Leon McKinley, the ever-growing thorn in our sides. Unbeknownst to us, he had slowly been gaining a following using the growing popularity of talk radio programs and political viewpoint television shows. He seemed to be a master at working that system to the Nth degree.
For the most part, we chose to ignore it - truth was, it was really nothing new. Every few years or so, some radical fringe group or political idealist would pop up, espousing the horrors of the Superhero community and make things a little difficult for us. We'd weathered these attacks before, we knew we would weather this one. It was a bit of arrogance on the part of the League as a whole… and an arrogance that would come back to haunt us later.
For the most part, though, we were focussed mainly on the task at hand: finding our PR agent. We quickly discovered that the normal methods for procuring such resources wouldn’t exactly work for us. It’s not like we could send out a cluster of RFP’s, hoping to garner interest. News like that would have certainly brought us under the very spotlight we were trying to avoid. So we decided that discretion was our best option.
We set to the task of researching the business, trying to locate those who had risen above the rest. We wanted the best. We searched all avenues of the industry - Washington insiders, big business PR directors, entertainment agencies… the list went on and on. We eventually narrowed our search and focussed in on making a list of ten: the ten best Public Relations agencies money could buy. From there, we hand selected ten applicants that, on paper, represented the most successful and most effective in the Public Relations industry.
Then, we contacted each of those ten individuals discreetly through several channels - Diana’s Washington connections, Clark’s press credentials, Oracle’s web expertise… even a few visits from me in various guises. Through these channels, we requested the presence of each of these ten individuals for an important (and secret) meeting to discuss "acquiring their services for a large, multi-national, highly-visible peace organization."
Meanwhile, Oracle was able to put together applicant packages on each of the individuals we were looking at. Résumés, press kits, examples of previous work, full work histories, financials, psychological and personality profiles, full medical records (we didn’t ask how…), etc. We reviewed each applicant as thoroughly as possible, then decided on a day for interviews.
Diana met with each of them in private at the designated times, escorting them to a teleport tube and up onto the Watchtower. None of the applicants knew exactly who they were meeting with until they arrived at the Watchtower for their interview…
"You're the J-J-Ju-Ju-J-J-…"
"Justice League," Superman prompted.
"Y-yeah…uh… wow… " David Williams sputtered, eyes wide as he stared across the table at the brightly clad collection of superheroes. He had been intrigued by the cryptic communications that led up to this meeting - deciding to go along with it just to find out who was behind it all. He had never expected…
"W-what is this a-a-a-about, exactly…" he stammered again, trying desperately to calm his pounding heart.
"Relax, Mr. Williams," Superman said lightly, his voice remarkably soothing to the close-to-hyperventilating businessman. "We are interested in acquiring the services of a public relations agent for the League…"
"Y-you want a p-p-press agent?" Williams managed to say, somewhat surprised at the revelation. "B-b-but you're the J-J-Ju-Ju-Jus--"
"Justice League," Superman stated again. "Yes. You see, we've been having a few problems with our press coverage recently and so we're looking for some outside assistance…"
"Ou-ou-outside--- I- I- I- don’t un-un-un-underst-stand…"
J'onn and Arthur quietly traded glances.
::This is who we want representing us to the press? If he sweats any more, we'll have to swim out of here…::
::He’s nervous, Arthur. Give him a break. It can’t be easy to be on the other side of this table.::
::Yeah, but if he’s like this with us, how is he going to be in front of a room full of rabid reporters?::
::… … Fair point…::
Superman continued his explanation, speaking in friendly, calm tones and smiling, trying to calm the obviously nervous man. "… the true story. So the five of us were elected to…"
"I-I’m sorry," Mr. Williams interrupted. "The f-five of you?" His eyes immediately started darting around the room.
Superman glanced around as well, noting the occupants at the table. He smiled again, realizing the error and called out, seemingly to no one. "Oracle? Could you join us, please."
The large, green holographic head appeared above the table. David William’s eyes widened, then fluttered lightly. Suddenly, he fell forward, his head slamming into the table top. The League members glanced around at each other as Wonder Woman stood quickly and rounded the table to Mr. William’s side. She nudged his shoulder gently. "Mr. Williams? Mr. Williams!"
