Don't get the idea I was absorbed exclusively with my jobs (both as Athena and as White Owl) without any preparation for the convention. I had also done some homework regarding the collectors. Maybe it wasn't as creepy as I had thought.
Basically, superhero collectors fell into two categories. Most were into collecting clippings, photos and small items associated with their hero or heroine. Normal enough. The others were the ones with big money invested in the hobby, and those who could afford to pay top dollar for the truly unique items.
I'd made a compromise with Josh to bring something special for the silent auction, something that would bring in more money for the charity, and was uniquely White Owl's. I thought long and hard about what it would be.
I knew it had to be exclusive, but also had to keep my secrets and (at least I felt) it couldn't be too kinky or weird. But what? One of Black Ibis' shuriken crossed my eye. Interesting but deadly. One of my costumes? But could someone retro engineer NuSilk? What would Mr. Wickersham say? One of the Buffoon's rubber chickens? Though he was a villain of a lot of heroes and heroines. Finally, I decided.
Early Friday afternoon, with a shirt box tucked under my arm, I flew into the con suite at the New Century hotel. The young men in the room gaped as I slipped in through the patio on the fifth floor. I smiled and looked at them all. "Good afternoon gentlemen! I thought you might want something special for the charity silent auction. I have something that may cause a big draw." I opened the box and pulled out a long gray cape with golden clasps and a gold chain. My formal cape.
The young men at the table oohed, stood as one. One of them brushed a thick set of blond bangs out of his eyes and stepped toward me. "WOW! White Owl! I'm honored." He fingered the fine fabric of my cape, gushing.
He stuck out a hand. "My name is Brian. This is Alex and Ned." he motioned to his comrades.
We're the convention committee. This older gentleman, is Quentin Helder." I smiled broadly, recognizing the name. Helder was better known to Captain Valiant and me as the Gentleman Bandit.
"Mr. Helder," I said. "One of a large number of well-heeled collectors. I've been told you're right up there with Dr Adam North, or Virgil Coleman or Peter Stein. I'm surprised to find you here. This is only Queen City's first Supercon."
"I'm pleased you've heard of me White Owl, and I'm afraid you have me wrong. I'm not here as a collector, I'm here to deal. Though seeing this..." he motioned to my cape, "might change my mind a little. I hope I'm allowed to bid?" Helder looked to Brian who nodded.
"Are you going to put in some time here tonight White Owl?" asked Brian.
"I'm afraid I can't Brian," I replied. "I have to patrol tonight. I understand there may be a lot of criminals in the convention, though."
Brian laughed. "Yeah we decided to do a costume contest tonight, with the finals tomorrow night. We were hoping to get a bigger crowd to the con on Friday, to generate more word of mouth for Saturday. The idea is to blow away the backers with a huge opening and to continue the Supercon for years to come as a marquee event!"
"Well I think you're off to a good start," I said. "I think you'll be pleased with your results. By the way. Is this the best place to come tomorrow--this suite I mean?"
Brian nodded. "Yes ma'am!" He blushed. "I mean we'll get you to your event area from here, without a lot of people in between. If you'll be here by four, I think we can get you down to your panel in plenty of time."
I smiled. "I think I should tell you, I am more worried about this, than I am facing Doctor Solar and his heat guns." I turned back to the balcony, and waved. "Ta ta for now, I'll see you tomorrow!"
I flew into the gathering twilight, then headed north to Police Headquarters. Inside Captain Winslow's office I accepted a warm cup of police coffee (yuch) and told him what I had seen.
"I'd like to help you White Owl, but there's noting on Helder. No warrants outstanding, no evidence to back up anything. The Feds, the Guild and a lot of local agencies have had their eye on him for some time, but there's no evidence of any sort to put him away."
"So even though we're certain he's the Gentleman Bandit..." I began.
"We can't touch him," finished Winslow. "Aside from his being seen within 24 hours at every location the Bandit has ever struck, there's nothing to connect him to any crimes. And even repeated warrants at his home, his office and his warehouses have failed to turn up anything. He's good I'll grant you that. You want my advice? Keep away from him."
I wasn't thrilled with that answer, still I decided discretion was the better part of valor here. I swung back to my apartment and grabbed my duffel bag, then flew downtown toward the New Century. Finding a convenient alleyway, I landed behind a dumpster and slipped into tight jeans and a denim jacket. I applied the solvent that let me take off my mask and slipped it into the secret compartment of my duffel along with my gloves. Then I put on my reading glasses and joined the crowd at the Supercon.
I walked along the dealer's section, looking carefully for a lot of artifacts, and found a capsule of Catnap--guaranteed to have come from the Pink Pussycat. With a wry smile, I purchased it for Virgil, though I was certain he had several. I drew closer to Helder's area of the floor and saw the man himself doing brisk business. Helder had been collecting for some time, and I was delighted to see a bell shaped belt buckle and a star spangled skirt.
"Are these authentic?" I asked.
"Yes ma'am," replied Helder. "The belt buckle came from Freedom's Ring, Queen City's first superhero. When he retired, I bought up as much of his equipment as I could. And that skirt looks like it could fit you."
