Rated PG for language
The prostitute wore what had once been a very nice silk dress. Now it was marred by rents and holes in the fabric and by an assortment of smudges and stains of questionable provenance. The dress almost diminished the woman’s beauty. She was very attractive, in her mid-thirties and possessing a strong, aristocratic face and a golden waterfall of full, shoulder-length blonde hair. But like the dress her allure was weakened by the grime that had accumulated over the months and by her pale and drawn expression.
The woman came forward slowly, looking around her several times and checking for the presence of anyone else. She gestured again with the gun, and Crock, the Marksman and the Guerrilla were forced to drop their weapons. Crock could see that the Guerrilla still had two small automatics, concealed in a neck holster and in the small of his back, but he'd never be able to reach them before she shot him. The woman looked closely at the three men, then stared curiously at Crock. Her coolly returned her stare.
"You're Crusher Crock, aren't you?"
He shook his head. >I>Fame. He'd forgotten what it was like, being recognized so often. In the Metropolis jail he'd been just another Con, unless people somehow found out that he was the Sportsmaster. Out here in the world, though, his former life was coming back to him in unwelcome ways.
"Yeah, I am."
"You were the Sportsmaster, weren't you?"
That earned Crock a dirty look from the Guerrilla. Swell. Another sports fan.
"Yeah, I was."
She gestured with the gun, forcing him to move several steps away from the Marksman and the Guerrilla. She raised the gun and leveled it at his head. "I didn't figure you for a Nazi, Crusher. Thought you had more sense than that.
He looked at her for a long moment, noticing things he hadn't seen before--her cheekbones, the quality of her makeup, the state and fabric of her clothing. He said, "You ain't no whore. Not a German, either. Who are you, lady?"
"Never mind me. Any last words?" Her finger tightened on the Luger's trigger.
"None you'd believe." He looked, slightly, to his left, at the others. "Hey, Marksman, is she one of yours? She's starting to get on my nerves."
The name 'Marksman' caused her to squint and look closely, first at Crock and then at the 'SS Major.' He looked back at her, and without dropping his hands said, in English, "You're no more SS than I am. Identify yourself, please."
She took two steps backwards, obviously weighing what to do. She looked around, making sure the four of them were still alone, and slid the gun into her thigh holster. "I'd better not be making a mistake." She let them gather their weapons and then said, "Who the hell are you two? And what are you doing here, Crock?"
Before the Marksman could respond, Crock said, "I gotta get back and let the others know I'm okay. You three, stay here. I'll be back with company, soon."
Five minutes later, after a hurried conversation with Sandra and then a brief surfacing of the Blue Tracer, the Marksman, the Guerrilla, and the woman were gathered in the Tracer's meeting room.
Sandra, clearly unhappy at the woman's presence, pointed a rigid forefinger at her and said, "Who are you, lady?"
The woman ignored her and gave the others in the room a thorough looking-over. "You're not regular military. And you aren't with the locals. Who are you people?"
Sandra stood right in front of the woman, barely six inches from her, and said, "I asked you a question. Captain Dunn, do you have a room we can hold her in?"
"Okay, enough. Christ, lady, you need to get that stick out of your ass. I'm Sofia Zender."
Her statement was met with blank looks from all but Sandra, who furrowed her brow and cocked her head. She muttered, "Zender...Zender..." She lit a cigarette. After three contemplative puffs on it she reluctantly said, "The name's familiar, but I can't quite place it. Did you go by another name?"
The woman smiled with obvious satisfaction and said, "So John was right, at that. I was the Tigress."
That got the attention of the King and Cosmo. The King said, "Zatara's Tigress."
She nodded. "I'm my own Tigress, but, yes, I'm the one you mean."
Sandra said, "Last we'd heard, Zatara had put you in a Tangiers prison."
"Oh, that. I was out of there months ago. They really don't pay the guards enough."
Crock said, "You're, what, Zatara's arch-enemy or somethin'?"
Her smiled widened–knowingly, it seemed. "Or somethin', yeah."
The Marksman said, in a voice ominous in its calmness, "What are you doing in Prague?"
She shot him a cold look. "I've been here for three months. What are you doing in my city?"
Crock said, "Oh, for God's sake. We're here to snuff someone. What do you think we're doing here?"
She snorted cynical amusement. "What a coincidence. So am I."
Sandra sighed and ran her hands through her hair. She'd had it cut, and stylishly, too, three months back, but it had grown out raggedly. She'd have to do something about it when she got back States-side. She rubbed her eyes, feeling every inch of the distance from her apartment. "Look, I've been up too long to play word games. Why not just tell us what you're doing and cut the crap?"
The Tigress shook her head and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry. Hard to break old habits, y'know? I've been working with the Resistance here, trying to get Jews out of the country and to...well...get some back for us when I can."
Cosmo said, "Just doing your part for truth, justice and the American way, huh?" He did not bother to keep his doubt and contempt from his voice.
She sneered back, "What, only you 'heroes' can fight in this war?"
King said, "Forgive us for being doubtful, Miss Zender, but many of your counterparts are not fighting. They're at home, attempting to profit from the efforts and losses of others. You'll understand if we're dubious."
