“You haven’t heard the last of this!” spat an angry young man with a shaven head, as two uniformed police officers walked him to their car. His arms were still pinned to his body by green nylon cord, courtesy of a bolo-arrow fired by Star City’s guardian, Green Arrow. “You can jail me, but not the cause I fight for! The day will come when real Americans will have had enough of the inferior class leeching from us, and when that day comes, you will all suffer the fate of all traitors!”
“Geez, Monahan,” Green Arrow growled, “get him out of here before I do something I probably won’t regret at all!” Green Arrow stood in front of Sir Eatalot’s Sub Shop, an establishment in downtown Star City. The front window was smashed and lay in shards on the street. The proprietor of the shop, Sanjay Purohit, held a towel full of ice cubes to his forehead, nursing a bruise inflicted by the shaven-headed man.
“You!” the skinhead snarled at Green Arrow. “You’re white! How can you betray your own kind like this? How can you?”
“Monahan…” Green Arrow started, menace in his voice.
“All right, that’s enough,” the uniformed officer said to the skinhead, forcing him down into the car. “Remember your right to remain silent, OK?”
“We’ve been silent long enough!” the skinhead cried out. “These heathen savages have overrun our shores, with their inferior religions and their arranged marriages and their unclean diets. It’s time for the white-skinned descendants of the Founding Fathers to rise up and–” Monahan slammed the police car door, cutting off the skinhead’s further protests.
“I’m real sorry, on behalf of my whole ethnic demographic,” Green Arrow said to Sanjay. “I hope you realize he doesn’t speak for all of us.”
“He’s got a point about the arranged marriages,” the sub shop owner said, shrugging. “You should see the winner Pop has picked out for me.”
Green Arrow chuckled. “I admire that, being able to laugh in a situation like this.”
Sanjay shrugged. “Beats anything else I could do. Thank you again, Green Arrow. I sure am lucky you were nearby when that whack-job threw the brick through my window.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Green Arrow said. “You make the best meatball hoagie in town.”
“You’ll never pay for another one,” Sanjay assured him.
“Thanks, but I don’t work that way,” Green Arrow said. “However, if you want to show your gratitude, and you’ve got some food to spare, there’s a homeless shelter over on Elzufon that’s always looking for help.”
“Elzufon. I’ll call them tomorrow,” Sanjay promised him.
“Hey, Green Arrow,” Monahan called from the police car.
“What’s up?” the archer asked, strolling over.
“We just got a call on the radio that should interest you. Dead body found on the docks.”
“Sadly, there’s a dead body found on the docks at least once a week,” Green Arrow said, “so why is this special? Is it someone we know?”
“Well, according to the call,” Monahan said, deadpan, “it’s you.” He watched the archer do a double-take.
“Snakes aloive!” the uniformed patrolman cried in terror, clutching his heart. “Tis a ghost I’m seein’! An emerald phantom from beyond the grave! Oh, me poor old heart!”
“Knock off the Mike Axford routine, will ya, Jablonski?” Green Arrow asked, climbing out of the squad car. “I mean, it was maybe funny the first fifty times.”
“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” the patrolman said, all trace of the accent gone. “I knew this body we found wasn’t you, despite the gift-wrapping. Come take a look. Maybe you’ll recognize him.”
“Holy crap,” the archer said, staring down at the body. He had seen a lot in his years as a crime-fighter, but very few bodies looked like this. The bruises, the broken nose, the shattered jaw, the grimace of pain that remained even in death. The man had obviously been beaten to death, a very gruesome way to go. He was dressed in an ersatz Green Arrow costume, one made of shiny emerald spandex that could be purchased at any one of a dozen costume shops. A phony yellow mustache and goatee were attached to his battered face with spirit gum, the beard hanging down by one end, dislodged by the repeated blows. The hat was missing; the hair on top of the head was not blond, but dull, dishwater gray. The man was slightly overweight, his stomach bulging against the uniform.
“Recognize him?” Jablonski asked.
“No,” Green Arrow said grimly. “My best guess is a street person, a homeless man.”
“How can you tell that?” Jablonski asked.
