Three days later, the result of the Calculator’s criminal calculations was the subject of much discussion at Titans Tower. “You’re really doin’ it, Dick?” Cyborg demanded. “You’re backing out of the PAL benefit we promised to give?”
“There’ll be plenty of Titans there without me,” Nightwing said. “Besides, how can I resist an invitation from my own fan club?” The unchallenged leader of the New Titans held up the letter from the Bordentown, New Jersey chapter of the Nightwing Fan Club. The letter had asked Nightwing to make a personal appearance at their annual luncheon, a special appeal, as one of the members was leaving for a tour of active duty in the Navy and wanted a chance to meet his hero before he left.
“Man, Nightwing, that invitation’s as phony as George Bush’s appeal!” the Changeling snapped. “It’s a trap! It’s gotta be!”
Artemis clucked her tongue. “You don’t think Dick knows that?”
“Huh?” the Changeling said.
“Donna’s right,” Nightwing said. “Of course I know it’s a trap. I checked beforehand; there’s no such thing as the Nightwing Fan Club, in Bordentown, New Jersey, or elsewhere.” The young hero shrugged his shoulders. “Guess I don’t have the appeal I did as Robin.”
“Then why are you going,” the Changeling asked, “if you know it’s a trap?”
“I know it’s a trap,” Nightwing explained, “but I don’t know by whom, or for what reason. I figure the best way I can find that out is by walking into it.”
“I dig,” Cyborg said. “When the trap springs, you’ll spring into action! Clever. But some of us had better go with you, in case the trap’s more’n you can handle.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Nightwing said sardonically. “But no, I’ll handle this alone.”
“Alone?” the Changeling repeated. “No way! We’re a team, Dick! Titans forever! You can’t just–”
“Can’t I? I think I can,” Nightwing said, and turned to Artemis. “Donna, you’re deputy leader. I want your promise that no Titan will follow me to Bordentown.”
“You have it, Dick,” Donna said. “But be careful. You will have your signal device?”
“Never leave home without it,” Nightwing promised. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare for my fans.” With that, Nightwing left the meeting room of Titans Tower, headed for the gymnasium.
“You’re not gonna let him go alone, are you, Donna?” Cyborg demanded. “I don’t care what he says; there are such things as getting in over your head!”
“Relax, Vic,” Artemis said calmly. “I have no intention of letting Dick walk into a hornet’s nest alone and unaided.”
“But you promised–” Changeling began.
“–that no Titan would follow him,” Artemis said with a sly smile. “There are ways around that promise, as you’ll soon see.”
“What time is it?” Darklight hissed in a whisper.
“Three minutes after the last time you asked,” the Crumbler said derisively.
“It’s ten to three,” Signalman said, ignoring the Crumbler.
“Do you think he’ll show up?” Darklight asked. “I mean, he’s supposed to be such a great detective. The Batman trained him, and everything. What if he suspects a trap?”
“I calculated for that possibility,” the Calculator whispered. “The way I figure it, even if he smells a trap, he’ll come anyway to see who’s behind it. It’s a failing most super-heroes have — a morbid curiosity.”
“And we scheduled it to conflict with that benefit show the Titans are doing,” the Crumbler added, “in hopes it’ll keep the rest of the team away.”
“Here’s hoping,” Darklight said, shrugging her shoulders.
Nightwing brought his specially designed motorcycle to a stop in front of the small building. The Wentworth Hotel was a small, unimposing structure. Nightwing couldn’t imagine how it competed with large hotel chains like Ramada and Holiday Inn, and then he realized it probably didn’t. The exterior of the building looked as though it had needed a new paint job for years, and the lawn was in bad need of mowing. As he walked into the lobby, the young hero noticed a hand-lettered sign on an easel: Nightwing Fan Club, McQuade Auditorium. He chuckled at that. They were playing this gag to the hilt, all right.
“Sir? Mr. Nightwing?” called a voice behind the young hero. Nightwing turned to see a short, middle-aged man coming around from behind the desk.
“Yes?” Nightwing said.
“I’m Betteredge, the hotel manager,” the man said, taking Nightwing’s offered hand and shaking it vigorously. “It’s an honor to have you here today, a great honor!”
“Thanks,” Nightwing said. “Thanks very much. So I want the McQuade Auditorium? Which way’s that?”
“Oh, no, sir,” Betteredge said. “That is, the convention is in the auditorium, but you’ll want to go in the back way, so you can come out on the stage. That’s what the meeting organizer told me.”
