by Martin Maenza
In the tiny kitchen of a small but cozy flat on the south side of London, a shiny teapot whistled loudly, and steam shot into the air. “All right, I heard you already,” said a sharply dressed man with a full head of wavy red hair. “No need to make a bloody racket, eh?”
The man poured the dark, steamy liquid into a floral-patterned teacup that sat on a matching saucer. Next to those on the tray was a similarly patterned plate with a warm biscuit or scone upon it. After putting the teapot back on the stove, the man carefully carried the tray into the living room and set it down on the small wooden table before the flowered sofa. The clock on the fireplace mantle chimed eight. “Strewth, I’ve almost missed the beginning, I have.”
The red-haired man flicked on the black-and-white television and settled in on the sofa to watch a documentary on the BBC. He was about halfway through with his snack when the front doorbell chimed. “Bloody hell, can’t a bloke enjoy his evenin’ tea in peace?”
The man crossed the room, pulled aside the lace curtain, and peered out the front door glass. “Hmm, wonder what they want?” he said as he undid the lock. Opening the front door, he addressed the two uniformed men. “What can I do for you, mates?”
One of the darkly dressed bobbies glanced down at his pad. “You Neil Richards?”
The red-haired man nodded. “Yeah, that’d be me. Something I can help you with?”
The other bobby grabbed Neil’s wrist and clapped one end of a pair of handcuffs onto it. “Mr. Richards, you’re under arrest for the murder of Preston Blackwater.”
Neil Richards’ jaw dropped in surprise. “What?”
On the thirteenth floor of a city skyscraper, four young teenagers stepped off the elevator with suitcases in their hands. “Man, that was one crazy scene,” the red-haired Roy Harper said. “I could sack out for a week after that.”
“For once, we’re on the same vibe,” the black youth named Mal Duncan agreed.
The red-haired Lilith Clay and the dark-haired Donna Troy looked at one another and laughed. “You boys would jump at any chance to catch some Zs,” Donna joked.
An older man dressed in a conservative business suit sat waiting for them in the main room. “No time for resting, my young charges,” he stated plainly.
“Mr. Jupiter!” Lilith exclaimed. “Were you waiting for us?”
“Indeed I was, my dear,” the wealthy businessman answered. “I knew you would be returning from Elford University at any moment. (*) I wanted to catch you before you put your suitcases away. We need to make another trip immediately.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “To Order is to Destroy,” Teen Titans #31 (January-February, 1971).]
“Where we jetting to next, daddy-o?” Roy asked.
Loren Jupiter didn’t bother to comment on the young man’s slang. His work with teens over the years gave him a familiarity with how they spoke, even if every generation had their own way of expressing themselves. “We’ll be taking my jet to England — London, to be specific.”
“Far out!” Mal said. “London is a happening scene. Folks there are right on when it comes to understanding race relations. The rest of the world could take notes from them.” He threw a dirty look in Roy’s direction.
“You talking about me, Mal?” Roy snapped.
Donna put her hand on Roy Harper’s shoulder. “Chill, Roy! We’re all friends here. We’ve got to work in harmony.” She always did have a calming influence on his hot temper.
Mr. Jupiter nodded. “Donna is correct. You will all need to work together on this mission, for we’re faced with a very interesting mystery.”
After packing their bags once more and heading to the private jet, the mentor and his teenage charges were on their way across the Atlantic Ocean. The five sat comfortably in the back section of the plane. “What would the mystery actually be, Mr. Jupiter?” Lilith asked.
“It’s a rather intriguing situation, Lilith,” the man replied, “one I heard about earlier today on National Public Radio. It seems a man named Neil Richards has been charged for a murder he insists he did not commit. He was just recently released on parole, and he believes that someone is trying to put him back behind by bars by framing him.”
“So what makes this a case for the Teen Titans?” Mal inquired.
“Neil Richards has a connection to the Titans, in a way,” Mr. Jupiter said, smiling. “The team actually encountered him before, when he went by the name of the Mad Mod.”
“The Mad Mod!” Roy squawked. “Say, Donna, wasn’t he that fashion fop that you, bird-boy, Flasheroo and gill-head fought a couple times?” (*) She nodded. “So what’s the deal? Why are we helping that square out?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mad Mod, Merchant of Menace,” Teen Titans #7 (January-February, 1967) and “Holy Thimbles, It’s the Mad Mod,” Teen Titans #17 (September-October, 1968).]