“Look at the nose,” Green Arrow said, pointing. “It took a lot of punishment tonight, but see those little red marks? Gin blossoms. Medals the body awards itself for distinguished service in the cause of alcoholism. And the face. Look under the bruises, and you’ll see the cheeks are raw and reddened. Someone shaved him, and none too gently, before they stuck on the fake beard.”
“Geez, you’re good,” Jablonski said in awe.
“I’m not just another pretty face,” Green Arrow commented, struggling to hold his rage in check through humor. “It looks like someone kidnapped a homeless man, dressed him up like me, and beat him to death.”
“Why in God’s name would anyone do that?”
“Most likely to send me a message,” Green Arrow said. “This kind of message usually means one thing: if you can read this, you’re too close.”
“Too close to what?”
“That is what I need to find out.” Green Arrow knelt by the dead man’s side. “I’ll find whoever did this to you, buddy. And I’ll make them hurt.”
“And he was dressed up as you?” Dinah Lance said over the phone. “I’ll bet that’s got your goat.”
“You know it, pretty bird,” Ollie Queen said. Dinah was in Gotham City, testifying at the parole hearing of a criminal she had helped apprehend there years earlier. “You know I’m not going to rest until I find whoever did this.”
“Just make sure you take care of yourself along the way, while you’re trying to save the world,” Dinah reminded him.
“Geez, Dinah, can’t you wait until we’re married before you start nagging?” Ollie asked good-naturedly.
“Come on, you know you always neglect your own health when you’re on a particularly interesting case,” she said. “What did you have for lunch today?”
“Lunch? Lemme see… oh, yeah. Leftover sausage and onion pizza.”
“Left over from when?”
“You had sausage and onion pizza for breakfast?!”
“Sure. With a cup of cocoa and half a grapefruit.”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Sure, it’s ’cause you don’t eat right.”
“How old are you, Mazzoni?”
Robert Mazzoni swallowed audibly. He had been dreading this call. “T-twenty-six. Why?”
“Bunglers in my organization rarely get much older than that.”
“Sir, I can explain–”
“Can you? Can you explain why I read in the newspaper this morning about an unidentified body found on the pier, beaten to death, wearing a Green Arrow costume? I can’t wait to hear this one.”
“I was about to dump it in the water, but I heard sirens! I thought the cops were there, and I panicked! I ran! Anybody would have done that!”
“There is no room in my organization for ordinary men, Mazzoni. Why was the body still wearing the costume?”
Mazzoni’s mind raced. It had been because he had spent too much time chatting with West and Montgomery afterward, and hadn’t had time to strip the body before taking it to be dumped. “I-I was going to remove the costume there, before I heard the sirens. Honest!”
“I see. What do you think I should do about this, Mazzoni?”
“Sir, I don’t see a problem,” Mazzoni said earnestly. “It’s an unidentified body — a homeless bum, a rumpot off the streets. The cops won’t look too hard. The costume’ll give ’em a laugh, sure, but they won’t dig deep into it. Odds are, they’ll think it’s some college prank.”
“College prank — beating a man to death?”
“I figure they’ll think frat boys found the body already dead, dressed it up as a hell week stunt or something.”
“Hm.” A brief pause. “Just barely possible. Very well, Mazzoni, we will wait for now and see what the police make of this. In fact, there is a member of our organization in a position of some note in the police department; I will see that your college prank theory gets spread among the police. Perhaps they will pick up on it and investigate no further. You should pray very fervently that they do, Mazzoni.”
The young man swallowed nervously. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I-I won’t let anything like this happen again, sir, I swear!”
There was a brief, mirthless chuckle. “Mazzoni, nobody ever disappoints me… a second time.” The line went dead.
“Mornin’, Mr. Queen,” the forty-something little man in janitor’s coveralls said as he saw the bearded journalist come through the doors of Police Headquarters. “Down here chasin’ another story, hey?”
“Well, I’m not here for the good coffee, Willie,” Ollie joked, and the two men shared a laugh. “Who’s on the desk this morning?”
“Sergeant Anderson,” Willie confided. “Lucky break, hey? Sergeant Lane’s on vacation — the Poconos, I think.”
“I hope you called ahead and warned them,” Ollie joked. Leaving the janitor laughing, he walked up to the front desk. “Hey, Anderson!” Ollie called out jovially to the middle-aged sergeant seated behind the desk. “How’s Star City’s finest today?”