J'onn and Arthur again traded glances. It was going to be a long afternoon…
Dick Grayson was a patient man. His years both as Batman’s sidekick and as Bruce Wayne’s ward had taught him a great many things, one of the key ones being an incredible sense of patience. So it was without any sense of irritation or anxiety that he sat in the galley of Titans Tower, glancing up at the wall clock as the seconds ticked passed 3:02 PM.
He chuckled to himself, knowing that his 3 o'clock "appointment" would be 5 minutes late. Not 6 minutes, not 4 minutes and 30 seconds, but exactly 5 minutes late. Such was the normal habit. Dick stood, walked over to the kitchen counter and poured himself a cup of coffee, then returned to the table. Truth was, he had plenty of things to occupy his mind while he waited - what with the upcoming nuptials, Babs still arguing over the whole affair with Papa Gordon, Bruce and Selina chasing down Riddler and his strange little crime-wave… and trying to decide if Selina was really the one to go to for his little… favor…
On instinct, his eyes flicked up toward the clock. 3:04.42. He smirked lightly, rose from his seat, then glanced down at his watch, eyeing the second hand as it slowly made its sweep up the left hand side of the face. Once it passed the "11", he turned his attention to the doorway, counting down quietly with lips and fingers.
He pointed toward the door, like a live TV stage manager giving a cue, then paused, his brow furrowing. He had just enough time to consider that something was seriously wrong when the expectant scarlet WHOOOSH! filled the room
"Sorrysorrysorrysorry…" Wally rambled apologetically as he came to a halt right in front of Dick. "School Bus accident in Philly… had to stop by on my way…"
Dick chuckled at his long time friend, waving a dismissive hand. "No problem, bro." Dick glanced down at his mug, then over toward the kitchen counter. "Coff… ee?"
No sooner had the word left his mouth than Wally was back standing in front of him, his own steaming mug of coffee in his hand. Wally took a sip, then set the mug down on the table, taking a seat as Dick did the same.
"So, what’s this about Dick?"
"Well… there’s something I want to ask you, but…" Dick looked at his friend, smiling. "Actually, can you do me a favor: would you change out of costume? This is kind of a 'Dick/Wally' discussion, not a Nightwing/Flash discussion…"
Wally opened his mouth as if to speak, then paused. He appeared to think for a moment, then tried again. "Yeah… uh… about that… I-I’d kinda rather stay in costume… I've gotta go right back to Philly when we're done here…and I’d rather not have to keep changing and…"
"This from the guy who can change outfits in three-tenths of a second," Dick retorted, turning a confused stare in Wally’s direction. The Titans had many discussions about the differences between "In-costume moments" and "Out-of-costume moments" over the years and Dick and Wally were usually the two who were always in total agreement during those discussions. Which made Wally’s current hesitation all the stranger to Dick.
"Yeah, well… uh…" Wally stammered. Dick then noticed something he very rarely saw in his speedster friend: Wally was fidgeting. Playing with the fingers of his glove, head slightly bowed as his eyes darted back and forth nervously.
"What’s wrong, Wals?" Dick asked, his voice hovering somewhere between friendly concern and Bat-interrogation. "What the hell is going on?"
"It’s just… well… you see…" Wally continued. He finally glanced up at Dick, their eyes locking. He gave a resigned sigh, then looked plaintively at his friend. "Okay, just… do me a favor… promise me you won’t laugh."
Dick’s head recoiled lightly, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Laugh? Why would I…"
"Look, just…" Wally interrupted. "…just promise me."
Dick’s confused expression turned to one of intrigue, bordering on mischievous. A small grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Sure, Wally," Dick replied slowly. "I promise…"
Wally sighed again, then slowly reached up and pulled the headpiece of his costume back off of his face.
Anyone who was even a simple acquaintance of Wally’s would have immediately noticed a difference in his appearance. For most people, it probably would have been just a nagging subconscious thought that something was different but they would take a few minutes to try and recognize what it was. New haircut? Colored contacts? Dye job? Dick Grayson, however, had a Bat-trained attention to detail so he had no problem spotting the difference immediately. He was having a problem trying to keep his promise, though. His hand shot up to his mouth in a failed attempt at keeping the initial chuckle from escaping his lips but behind his hand, his mouth spread into a wide grin. Wally’s shoulders slumped as he glared disgustedly at his friend and former teammate.
"Uh, Wals?" Dick said from behind his hand, attempting to force the giggles back down his throat - and failing. "What… uh… what happened to your eyebrows?"
