Gotham, October XX, 1931
“It seems more impossible things happen in the city – some lucky chap gets to report on them sometimes, or not, because nobody would believe it.” Seymour Smiles mused to himself as he walked down the street tracking down yet another story.
It had been around three months since the “ Arkham Incident”, and the city seems to be cooling down a little in time for the autumn weather – which the residents are extremely grateful for. The Gotham Giants are in the playoffs, the Gang War between Falcone and Maroni died down with Moroni’s arrest, and Harvey Dent is on such a roll that everybody believes he is a shoe-in for the next mayoral election (or at least, a higher position than district attorney). Batman has been seen more often these days, furthering his quest of bring down Falcone’s operation by searching for the “lever” that will bring it crashing down.
Smiles pondered these events as he walked into Sadie’s bar and took a seat at the counter. Per his usual luck, the owner herself was behind the bar, cleaning glasses and getting ready for the evening crowd. He introduces himself, adding the note that he is the respected journalist of the Times, and states that he heard some interesting information that she may know a thing or two about the “Owl Man”.
“Who?” Sadie jokingly replied, and said afterward that she didn’t really know much more than what was written in the paper. She did wonder what his interest in this particular story was though, in which Smiles said that he had heard some conflicting information. When she thought about it, she did remember having some strange owl-related dreams whenever Umbra Stix comes by the bar, though kept that note to herself. She simply told Smiles that the bar has a way of attracting plenty of information, that he’s free to stop by whenever he has a chance, and that she will let him know if she hears anything.
Clarence sits at his kitchen table, with a bowl of roaches and nursing his newfound addiction to used motor oil, as he waits for Stix. Clarence manages to keep the foul drink down this time, though hasn’t been as lucky previously. Stix raises his eyebrow as he walks in on this, then the two of them discuss their next plan – they still have a bunch of small gems from the History Museum heist, and need to get rid of them. Clarence had heard of a reliable fence, named Nina Fortuna, and the two of them set off to meet with her.
The address leads them to a local pharmacy, which the fence operates out of. Clarence was unable to fight against his kleptomaniac tendencies and began to start pilfering things. A woman from behind the counter notices and begins to yell at him, though Stix gets in front of her and draws her attention to the small bag that he drops on the counter. She picks it up, shakes it a little bit, and then immediately summons them to the back room of the shop.
The woman introduces herself as Nina, a plain looking woman in black, though presents herself as very capable. She looks around the room a little bit to make sure that they are alone, before examining the gems further. By looking at the gems, she gets a sense that some of these are from the Natural History Museum a couple months ago. Nina tells the two that she feels that the gems are still a bit too hot right now to give them their full worth, but can at least give them half of that until she is able to move them and earn more. Stix uses his skills to sense their worth and felt that she was honest in giving a good deal. Before the two of them leave, Stix tells her that they can be found at Sadie’s bar from time to time, if she needs to get in contact with them about the gems.
The two of them head over to the bar next, to stake out their favorite corner and discuss what to do next. Sadie comes over and greets them with a couple drinks, then asks Stix about his connection with the Owl Man. The two men deny it, though she feels that there’s more that’s going on than meets the eye. She says that Seymour Smiles, the reporter, is interested in finding information about the Owl Man, and there may be something in it for him if he goes through with it. The two of them think about it, then remember that Smiles is one of the prime contacts for Willie Sutton, the bank robber who loves speaking to the press. The two of them decide that stealing from the bank robber would be a great job, and tells Sadie that if Smiles needs to contact them, he can, and gives a card to her. Clarence helps himself to an insect that made his way inside of the bar, which left Sadie squeamish in more ways than one. She decided it was best now to leave the two of them be, as they continued to discuss their plans.
That night, Stix gets contacted by Edgar Mandragora through his dreams. “Long time, no see,” Mandragora greets. He tells Stix about his premonition – one of them is going to die soon, and he feels it’s going to be Stix, because Mandragora previously betrayed him. He hopes that Stix doesn’t hold any harsh feelings towards him, in which Stix scoffs at the idea. “We’ll see what you think about me at the end…” he states ominously, and drops off of the link.
Clarence wakes up hearing a manic giggle in his ear, fading out from a dream that he had. His eyes immediately trail up to the ceiling, seeing “Bang, you’re dead!” in big bright red letters. Clarence’s eyes then darted to the door, with the words “Bang, you’re dead…. again!” painted on the back. The windows say “We can’t see through you!”, and the walls liberally splattered with numerous phrases such as “Who are you?” and “What kind of Joker would do this to you?!” Searching through his apartment for clues, he opens the closet door and a shotgun goes off over his head, grazing the top of his skull. On the back of the closet door, a message happily reminds him that “You should be more careful!”
