Lance was working on an arrangement behind the counter when she looked up and noticed his arrival. “Hey there, you,” the brunette woman said. “Heading out to do some laundry?”
The blond-haired man smiled as he approached, his facial gesture causing his mustache to turn up. “Nothing like that, baby,” he said, setting the bag down. “Just wanted to drop by in person to let you know I’ll be out of town and out of touch for a while.”
Dinah’s mood changed drastically, and she snipped off some of the excess leaves from the flowers with some shears. “Oh, really,” she said flatly. “How long are you going to be gone?”
“Can’t really say for sure.”
She snipped again. “What’s the trip for?”
“It’s kind of personal business.”
“Personal? Huh.” She snipped again, this time taking off the top of one of the flowers. She tried to compose herself, putting the shears down on the counter. “Just how personal?”
Oliver approached her. “It’s something I can’t talk about right now,” he said as he reached for her arm. Dinah jerked it away suddenly. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Dinah glanced around the shop and saw a few customers still mulling around the display cases. She was trying her best not to make a scene but really felt like she had to speak her mind. She spun around quickly and pushed the man toward the back room. “We need to talk privately, now!” she said.
“What gives, pretty bird?” Oliver Queen asked as he almost stumbled backward.
Once in the back room, Dinah did her best to talk in a whisper, a loud one. “Don’t pretty bird me, Oliver Queen! You come in here, acting all mysterious, and refuse to tell me where you’re going off to, and you expect me to be all nice about it?”
“It’s just a little personal business is all,” he said in his defense.
“Sure it is,” Dinah replied. “And I bet it has something to do with Connor Hawke, right?”
Oliver Queen blinked. “Connor Hawke? You mean that kid from the future who claimed–?”
She finished his sentence. “–to be your son. Exactly! Don’t lie to me about this. You’re heading off to find Moonday Hawke, aren’t you? You want to see if she has a son named Connor, to see if the future he came from could actually come true.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Time, See What’s Become of Me?]
Oliver Queen was speechless for once. Then he started to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?!” Dinah exclaimed.
“You are,” he said. “Green’s usually my color. I’ve never seen you so jealous.”
Dinah was so angry, she felt like slapping him.
“Hey, Dinah, sweetie,” he said. “You need to relax. You’re getting worked up over nothing.” She put her hands on her hips in defiance. Ollie could tell she wore the don’t-tell-me-how-to-act look. “Look, I’m sorry to be so secretive about my trip. I was wrong to not tell you about it. This has nothing to do with Connor or Moonday or anything like that.
“The wife of an old friend contacted me recently. She suspected some foul play involved in the death of her husband, but didn’t know what to do about it. I promised her I’d look into it for her. So that’s why I’ll be out of town without knowing for how long. I’m going to have to do some undercover work on this one.” He raised his open right hand and gently placed it under Dinah Lance’s chin. “You trust me, right?”
Dinah opened her pouting lips. “Yeah, I trust you,” she said softly. She looked up at him, feeling kind of ashamed for her outburst. Ollie smiled at her, and then she smiled back. That single gesture was enough to reassure her that the man loved her with all his heart. Nothing would ever change that. She then gave him a great big hug. “Don’t get in over your head, OK?”
He squeezed her tight. “When do I ever do that?” And they both laughed.
Clyde Stock stood aside the train car, looking over the letter of reference. “Haly’s Circus, eh?” said the well-built man with thin hair, who wore dark pants and a white buttoned shirt. “They’re a pretty good outfit.”
“Yes, sir,” said Oliver Queen. He mentally reminded himself to thank Nightwing again for helping with his paperwork.
“Knife-thrower, eh?” Stock asked. “I certainly can use one. We lost our last one in a fire a few months back.”
Oliver Queen said nothing, but of course he knew all about that. Juanita Sanchez had told her all about Carlos’ death. The blonde man, however, had no intentions of revealing what he knew.
“Care to give me a demonstration?” asked Stock.
“Gladly,” Ollie said. He removed a rather large switchblade knife from his pocket and flicked it open. “Any requests?”
Stock glanced around, then noticed one of his carnival fliers that had been tacked up to a telephone pole across the train yard. He pointed to it. “How’s about that? Think you can hit that?”