"Actually, we prefer 'Image Consultants'," the young woman (Applicant #3) bubbled, complete with air-quotes.
"Ah," Diana glanced up from the applicant packet toward the smiling brunette. "Very well then, Ms. Fuqua."
"Oh, please. Just call me Bobbi Jo!" she pshaw-ed.
"Very well, Bobbi Jo," Diana replied, smiling in return. "As the JLA’s Public Rela… excuse me, Image Consultant, what sort of ideas could you bring to the table?"
"Well, the way I see it," the young woman gushed, "your primary problem right now is a lack of visibility. Which is surprising, quite honestly. I mean, sure people know who you are, but they don’t really know anything about you. What are your likes, your dislikes, your hobbies… people really love that stuff. Makes you seem more… approachable. Take Mr. Pointy over there. Long blonde hair, great face, body to die for… I mean, just in the 12-21 female demographic alone…"
"Rayner," Wally spat in response, running a hand over the now bare patch on his brow.
"Wait," Dick replied aghast, "you mean to tell me that Kyle Rayner - your fellow Justice League member and close buddy - shaved off both of your eyebrows?!?"
"Worse," Wally muttered in response, then continued when confusion again fell on Dick’s face. "He shaved one of my eyebrows off -- just to provide me the further indignity of having to shave the second one off myself in order to match…"
Dick was unable to stop the laugh that time - to which Wally responded with a sarcastic smile and a middle finger.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Wally replied sardonically. "At least the suit covers it up and with my sped-up metabolism they'll only take about a week or so to grow back…"
"Don’t you think this little… thing between you and Kyle has gone on long enough?" Dick asked once his laughter had finally died down.
"Yeah, we should probably stop before it goes too far," Wally conceded. "I was actually thinking about calling a truce." A small mischievous grin appeared on Wally’s face. "After I've gotten him back for this one, of course."
Dick rolled his eyes, still chuckling.
"Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t call me out here just to laugh at my misfortune," Wally stated, purposefully ignoring Dick’s response. In a blur, Wally disappeared for a moment, then suddenly reappeared in his chair, now in jeans and a T-shirt as the Flash suit collapsed down and slid back into the compartment in Wally’s ring. "What’s this all about?"
"Well," Dick replied smiling, "I've got something I’d like to ask you about…" He'd been through similar discussions twice already, but he still found that he had butterflies in his stomach. He took a deep breath - this hadn’t gotten any easier - and started in on his prepared speech.
"I wanted to talk to you a bit about my upcoming wedding. As is probably true with most grooms, I've been left out of about 99.9% of the decisions and planning when it comes to this wedding - which, I've decided, is probably more of a blessing than a curse. However, the one main thing I am responsible for is selecting my groomsmen. I thought long and hard about this decision and came to the conclusion that it was important for me to pick people who best represented all the main parts of my life. The first one was easy: Tim. Not only is he like my little brother, as the current Boy Wonder, he’s the perfect embodiment of that part of me - the Robin/Bat-Family side. My second choice was for my Dick Grayson side - the normal, 'civilian' part of my life and my old college roommate Steve immediately came to mind - he was such an integral part in helping me determine who I was as a person outside of the "hero life" that he just seemed to fit perfectly. This, of course, brings me to my third choice: The Nightwing/Titans side. I decided I needed to include someone from the old team. You guys were like my second family and there’s no way I would be who I am today if it weren’t for all of you. So I wanted to pick someone who has been a close, personal friend for me throughout the history of the Titans…"
"Yes," Wally interrupted, smiling wide.
"Y-yes?" Dick stammered, caught a little off guard by being interrupted mid-stream.
"Yes." Wally reiterated, "I think I see where you're going here and I agree…"
Dick smiled wide, surprised that Wally had picked it up so quickly.
"…I think Roy is the perfect choice!" Wally beamed.
Or not. Dick laughed lightly. "No, Wally. I was thinking about you!"
"Yes, Wally. You. You've always been a good friend to me and you've always been there when I needed you. Back in the 'old days', one of the main reasons why I was never too worried when we went into action was because I always knew that you had my back. I always felt confident knowing that you were standing by my side. You have been a remarkable teammate and a dear friend. So I’m asking you, one more time, to stand by my side for the one event that I’m sure will be more harrowing and daunting for me than anything we ever faced in the Titans."
