Showcase: The Secret Six: Wanted, Chapter 2: A Merry Chase

by Doc Quantum

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Kite-Man led Man-Bat on a merry chase through the dark gothic skyscrapers of Gotham City, many of which were still being cleared of vine-growths, and some of which had suffered damage from the saplings that were turned into old-growth trees by the Swamp Thing in his recent rampage. Every monster had to have a rampage once in a while. Even Kirk Langstrom had his occasional rampages as the inhuman, werewolf-like Man-Bat in the past, and it was possible that he could have them again in the future. For now, though, his transformations were under control, and he was putting them to good use.

Although, at this moment, he wished Kite-Man would just give himself up; this chase seemed to have been going on forever.

Catch me if you can!” Kite-Man shouted behind him. He was obviously enjoying this. Man-Bat had to laugh. Why couldn’t all super-villains be as entertaining as this guy?

Kite-Man began to sing loudly as he swooped and swerved away from Man-Bat:

“Fe-fe-fi-fi-fo-fo-fum,
I smell smoke in the auditorium.
Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown,
He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown,
He’s gonna get caught, just you wait and see;
Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?”

He laughed to himself for a moment more, then continued singing in a taunting way.

“That’s him on his knees, I know that’s him.
From seven come eleven down in the boys’ gym.
Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown,
He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown,
He’s gonna get caught, just you wait and see;
Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?

“Who’s always writing on the wall?
Who’s always goofin’ in the hall?
Who’s always throwin’ spit balls?
Guess who! Who, me? Yeah, you!”

The big joke, that Kite-Man was virtually cracking himself up over, was that his real name was Charles Brown, called Chuck by his friends, and occasionally Charlie.

“Who walks in the classroom cool and slow?
Who calls the English teacher Daddy-O?
Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown,
He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown,
He’s gonna get caught, just you wait and see;
Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?

“Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?” Kite-Man drawled one final time as Man-Bat grabbed ahold of his legs and forced him down toward the ground.

And although he was attempting to do several things at once — such as subdue his opponent, position him for as soft a landing as possible, and keep an eye out for any tricks — he couldn’t help but notice a crowd of people gathered around a downtown department store, including a mob of policemen. Most alarmingly, there was what looked to be an almost-empty guard’s uniform with red sludge dripping out of it.

Oof!” Man-Bat hit the side of a large, gnarled oak tree and lost his grip on Kite-Man, who soared away, laughing like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

Kirk Langstrom let him go. What was occurring below seemed like more serious business than a overgrown kid with a kite-gimmick. Based on the dissolved guard below, it looked like he’d found Clayface.

“Commissioner Gordon,” Man-Bat said, hanging from the Rosendale’s department store ceiling above the older man.

“Gah!” James W. Gordon yelped, startled. “Don’t do that to me, Batman… wait a minute, Man-Bat, isn’t it?”

“Can’t you tell the difference?”

“You’re not one to work with the police much, so why are you here?” Gordon questioned him as he lit his pipe and shook the lit match out.

“Same reason you’re here, Commissioner,” said Man-Bat in his best Batman-esque voice, “to stop Clayface from killing again.”

“Well, you’re right about one thing: this is definitely the work of Clayface. God, I knew something like this would happen soon, after he was broken out of prison with all the other psycho monsters.” He stopped and looked up at Man-Bat, visibly gulping. “Er, no offense.”

“None taken,” Man-Bat said, an imperceptible smile on his face.

“Anyways, it doesn’t appear that he had any motives for killing the security guard; nothing was found to be missing, except for the storefront mannequin. As near as we can figure it, he must’ve felt threatened. Maybe the guard saw him.”

“Not likely, Commissioner,” said Man-Bat, having seen the evidence firsthand. “At least, if he did see Clayface, it wasn’t until he was just about to be killed.”

“Then he has no motive at all! He just killed for the hell of it!” growled Gordon.

“Motives vary from man to man, even if that man is a monster,” said Man-Bat.

“I suppose you’re right,” said Gordon, but as he looked up, his guest was already gone. “Don’t tell me I’m gonna have to put up with that from him, too!” he mumbled to himself.

***

It had taken a tiring seven-hour flight from Gotham City to Copenhagen and then another hour or so from Copenhagen to Stockholm. And after that, a long bus-ride into Sweden’s northern provinces. It seemed to her a wild goose chase, but according to the mysterious Black Orchid’s varied sources, the man she was looking for was living in the mountainous regions of Härjedalen in Sweden among a migratory tribe of Lapplanders, as they were called by others.