“Need I remind you, Mr. Harper, of the recent situation you all found yourselves in,” Mr. Jupiter lectured. “I’m sure you remember what it felt like when Dr. Arthur Swenson was murdered, and the Titans were believed responsible, especially when your own mentors in the Justice League blamed you all for his death as well.” (*) The four sat quietly, and even Roy Harper had been humbled by the words. “I thought so.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Titans Kill a Saint?” Teen Titans #25 (January-February, 1970).]
Donna Troy broke the silence. “We’ll do our best to get to the bottom of the mystery and reveal the true killer.”
Loren Jupiter nodded. “I had no doubt that you would.”
Neil Richards was dressed in prison grays, and both the cut and material of the clothing made him even more uncomfortable. He now sat across the table from Loren Jupiter in an English precinct; four teens stood in the back of the room at one side, and an armed guard stood near the entrance.
The man accused of murder had a sullen look on his face. “I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that I didn’t do it,” Neil said. “But it seems that you’re the only bloke who’ll even give me half a chance.”
“One can’t succeed in business without being able to read people,” Mr. Jupiter admitted. “And I have this feeling that you didn’t kill Preston Blackwater.”
“Damn right I didn’t. I’m a big admirer of his work, I am. Blackwater is one of the top designers on Carnaby Street today. His designs are brilliant. I could never have any ill will ‘gainst someone with that much style and class. ‘Sides, I’m not a killer! Sure, I had been in prison, serving time for smuggling and for trying to pinch the Queen’s sceptre. But I’ve seen the error of me ways, I have. Part of the reason I was out on parole was because I was a model prisoner. I realized that life behind bars was not the scene for me. To murder someone in cold blood — I just don’t have the stomach for that!”
Loren Jupiter said, “According to the reports in the news, Blackwater was killed at his design studios here in London. He had been there preparing for an upcoming fashion show when someone came up behind him and strangled him with a silk scarf. And the only clue leading to you, Mr. Richards, was a colorful business card with the name the Mad Mod on it.”
“Right, mate,” Neil said, nodding. “Obviously, someone bloody well set me up to take the fall for this. I didn’t do it!” He slammed his fist on the table in anger. “I’ve been keeping my nose clean — honest!“
The guard began to move, but Loren put his hand on Neil’s. “Keep a cool head, my friend,” he said, using a bit of the slang from his young charges. “I believe in your innocence, and the least I can do is ensure you get a good lawyer.” They concluded their talk, and the businessman and his four young friends left the building.
“So you actually believe this guy?” Roy asked. Their benefactor simply nodded.
“Back off, Roy!” Mal exclaimed. “Why you always judging books by their covers?”
Roy got back into the colored youth’s face. “Maybe I’m just not so quick to trust everyone. Trust and respect is something that’s earned.”
“Boys, enough!” Donna said as she split the two apart. “If we’re going to get to the bottom of this mystery, you two have to stop butting heads! Now, where should we start?”
“Might I suggest the other fashion designers for the upcoming show?” Lilith offered.
“You getting some kind of vibes or something, girl?” Mal asked.
“Nothing definite. Just something a bit stronger than a hunch.”
Roy half-rolled his eyes; he still wasn’t that comfortable with Lilith’s so-called precognitive flashes. “While we were listening to the guy, I was doing a bit of brainstorming myself.”
“There’s a first,” Mal interjected.
Roy caught Donna’s look and let that comment go by unanswered. “I was thinking of who’d be the most flipped out if the first Mad Mod quit cold turkey — his former gang of henchmen. I say that’s who we check out first.”
Donna thought for a minute. With both Dick Grayson and Wally West back in the States, she was the de facto team leader by seniority. She tried to put herself in Dick’s shoes, thinking of how he would attack the situation. Finally, she spoke. “Both Lilith’s and Roy’s ideas are pretty solid. We should split up and see if they check out.”
Mr. Jupiter had been standing off to the side, quietly watching his charges’ discussion. He was pleased with their chosen course of action. “That sounds like a good plan. I’ll see to getting Mr. Richards an attorney; I have a few contacts in town. Keep in contact with one another, and good luck.”