“Works for me,” Ollie said. He took the knife by the pointed end and tipped it back. Eyeing the poster, he flicked his wrist and let the blade fly. It somersaulted through the air at great speed.
A black-haired man stepped out in the path of the blade. Stock noticed and yelled out. “Freeman, move!” At the last second, the young man dropped to the ground out of the deadly path. The blade slammed into the telephone pole.
Ollie and Clyde Stock rushed over to the young man as he rose from the ground. “Freeman, you OK?” the owner asked.
“Of course,” the man replied. “You know me: quick reflexes.”
Clyde Stock smiled. “Good, good. While you’re here, let me introduce you. Freeman Scott, this here’s Oswald Kingsley. Oswald, Freeman, here, is one of our daredevils.”
Freeman extended his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Oswald,” he said.
Oliver Queen shook his hand. “Call me Ozzie.”
Stock examined the poster on the telephone pole; the knife point hit dead center in the first O in the Stock’s Shows logo. The man then pulled out the knife, closed the blade, and handed it back to its owner. “Well, Freeman, looks like we found us a new knife-thrower. The job’s yours if you want it, Mr. Kingsley.”
Oliver Queen smiled. He was in. “When do we hit the rails?”
For the first few weeks or so, Oliver Queen found it difficult to adjust to a life he was not readily used to. The traveling carnival and sideshow stopped at a few towns in the Midwest, places like Atchison, Kansas, and Beatrice, Nebraska. Ollie spent a good bit of time traveling the country a few years back with Hal Jordan, but the two adventures ceased being similar right there.
The crowds at the shows were always pretty good, but it wasn’t all the thrill of the performance. Those who worked the acts also had to assist with the unloading, setting up, taking down, and reloading of equipment. That on top of hours of practice, very little privacy, and the off-chance of getting both a decent meal and shower in the same day added to the crazy experience. Whoever thought that running away to the circus could be so hard?
About the time Clyde Stock came around to give him his first pay-check, the owner also presented his new knife-thrower with some paperwork to be signed. “What’s this?” Ollie asked in a rather naive manner.
“Nothing to be too concerned about,” Stock replied. “Just some paperwork that I need to keep filed for my employees.” He handed him a pen. “Don’t let any of the big language throw you. It’s just for medical coverage and such. Just sign them on the bottom, Ozzie.”
Ollie had a feeling this was just the type of clue he was looking for. However, he didn’t want to arouse Stock’s suspicion by insisting to read it right now. He took the pen and quickly signed it with his false name. “I’ll take your word for it,” he replied. He signed all three in the spots noted and handed them back to Stock.
“Good man,” Clyde Stock said as he slipped them back into a folder. He was about to leave the small compartment when he turned back. “Oh, say, Ozzie, I need you to have a chat with Freeman. I’m thinking maybe you two could work out an act or something. With your great aim and his uncanny reflexes, it could make for some exciting stuff.”
“Sure thing,” Ollie replied. Then Stock left the compartment and closed the door. “Yeah, right.” While Freeman Scott certainly appeared to be a lucky individual, often getting out of dangerous situations at the last minute, the last thing Ollie needed was a reckless showoff in his act. Knives weren’t exactly the same as arrows; while he was an expert at the latter, the former was still something he was trying to master. He had enough skill to pull off his cover, but he didn’t feel like pressing his own luck further.
Besides, he had more important things to think about, like breaking into Stock’s office and getting his hands on a copy of those forms. Oliver Queen would have to wait one more day before he’d get his chance at the paperwork.
Clyde Stock played in a weekly poker game on Wednesday nights with some of the roustabouts; Stock figured he could get back a bit of the money he paid them in wages by gambling with them. He left for his game sharply at ten P.M. That would give Ollie a few hours to take care of his own business.
Packed within his travel bag were a number of his trick arrowheads. While a glass cutter or an explosive charge could easily give him entrance to the compartment that served as Stock’s office, they’d also leave an obvious mess. And the last thing Ollie wanted to do was leave evidence of his break-in. He decided to go a more traditional route.
Working with a small wire, Ollie attempted to pick the lock on the door. What I wouldn’t give for Batman’s utility belt right now, he thought. I’m sure he’s got a quick and dirty lock-pick in it. After a few more moments, the tumblers clicked, and the knob turned freely. “Bingo!”
