“Hey, Ollie!” Sam Besser, the Daily Star’s classifieds editor, called to Oliver Queen as the latter passed his desk on his way back from lunch. “There was a call for you while you were out. Pretty weird one, too, if you ask me.”
“Can’t remember asking you, Sam,” Ollie said, stopping by his friend’s desk. “But what was so weird about it?”
“It was from a kid at the Elias Street Shelter. Said his name was Stubby or something like that. Wanted you to get a message to Green Arrow for him.”
Ollie shrugged. “What message?”
“Just that he needs to talk to Green Arrow, pronto.” Sam looked at Ollie quizzically. “Can you do that? Get in touch with Green Arrow?”
“We met a time or two, back when I had money,” Ollie explained. “I can get a message to him sometimes.”
Sam shook his head. “If you’re not careful, people are liable to think you’re Green Arrow!”
Ollie laughed at that. “Come on, Sam. If I were Green Arrow, would I walk around with this beard?” Ollie pointed to his own face. “Not much of a disguise, that little mask, is it?”
Sam laughed with Ollie. “Yeah, you’re right! I bet that beard’s fake — part of his disguise!”
“I bet you’re right,” Ollie laughed, walking away from Sam’s desk. “I bet you’re right.”
Ollie walked into his office and closed the door. Stubby or something like that? That was probably Stebby, or Esteban. He wondered what could be so urgent, but he knew a good way to find out. He sat down at his desk and dialed the Elias Street Shelter.
Disguising his voice, Ollie spoke first to the receptionist, then to the director, Miss Devlin, and finally to Esteban.
“Stebby,” he said, “this is Green Arrow. I hear you wanted to talk to me.”
The young Latino spoke in a guarded voice. “How do I know you are Green Arrow?”
“The Futurian and I caught you running with your brother and his gang-banger friends, robbing Sounds OK,” Ollie said. (*) “Good enough?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Fear the Future, Chapter 2: Man on the Inside.]
“Si,” Stebby replied. “I’m sorry, but I have to be careful, you know?”
“I know,” Ollie said kindly. “Now what’s on your mind?”
“There were two boys in here a few nights ago, about my brother’s age. Checked themselves in, but they didn’t really want help; just wanted a free meal and bed for the night before moving on.”
“That happens,” Ollie said. “A shame, but hardly worth calling me in.”
“But the boys, they say something!” Stebby continued. “Tried to get others to go with them. Say they were going to New York. Said something really big was going down with the gangs there.”
“Big?” Ollie asked, his interest piqued. “What?”
“Said the gangs were going to take over the city,” Stebby said. “That the police would do nothing while the gangs overran the city, and the whole city would belong to the gangs.”
Ollie’s lips tightened into a grimace. He had heard of the impending police strike in New York; it would be the perfect opportunity for a mass gang uprising.
“Thanks for the tip, Stebby,” he said, grimly.
“Thank you for coming to see me on such short notice here in my office, Dr. Carmichael,” Police Commissioner Eustace Dolan said gratefully.
“Not a problem, Commissioner,” Josh Clay said. “It’s not every day I get a request from an important city figure like yourself.”
“You came highly recommended. My close friend, Robert Westlake, is a patient of yours.”
Josh suppressed a grimace. Westlake was another of his wealthy hypochondriacs, and they were all making him sick lately. “You’re probably just overworked,” he told the police commissioner, as he took out his stethoscope and prepared to examine the man.
“You’re probably right,” Dolan sighed. “What with the threatened police strike and all. And it couldn’t come at a worse time!”
“How do you mean?” Josh asked.
“Well, this is in the strictest confidence, of course,” Dolan said. “But the head of our anti-gang unit tells me the street gangs are up to something, something really big. It’s like they’re counting on the police strike to give them the opening they need.”
Josh’s forehead wrinkled in concentration. “You don’t say?”
“David, I’m frightened!” the young woman said in a trembling voice as she and a young man walked the darkened streets. “We should have taken a cab back to our hotel!”
“And pay those outrageous rates?” David scoffed. “We’ll get back to the hotel no problem.”
“But, David! All those stories you hear, about muggers and street gangs and all! We could be–”
“Jenny, those are just stories!” David said dismissively. “Urban legends made up to scare people! They–”
“You been misinformed, dude,” a voice from the shadows called. Before David could look around, he and Jenny were surrounded by teenagers in black denim jeans and sleeveless black T-shirts with huge white skulls on them. Each one carried some sort of weapon, from pistols and knives to broken bottles. Jenny screamed.