“Oh, no,” Anderson groaned. “All right, who’s dead?”
“What?” Ollie asked, nonplused.
“You heard me, who’s dead?” Anderson demanded.
“Who said anyone was dead?” Ollie asked, hands spread wide.
“You did!” Anderson snapped, accusingly.
“I did?” Ollie asked innocently.
“Well, no, you didn’t, not in so many words,” Anderson admitted. “But every time you come down here, acting all chummy, somebody’s dead, and you want to find out who and why!”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Anderson–”
“You said Pete!”
“So, if you said it, he’s dead!”
“Anderson, can we cut the comedy routine?” Ollie said, exasperated. “I mean, I enjoy the Abbott and Costello bit as much as the next guy, but aren’t we both on the clock? How do you know I didn’t come down here for something completely different?”
Anderson looked reluctantly sheepish. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. What did you want?”
“Well,” Ollie said, shuffling his feet, “it is about someone who’s dead, actually. But it might not have been!” he added quickly.
“Ah-ha!” Anderson cried out in triumph. “OK, who is it?”
“The guy they found on the docks, in the Green Arrow costume.”
Anderson’s eyebrows rose. “Him?”
“Why don’t I like the sound of that ‘him’?” Ollie asked, warily.
“Couldn’t begin to guess,” Anderson said, passing a manila folder across the desk. “You’re a boxing fan, right?”
“Never miss a bout. Why?” Ollie asked as he took the folder.
“Have a look,” Anderson said. “You’ll see.”
Ollie opened the folder and began to read. Slowly his eyes widened until they were almost bulging out of their sockets. “Ho-lee kuh-rap!” Ollie exclaimed.
The diner was a small structure of sand-colored brick and dull, faded chrome, standing at the side of a major interstate highway. Inside the walls were painted pale tan, with chocolate brown simulated wood tables and booths. A long counter ran the length of one wall, with stools upholstered in orange vinyl and a huge, old-fashioned cash register. Scotch taped to the front of the register was a hand-lettered sign that had stood sentinel for over twenty years, reading IN GOD WE TRUST. ALL OTHERS PAY CASH. Leo Barone sat at the counter, the remnants of his meal in front of him.
“Get you anything else, son?” the woman behind the diner counter said to Leo. She was barely five feet tall, and about as wide as she was tall. Her unnaturally red hair was tied up in a severe bun, and she had enough eye makeup on to stop x-rays, in Leo’s estimation. Still, the chicken fried steak was good, and this was the only restaurant for fifty miles, if the sign outside were to be believed.
“No, thanks,” Leo said. “Just the check.”
“God bless you,” the woman said with a smile, taking a pencil from behind her ear to figure the bill.
Leo sat at the counter where he had eaten, toying with the remains of his blackberry pie. He was the only customer in the establishment. No other diners’ conversation intruded on his thoughts, only the sounds of gospel music coming from the ancient portable radio on its shelf over the grill. Leo had blocked those sounds out as he ate and thought. He was trying to figure out where to go from here, where the path he had chosen to follow would take him.
“It’s the top of the hour,” an announcer’s voice said over the radio, “and time for the news on KPAX-AM 1040. The big item this hour is a bulletin from Star City, where the body of former professional boxer Jack LeMarra was found beaten to death in the city’s waterfront district.”
Leo dropped his fork, and stared up at the radio.
“LeMarra’s body,” the announcer droned on, “was found wearing a costume like that of Green Arrow, Star City’s resident masked protector. Preliminary autopsy reports say LeMarra died of severe blows to the head and chest area. LeMarra had boxed professionally for many years, winning the New York State bantamweight title in 1973. Forced into early retirement by a brain injury, LeMarra dropped out of sight soon after that…”
The announcer continued reading the stock biography of the once-famous pugilist. Leo did not hear a word he said.
“Awful business, ain’t it?” the counter woman said, placing Leo’s check on the counter in front of him. “That’s what comes of takin’ prayer out of the schools. Just leads to iniquity.”
Leo pulled bills from his wallet and threw them down on the counter. “What’s the fastest route to Star City?” he asked urgently.