Clarence rings up Stix and immediately asked him if anything strange happened in his apartment, and that he comes over as soon as possible. Stix arrives shortly after, concerned with the bring red “Ha! Ha! Ha!!” written on the front of the door. Clarence opens the door to greet Stix, in which the gentleman immediately asked what had happened to his face. Disgruntled, Clarence explained the situation and that it happened while he was sleeping. Stix promises that he will “suggest” that the landlord takes care of the damage, and points out that Clarence should probably get that wound looked at. They go to the hospital to address the wound, and the staff seemed quite concerned with how he had gotten it. The two of them somewhat convinced them that Clarence was cleaning off a shotgun and it fired accidentally. The staff then cleaned his wound, checked his hearing, and gave him a clean bill of health minus a small amount of tinnitus from the shotgun blast.
Stix then tells Clarence about his night, and his mental meeting with Edgar Mandragora. The two of them get a sense that the Legion may be involved in this somehow, in which Clarence advised that the best course of action is to set the local headquarters on fire. Stix gives two thumbs up at the idea, and they decide to commit the act at night, after most of the people left for the day.
After getting in touch with the Times editor a couple times, Sadie finally was able to get in contact with Smiles, letting him know that she came across a person that may know a thing or two about the Owl Man. She then lets him know that she doesn’t do things for free, being a business owner and all, in which Smiles promises that when he interviews the contact, he will also bring in the food critic who will give the restaurant a look over. Sadie believes this to be a good deal, and passes on Stix’s contact information over to the reporter.
In the evening, Stix and Clarence head over to the headquarters to do a little bit of scouting before the act. There was a church service happening during that time, with free cookies and water. Clarence goes inside, grabs a sacramental cookie and listens to it – which ended up being flat off awful. Most of the congregation also seem to be there for the free food instead of the message, and only a few people remained after the service was over, enthralled by the service and drinking the self-filling water from the cups. Believing that they had seen enough, Stix and Clarence leave the church.
The two men go out for a quick meal, and as the night fell, Clarence flexed his mental muscles by hurling a fireball at the building, singing the wall. He was then hit with a brick from above, and looked up to see a caped man wagging his finger at him. “Stop,” the caped crusader advised in a gruff voice. Clarence asked if he wanted to chat, and Batman seemingly nodded. Clarence waited for him to come down, but instead a rope spun around the small man’s ankle and he jerked up to meet with Batman above. Batman let him know that Stix is being dense, and that the Legion had nothing to do with this. As Stix stood below, he heard a faint voice in his ear, saying that “… He’s right.” Batman then let the rope holding Clarence go, letting him fall towards the ground, though before he hit the pavement below, Batman does a little twist of the rope and the small man landed with a thump. The vigilante seemingly then vanished, off to dampen the fire that had started.
“You want to know what happened to the last guy that was caught doing arson?” The voice then whispered into Stix’s ear. “He died a thousand cuts, though he didn’t quite make it to a thousand. Do you know what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Do you realize how hard it was to get that lunkhead to come here and meet you? I want to talk to you, I heard evil things about you. You’re the cause of great many a problem.” Stix then asked who the voice was, in which he responded, “Your jury and your executioner, your choice.” Stix then asks if he’s familiar with Mandragora, and the voice says that he doesn’t like him either. Either way, the Legion is only harmful to themselves, though Stix notes that they are abusive to people like him as well.
The voice tells Stix that it is quite evil when you burn down a building with hundreds of innocents, and that he vows to prevent evil. Stix then wonders aloud if this conversation is even happening, in which the voice counters if that if it is, the two of them can walk away from it. Stix then proposes that maybe they should work together, and that some use could come from it. The voice though, works on its own, but is still waiting to see the shape of Stix’s soul. Clarence’s, by contrast, is as clear as the sun, though Stix’s own is cloudy. Clarence comes to Stix to discuss what just happened, and during that conversation, the voice vanished. The two of them return to the apartment to rest for the evening and ponder further on the events of that night.
