Justice League of America: May the Best Man Win, Chapter 3: To the Highest Bidder

by HarveyKent

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The teleporter tube aboard the JLA Satellite shimmered into life. Aquaman, the member on monitor duty, watched two human shapes coalesce in the center of the glow. When the glow faded, Green Arrow and Hawkman stepped out of the tube.

“Ollie!” Aquaman cried. “I heard the news! Congratulations!

“Thanks, Artie,” Green Arrow grinned. “It’s been a long time coming, but it finally got here!”

“You’ll never regret it, Ollie,” Aquaman said, wringing his old friend’s hand. “Marriage has its ups and downs, but if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“You old married guys,” Green Arrow joked, throwing a glance at Hawkman. “I guess misery really does love company!” The three friends shared a laugh over that. “And don’t worry, Artie, I promise no shrimp cocktails at the reception!”

Aquaman’s face took on a puzzled expression. “Why, Ollie? I love shrimp.”

Green Arrow did a double-take. “You eat fish?”

“Ollie, I grew up on land in a harbor town,” Aquaman explained patiently. “Fish were a staple of my diet. And where did you think Atlanteans got the dietary protein they need?”

“But — but you talk to fish!” Green Arrow sputtered.

“Fish are part of the food chain, Ollie, the circle of life,” Aquaman said. “No one understands that better than they.” A sudden beeping sound cut off the conversation. “One of the members is calling in,” Aquaman said, and ran back to the communications console.

“He eats fish,” Green Arrow said, in wide-eyed wonder. “I always thought — wow!

Hawkman could barely contain his mirth.

“Ollie,” Aquaman called from the console. “It’s Hal calling in. I told him you and Katar were here, and he wants to talk to you.”

“OK,” Green Arrow said, and headed into the communications room, Hawkman right behind. In moments the three heroes were clustered around the comm-screen, where Green Lantern’s face looked out at them.

“Hi, Ollie, Katar,” Green Lantern said. “Any luck with Danneman?”

“Not as such,” Green Arrow said. “I haven’t given up on that lead entirely, though. How about you?”

“We’ve got a possibility,” Green Lantern said. “Clues here seem to point to the Birthright.”

Green Arrow started. “Those neo-Nazis in New England? Damn! Would I love to get my fists on them!”

“Ralph and I are checking it out,” Hal explained. “We’ll let you know what we find. And, Ollie?”

“Yeah, Hal?”

“I… I want to apologize for the scene I made yesterday. You know, with Roy, about being your best man.”

“Aw, that’s OK, Hal,” Ollie said. “I should be happy so many people want the job.”

“Nevertheless,” Green Lantern continued, “I want you to make the decision yourself. You know I’d be honored to be chosen, but I want you to understand it won’t affect our friendship a bit if I’m not.”

“Oh, hell, Hal, I knew that!

“Of course. I just had to say it, that’s all. Make up your own mind, and don’t let me influence you. I’ll be happy and honored to be there, in whatever capacity.”

“You’re a brick, Hal,” Ollie said. “Good luck with the Birthright.”

“I’ll give them some lumps from you,” Green Lantern said, smiling. “Out.” With that, the emerald gladiator broke the connection.

“That was certainly big of Hal,” Aquaman said. “Nubia told me, when I relieved her, about he and Roy arguing over who gets the honor.”

“Makes your decision easier, Oliver,” Hawkman said.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Green Arrow sighed.

***

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into this!” Arsenal complained. He was sitting atop the Flash’s shoulders as the speedster ran at super-speed down the highway in the direction of Massachusetts. “I think I’m gonna ralph!

“Roy, do you know what happens when you blow chunks at fifteen-hundred miles an hour?” the Flash asked.

“No!” Arsenal replied.

“Me neither!” said the Flash. “And I don’t think either of us wants to find out!”

The two old friends shared a laugh at the Flash’s joke. “You’re OK, twinkle-toes,” Arsenal chuckled.

“God, that takes me back!” the Flash replied. “I don’t think anyone’s called me that since we fought Captain Calamity!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Coast-to-Coast Calamities,” Teen Titans #50 (October, 1977), “Titans East, Titans West, and Never Shall the Titans Meet,” Teen Titans #51 (November, 1977), and “When Titans Clash,” Teen Titans #52 (December, 1977).]