“The meeting organizer?” Nightwing asked.
“A member of the club,” Betteredge explained. “Gave his name as Leyder — Calvin Leyder, I think. Yes, that was it.”
“Calvin Leyder.” Nightwing closed his eyes a moment, searching his encyclopedic memory for the names of known criminals in the New Titans database. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it. “OK, so I go in the back. Where’s that, Mr. Betteredge?”
“Through the kitchen,” Betteredge said. “This way.” Betteredge led the way and held the kitchen door open for Nightwing. The young hero walked through the kitchen, stopping to sign an autograph for a busboy, and continued to the rear entrance to the auditorium. All the while, his memory continued to work on the name Calvin Leyder. He reached the door and tensed up, driving thoughts of the name from his mind. He had to be ready for anything. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open.
“There you are,” a voice inside the room said. “What kept you?”
Nightwing had been expecting an attack, an ambush, something quick and violent. He had been prepared to meet it. He had been unprepared for what he found. On the auditorium stage, separated from the rest of the auditorium by a thick curtain, sat a small, round table. Around it, four costumed people — three men and a woman — sat waiting. They all looked at him now. One was an old sparring partner of Nightwing’s from his days as half of Batman and Robin: the Signalman. The woman was someone the Teen Titans had fought once years ago, part of a gang working for Two-Face: Darklight, Nightwing thought her name was. Another man Nightwing didn’t recognize at all, not even from the files; a very minor career in crime, this one must have. And the fourth — of course: Leyder, Calvin Quillip, the Calculator. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting long,” Nightwing said. “I had no idea I’d gained such a fan club in so short a time. To whom shall I make out the autographs?”
“Listen to him!” Darklight snorted. “‘So short a time’! Can it, bird-boy. We know who you are, or, rather, who you were.”
Nightwing tensed a second, then relaxed. “So you figured out that I used to be Robin,” Nightwing said. “Well, I’m surprised no one realized it before. So what now? Is this about revenge? I’ve only fought two of you before, and the lady just briefly. So, if that’s what this is–”
“You’ll find out what this is about, soon enough,” the Calculator said, rising to his feet. “For now, you’re going to come with us, and come quietly.”
A frown crossed Nightwing’s face. “Any particular reason why I’m going to do that?”
The Crumbler jabbed a thumb in the direction of the curtain. “Take a peek out there and see.” Cautiously, never taking his eyes off the seated villains, Nightwing ambled to the curtain. He moved it aside just enough to peer through into the auditorium beyond, and he stifled an audible gasp.
The auditorium was filled with children — boys and girls of various ages, from early teens down to toddlers. Many parents were with them, too. Many of the children were wearing Titans T-shirts or baseball caps. All seemed restless, waiting for something — for Nightwing.
“You see?” the Calculator asked. “This fan club idea wasn’t entirely fake. We sent out mailers, took out ads in the local newspapers. Figured it would surely bring the kiddies running. And they didn’t disappoint.”
Nightwing turned back to the villains, rage in his eyes. “You wouldn’t,” he breathed.
“Wouldn’t we?” the Crumbler asked. His hand strayed to his belt, hovering over a green button there. “We’ve got that auditorium wired with enough plastic explosive to level the place. If you get out of line, I push this button, and boom! And it has a range farther than where we’re going, so don’t get any ideas about betraying us once we get there!”
Nightwing looked at the villain’s faces. The uneasiness on Signalman’s and Darklight’s countenances showed that they, too, found this desperate act distasteful. The Calculator and the other one only grinned with glee. “You’ve got me,” Nightwing said.
“Your Titans signal device,” the Calculator said. “Hand it over.” Frowning, Nightwing removed the device from its location and tossed it through the air. Signalman caught it.
“Give it to me,” the Crumbler said. “I’ll turn it to mist!”
“No!” Signalman snapped. “If the signal stops, that’ll alert the Titans that something is up!” The colorful villain took a roll of masking tape from the top of the table and taped the signal to the underside of the table. “There. They’ll never find him with that, now.”
“Now hold still,” the Calculator said, and punched out a series of commands on his chest-computer. A beam flashed out from his helmet-projector, solidifying the dust in the air around Nightwing in a solid mass molded to his body. Save for two air-holes over his nostrils, he was completely encased in hardened dust.
“We’ve done it!” Darklight cried. “The million is ours!”
“Not until we deliver,” the Calculator reminded her. “Let’s get him to the truck!”
The four villains carried their burden out through a side exit, never suspecting that other eyes were watching them.