by Martin Maenza
From the back seat of a rental car, a dark-haired little girl shook her soft teddy bear dolly. The beads in its head rattled, making a pleasant sound. Lian cooed and shook it again. She then laughed at her accomplishment.
From the front seat, a young man with red hair glanced through the rearview mirror and smiled. It was times like this, alone with his daughter, that helped Roy Harper truly appreciate all that was good and wholesome in the world. Especially given recent events — the abrupt ending of his relationship with Raven and the recent investigation he was involved with in Texas — Roy really felt he could use a little break from things. (*) Time to think about the future, for himself and his two-and-a-half-year-old child.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: What’s Love Got to Do with It? and The New Titans: Transitionary Dependence.]
The car turned down the desert path, and after a while, some buildings came into view. Roy watched as the familiar site got closer, and his smile came again. I’m home, he thought to himself.
Roy had been slightly younger than his own daughter was now the day he was first brought to this Arizona reservation. His father, a forest ranger, had died while rescuing some people from a raging fire. Orphaned, the young boy was made the ward of the tribe’s medicine man, who was one of the people the elder Roy Harper had rescued. At the forest ranger’s death bed, Brave Bow vowed to raise the child named Roy Harper, Junior, as if he were his own.
Young Harper had a good childhood and embraced his adopted Navajo heritage despite some adversity from others. From a very early age, he studied archery and practiced long-distance running with the other children. By his adolescence, Roy had become an extraordinary archer and had come to idolize a new crime-fighting bowman by the name of Green Arrow.
By this point, Brave Bow had become seriously ill, and none of his tribal ways were helping him to recover. To plan for the future and to seek a new guardian for his adopted ward, Brave Bow contacted the famed hero and invited him out to the reservation to judge the annual archery contest. Roy was to participate in the contest as well.
Unbeknownst to the boy, the hero and the medicine man had given Roy arrows with magnetized lodestone tips so that they would veer off course when fired, thus disguising the boy’s true archery skill. The lad was disappointed with his showing, especially in front of the man he idolized.
The next day, Roy used his archery skills to assist Green Arrow in apprehending some robbers of the local souvenir shop. Impressed by this, the Emerald Archer made Roy his partner, calling him Speedy based on his quick reactions in stopping the thieves. Brave Bow arranged for the boy to be adopted by Oliver Queen, Green Arrow’s true identity, before passing on. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The World’s Worst Archer,” Adventure Comics #262 (July, 1959).]
As he parked the car, Roy felt a slight tearing up thinking of Brave Bow. He sniffed and wiped it away before stepping out of the vehicle. He then went to the back, opened the door, and lifted Lian out of the child’s car seat. “Here we are, honey,” he said to the child. “You doing OK?”
His daughter cooed and laughed as he bounced her.
Roy held her close and sniffed. “Hmmm, we better get you changed.” He grabbed the diaper bag out of the back seat.
Suddenly, he heard his name called out. “Roy! Roy!” He turned to see an older woman approaching with another, in her late teens, following close behind.
“Mrs. Jungbaer,” Roy said, greeting the woman. “How are you?”
“Good,” the older Navajo woman said. “Whose baby I see?”
“This is Lian,” he said proudly, turning his daughter about. “Can you say hi, honey?” The child pursed her lips and then buried her head against her father’s chest, acting shy.
“She’s so cute!” Kim Jungbaer exclaimed. She had long dark hair, which framed her pretty face and sparkling brown eyes. “Can I hold her?”
“I don’t know,” Roy said hesitantly. “She might not want to…”
Kim reached out and took the little girl. “Oh, I think she’ll be fine.” The teen’s voice was so melodic. “You’re fine, right, Lian?” She bounced the girl up and down. Lian was cautious at first but quickly started to smile and giggle. “See, I told you so.”
Mrs. Jungbaer nodded. “Kim good with children,” her mother said.
For a second, Roy had to give a double-take. “Kim? That’s Blooming Flower? Man, I remember her from when she wasn’t much older than Lian.” He flattened his hand and dropped it straight down to his side, indicating the height of a small child. “I have to admit that she has grown into a beautiful young woman.”
The older Indian woman looked about. “Where your wife?” Mrs. Jungbaer asked.
“Uh, I’m not…” Roy started to say. “Uh, that is, Lian lives with me, not her mother.”
The woman nodded a bit disapproving. “You young men today,” she said. “So full of your own ideas, so reckless.”
“It’s not like that, ma’am,” Roy said respectfully.
“You and Tom, just alike,” she said, speaking of her eldest grandson. “Headstrong, stubborn.”
Roy tried not to smile. “Where is Tom?” he asked, looking about. “He knew I was coming.”
“Tom had to leave suddenly last night,” Mrs. Jungbaer frowned. “Was called off to New Mexico about some Indian affairs.”
The red-haired man frowned. “Really? I had come out to visit him.”
Mrs. Jungbaer pulled Roy close. “I worry about him,” she said softly. “He might find trouble. You go and help him?” Her question was more of a statement or a directive.
“Of course,” Roy said. He then turned to Kim and his daughter. “But if there is trouble, what will I do with Lian?”
“I watch her,” the woman replied. “Kim watch her, too.”
Roy was skeptical. “Kim? Isn’t she a bit young?”
“No,” Mrs. Jungbaer said firmly. “She very responsible girl. Helps out many families in tribe. Lian will be fine.”
“OK,” Roy said. “Let me get her stuff from the car, then.”
