“Come on, come on,” Robert Mazzoni said impatiently, staring at his watch. He stood on the elevated platform of the Saile Street Train Station in Star City, nervously waiting for the train to whisk him out of the city and to safety. The minute he had heard the news item about Jack LeMarra, he had rushed out of the office and had not stopped until he reached the station. The next train out was a southbound express to Miami. That was perfect. But it didn’t leave for another forty minutes. Mazzoni nervously bought a few necessities at a station store, articles like a toothbrush and deodorant, and had spent the next twenty minutes pacing nervously back and forth on the platform, smoking one cigarette after another.
“Dear God, how long does it take for a train to get here?” Mazzoni demanded of no one in particular. He stepped out to the very edge of the platform to peer down the tracks and try to get a glimpse of the train. There was a curve in the track just a hundred yards down from the elevated platform; he would not be able to see the train until the last minute. He would hear its whistle, but the City Works Department was repairing the street just below, and the jackhammers were going full-blast; he might not hear a whistle. Seeing nothing, he stepped away from the platform again. He paced nervously, looking up and down, watching out for anyone following him. So far, he saw no one. The eight or nine cigarette butts on the platform had all been his.
What was that? Was that a whistle? It was so hard to hear over the hammers. Mazzoni rushed to the edge of the platform, leaning out over it. Yes, there it was — the Florida train, coming up fast. Soon he’d be safe. Soon he’d be–
Mazzoni felt a powerful impact in the small of his back, a strong arm giving him a quick, forceful shove. He stumbled out over the edge of the platform and down onto the tracks, directly in the path of the oncoming Florida Express. He didn’t even have time to scream.
“I tell you, you’re wasting my time,” the young man said into the phone. “It can’t be that easy!”
“I know, I know,” Green Arrow said into the portable phone he kept in the bottom of his quiver. “But I need a lead, and it’s worth a try. If nothing comes of it, we haven’t lost anything by trying, right?”
“Except time,” the former Hi-Tek reminded him.
“What, how long could it take for a whiz kid like you?” Green Arrow asked. “Ten, fifteen minutes, tops?”
“To hack into the database of every costume retail and rental shop in Star City?” the young man asked incredulously.
“And surrounding areas,” Green Arrow added.
“Oh, right, and surrounding areas,” the archer’s computer expert repeated. “How far do you want me to go — Boston, or perhaps Gotham City?”
“Boston’s far enough,” Green Arrow said. “Come on, kid, a man is dead, maybe because somebody’s got a grudge against me. Run it down for me, will ya?”
“Yeah, sure, you knew I would,” the young man relented. “I just have to put up token resistance. It’s a ritual.”
“Yeah, sure, sure. Call me when you’ve got the info. And hey, this time, nothing cute, all right?”
“What, you didn’t appreciate the way I tweaked the Star City Dispatch’s cover story the last time?” The young hacker had altered the newspaper story on President Reagan’s support of his vice president’s candidacy for president, replacing a photograph of the two politicians with one of two chimpanzees picking ticks off one another.
“I loved it,” Green Arrow said. “But I didn’t say that.” Just then, something caught the archer’s eye. “Uh, gotta go. Call me back.” The archer broke the connection and replaced the phone in its storage space. From his position on the roof of the Daily Star Building, Green Arrow looked out across the city at the giant clock face on the Star Tower.
A bright green triangle with a thin stem at the bottom — a crude arrow — was shining on the clock face. Someone was trying to get his attention, perhaps the same person who had dressed up a man in his costume and beat him to death. Green Arrow scowled grimly at the glowing arrow-signal.
In two minutes, he was on the observation deck of the tower. He looked around, trying to spot the direction from whence the beam had come.
“You don’t waste time,” a gruff voice behind him boomed. The archer whirled on his heel.
“Wildcat?!” Green Arrow gaped.
“Yeah, that’s me,” the young hero said. “You recognize me, huh? I guess your buddy Batman told you about me.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, right, he did.” Green Arrow suddenly remembered that Batman had mentioned a new crime-fighter taking up the mantle of Wildcat. (*) For a moment, caught by surprise, Green Arrow had thought that the barrier between Earths One and Two had been breached; he dared hope that Dinah’s old friends would be able to attend their wedding after all. But no such luck. “What are you doing here? Hey, was that bargain-basement arrow-signal your doing?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wildcat: Cats.]
“Amazing what you can do with a halogen spotlight and a can of green paint,” Wildcat said. “Forgive the dramatics, but you’re not exactly in the phone book, y’know?”
“I forgot to renew my Yellow Pages listing,” the archer said drily. “So you wanted to contact me. What about?”
“Jack LeMarra,” Wildcat said, suddenly grim. “I know you’re on the trail of his killer. I want in on that action.”
Green Arrow raised an eyebrow. “How come?”