Jim Gordon makes a stop into Nina’s pharmacy the next morning. He greets her at the counter, and says that he had received a tip that she may or may not know about some diamonds that look close to the ones taken from the History Museum. She wonders why he’s so concerned about those, and why he thinks she knows anything about them in the first place – she is, in fact, still in mourning over her missing husband, and asks why he isn’t doing anything about that instead. Gordon hints that it may be because of some of her friends, in which some have been found belly up in the river, and even went as far to suggest that her husband may be one of them. He then says that all he wanted was to enlist her help in regards to the stolen jewels, and gives her his card.
Stix receives a call from Seymour Smiles the next morning, asking him a few questions about the Owl Man. Stix wonders why Smiles is interested in the Owl Man, which seems a little bizarre for him. Smiles begins to trail off, telling him that there is a man that talks to him at night, with seemingly huge eyes and a voice saying how evil the Owl Man is, the last part sounding as if he was in a slight trance. Snapping awake a little, he then mentions that six or so other people have had the same issue. Concerned, Stix then instead asks about Willie Sutton, the bank robber, in which Smiles is curious as to why he is asking about him. Smiles finds him interesting and wants to meet him in person, at Sadie’s bar.
Later that night, Smiles arrives with the food critic of the Times, in which Sadie pulls him aside and sets him up with a table. With her charm turned up to 11, she had no problem winning over the food critic, who easily fell into her trap. She sweetened the deal by promising a fantastic show on stage later that night, agreeing to his request of a specific dance. It ended up completely successful, and the writer promises a wonderful write-up the next day.
Smiles on the other hand, finds his way to the isolated corner in the back, where the others were. Settling down, he asks if they can keep a secret, and then divulges the real reason why he has the urge to investigate the Owl Man – Batman himself requested it. He then tells the story on how it happened, that he was walking through an alleyway when suddenly a rope grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him up. A gruff voice whispered in his ear, “Find out the shape of his soul,” meaning, the Owl Man, then let him down on the ground. Clarence tells Smiles that they witnessed the Owl Man a couple months ago at the Museum, and Smiles countered with the rumor that he was spotted last night at the Legion’s headquarters. They asked where Smiles had gotten that information, but he was not willing to divulge anything about the contact, except that it was an actual person. The group then discussed the link between Batman and the Owl Man, whether or not that they were actually working together, and also wondered where vigilantes such as he got the money to operate. Smiles finds that line of thought interesting and will get in touch with them again after he looks into it more.
After Smiles leaves, the other two leave as well for Clarence’s apartment, discussing the possibility of tracking Smiles since there seems to be something up with him. They think that there is a possibility that the Legion is involved, since the “Shape of Soul” comment is consistent with them. When the two of the arrive at the apartment, there is a bullseye with an arrow pointing to the center saying “You are here,” and the bottom of the message saying “Ha ha ha!!” Clarence suggests that maybe they should let the Legion come to them instead, saying that seems to be what they’re doing already with this mess, and as he opens the door, a crossbow bolt fires past them. They enter to find a message on the crossbow, saying “We tried to kill you, but came up SHORT!” A brick was found on the floor from the window it went through, with another note saying “The door was LOCKED.” The two of them attempted to craft a plan – Stix leaves the apartment like normal and comes back invisible, while Clarence sets up a bunch of pots and pans around every entrance to the apartment, in case someone tries to sneak in. Stix has no problem coming back under invisible cover, and the two of them end up spending a peaceful night in the apartment with no issues.
Sadie happily opens up the Gotham Times the next morning to find a glowing review of herself in the culture section of the newspaper, with a secondary review of the actual restaurant. She promptly hung it up behind the counter for all the patrons to see. She then sent Smiles a fruit basket as a thank you message, since the review will undoubtedly bring in more revenue. Nina on the other hand is not as lucky – she finally meets a buyer for some of the gems, but does not get as good of a price as she hopes and refuses to sell.
Clarence wakes up from yet another weird dream, and agrees to switch places with Stix so he could get some sleep. Clarence then writes “Come On In!” on a piece of paper and sticks it to the window, message facing out. Shortly after, a sharp knock is heard at the door. Clarence wakes Stix up and then goes to look at the peephole outside, which was covered. Clarence takes a bit of time to find a huge chunk of metal and hovers it as he opens the door. A gas grenade pops into the apartment, then the other person quickly shuts the door. Clarence attempts to throw the mental hunk through the door. It goes through and he hears a meaty “Thunk!” against the wall. The two then hurried up to open the window and get some air, as the gas from the grenade seeped through the apartment. On the streets below, they see a mime waving at them. Enraged, Clarence tries to rip the fire escape off of the building next door to throw at the mime, but the mime managed to escape into the other building before it hit him.