Wally stared in shock, a smile slowly creeping onto his face. "I-I’d be honored," he replied, now smiling wide. Both men stood and shook hands, then pulled together in a friendly embrace.
"Thank you," Dick whispered into his friend’s ear before releasing the hug.
"No, thank you," Wally replied. "And I don’t think I've told you yet how happy I am for you. Barbara’s a wonderful woman and I think you two are going to be so happy together."
"Thanks. I’ll fill you in on all the details later: monkey-suit rentals, rehearsal dinner and wedding schedule, blah, blah, blah. I just wanted to make sure you'd be up for it first."
"Of course!" Wally beamed.
Dick’s smile faded into a wicked grin as he turned his focus on Wally’s missing eyebrows once more. "And hopefully, those will grow back by then."
Wally’s face soured playfully. A half-second later, Wally suddenly appeared in his Flash costume, his gloved hand held out in front of him, his thumb and forefinger holding out a few small, prickly black hairs. It took a full two (confused) seconds for Dick to register the tingling pain at the corner of his own eyebrow.
"Watch it, Grayson," Flash said with a wink. "Or mine won’t be the only eyebrows you'll be worried about growing back in time." He waggled his nonexistent eyebrows under the mask, then disappeared in another scarlet WHOOOSH! leaving Dick standing alone in the Titan’s Tower galley, chuckling.
"I’m sorry, could you repeat that?" Superman looked up from the press packet he was thumbing through to glance across the table at the applicant.
"A Full Disclosure Agreement," Richard Offenbach (Applicant #6) repeated, matter-of-factly. "It’s pretty standard nowadays. We at Firetti, Offenbach and Cho find that the only way to truly represent our clients effectively is to be fully informed. To that end, all of our clients must sign a Full Disclosure Agreement. You'll find an example in that press packet I provided."
There was a great shuffling of paper around the table as all of the interviewers searched for the document. Superman scanned through it quickly, his eyes getting wider and wider.
"Wait a minute," Superman paused, looking incredulously across the table. "It says here: 'All known aliases, identities and personal relationships… how exactly does that factor into a business arrangement?"
"As I said, we find that only through knowing the whole story can we effectively…"
"Whoa!" J'onn interrupted. "What do you mean by this:" he continued, reading directly from the document: "In the event of termination of any contract, Firetti, Offenbach and Cho retain all rights to any information and/or intellectual property acquired during the duration of said contract. This information may be used and/or distributed… It sounds like you're saying that if we fire you, you can release any private information you've collected about us!!"
"Well, not exactly…" Offenbach smarmed.
"Actually, I think that about sums up the meaning of that statement quite well, Mr. Offenbach," Oracle interrupted. "Or should I say, Ms. Lupone!"
Richard blanched slightly, almost imperceptibly -- except that every super-powered eye at the table was suddenly locked onto his face.
"I-I’m sorry?" the applicant stuttered, glancing nervously up at the floating green head.
"You heard me, Ricky," came the terse, digital-sounding reply. "It seems that Mr. Offenbach here has quite a lucrative side business going as the trashy 'Tell-All' Biographer Lizzy Lupone. He uses these so-called ‘standard' Full Disclosure Agreements to get all the nice juicy details about his clients, then when they don’t renew their contract, he turns around and publishes the info under his pseudonym!"
"I- uh… " Offenbach gulped visibly and tugged nervously at his collar. He was suddenly feeling rather warm - probably due to the eight penetrating eyes now focussed solely in his direction.
"Sonuva bitch…" Green Arrow muttered to himself, planting a well-placed boot into ribs of the last gang member to go down. His head slowly panned back and forth over the mass of unconscious bodies strewn about the warehouse floor, a sneer on his lips. They all wore black and tan jackets with large red setting sun symbols on the backs; the insignia for The Ho-Sing Gang. Ho-Sings were Asian drug runners - former Yazukas now transporting and selling narcotics throughout the US.
Green Arrow had been tracking this particular crew for a few weeks - starting back in Star City. Thanks to the new Mayor and his "Crack Down on Drugs" program (which Ollie knew was laughable in and of itself - considering the Mayor was one of the biggest buyers in the market), Star City harbor had been crawling with Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard for the last month.