“Good,” Mrs. Jungbaer said. “I get you directions to where Tom go.” She reached out and grabbed the young man’s hand. “Thank you, Roy. You good boy.” Her face seemed more relaxed now, relieved. She held his hand good and tight for a moment as it reassured her.
Roy never could turn down someone who needed his help.
Eight hours later and another state away, Roy Harper’s rental car pulled into the Pueblo Indian reservation that Mrs. Jungbaer had indicated. I made good time, he thought to himself as he got out of the car. I hope this isn’t all for nothing. He stopped for a second to watch as the sun was setting on the New Mexico horizon. He thought of Lian, hoping she was doing OK with the Jungbaers. Then the doubt faded; he knew that his daughter was particularly good at being around others and took to new folks quickly. Having a lot of aunts and uncles back at Titans Tower certainly helped.
His thoughts were interrupted with the sound of a ruckus coming from not too far away. Wonder what that’s all about? he thought. Roy locked the car door and started toward the row of buildings.
Outside one of the halls, there were a couple of small crowds of people carrying signs and shouting. The groups seemed to be at odds, often shouting at one another as well as those that came and went from the meeting hall.
“Our land, our decision!”
“Dirty money soils our nature!”
“Time for us to take from the White Man!”
“Gambling leads to trouble!”
Roy was alert, his body poised to spring at the first sign of trouble. But so far, the opposing demonstrators seemed to just be shouting — loudly, but that was all. Still, he knew how crowds could get, often as volatile as volcanoes ready to erupt.
“Hey, you,” a voice called as a hand tapped him on the shoulder.
Roy jumped slightly and spun around, fists rising. He stopped when he saw a man with short black hair standing near him. “Young Bear!” he shouted in surprise and relief, recognizing the man.
Tom Jungbaer smiled. “Only you can get away with calling me that, Harper,” he said, clasping Roy’s hand firmly. “You know I never liked that nickname.”
“I know,” Roy admitted with a smile. “You preferred Running Bear, since you were the fastest of our group.”
“You must be pretty fast yourself,” Tom said. “What brings you out here? I thought you were coming to Arizona.”
“I was, and I did,” Roy replied. “But your grandmother was concerned about you.” He glanced back at the crowd. “Rightly so, I would gather. What’s all this?”
“A meeting of the larger tribes of the Southwest,” Tom started to elucidate. “This Pueblo tribe opened a casino on their reservation about a year or so ago. Sort of a prototype to see how it would fare.”
“So, how’s the business?”
“Good, real good,” Tom said. “In fact, that’s the reason for the conference. Representatives of other tribes are here to understand the inter-workings, to evaluate if what worked here might work for them as well.”
Roy glanced back at the crowd. “But I guess not everyone is sold on the idea.”
“No!” a female voice from behind him said firmly. “Not everyone is.”
The two old friends turned around. There was an Indian woman in her late twenties with long black hair tied back into a ponytail. She was dressed in a simple blouse and a long denim skirt. Her face was beautiful, yet had a mature quality to it as well.
Roy stopped checking her out long enough to say, “I take it you’re one of the folks not sold on the idea.”
“Not that it’s your business,” the woman said firmly, “but, no, I am not sold on it.”
Tom stepped between them. “Roy Harper, this is Wenonah Littlebird,” he said. “She’s come all the way from Oklahoma with representatives of her tribe. Wenonah, this is a childhood friend of mine.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Roy said, extending his hand.
Wenonah looked at the offering, then shook it briefly. “Why is your friend here? What concern of his is this matter?”
“Tom and I grew up in the same Navajo tribe,” Roy said in his defense.
“Really?” Wenonah said with a sharp eye. “You don’t look Navaho.”
“He was adopted by our tribe’s medicine man when his own father was killed,” Tom said. “Though his skin may be a different color, he’s considered a full member of our tribe.”
“I am sorry,” Wenonah said. “I should not have been so sharp with my tongue. I am just very passionate about my people and concerned for them. The idea of the troubles a casino could bring to our reservation concerns me.”
“What trouble?” Roy asked.
“Casinos could stimulate the economy for the people, creating jobs and bringing money back into the reservation,” Tom started to explain. “The overhead is low, and the financial gains are quick. Unlike running gas stations or cigarette sales, which require large start-up costs and inventory.”
“Gas and cigarette sales are not illegal,” Wenonah pointed out.
“Neither is gambling in some states,” Tom countered. “Plus, properly established and regulated, they serve as mere games of chance. Much like bingo.”
“So your side says,” Wenonah stated firmly. “You only see the gain, but not the loss.”
“What loss?” Roy asked, trying to absorb as much of the debate as he could. “What trouble?”
“Crime, Mr. Harper,” Wenonah said firmly. “Drinking. Drugs. Prostitution. All of these go hand in hand with gambling. If we open the doors of our reservations to one vice, others will surely follow.”
Roy knew firsthand about the trouble that drugs could lead to. “I see,” he said softly.
“There’s no guarantee those will follow,” Tom scoffed.
“And there is no guarantee they won’t!” Wenonah retorted. “Mr. Jungbaer, I am hardly a naive, innocent girl from a reservation. I have seen much of the world in my years and many of its share of problems and injustices. I base my opinion on experience and observations.”
Roy stepped in. “Maybe it’s best we see this casino in operation,” he offered. “I know I am curious about it.”
“Good idea,” Tom said. “In fact, we were just on our way over to it.” He turned to the woman. “Is that all right with you, Miss Littlebird?”
“I will accompany you,” she said. Tom gestured the direction. Wenonah went first, followed by the two men.