As Clarence throws some fire at the other building, a pair of blue legs drop down above him and tells him that it’s not nice to play with fire. Clarence immediately sends some fire up at the strange man’s direction, then tries to hit him a couple more times as the man flies down the fire escape. “You’ll be hearing from the Blue Beetle!” the man shouts, suit on fire, as he runs away screaming. The other building is completely inflamed at this time, and the two men escape to the ground level as the police and firemen show up. Stix comes up with a brilliant idea – he should help these people while projecting the image of the Owl Man into their heads, convincing them that he was a force of good.
Nina receives a phone call around this time, telling her that “It seems there is a problem that needs to be neutralized. Good Scouts stay alive”. She collects her equipment, hops on a motorcycle and heads down to the scene of the crime. She caught a glimpse of Stix working to help some of these citizens and was able to figure out that he is the Owl Man after all, and also noticed how satisfied Clarence was with the burning building. She assisted with the scene, but was not able to get close to them due to the commotion. Somehow the victims made their way over to Sadie’s bar, where she continued Lizzy’s tradition of helping the inflicted, for less than noble reasons than her predecessor – random acts of charity can be extremely good for business in the long run. She ends up running a successful relief fund for the fire victims, and gets accolades from the Salvation Army who promised her protection in very religious, sort of uncomfortable words.
The building fire made it on the front of the newspaper the next day, with the headline that the Owl Man saved multiple people. Clarence spread rumors that the Blue Beetle caused the issues, which made it as a small after note in a section of the paper as well.
Nina checked her mail in the morning and found a message, simply stating to find the “Fire Bug”. Keeping that in mind, she got another message that there was another buyer interested in the diamonds, and was willing to pay well for them. She sold them immediately, wanting to be done with the whole ordeal, and was glad to wash her hands of that problem.
Clarence returns to his apartment and examines the hunk of metal. He sees that there’s plenty of blood covering it, but it didn’t seem to kill the guy, and he regretted that he let him escape. Clarence then wrote a note saying, “Nice try, Jackass” and posted it on his door. He later found that “Jackass” was crossed off and “Joker, to you” was written in its place. Clarence then met with Stix and began to discuss the masked criminal and vigilante business, and how it may be interesting to actually get involved with it.
That night, Mandragora appears in Stix’s mind again, saying that what happened was unexpected. Clarence may be more powerful than even he, and that Stix should worry about him. Stix points out that if Mandragora is so worried, than he should leave the town. Amused, Mandragora tells him that he’s not scared at all, and that he’s actually here for keeps – especially since he knows where Stix is, but there’s no way that he can be found. Mandragora then goes to tell him the analogy of the two hikers and the bear – you only need to be faster than the other guy, and Mandragora is pretty sure that he’ll be the one that lives. He also laments over the Owl Man, that he was setting him up to be the bad guy, but Stix goes and makes him good with the arson event. Mandragora warns him about Clarence and his power once more time, and then adds that he didn’t truly intend for what is about to happen, before leaving.
The next day, Stix reads the newspaper and finds out that the Silver Legion is on their way from Star City to “Clean Up” the town of Gotham, with Gotham saying “Bring It!”. The piece was written in a way that did not take the threat seriously at all, though the quote from the founder of the Silver Legion, stating that Gotham is a “den of inequity” suggests that they might find it a graver matter.
Nina and her source discuss the “fire bug” – she believes that he can be dealt with easily, while the source needs a promise that no more buildings will be burnt and the city needs to be protected overall. She then contacts Stix and Clarence about the sale of the diamonds, and meets the two of them in her pharmacy. After paying them, she confronts them about the arson event, saying that she knows everything about it and that the two of them should be a little more concerned about what is going on – there are some parties that are very concerned about what is happening to the city. As she continued on, Clarence began to interpret her comments as a threat and hit her twice with fire. She fell on the ground, in shock from the burns, and the two of them shuffled out as the building caught on fire. The pharmacy workers rescued her and immediately brought her to the hospital, in which she received treatment. While she managed fine, the others who were brought into the hospital from the previous arson began to have mental issues, and had to be shipped off to Arkham Asylum, some never to be seen again.
Clarence and Stix were sitting in the apartment, waiting for the next assault, when two bullets came through the window, hitting Clarence in the head. The man fell down, bleeding profusely, with no hope of survival as the last bit of life drained from his body.
A nurse came by to set a card down at Nina’s bedside table. The front expressed a “Get Well!” message, though the inside had one simple message: “The problem has been solved.”