by Martin Maenza
So, anyway, the Velvet Tiger gets all distracted by the arrival of this new female Dove. “You won’t be able to stop me, either, whoever you are!” she growled as she attacked the newcomer. She lunged at Dove, but found it wasn’t going to be so easy to catch this little bird. I was kind of, like, impressed with how easily Dove flipped out of the way. She moved really well for someone who was new to the game; of course, the Velvet Tiger was sort of average at best, so it wasn’t so hard to compare.
While the two of them went back and forth, I managed to extract a batarang from my belt and started to work on the rope I was tied up by. After a minute or two, I was loose and ready to totally kick some striped tail. I made my way into the next room just in time to see Dove drop some netting from an exhibit down upon the Velvet Tiger.
I really wasn’t totally sure what to make of this new Dove, but she obviously appeared to be on my side. I figured we could sort it out after wrapping things up. I was about to congratulate her on the capture, when suddenly we both realized that the Tiger was not under the net after all. “Whoa! She, like, disappeared again!”
Dove looked around the room and said, “This is very odd. I could have sworn she was right under the net when I dropped it. How did she suddenly move so fast that we couldn’t see her?”
“Maybe she’s like the Flash or something. You know, super-speed?”
“Perhaps,” Dove replied. “But if she could move that fast, you would think she could have taken us out with her kicks and punches. No, it’s got to be something else.”
“She seems to pull a ‘now you see me, now you don’t,'” I said. “Maybe she’s got some powers to turn invisible or intangible like a ghost.”
“Perhaps,” Dove repeated herself. “That does seem to fit more with how she acted the other day when I encountered her.”
Dove proceeded to tell me about an incident that happened outside the United Nations a day or so before. This, like, diplomatic courier and her nineteen-year-old daughter had run into an old family friend who happened to do contract work for the military. It seemed that both had some business at the U.N. that day. Suddenly, the Velvet Tiger struck, stealing from the man his case that contained the prototype of a new handheld laser weapon. Dove said she managed to see the Tiger fleeing and pursued her until she cornered her in a dead-end alley; Dove figured the arrogant thief had nowhere left to run. The Tiger just laughed out loud, and in a blink of an eye she was gone. Not a trace. Just like what happened here at the museum.
“The question is, how are these two crimes connected?” Dove asked.
“Let’s see if we can figure it out,” I replied as I led her outside to where my Batcycle was parked. “By the way, just who are you? I knew Dove quite well, and you, honey, are no Dove. I mean, for one thing, he was a guy, and you obviously are not.”
She just kind of smiled at me. “I am the new Dove,” she said. “I do not mean any disrespect to the original. The name and the costume were given to me; it wasn’t my own choice. I have not been active at this for long. Perhaps you can accept me just like I can accept you as Batgirl, even though you do not appear to be the same one as before.”
“Hey, I was the first Bat-Girl!” I said. “The red-headed one was the second one, and took my name because I wasn’t active at the time. So I’m, like, the original, accept no substitutes! Got it?”
Dove nodded. “Got it.” We reached my cycle. “So, how do we figure out how the crimes are linked?” she continued. “Pop over to your batcave or something?”
“Nope, nothing like that,” I said as I hopped on the bike. “We need to know what that laser weapon can do and how a sapphire fits into the picture. I think maybe we need to, like, talk to that military guy, if you know where we can find him.”
Dove thought for a second, then hopped on. “Yes, I think I know where to find him. Hopefully he’ll talk to us at this late hour.” She put her hands on my waist to steady herself.
“If he wants his prototype back, I’m sure he’ll cooperate.” I kick-started the bike, and we sped off across the city, heading for an address in midtown Manhattan.
So we ended up at one of the nicer hotels in town. It was, like, actually a step or two above the one I was staying in, so I was totally impressed. Whoever this guy was, he must be really good at his job for the government to be putting him up like this. Anyway, as we crossed the lobby and bypassed the front desk, I said, “Dove, don’t we need to find out what room he’s in?”
Dove shook her head no. She’s like, “I have the number. Come on.” As we entered the elevator, my curiosity was piqued. Either she was the type who did her legwork up front, or she happened to know a bit more about this guy than she was letting on. My instincts were leaning more toward the second one, you know? But I didn’t say anything more. We got out on the twenty-eighth floor, and she’s like, “Let me do the talking, since I met him the other day.”
Dove knocked on the door twice, and then a deep male voice answered. Once we identified ourselves, the door opened, and we were invited into the suite. The black man was tall, about six-and-a-half feet, and well-built, like around his late twenties or early thirties at most. Had that shaved head look that is, like, totally hot on some guys. He was in nothing but a bathrobe; we must have woken him from a sound sleep.