Ollie slipped inside the compartment. Stock had left a light on for when he returned later. The hero was happy for that, because then he wouldn’t have to scramble around in the darkness. There was a small file cabinet in the corner; naturally, it was locked. “Don’t want to mess with that if I don’t have to,” he said to himself quietly. Instead, he went for the desk.
There were a few small piles of paper on it, mostly invoices for supplies to keep the carnival show moving. A calendar noted the dates for the next cities to be visited. “Oh, boy. Bakersfield next week,” Ollie said dryly.
Ollie went to the drawers of the desk and pulled them open. The bottom drawer to the left contained a number of hanging folders. “What do we have here?” Pulling them out one at a time, he flipped through the contents. Eventually, he hit upon the items he was seeking.
Removing a very small camera from his pocket, Ollie took pictures of the pages of many of the documents. They were the waiver forms that Stock made the employees sign, waivers that basically named Stock as beneficiary to any life insurance payouts due to on the job accidents. He even found the one he himself signed the other day. “That should do it.”
Ollie returned the folder back to its proper place, closed the drawers, and prepared to leave the office. He had the evidence he needed to support the claim that Clyde Stock was benefiting from the accidents. Now all he would have to do is catch the man in the act of one such accident.
Locking the compartment door behind him, Oliver Queen hopped down from the step and started back down the line to his own car. Trying to act as casual as possible, he began to whistle lightly. As he passed the gap between cars, a voice called out to him, “Nice night for a stroll, eh?”
Ollie whirled back around, startled. “Who the…?”
From the shadows between the car emerged a familiar figure. “Relax, Ozzie, it’s just me,” said Freeman Scott. The dark-haired man hopped down and stepped into the light.
“You startled me, Scott,” Ollie said.
“You must be more careful when sneaking around at night,” Freeman said with a smile. “Of course, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of that. You’re an expert at this covert stuff.”
Ollie cocked his head slightly. “What are you getting at?”
“Oh, don’t be coy with me, Ozzie.” He emphasized the name, almost to imply an unspoken if-that-is-your-name. “I know a professional when I see one.”
Ollie didn’t like the way the conversation was going, but he played ignorant. “What’re you talking about, man? You’re crazy.”
Freeman just smiled more. He was enjoying the game. “You can drop the act. I’ve got a great eye for detail; very few things escape me. And while I haven’t been around as long as you, I definitely don’t consider myself green.” He emphasized the last word, then gave him a wink.
Ollie rushed Freeman. “Look, buddy, I don’t know what you think you know, but you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Suddenly, a loud voice interrupted the discussion. “Hey! What’s going on here?” It was Clyde Stock, accompanied by a couple of rather large guys. “What are you two doing out here?”
The two men glanced at one another, then back at the show’s owner.
“Nothing,” Oliver Queen said quickly.
“Talking,” Freeman Scott said at the same time.
Clyde Stock looked at them both with an inquisitive eye. “Really? Which is it?”
“Talking,” said Queen at the same time Scott said, “Nothing.”
Stock stared at the two men again. “Well, whatever it is, go do it someplace else! Hear?”
“Yes, sir,” Queen said. “C’mon, let’s go!” He pushed the daredevil along, and they headed off down the tracks to another car.
Clyde Stock waited for them to get out of ear shot and then leaned in to the guys with whom he was standing. “Chuck, Dave, keep an eye on those two,” he said. “They looked too suspicious to be up to nothing.” The two large roustabouts nodded.
As they neared the cars that housed the living compartments for the performers, Oliver Queen stopped and pulled Freeman Scott aside. “Hey, I don’t appreciate you gettin’ me in trouble with the boss,” Queen said.
The black-haired daredevil smiled. “Oh, I’m certain you can handle someone like him,” Freeman said.
Ollie’s face began to turn red. He was quickly losing patience with the man. He grabbed Freeman Scott by the collar, but he then remembered his mission and quickly let him go. “Forget it!” he said as he started to walk off.
Freeman ran after him. “Wait a minute, wait,” he said, cutting in front of the blonde man. “Look, I’m sorry about that. I was just having some fun with you. Come on back to my compartment. I’ve got something to show you.”
Oliver Queen stopped for a moment and raised one eyebrow. “Sorry, kid, I’ve got a lot to think about right now.” And with that, he continued on his way to the car where his own compartment was.