“Those were the days, huh, Wally?” Arsenal said. “You and me, Dick, Garth, Donna…”

Donna,” the Flash echoed. “We tend to remember it better than it was. You and me, we nearly tore the team apart more than once, fighting over her.”

“We did, didn’t we?” Arsenal said. “Hormonal teenagers, that’s what we were. Well, things are different now.”

“Yeah,” the Flash said, grinning. “We’re hormonal adults now!”

Arsenal laughed again. “Come on, fleet-foot, is this all you’ve got? I want to beat Hal and Ralph to the punch!”

“Especially Hal, huh?” the Flash asked, putting on an extra burst of speed. Arsenal had to fight to remain aloft.

“Well, yeah!” Arsenal admitted. “I really resent him horning in on Ollie’s best man gig! That’s rightfully mine, and you know it!”

“Rightfully?” the Flash asked.

“Well, sure!” Arsenal said. “I mean, you were best man at Barry’s wedding, and Garth was at Aquaman’s.”

“That kind of isn’t the point, Roy,” Wally said. “I was honored to be chosen, sure. But it was a choice. It didn’t mean Uncle Barry thought any less of Ralph, because he didn’t pick him.”

“Well, yeah, I know that,” Roy said, relenting a little. “But still! I was with Ollie before Hal even became a Green Lantern! We went to Dimension Zero together, we fought the Clock King and the Red Dart and all the other goons–”

“And nobody can ever take that away from you,” the Flash said. “I just know how I’d feel, if I were in Ollie’s spot.”

“How’s that?”

“Hurt,” the Flash said. “Upset that my two best friends had turned the happiest occasion of my life into a squabble. And worried that no matter who I pick, I’ll hurt someone.”

Arsenal didn’t respond; he thoughtfully digested this bit of information.

“Awful quiet up there,” the Flash said.

“Shut up and run,” Arsenal replied.

***

Meanwhile, Dr. Chun To Ling watched the door to her prison open and admit the suave, polished Clivingdon again.

“Dr. Ling,” Clivingdon said. “I’m told you’re not eating. I demonstrated that the food isn’t drugged. Is something wrong?”

The young scientist stared coldly at the smooth-talking man. “I don’t know what you want from me,” Dr. Ling said, “but I promise you, you’ll never get it.”

Clivingdon allowed himself a scoffing chuckle. “Fortunately, Dr. Ling, your reticence will be the problem of your new owner, not me.”

Dr. Ling’s eyes grew wide. “Owner?

“That’s right, Doctor,” Clivingdon assured. “You’re to be sold to the highest bidder. Now, why don’t you enjoy a good meal while you can? I can’t guarantee that your next host will be so accommodating.”

***

“There it is,” the Flash said, pointing. He slowed to a gradual stop; had he not been carrying a passenger, he could stop on a dime and give nine cents’ change, but he didn’t want to send Arsenal flying headlong into the huge wooden gateposts ahead. Two burly guards, armed with high-powered rifles, stood guard over the posts; a halogen lantern sent a brilliant beam out into the darkness.

“The entrance to the Birthright compound,” Arsenal said, leaping down from the Flash’s shoulders. “Two ways we can play this. Walk through them, or sneak in around them.”

“I think we’d learn more sneaking in,” the Flash said. “Maybe catch the Birthright at something.”

“Works for me,” Arsenal said. “Let’s do it.” In the blink of an eye, the Flash had whisked Arsenal over the barbed-wire fence and across the barren field to the small, one-story wooden building that housed the headquarters of the Birthright. They crouched beneath a window, listening to the voice from within. Apparently, some kind of rally was taking place.

“We cannot allow the American way of life to be tarnished by foreign perversions any longer!” the speaker ranted. “Mexicans taking our jobs, Japs buying our companies, negroes perverting our young people with their music! It cannot go on! We cannot let it go on! As God’s chosen people, made in His image, it is the responsibility, the sacred duty, of the white man to protect the good Christian people of the world from the diseased filth of the outsiders!

“Oh, man,” Arsenal said, making a face. “Hitler’s Greatest Hits, track two. We Are the Master Race, in one-part harmony.”