“You’re on Punisher turf, dude,” the gang’s apparant leader snarled. “That means you’ve gotta pay the toll!”
David was panicking inside, but he tried not to show it. He’d always heard that bullies backed down if you stood up to them. “W-we don’t have to pay you a cent! Now get out of the way, before I call the police!”
The gang members broke out laughing. “Dude, you one funny guy,” the leader said. “Maybe I’ll go easy on you for makin’ us laugh. Maybe I’ll only cut off one ear.”
“Why don’t you try someone who fights back, Fonzie?” a voice from above taunted. All heads, gangsters and intended victims alike, turned up to see who had spoken. They saw a tall, muscular man outfitted in green, grinning down at them.
“You sweat hogs like to fight?” Green Arrow grinned. “This is your lucky night. I like to fight, too.”
“It’s the Green Lantern!” one of the punks shouted, pointing up.
“Nail ‘im!” the leader cried, aiming his pistol. Green Arrow leaped down from the roof, landing on the fire escape, nocking an arrow to his bowstring as his feet touched the metal. The arrow launched down into the alley, ensnaring the punks’ leader.
“Green Lantern? Lantern?” the archer demanded. “I’m hurt, fellas! Don’t you know me better than that?”
Bottles and knives were hurled at the fire escape, but Green Arrow was no longer there. Now he was down among them, emerald-gloved fists moving like pistons. In mere moments, all the gang members lay in various uncomfortable positions in the dirty alleyway.
“A word to the wise, folks,” Green Arrow told David and Jenny. “Take cabs whenever possible.”
The frightened couple merely nodded and hurried out of the alley.
Green Arrow looked around at his victims, trying to find one conscious enough to answer some questions. As he knelt to examine one, the one behind him weakly raised a pistol, pointing it at Green Arrow’s back. Suddenly, a bolt of golden energy lanced out of nowhere and knocked the gun out of the punk’s hand. Green Arrow whirled at the noise.
“Evening, Arrow,” the costumed man said. “Hope you don’t mind a timely assist.”
“Not at all,” Green Arrow said. “I know you — you used to run with the Doom Patrol. Thunderstorm, wasn’t it?”
“Tempest,” the hero corrected. “What brings you to New York?”
“Heard about big gang doings going down. Is that what brings you out in the open? Haven’t heard much about you this last year or so, not since the Crisis.”
Tempest shrugged his shoulders. “Been trying to run away from myself.”
Green Arrow cocked an eyebrow. “How’d that go?”
“Man, I found out something,” Tempest said. “No matter where you go, there you are.”
“Ain’t it the truth,” Green Arrow agreed. “So, I was looking for one of these jokers to tell me what he knows about the gang activity.”
“I think this loser got himself elected,” Tempest said, hauling the would-be assassin to his feet. “Spill it, turkey!”
“Man, you go t’ Hell!” the punk spat. “I ain’t scareda you! You a soopah-hero! You guys don’t kill!”
“He’s right,” Green Arrow said. “We don’t.”
“Yeah,” Tempest said, casually swinging his left arm behind him and loosing an energy-bolt. The blast struck a large metal trash dumpster, completely demolishing it. “But you’d be amazed at what you can live through.”
The young hood, now not nearly so tough, swallowed audibly.
“How about it, punk?” Tempest demanded. “You ready to talk yet?”
“Easy, easy,” Green Arrow said. “If he’s not ready to talk, give him time.”
“Yeah?” Tempest asked.
“Sure. I haven’t done my William Tell act in months. You don’t see an apple anywhere in this alley, do you?”
Tempest looked at a knocked-over garbage can. “I think I see a grape in there…”
“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” the young punk screamed fearfully.
“Listening,” Green Arrow said simply.
“All the gangs in New York are coming together,” the punk said. “We’re bein’ organized under one leader. He says we’re wastin’ our time fightin’ over grubby little blocks of turf, when we could have the whole city if we work together!”
“Damn,” Tempest said in awe. “It’s a wonder no one ever realized that before.”
“How’s he making the gangs cooperate?” Green Arrow asked. “Usually they’re more obstinate than senators in that area.”
“Man, when this dude talks, it all makes sense!” the punk swore. “He’s got it together! He tells us how it’s gonna be when we control the city, and we can see it plain as day! He’s the man, he is!”
“A persuasive speaker,” Green Arrow said in disgust. “Sometimes that’s all it takes, isn’t it?”
“S’what my history teacher told me,” Tempest said. “About a guy named Hitler. This dude, this leader, what’s his name?”