"Friggin' Dog and Pony show," Green Arrow had intoned repeatedly, as he tracked the Ho-Sing crew across the country. They were obviously looking for a new - if temporary - port to bring in their product, ending up in this warehouse. In Gotham City.
His city, Ollie had thought with a derisive chuckle. He was aware of Batman’s standing rules about members of the Costumed Set visiting Gotham City - that they should all make Batman aware of their presence. To not do so would result in (at the very least) nasty rooftop confrontations complete with a frothing Bat. Ollie himself had been on the receiving end of those "chats" on more than one occasion, so he was well aware of the potential problems that his unknown presence in Gotham’s warehouse district could cause. Unlike most of his cohorts - who either staunchly adhered to the Bat’s policies and guidelines, making sure to give prior notification (sometimes even in writing… *cough*Clark*cough*) of their imminent arrival or, in most cases, simply avoided Gotham altogether - Ollie dealt with this knowledge in his own little way. He simply didn’t care.
Green Arrow was on a case and that case brought him to Gotham City. If the Dark Fascist had a problem with that then he was cordially invited to blow it out his dark-and-broody sphincter. Besides, Ollie was relatively certain Bats had a hand in the fact that he was still on the JLA Reservist List - not that Ollie was all that eager to be on the active roster at the moment, considering the current team. But it was the principle of the thing…
Green Arrow was shaken from his thoughts by the sounds of approaching sirens. Several years removed from their Far East homeland, many of the Ho-Sing thugs had Westernized their methods. Several of the formerly silent soldiers had traded in their shuriken for sidearms, their katanas for Swedish-K’s. The warehouse battle had been less hand-to-hand than Ollie had expected - and quite a bit louder, hence the approaching sirens.
He turned to leave, sharp pain racing up his side. He glanced down, realizing that some of the Ho-Sings still preferred the old methods, indicated by the shuriken protruding from his side about three inches above his waistline. In the adrenaline-fog of battle, he hadn’t even noticed the wound. Gritting his teeth, he grabbed the exposed end of the throwing star and yanked it out, a loud grunt of pain escaping his lips as the device pulled several chunks of flesh with it. He glanced down at it, only then noticing that each tine of the 8-pointed star had a flared tip, designed to do as much damage on the way out as it had on the way in. He cursed himself for not noticing before he had carelessly ripped the damned thing out.
As the police sirens got closer, Ollie hastily exited the building, mounted his bike and drove off. He knew that Gotham’s Finest would discover the Ho-Sing members as well as the crates loaded with cocaine… and probably a few of his trademark green arrows. A fact that would not go unnoticed by Die Fledermaus, to be sure, but he wasn’t too concerned about that either. At the moment, his main concern was finding somewhere to patch himself up. Traveling cross-country back to Star City on a motorcycle with a gaping gut wound was not an option.
Hospitals were out - hospitals asked too many questions, especially when you were dressed in elaborate clothing and brandishing a longbow. He briefly considered going to Dinah’s apartment. She would no doubt have better medical supplies at home than he had available in his bike’s medkit, but things with Dinah had been… iffy since his return. He didn’t exactly want to show up on her doorstep unannounced, in need of repair. Not exactly the best way to re-endear yourself to a former lover. "Hi, Honey. Good to see you. Mind if I come in and bleed all over your apartment for a while?"
He could always contact Batman… he laughed at his own thought, his hand immediately going to the shooting pain in his side. He needed a safe house - somewhere in Gotham City where he could lay low for a few hours and dress his wound. Some place out of the way and relatively off the Bat’s radar… A small smirk crossed his lips and he gunned the engine of the motorcycle, speeding off toward the east end of town.
Five minutes later, he sat inside an old, dilapidated boathouse in Gotham Harbor wrapping a bandage around his midsection. He remembered this place from years ago - his East Coast hidy-hole for the old Arrowboat. He had long since gotten rid of the boat, but had retained ownership of the boat house… for the life of him he couldn’t remember why at that moment. He vaguely remembered something about gaining a small bit of satisfaction from keeping a small piece of real estate in Gotham right under the Bat’s nose, but none of that really mattered now. He was only concerned about healing up a bit before the 3-day journey home.