“Again, we are really sorry for disturbing you at this late hour, Dr. Irons,” Dove apologized, “but we need to discuss your prototype, the one that was stolen the other day outside of the U.N. by the Velvet Tiger.”
John Henry Irons — that was his name — nodded and was like, “I do remember you helping me out the other day. And I recognize your friend Batgirl, here. What can I do to help you recover the X17-J?”
“Can you, like, tell us a bit more about it?” I asked.
“Sure,” the black man said. “In simplest terms, it’s a handheld, long-range laser weapon that I was developing for the U.S. Army. It has incredible pinpoint accuracy. The shooter could hit a fly at one hundred meters with it. It’s relatively quiet, too — a perfect weapon for use by snipers.”
“Now, what could someone use the weapon for with, say, a fist-sized sapphire?” Dove asked.
Dr. Irons put his hand to his chin and rubbed at the stubble. “Hmm…” John Henry Irons thought for a moment. “Interesting you would say a sapphire,” he answered. “That particular gemstone has just the right physical properties to conduct the X17-J’s beam. Depending upon how the beam hit the sapphire, the beam itself could be refracted by the facets of the stone if the cut were just right.”
“That would cause it to allow the beam to hit more than one target at a time?” Dove asked.
“Yep, that’s correct. And, further, it would alter the spectral properties of the beam just enough to make it nearly undetectable by the unaided eye.”
“Thus making the beam virtually invisible!” I exclaimed. “How perfect for someone who disappears like the Velvet Tiger does!”
“Of course,” John Henry said, “if one were to modify the weapon in such a manner, it would take some time. It would take precise calibration in order to achieve those desired effects. Weeks, if not months.”
We rose to our feet. “We appreciate your help, Dr. Irons,” Dove said, shaking his hand. “We promise we will do our best to recover your prototype.” He thanked us both, and we exited the room. “I guess it’s now just a matter of waiting for the Tiger to strike, eh, Batgirl?” She kept walking, but I stopped in the hallway. “Batgirl?”
I stooped down and picked up one of the newspapers that had been left outside one of the guest’s doors. The main headline of the Wall Street Journal had caught my attention.
“What is it?” Dove asked.
“Just this,” I replied, showing Dove the headline. “I think I know where our elusive foe will strike and why.” I told her I’d explain on the way to my Batcycle.
See, I had done some checking on the Velvet Tiger before I started staking her out. Under the slinky costume, she was really, in fact, Lani Gilbert, one of two siblings that co-owned Gilcom in Gotham City. Gilcom was, like, a mega-national computer hardware manufacturer, and little miss redhead had been using her computer abilities to hack into other people’s systems. Seemed she wasn’t just into making big bucks the old-fashioned way; she was doing a bit of extortion and blackmail on the side. She figured she could find out people’s secrets, then get them to provide lots of hush money to keep things quiet.
But the entire company wasn’t in on her plans. Turns out her older brother Ward found out what his sister was doing, and he tried to stop her. That’s when the Velvet Tiger appeared on the scene. Hiding behind a colorful identity, she hired some, like, goons to try and kill Ward. If her brother wasn’t going to keep quiet and play along, she had no further use for him. She would’ve succeeded in her sick plans, too, if it wasn’t for the other Batgirl totally busting open the scam. Batgirl saved Ward’s life, but the Velvet Tiger escaped and disappeared. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) clashed with the Velvet Tiger in “He With Secrets Fears the Sound,” Detective Comics #518 (September, 1982) and “When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground,” Detective Comics #519 (October, 1982).]
Once I saw the newspaper headline, all the pieces of the puzzle totally fell into place. We weren’t gonna get any beauty sleep yet; we had ourselves a reason to drop into the ComTech Convention that morning. The annual meeting of geeks and techies was happening that week in the Big Apple, and this particular morning was going to kick off with a mondo announcement.
Ward Gilbert was scheduled to be part of a big press conference, and I was ready to bet my entire wardrobe that the Velvet Tiger would be there. Armed with Dr. Irons’ laser weapon, I had a feeling she’d try once more to kill her brother.
A large platform had been set up in the center of the ComTech floor in the convention center. The crowd had been gathering for like an hour, hoping to have prime viewing of this historic event. Well, it was important to the computer geeks of the world, anyway.
Turned out, according to the Journal, that Gilcom and CompuSoft were cementing a mega computer deal, and the ComTech show was serving as the backdrop of the big media announcement. Ward Gilbert would be representing his company, and the buzz on the floor strongly indicated that CompuSoft’s head honcho, Phil Bates, would be making an appearance, too. CompuSoft’s stock had been soaring of late, and its products were gaining popularity in both the business and personal arenas. A deal with them would, like, totally boost Gilcom’s stock as well.