“Jamal the Arab,” the punk said. “He’s gonna be the king of New York, as soon as we take over!”
“That so?” Tempest demanded. “Where can we find the man who would be king?”
“There’s a meeting tonight, midnight at the Bubastis Theater on Leonard Street,” the punk said. “All the gangs are gonna be there, even from as far out as Coney Island! Jamal’s laying down the strategy for what we’re gonna do as soon as the police go on strike!”
“Too bad you won’t be there,” Tempest sneered. “We’ll make sure to give Jamal your regards.”
“Yeah, you do that, soopah-hero!” the punk spat, momentarily getting his courage back. “When Jamal takes over, you gonna suffer, man! You gonna roast!”
“Maybe,” Tempest said, “but you won’t be there to see it.” A police siren wailed in the distance, getting closer. “They haven’t struck yet.”
Green Arrow and Tempest left the alley just as the lights of the police car shone over the unconscious bodies of the Punishers.
“You know this Bubastis Theater, Tempest?” Green Arrow asked.
“Yeah, it’s been condemned, closed for years,” Tempest said. “Perfect spot for a parley of the gangs.”
“Couple hours ’til midnight,” the archer observed. “Any thoughts on what we should do ’til then?”
“I say we go see Jerry Sands,” Tempest said. “He’s the lawyer the police union has hired to represent ’em. Been doing all the talking for them, sort of the go-between for the cops and the bigwigs. If anyone can get this strike called off, or at least moved up ’til we deal with this Jamal the Arab, he can.”
“Sounds like you have a mole in City Hall,” Green Arrow said with admiration.
“Something like that,” Tempest said. “Gotta admit I’m a little surprised to see you here. I thought the Justice League only fought turkeys in costumes and bug-eyed monsters from outer space.”
“I might have said the same thing about the Doom Patrol,” Green Arrow quipped. “Seriously, I felt a lot like that some time ago; quit the League for a while to concentrate on street crime.”
“Yeah?” Tempest asked. “What happened there?”
Green Arrow shrugged. “I asked myself if that was the real reason I quit, and I found I didn’t have a pat answer. We all have crises of faith, Tempest. Goes with the costume.”
“I guess that’s true,” Tempest said thoughtfully. “Anyway, Sands has an office on Tenth. He’ll probably be there now. I hear he burns the midnight oil on this thing.”
“Then let’s go pay the illustrious Mr. Sands a call,” Green Arrow said, “and see if we can’t make him see things our way.”
“I appreciate your coming to see me, gentlemen,” Jerry Sands said kindly. “But I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.” Sands was an African-American man, slightly over thirty, with close-cut hair and shell-rimmed glasses. He wore a very conservative gray suit, and sat behind his modest desk with his hands folded on the top. He seemed unimpressed by two costumed super-heroes in his office.
“Nothing you can do?” Tempest repeated. “That’s crazy! The cops all listen to you, take whatever advice you give them! If you tell them not to strike, or at least to wait until this threat has been dealt with, they’ll do it!”
“But I cannot in good conscience do that, Mr. Tempest,” Sands said politely. “The police of this city have hired me to represent them, to look out for their best interests. I do not feel it would be in their best interest to delay the strike. City Hall would not take them seriously ever again if they did that.”
“Dammit, man, the gangs of the city are gonna stop killin’ each other and march as one army on the city!” Tempest cried. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Mr. Tempest,” Sands said calmly, “the police of this city risk their lives daily to protect the people of New York. They do so without benefit of super-powers or fancy weapons. And what do they get in return for their bravery, their selflessness? Minimal pay, long hours, few benefits, and an uncaring, thankless population. Can you blame them if they’re looking out for themselves for a change? Wouldn’t you, in that situation?”
“Tempest,” Green Arrow said, laying a hand on the hero’s shoulder, “maybe he’s right. It’s possible we jumped the gun on this thing.”
Tempest stared at Green Arrow in disbelief. “You, too? You’re buyin’ this line of bull? Man, I don’t believe you! For years I looked up to you as a hero, and you’re dancin’ to this stooge’s tune?”
“There is no need for name-calling, sir,” Sands said, calmly as ever. “You should settle down. Let me get you a cup of tea–”
“Cram your tea,” Tempest snarled. “Arrow, if you’re not in this fight all the way, you’re not in it at all! You know where you can find me if you come back to your senses!” Tempest stormed out of the office, slamming the door.
“Hot-tempered friends you have, Mr. Arrow,” Sands reflected.