He had opened the large retractable doorway leading out into the harbor, moonlight spilling into the dusty old place. Not surprising, all the lights had burned out over time, but amazingly enough the structure still had power running to it, allowing him to use the push-button boat door opener to let in enough light for him to see the damage. He would undoubtedly need stitches, but for now some styptic glue and a tight wrap-bandage would hold his insides in place until he got home. He would get Conner to do the stitching - the kid was a whiz with that sort of thing. His thoughts drifted toward his son as he finished the wrap bandage and stared out of the boathouse door and across the dark water.
After the last interview had been escorted out, the subcommittee members sat around the conference table, going over the applicant’s résumés and packets. They had been at it all day - roughly 1 hour for each interview - and the wear was starting to show. To her credit, Diana continued to maintain control of the post-interview meeting, the only one seemingly unfazed by the day’s activities. She was going through each of the applicants and placing their packets in one of three piles: Yes, No and Maybe. She added yet another packet to the No pile, then picked up the next one.
"The next applicant is Miss Diane Isis from the Olympus Agency," she addressed the table.
Arthur groaned again at the name, joined by a chuckle from J'onn. "Well," the Atlantian joked, "she certainly was the Goddess of Whine."
J'onn laughed, a little more than a chuckle this time and Clark, despite himself, cracked a smile. Even Oracle’s holographic head bobbled a little. Diana merely rolled her eyes.
"Come now, Arthur," the Amazon chided. "She wasn’t that bad…"
"Wasn’t that bad?! Di, I've heard dolphins with less shrill voices."
"Her voice isn’t the issue," Diana retorted, "she seemed exceptionally competent and capable of handling our unique needs…"
"I’ll agree she had the qualifications, but do we really want the 'Public Voice of the League' to sound like… like…"
"Like The Nanny on helium?" Oracle provided the appropriate simile, prompting laughs from the rest of the table and a glower from Diana. Superman quickly composed himself and turned toward her.
"All joking aside, Diana, Arthur does have a point," he admitted. "The PR agent will be not only aiding us with ideas for boosting our public image, but will also most likely be conducting press conferences on our behalf. While I have no doubt Miss Isis would be perfectly capable of doing such, is that really the image we want to be projecting? I’ll remind you that we already rejected Mr. Williams for similar reasons."
"Fine," Diana grumbled, moving the Olympus Agency packet over the No pile. She paused, frowning at the piles: 1 in the Yes pile, 1 in the Maybe and 5 in the No pile. The Olympus packet hung over the No pile, gripped delicately in Diana’s fingers, then shifted over the Maybe pile.
"Let’s consider her a Maybe," Diana intoned. "Her voice aside, she was one of our better applicants…"
The three men at the table glanced back and forth at each other, then each begrudgingly nodded their assent, not out of agreement with Diana’s suggestion, but rather to avoid yet another round of pro-con bingo. Diana smiled, dropped the packet into the Maybe pile, then picked up the next packet.
"Okay, then we have Ramona DeSlice from Foster & DeSlice." Diana read the name from the top of the packet. "A very good applicant, I thought. Charming, intelligent, capable with a lot of great ideas, if a little over-exuberant…"
"Uh… that would be a No." Oracle interrupted.
Diana glared up at the floating head above the table. "And why is that," she replied, the polite exterior finally starting to give way to the length of the proceedings.
"Well, something had been poking my brain about her from the get go, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. She seemed okay, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was somehow familiar. So I finally did some checking. Turn in your packets to her résumé and look at the third name on her 'Notable Clients' list."
All of them consulted their own copies of the packet, flipping through to find the appropriate page. Diana looked back up to the hologram, confused.
"DEI, Inc?" Diana probed. "What about it?"
"DEI, Inc." Oracle responded. "Also known as DEMON Enterprises International."
"She worked for DEMON?!" Superman exclaimed, aghast.
"Well, the Demon’s Head, to be more precise…" Oracle intoned.
Suddenly, Superman snapped into business mode, standing from his chair and addressing each of them in turn. "Oracle, track down Miss DeSlice immediately. J'onn, contact Batman, let him know what’s going on and get his input. Diana…"
"Superman wait!" Oracle called out, stopping the Man of Steel mid-command. "It’s not a problem…"
"Not a problem?!" he retorted. "This woman had direct contact with Ra’s al Ghul within the last year and then shows up for an interview with us here on the Watchtower and you're telling me this isn’t a problem?!"
"Well, I don’t think she’s exactly a welcome party in the DEMON compound, if that’s what you're worried about. In fact, I’m kind of surprised she’s still alive quite frankly. I don’t think they were very… happy with her services."