Wildcat looked away, up at the night sky. “He was a friend of mine,” Wildcat said. “More than a friend, really. Almost a mentor. When I was a kid, he worked at the local youth center in my neighborhood, teaching us boxing, that sort of thing. I looked up to him. Sometimes he’d tell us stories about growing up poor in the inner city, just like us. He made me think I could make something of myself, you know?” Wildcat turned back to face Green Arrow. “So now I want a piece of whoever killed him. Doesn’t have to be a big piece, just enough to cause a lot of pain.”
“I can dig what you’re saying,” Green Arrow said. “I gotta tell you, whoever did it may not have even known who he was.”
“Huh?” Wildcat said, surprised. “How could they not?”
“He had been living on the streets, a homeless person,” Green Arrow said. “It’s possible whoever did this just picked him up out of the gutter for their jollies. It could just as easily have been someone else.”
“The streets,” Wildcat whispered. “Aw, man, Jack was always playin’ the ponies, losin’ big. It cost him his job at the youth center. The director there, he tried to talk Jack into quittin’, gettin’ help. Guess it didn’t take.”
“Guess not,” Green Arrow agreed. “Well, I really don’t have any leads. I’ve got a friend chasing one thing down, but I don’t expect it to go anywhere. I’m just as in the dark here as you. If you want to put heads together, I’d love the help.”
“This is your city, Robin Hood,” Wildcat said. “You know it. I don’t. I’ll need your help to find Jack’s killer. Speedy I ain’t, but for this case, you’ve got a partner.” Wildcat stuck out his gloved hand. Grinning, the archer wrung it vigorously.
“Welcome to Star City, Sylvester,” he said heartily. “Let’s catch us a killer.”
A shrill beeping interrupted the exchange between heroes.
“Man, your quiver’s ringing,” Wildcat pointed out.
“It does that from time to time,” Green Arrow said, reaching for the hidden portable phone. “Start talking,” he said into the unit.
“Arrow?” the former Hi-Tek’s voice came through the phone. “You’ll never believe this, but the lead just may pan out after all!”
“You’re making my night, kid,” Green Arrow said. “Whatcha got?”
“There’s a tiny costume shop down in Alphabet City,” the young computer genius said, referring to the seedy section of town where the streets had no names, only letters. “Potter’s Costume Emporium. Seems they sold a Green Arrow costume about three months ago.”
“Three months ago?” the archer repeated. “Is that all you’ve got?”
“It gets better,” the young man promised. “Over the last two years they’ve sold about a dozen other costumes to the same customer. All kinds of outfits — policeman, judge, doctor, even cowboy. One Superman costume, too.”
“Always the blue boy,” Green Arrow said. “Sounds like a good lead, all right.”
“And get this: There are smaller charges to the same customer, interspersed over the last two years. The accounting software gave these charges the code RPR.”
“RPR?” Green Arrow repeated. “Doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Me, either, until I checked Potter’s Yellow Pages ad,” Hi-Tek said. “His shop doesn’t just sell and rent costumes. He repairs them, too.”
“Repairs!” Green Arrow spat, realizing that meant fixing little rips and tears that would happen if someone wearing the costume met a violent death. “Kid, I love you!”
“Sure, sure, you say that, but you never call, unless you want something,” Hi-Tek joked. He gave Green Arrow the information on the costume shop’s customer, and broke the connection. Green Arrow turned around to face a grinning Wildcat.
“Pardon me for eavesdroppin’,” Wildcat said. “But I guess that one lead of yours turned out better’n you thought.”
“Half of this business is luck, W.C.,” the archer said. “You’ll pick that up as you go along. Like I was saying before, let’s catch us a killer.”
“That’s absurd!” the middle-aged man in the five-hundred-dollar suit declared. “Are you suggesting that I or my company had anything to do with this — this murder? That’s outrageous! I should sue you for libel!”
“You can’t do that, Mr. Jeffers,” Green Arrow said calmly.
“Can’t I?” Jeffers ranted. “You watch me, Mr. Arrow! You may think you’re some high-and-mighty super-hero, but the legal process has the same jurisdiction over you as anyone else!”
“I never said it didn’t,” Green Arrow said. “What I meant was, libel is written defamation. You’d have to sue me for slander.”
The powerful businessman sputtered a bit, but did not comment.
“Anyway,” Green Arrow went on, “nobody’s accusing you or your company of anything. All I’m saying is, we found out that the costume the dead man was wearing, and possibly several other costumes used in similar crimes, were purchased with a company credit card from your firm.”
“So maybe you don’t know anything about it,” Wildcat said. “Maybe someone in your company just snuck these charges in under your nose.”
Jeffers looked at Wildcat, then back at Green Arrow. “Just who is your friend, anyway?”
“Wildcat,” Green Arrow said. “What, didn’t you ever read comic-books as a kid?”
“Not as much as he did, apparently,” Jeffers sneered.
“Aw, come on, just one sock!” Wildcat growled, lunging forward. Jeffers leaped back in terror as Green Arrow grabbed his newfound friend’s arm, holding him back.
“Mr. Jeffers,” Green Arrow said, “I’m not one to tell you your business, but might I suggest a little friendly cooperation before my feline friend, here, really loses his temper?”
Jeffers appeared about to protest again, thought better of it, and calmed down. “Do you have the alleged credit card number?”