“The oldies never go out of style,” the Flash commented. “Always someone willing to listen to them.”

“Let’s see what else they’re willing to listen to,” Arsenal said, moving toward the window.

In the meeting hall, rows and rows of metal folding chairs sat before a lectern on a raised platform. The chairs were full of disgruntled-looking men. A small, thin, mousy-looking man stood on the platform behind the lectern, waving his fist in the air as we spoke.

“One people, one government, one leader!” Don Slicer ranted. “God has told us to smite the unbeliever, to visit His wrath upon their wickedness! And so, brothers, I call upon you to–”

“To shut up,” Arsenal snapped. “I haven’t heard such garbage since Reagan’s justification of the PATCO fiasco.”

Slicer whirled on his heel to find Arsenal and the Flash standing behind him on the platform. He started in terror.

“W-what are you doing here?” he demanded. “This is private property! Y-you’re trespassing!

“As members of the Justice League, we’re authorized law enforcement agents,” the Flash said, hoping these neo-Nazis didn’t realize that Arsenal wasn’t a JLAer. “And reasonable suspicion voids the necessity of a warrant.”

“Reasonable suspicion?” Slicer echoed. “Of what? Y-you don’t have anything on us!”

“Not even kidnapping?” Arsenal challenged. “Maybe the name Dr. Chun To Ling rings a bell?”

Startled exclamations went up from the crowd. “They know!” one man blurted.

“They do now,” Slicer snapped at the loudmouth.

“They won’t talk about it, though,” another said, drawing a handgun from an inside coat pocket. Others followed his example. In seconds, roughly fifty guns were aimed at the speaker’s platform, which Slicer had wisely vacated by leaping to the floor below.

“Everybody fire at once!” the first man to draw his gun cried. “That way, nobody’s the killer! One — two–”

A scarlet wind whipped through the crowd. Suddenly, all the guns were in a pile on the speaker’s platform.

“Two and a half?” the Flash suggested with a wink.

“All right, rush ’em!” someone else suggested. “There’s more’n fifty of us! We can take ’em!”

“You’re kidding, right?” a new voice asked. “I mean, don’t you ever watch the news? You know how the good guys make out in this kind of thing!” The voice came from a head that had entered the room via a window, on the end of a very long neck.

“Ralph!” the Flash cried happily. “What kept you?”

“Somebody insisted on stopping for an Orange Julius,” the Elongated Man said. “Isn’t that right?”

With a loud sound of splintering wood and rending metal, the roof of the building was pried off by a giant, glowing green hand. The members of the Birthright stared up in mute shock.

“I was thirsty,” Green Lantern said apologetically.

“And now,” Arsenal said, leaping off the platform, “we’re going to have a little chat. Aren’t we, Slicer?”

The cowardly little leader of the Birthright stammered in terror.

***

“Mr. Danneman,” the secretary’s voice came through the intercom, “a Mr. Clivingdon on Line Two.”

“Clivingdon?” Danneman said. “Do I know him, Myrna?”

“I don’t believe so, sir,” Myrna said, “but he said it was urgent, and to your benefit.”

“Really? Well, perhaps he’s sincere about that. I’ll speak to him.” Jack Danneman was always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt, if he stood to profit by it.

“Danneman,” he said crisply into the phone.

“Mr. Danneman, my name is Clivingdon,” the genteel voice said. “I’m calling to make you aware of an auction to be held tonight in Willoughby, Connecticut.”

“An auction?” Danneman said, incredulously. “In Connecticut? What makes you imagine I’d be interested in that?”

“The item up for auction is a very special prize, Mr. Danneman,” Clivingdon said smoothly. “Until recently, it was on view in Ivy Town. And it will only be available this one time.”

A slow, amazed grin spread over Danneman’s face. “I see. I understand what you mean, now. Yes, I would like very much to be at this auction.”

“The auction will be held at ten P.M. tonight, in the Royal Crest Hotel in Willoughby,” Clivingdon said. “The Magnolia Suite. Refreshments will be served.”

“I’ll be there,” Danneman said. “Thank you for thinking of me.”

“And, Mr. Danneman?” Clivingdon said. “The auction will be strictly cash and carry. No credit, no checks, no exceptions. So do come prepared.”

“Count on it,” Danneman said assuredly.

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