"Care to explain that?" Superman’s commanding voice was starting to wane.
"I can think of four words that will sum the whole thing up…" Oracle paused as all eyes locked onto the floating hologram above the table. If he didn’t know any better, J'onn could have sworn she was pausing for simple dramatic effect.
"Ra’s on The View," came the simple answer.
The whole room froze, everyone staring at Oracle. It was Superman who finally broke the silence: "That was her?"
Arthur and J'onn glanced at each other, then immediately broke into uproarious laughter. Both Superman and Wonder Woman glared at them, which only spurred them on more. Eventually, Clark dropped back into his chair, allowing a smile to creep across his lips. "Okay Oracle. Point taken. Still, will you please keep an eye on Miss DeSlice’s activities and let us know of any strange occurrences."
"Will do, Big Blue." Oracle responded.
Diana harrumphed in J'onn and Arthur’s direction, then resignedly picked up the last packet. "Moving on," she prompted, a bit louder than necessary. "The last applicant is Stephen Lawrence from Lawrence, Mohammed & Curlae…"
She glanced at the three men sitting around the table. The trio traded glances, then all turned back to Diana, responding in unison. "No."
Aggravated, she wanted to argue, wanted to provide them a litany of reasons why they were all being pig-headish and stupid about this whole thing and that Mr. Lawrence had all of the redeeming qualities necessary to add him to the potential Yes pile… but she knew it was a lost cause. Even she had to admit that Lawrence had been one of those unique individuals that had the uncanny ability to completely drain an entire room of all of its energy. He was dull, boring and, while intelligent, lacked even a hint of charisma. Never mind Arthur’s adolescent comment that he had a hard time envisioning the JLA being represented by the firm of "Larry, Moe and Curly." She wasn’t even certain she knew what that meant.
Diana slammed the final packet on the No pile in disgust. Her agitation dripped from her words. "Well, Gentlemen, this appears to have been a giant waste of everyone’s time…"
Clark placed a soothing hand on her forearm. "I wouldn’t say that, Diana. What do we have in the other piles?"
"We have two in the Maybe and one in the Yes," she replied indignantly.
"Only one in the Yes?" Arthur prompted.
"Then it seems to me our job is done," Arthur sighed in relief. He pushed his chair back, about to stand, when Diana interrupted.
"Not really, Arthur. We still have two in the Maybe pile as well." She pushed the No pile off to the side then arranged the three packets in front of her in a pyramid layout, the Yes above the two Maybes. "We need to readdress all three applications and discuss…"
"Oh, for Poseidon’s sake!" Arthur growled as he leaned forward and set his elbow on the table, dropping his head into his hand to begin massaging his temples.
"We needn’t completely disregard these other two fine applicants merely for the sake of the other one…" Diana began.
Suddenly, all eyes shifted to the doorway to the conference room as the door hissed open. Steel, in full armor sans helmet, walked into the conference room and stopped, held in his tracks by the stare coming from Diana.
"Pardon the interruption," Steel intoned flatly, all too used to Diana’s… moodiness. "But we have a problem…"
He watched the reflection of the moon dancing across the lightly rippling
water, becoming transfixed by the shimmering and the light sounds of the water
lapping into the boathouse’s dock. He wasn’t sure how long he had stayed there,
staring out across the harbor, but suddenly something caught his eye. The
rippling of the harbor water had been fairly steady and uniform but something
disrupted the regular rhythm of the water. It almost looked like a boat wake,
but there was no boat. Ollie quickly realized it was something under the water
that was causing the larger waves. At first, in the distance it was easy to
discredit any worries by thinking it was just a fish of some kind, but the
second time it crossed his line of sight, coming back in the opposite direction,
it was closer and obviously much larger than a fish. After this second pass,
Ollie lifted his head slowly, staring out across the shimmering blackness, his
After he saw it pass a third time, even closer than before, he rolled quietly and quickly off the bench into a crouching position on the floor next to his bow and quiver. He grabbed a razor-tipped arrow out of the quiver and noched it when he noticed the movement turn in the direction of the boathouse and speed up, essentially speeding straight for him.