This event seemed just like the kind of attention that the Velvet Tiger couldn’t pass up. She’d get her revenge against her brother and add to her rep all in one shot.
“This place is huge,” I said to Dove as we kept to the shadows in the high ceiling area. “The Velvet Tiger could easily blend into the crowd and get close to the stage to make her play.”
Dove had been quiet for the last few minutes, slowly and carefully taking in everything. From the exhibits to the people to the flow on the floor, it seemed like she was looking for something specific. “I don’t think she will risk getting that close,” she finally said. “She wouldn’t want to risk tipping anyone off until she’s accomplished her goal. That laser has an incredible range and accuracy; she can make her shot and then make some kind of dramatic exit.”
I said, “So we have to protect the brother — warn him!”
But she was like, “No. If there is a panic and the press conference gets canceled, we risk losing the Tiger, the laser, and the sapphire. We know she can strike at any time, but this may be our only chance to nail her before she does.”
I was starting to think this Dove was awfully gutsy for someone new at the business. To be safe, I offered to stick around nearby the stage, just in case she was wrong. Dove took to the shadows and went Tiger hunting.
The press conference began shortly after ten o’clock. Ward Gilbert was there; he was kind of like balding but well-dressed. The crowd erupted, though, when Phil Bates was introduced. The guy looked pretty geeky in his casual attire and wire-framed glasses; not at all what you would expect of a rising multimillionaire.
I had put in my infrared lenses, just in case. Turned out, my thinking ahead was right on the money. I saw a quick flash from across the room as the weapon was fired. “Gilbert, Bates — down!” I yelled as I leaped from my hiding place. I knocked Ward Gilbert to the floor of the platform just before a laser beam struck. It burned a hole in the backdrop instead, a rather large one just inches above where their heads had been.
“Stay down and behind something!” I told them. The crowd was buzzing with my sudden appearance, but there wasn’t time to answer a lot of questions. The Velvet Tiger was around somewhere, and Dove just might need my help to bring her down. I took to the ceiling rafters once more and headed to where the shot had originated.
As I approached one of the large exhibits, I saw Dove grappling with the villainess. The laser with the sapphire mounted to it had been knocked to the floor; I later learned that Dove had caught her by surprise and spoiled the shot. We needed to make sure she didn’t take another one.
Dove dodged a punch and grabbed the Velvet Tiger by the forearm. She used the woman’s momentum against her, causing the villainess to stumble forward. Then, in a blink, the Tiger was now behind Dove and about to strike. She had used her mysterious powers, whatever they were. I noticed the Tiger was now holding her side with one arm as if she had fallen or hurt herself. It didn’t make any sense.
I knew I only had one chance to sneak up on the Tiger without her noticing me. If I hit her before she could, like, pull her tricks, we would have her. From my utility belt, I extracted a batarang and took aim. Just as the Tiger was about to strike Dove, I let it fly and scored a direct hit! The blunt edge nailed the back of the Tiger’s head, and she dropped to the floor.
“Whoa, way cool story,” Charley Parker said a couple of moments after Betty stopped talking.
Hank Hall agreed. “Sounds like you two actually worked well together, almost like a team.”
Betty Kane cocked her head to one side. “Well, yeah, something like a team-up, you know?”
“The Tiger’s Heart was returned back to the museum,” Dawn added, “and the weapon prototype was returned back to Dr. Irons. Somehow, the Velvet Tiger had actually managed to mount that sapphire to the weapon in a matter of hours, even though Dr. Irons said it would take an expert quite a while longer to do that. Luckily for us she was a such a lousy shot.”
“So, like, what happened to the Tiger babe?” Charley asked.
“The police took her into custody,” Betty answered. “But I heard recently that she somehow disappeared from the precinct. I guess she’s lying low after her latest failure.”
“Think she’ll strike at Ward Gilbert again?” Hank asked.
“I don’t think so,” Dawn replied. “Or at least, I doubt she’ll catch him off-guard like that again. After the incident, he seemed very insistent that he would be taking precautions to protect himself and his assets. Two attempted murders was enough of a wake-up call for him.”
“Well, I’m tired of all this sitting around,” Hank said. “Let’s go grab some grub.” The others agreed, and the four friends started to get ready to head out for a meal.
Betty stopped the other female. “Hey, like, hold up a sec, Dawn,” she said. The shorter-haired blonde turned around. “I just wanted to, like, apologize, you know. I think you and I kind of started off on the wrong foot.”
“No problem,” Dawn said, smiling. “I’m the newcomer to the group, so I can understand the distance between us. Hopefully we can become good friends.” She offered Betty her hand.
“For sure!” Betty shook it and then gave Dawn a little hug. “It’s kind of nice to have someone to, like, talk girl talk with now that Lilith’s moved on, you know?”
And thus a friendship began.