The Lapplanders called themselves by a different name, however — the Sami people. They were and still remained a fairly widespread people over northern Scandinavia, with several different tribes. They were hunters and gatherers, and were still the recognized owners of the reindeers, which they had herded for centuries on end. The Sami people had many characteristics in common with the Inuit, or Eskimo, people of Northern Canada and Alaska, as well as the northern people in the northermost part of Russia; indeed, the Sami people and the Inuit people were related, if very distantly, coming from an originally Asian origin. After centuries of mixing, though, the Sami people began to look very much like they do today and were physically very similar to the Swedish and Norwegian people, complete with fair-colored skin and hair.

The Black Orchid had heard a rumor of a man who was living among the Sami people in the northern Swedish province of Härjedalen, a man who walked half-naked through the snowy mountainous regions and neither froze nor even felt cold. He had made friends and even staunch allies in one particular group of Sami people, whom he had assisted in their reindeer tracking and herding, sporadically over the years. He would be gone from their midst for long stretches of months and even years since he’d first come into their midst years ago.

His existence was a closely guarded secret among them. Black Orchid would not have even heard about this man, had it not been for a few sightings by Swedes while hiking. A few of them had taken pictures, and somehow those pictures had filtered down to one of her many contacts all around the world. When she let it be known that she was interested in information on such a man, no matter how far-fetched it seemed, the information was already there to be found.

She traveled the rest of the way herself after leaving a bus at a local ski mountain, flying low over the tree-covered foothills and low mountains. The icy chill in the air was not pleasant for her. She would have far preferred a warm, humid climate to be in, rather than this cold, dry air that seemed to slowly suck all the moisture out of her.

It wasn’t long before she approached the area where her sources told her she could find the tribe of Sami people that her quarry would have been staying with. She descended and landed in a wooded, snow-covered area not far away.

***

“And it looks like Crazy Quilt was also there. I’m sorry to say that I think both he and Signalman have gone back in hiding. Looks like the confrontation between the man of rags and the villain of quilts will have to be put off until another time.”

Rory Regan laughed into his telephone receiver as he kept one eye open for customers wandering around in his store. Rags ‘n’ Tatters was a family-owned affair founded by his late father, and while it had begun modestly as a place to sell goodies found discarded in junkyards, it had grown into a combination antique store, pawnshop, and thrift store. But Rory was still known, on occasion, to frequent junkyards far and wide for those forgotten treasures others had so callously discarded.

“Looks like,” he said to Batwoman as he saw one of his regular customers walked up to the front counter with an old post used for cats to sharpen their claws with. She was a young, raven-haired, half-native, half-Caucasian woman with pale skin who was known to occasionally prostitute herself out of desperation. “Listen, I’ve just got a customer, here, I’ll have to talk with you later.”

“Sure thing, Rory,” replied Batwoman on the other end.

“Bye,” he said, leaving his modest office desk in the back and walking up to the counter. “How you doing, Rebecca?” he asked the young woman with a smile. “Keeping out of trouble?”

“Well, you know,” she replied, a sad smile on her face, “things haven’t been going too good with me lately. The dress factory went out of business, what with all the structural damage lately and whatnot, y’know? It’s like, hard to find a job out there right now, y’know?”

“I know,” Rory replied sadly, then looked at the cat-scratch post she put on the counter. “Another present for Mr. Muffins?

Rebecca giggled for a moment as she remembered something. “Yeah, he totally ripped up Kevin’s curtains. He was, like, so mad that Mr. Muffins kept out of sight for a whole week, y’know? Kevin said to me, he said, ‘You get that cat a scratch post, or I’m gonna send him out on his ass, and you with him!’ or something like that, y’know? But I couldn’t, like, afford the ones down at the Wal-Mart, y’know? Thought I’d find one here, though, and I was right!”

Rory continued to smile and listen as the young woman talked to him. With the life that many of these kids were forced to live in here in the slums, he always found it important to be a friend to them in any way he could — someone they could trust and someone around whom they could let their guard down, even if just for a little while.

As Rebecca smiled and walked away with her bag, he said, “Make sure to say hi to Mr. Muffins for me, OK?”

“‘K,” she said, smiling, and walked back out onto the street.

The radio, which was always tuned to the local AM talk station, began the five o’clock news as Rory began the process of closing his shop and quietly waited for the stragglers to leave. His ears perked up as one of the items of news was casually mentioned among those the reporters deemed to be more important.

“The body of a young woman was found in Park Row today, the area of Gotham City commonly known as Crime Alley. The woman’s body appeared to have been mutilated by a knife, and the police have confirmed that she was a known prostitute, the latest in a series of apparently unrelated murders of prostitutes on the east side.”

Rory Regan clenched his fist and took mental notes. With all the poverty and crime in this neighborhood, it was a constant battle to keep from falling into the apathy that seemed to have a chokehold on the citizens of Gotham City. He was the Ragman, the protector of the slums, and if he didn’t care enough to do something about it, nobody else would.

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