His eyes widened as the underwater creature, whatever it was, raced into the
boathouse. Ollie pulled back on the bowstring, aiming the arrowhead directly at
what appeared to be the front of the wake. Suddenly a soaked head poked out
through the water. A soaked, vaguely blond head.
Ollie noticed the head had quickly scanned back and forth around the boathouse, jerking quickly toward him. There was a tense moment of complete silence before the figure spoke.
"O..Ol…Ollie?!?" came the tentative voice.
Arthur propelled himself out of the water and landed on the interior dock of
the boathouse. He immediately began spitting off to the side and shaking the
water off of his arms, mumbling something about disgusting harbor water. Ollie
expertly eased the tension on his bowstring and removed the arrow, then walked
forward to greet his former teammate. The longtime friends shook hands.
"Ya know, you should warn a guy before just popping up like that. I almost put an arrow through your gills." Ollie joked.
Arthur laughed, releasing Ollie’s hand.
"So, what the hell are you doing here?" they asked simultaneously, both laughing lightheartedly at the joint comment.
Ollie raised a hand, motioning to Arthur. "You first."
"Well, that’s a funny story actually. We were up on the Watchtower for these stupid interviews when Steel came in. He’s on monitor duty tonight and he got an alarm notification from an old JLA-owned property here in Gotham."
"JLA-Owned?" Ollie asked.
"Yeah. See, it seems that when you… died, most of your Estate (well, what was left of it, anyway) was granted to the JLA. We've owned this boathouse for years, though most of us didn’t even know it existed until the alarm went off, signaling for someone to take action. I guess somewhere along the line, someone decided to put a silent alarm on the building and just let it sit here. Anyway, we decided someone should check it out and I volunteered, just to get the hell out of there. We would have just called Batman, since it was here in Gotham but… uh… we normally don’t bother him with routine stuff like this. He’s made it quite clear in the past that this kind of stuff…" Arthur switched his voice into a darker, more sinister-sounding tone, his own little impression of "The Voice": "… isn’t worth my time!"
Ollie mimed pulling a cape up over his nose and looking around menacingly, his impression somewhere half-way between Batman and Bela Lugosi. "This meaningless tripe distracts me from 'The Mission'! I must be out on the streets, inflicting fear amongst the criminal community and scaring the children with my incessant brooding…"
They both looked at each other for an instant, then broke out in uproarious laughter.
After the laughter died down a bit, Arthur wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "Damn, it’s good to have you back!" he said as he smiled wide.
"Yeah, well, it’s good to be back." Ollie replied, an equally wide smile crossing his face.
"Okay, your turn," Arthur prompted, eyeing Ollie’s obvious lack of shirt and bandaged waist.
"Well, I got a little banged up -- as usual -- and I needed somewhere safe to fix myself up. I knew I’d never make it back to Star City like this and… well, I don’t really have a safe haven in Gotham right now. Then, I remembered this place and figured it was still safe enough to use. I had no idea I would attract JLA-sized attention," he added with a chuckle.
"Well," Arthur replied, "you know Superman. Any little strange occurrence and he wants to send in the cavalry. Mostly, I think, he just wanted to know what the hell this place was! Anyway, are you alright?" he asked, looking again to Oliver’s bandaged midsection.
"Yeah, I’ll be fine," Ollie lied. "Wait a minute, what did you say you were doing up on the Watchtower?"
Arthur sighed. "Interviews."
"Interviews? For what? Don’t tell me you guys are doing another 'recruiting drive'…"
"Worse," Arthur groaned. "We're interviewing for… a PR agent."
Arthur threw his hand up defensively. "I know, I know. I was against it from word go… tried to convince them it wasn’t necessary… but I got out-voted."
"Of all the stupid, feather-brained ideas…" Ollie grumbled incredulously.
"Tell me about it," Arthur grumbled in return. "I just couldn’t take it any more. That’s why I jumped at the chance to come down here. They're probably up there right now making the final decision…"
Hermoine’s Society Chit-chat:
All of Tinsel Town is tittering today over the news that Press Agent to the Stars Webster Hoyt has added a handful of heavy hitters to his stable. And no, I don’t mean Mickey Rourke and Russell Crowe - I’m talking about the Superest of Superheroes: The JLA! Rumors abound regarding what Hoyt is actually going to be doing with those Pinnacles of Power, but chances are, we're going to be seeing a little glitz and glamour sprinkled onto the famously grumpy gaggle…
To be continued...