She said, with some heat, "I don't see you over here helping anyone, King. You're at home, sleeping in your silk sheets and eating three squares a day. The Manhunter's over here and has been for months. If this is really the Marksman," she nodded at him as she said his name," then he's been here for years. Should I judge you 'heroes' by you or by him?"
Sandra jabbed her forefinger at the Tigress' face. "The issue isn't what the King's been doing. It's whether we can trust you. I haven't heard anything so far that says we should."
The Tigress slapped Sandra's hand away from her face, bringing the men in the room to their feet. "Screw you, lady. The hell you think I've been doing here all this time, helping the Germans?"
>From behind the Tigress the Sportsmaster switched the safety off the Tigress' Luger. She'd carried it on to the Tracer and put it down for a moment when she'd entered the meeting room. No one had seen him palm the gun, and the sound of the safety switch being thrown rang loudly and harshly in the enclosed space. Everyone jumped at the sound and turned to look at Crock.
He was pointing it at the Tigress, holding it in a shooter's position, one hand bracing the other. Coldly seriously, he said, "We're on a mission, Tigress, and we don't trust you. You haven't given us any reason to. No more bullshit. Tell us why we should trust you. Otherwise this is it. Dunn, King, even Sandra, they'll just put you in this thing's brig. That's cause they're weak when it comes to people like you and people like me. I ain't like them, though. You explain why you've got SS i.d. or I'll do you right here, right now. No, hands where I can see them, Captain Dunn. You, too, King. Tigress, speak up. You know I'll do this."
For a long, pregnant moment no one said anything, and the air in the room crackled with tension. Then, very carefully, the Tigress brought her hands up into an "I surrender" position. She held them there and said, softly, "My name is Sofia Zender, Crock. Does that name ring any bells with you?"
He slowly shook his head, the gun never wavering.
Her words were met with blank looks. She flushed slightly, and a hint of impatience slipped into her voice. "I'm a Gypsy. That's what you call us, but we're Rom." Seeing that no one in the room understood what she was trying to say, she began to grow angry, and her words took on an edge not there before. "D'you think that the Germans are only taking away the queens and the Jews? My people have been taken, too. We were some of the first to be killed. Whole clans have been taken, families who've gone back a thousand years, gone. Nobody says anything about us, though. Not in your newspapers or on your radio broadcasts. And nobody fights for us. So I do. Where was the Green Lantern when they were dragging the Rom from their wagons, huh? None of you did anything. So I do what you won't." As she spoke her voice acquired a certain accent which none of the others recognized.
Crock, listening, had gradually lowered the gun. When she stopped he tossed it to her. He looked at Sandra. "She's on the up and up."
Cosmo looked a question at him. Crock shrugged. "You get to tell after a while when people are bullshitting you."
The King, seeing Tigress so keyed up, said, "You may not believe this, but there's actually a good reason that the Justice Society hasn't intervened. You see--"
The Tigress waved her hands with visible impatience. "Yeah, yeah, the Spear of Destiny." With those words Sandra began to look extremely uncomfortable. "John told me all about it. But the Germans were putting us in camps in '35. Where were you then? He was killing us in '39. Did Hitler have the Spear then? You all only waited until America was brought into the war to act. Did you think the killings began only then? And if you knew about them before that, why the hell didn't you do anything about it?"
A brief, uncomfortable silence followed. Sandra finally broke it. "So...I'm convinced. You can go, Miss Zender."
She shook her head insistently. "Nuh-unh. I want in on whatever it is you're doing."
Crock would have been amused by the ensuing, disturbed reactions of the others if he hadn't been likewise perturbed.
It was the Guerrilla who finally made himself heard. His voice slightly wavered, from what Crock judged was both fatigue and frustration. "Look, Miss...it's...do you have any idea how long we've been working towards this?"
She responded, tartly, "Not as long as I've been working in Prague. My cover's better than yours, I'm sure."
The Marksman said in a cool tone, "This is a somewhat complex situation, Miss Zender--thank you." Everyone fell eagerly on the tray of coffee Boomerang Jones brought in. Boomerang smiled, especially at the Tigress, and left. The Marksman slowly sipped from his mug, waited for the Tigress to finish hers (she was done in three greedy gulps) and resumed. "This is a complex situation, Miss Zender. I'm afraid there's no room for you in it." This earned him a curious glance from Crock. I thought we didn't have a plan.
She snorted, "I ran smugglers, tomb robbers, opium-dealers and gun-runners on three continents, pal, and in 14 countries where I had the death sentence on my head. This can't be as complicated as that. Hell, if you can't make it work, put me in charge. I'll make it work."
Sandra, who had been shaking her head, broke in. "No, no. We can't just let you waltz in and join us. We've, we've worked too hard--"
"So, what? You're going to let me walk? You wouldn't be comfortable with that, I know your type. So are you gonna hold me here? Can you trust me not to break out? This rig's cell won't be as good as the one in the Chateau d'Yf, and I was out of there in a day. So what's it gonna be?"
Crock was the first to admit it. "Shit. She's right."
The Guerrilla muttered, "Better to have her inside the tent pissing out than inside the tent pissing in." Realizing that his words had been heard by everyone, not just the Marksman, he blushed and said to Sandra and the Tigress, "'scuse my French, ma'am, ma'am."
"So what's the plan?"
The looks on their faces told her she'd asked the wrong question.
See my notes at the end of this story arc.
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