“Right here,” Green Arrow said, producing a slip of paper on which he had written the number, and handed it to the businessman. Jeffers stared at it in puzzlement.
“This appears to be a cash register receipt from some establishment called Charlie’s Chili Pot,” he said finally.
“The other side, the other side,” Green Arrow said impatiently.
Jeffers flipped the receipt over and studied the written number. “Well, the first four digits are the same as our company credit cards,” Jeffers admitted. “Issued only to executives and other high-ranking employees with expense accounts.”
“Do you recognize the rest of the number?” Wildcat asked.
Jeffers looked up at him. “I suppose you imagine I’ve memorized every credit card number in my organization,” he said haughtily.
“Would you rather memorize the number of stitches over your left eye?” Wildcat growled.
“Down, kitty, down,” Green Arrow said. “How about it, Mr. J? Can we go to your accounting department and check this out?”
“Er, yes,” Jeffers said, glad of a way out of this scenario. “Right this way.”
Jeffers led the two costumed heroes down the hallways of the company, drawing stares from several employees. Finally, they reached the accounting department, where Jeffers gave the slip of paper to a frail-looking man at a computer terminal and told him to look it up. The young man punched the keys on the keyboard rapidly, drawing a whistle of approval from Green Arrow.
“Oh, no!” the accountant cried, nearly leaping from his chair.
“What is it?” Jeffers demanded. “What’s wrong?”
“That account number!” the accountant cried. “Entering it into the search parameters activated some kind of hidden virus within the mainframe!”
“Talk English, man!” Jeffers snapped. “What’s happening?”
“Our entire accounting database is being erased!” the accountant cried. “And I can’t stop it!”
“Don’t just sit there, man!” Jeffers shouted at the frenzied accountant. “Do something!”
“There’s nothing I can do, sir!” the accountant stammered, pounding the keys with his fingertips. “This is the most complex virus I’ve ever seen! Nothing I do stops it!”
“If you don’t stop it,” Jeffers screamed, “our entire files will be gone! We’ll be wiped out!”
“And we lose our lead,” Wildcat grumbled. “Hey, G.A., can we do anyth–?” The masked hero turned to look at his newfound friend, and found Green Arrow talking on his portable phone again.
“Uh-huh,” Green Arrow said rapidly. “That’s right. What? How the hell should I know? Here, you talk to him!” Green Arrow strode forward and thrust the phone at the bewildered accountant. Puzzled, the young man took it and held it to his ear.
“H-hello? Yes. Yes, that’s right. What? You what? You can? How? OK, OK, never mind. Just tell me — yes, yes, I see it. What? No, it’s actually blue. That’s right. Do what, now? Say that again, slower. Uh-huh… right… yes…” As he spoke, cradling the phone to his ear with his shoulder, the accountant was rapidly working the keyboard with his fingers. “OK, now it’s got — oh, you do? OK, what now? Oh, right! I never thought of that! OK, let me try it… yes… yes! That did it! You stopped the virus, whoever you are! Say, who is this? Hello? Hello?” The accountant passed the phone back to Green Arrow, and looked at Jeffers in amazement.
“I don’t know who that was, sir,” the accountant said, “but I did what he told me to do, and it stopped the virus! We lost some data, but we stopped it before most of the data was affected!”
“Thank God,” Jeffers muttered, thinking of the potentially lost income.
“How about the data on the credit card number we gave you?” Green Arrow asked. “The one that triggered this virus or whatever?”
“Let me see,” the accountant said, typing on the keyboard again. “Yes, that card was issued two years ago, to a William Lohman in Purchasing.”
“I’ll get him in here at once!” Jeffers snapped. “The very idea–“
“Hang on, Jeffers,” Green Arrow said. “Sparky, can you access employee records on that thing?”
“Of course,” the accountant said.
“See what you’ve got on this Lohman guy.”
The accountant looked to Jeffers for confirmation, and Jeffers nodded impatiently. The accountant’s fingers flew over the keyboard. “Nothing!” he said momentarily. “We never had an employee by that name! No record at all!”
“A fake employee for a fake credit card number,” Wildcat said.
“Not very imaginative at that,” Green Arrow said. “Willy Lohman, of all things!”
“Get me a purchasing record for that card!” Jeffers demanded. The accountant moved swiftly to reply.
“Quite a lot of activity in the last two years,” the accountant said. “And all of the items purchased were delivered to the Jackerby Hotel, out on Route 256!”
“The Jackerby?” Green Arrow said. “That place has been closed for years!”
“Yes, we own it,” Jeffers said. “We had planned to refurbish it, make it a place where out-of-town personnel could stay while in Star City on business. But when the new Ritzlton was built downtown, just three blocks from here, we got a corporate suite there instead. Been trying to sell the Jackerby for years, but there’s almost no traffic out that way anymore, since the new Interstate went through.”
Green Arrow and Wildcat exchanged thoughtful glances.
“Guess I know where we’re goin’ next,” Wildcat said.
“Guess you do,” Green Arrow confirmed.