I blushed. "I'm not going to try it on here, but was I right in thinking it came from his daughter Patriette's costume?"
Helder looked at me with an openly astonished look. "Seems to me you know your hero history. Yes, that's Patriette's skirt, but not the one she wore in action. She didn't like the look the government gave her, so she went out and built her own costume. Given the unique nature of these two items, I would say--how about $2000?"
I looked Helder in the eye. "Considering the belt buckle has a "made in China" mark well hidden in the back, and the skirt is made out of spandex, which came out well AFTER Patriette retired, I'd say how about $50?"
Helder sputtered. "Why that's ...that's ..."
"Completely knowledgeable. I pointed out the mark, and Helder drooped.
"All right, you made your point. But could you go to $75, to help a poor old man?"
I smiled. "I doubt you're that poor, but for the sake of fairness, all right." I haded him 4 twenties and waited as he bagged my purchases and gave me my change.
"You're quite shrewd," he said. "Been collecting long?"
"No, but my boyfriend has; and he told me what to watch for.' I thanked him and went swaying off.
For some reason, Friday night was quiet on the crime front and I was able to get some much needed sleep, as well as work on my program. I spent the morning editing my speech and working on a grant for a dig in Malta, then made sure everything was ready. I left the apartment about one, heading to Mr. Wickersham's shop to get my new uniform. He fussed a bit, made sure everything fit right, then stepped back admiringly.
"Best job I ever saw," he said with his warm Scots burr. I smiled and thanked him, then spread my arms and flew. It was a chilly day, but sunny, and I took a lap over the water, then back along Main to see the city one more time. I drifted east to the New Century, and found the fifth floor balcony I'd landed at the day before. Across the way, I could hear the bells of St Simon's Cathedral chiming four.
I knocked on the door and was ready when Brian slid it open. He stood in place a little too long and I said, "May I come in? It is a bit chilly here."
Brian's apologies tumbled out of his mouth and he stood aside, ushering me in. I slipped out of my white jacket and draped it over an easy chair in the suite. "Can I get you anything White Owl?" asked an eager Brian.
My instincts said no, but I was thirsty. "Do you have a diet Zesti?" I asked. Brian went into the kitchenette and returned with an unopened bottle and a glass of ice. I poured the fizzy cola and sipped, feeling the warmth returning to my body as well.
"Gosh, you're even prettier than yesterday," said Brian, in an attempt to make small talk.
"Thank you," I said. "But I think it's just the new costume. I didn't have time to get the other one cleaned first." We sat and made a few minutes of small talk, then Alex and Ned came into the room too.
"Hey man, no hogging the GOH!" said Ned.
"GOH?" I asked.
"The Guest of Honor," replied Alex. "That's you."
I smiled and looked at the wall clock. "We still have forty minutes," I began.
"We'll need all that to get you into the room," said Ned. "It's a sellout crowd, just on the appearance. Five hundred people in that room, at $10 a ticket. That's $5000 for Children's Hospital's Burn unit. And the silent auction will end while you're doing your bit too. Would you care to announce the totals?"
"I'd be delighted," I said.
"Then let's go," said Brian. He opened the door to the Con Suite, and I followed him into the hallway.
"The Hospitality suit is on the Third Floor," offered Alex. That's where most of the crowd thinks you'll be. But we're going to go down the service elevator and bring you through the kitchen. I nodded gamely and followed along. We reached the panel room with no trouble.
Alex told me to wait, then went out onto the platform. "WE WANT WHITE OWL! WE WANT WHITE OWL!!" I heard the crowd chanting.
"Hey you all," said Alex. "I want to thank you all form coming to the first and I hope ANNUAL Queen City Supercon. My name is Alex, I'm part of the con committee. You've been well behaved and I just want to say how much I appreciate it. The fire marshal has asked me to tell you that in case of an emergency, please exit in a quiet and orderly manner through the exits located at the back, and to the right and left of the stage.
"And now, put your hands together for Queen City's own High Flying Heroine...Ladies and Gentlemen, WHITE OWL!!!" The room erupted in cheers and applause as I sheepishly made my way to the podium.
"Hi," I said. "I can tell you I'd rather be facing down Dr Solar's heat cannons right now!"
The audience laughed.
"Seriously, I'm astonished you came here to hear me speak," I said. "I haven't' got much to say; all that vaunted wisdom has just plain gone out of my head." Having made a brave beginning, though, I continued for ten minutes then opened it up to questions.
"Are you and Captain Valiant...intimate?"(from a young man dressed in a Star Wars outfit)
"How did you get your powers?"(from a small girl in the front row)
"Why do you dress so provocatively?" (this came from an older woman in the back--she was dressed in a tight version of Captain Valiant's costume.)
"Do you like getting tied up?" from Helder of all people.
I answered all these questions and more (honestly, I have no clue who's going to win the Superbowl; yes Athena is scary when you first meet her--the word awesome means terrible as well; yes I have regrets,) and the hour flew by. I almost didn't realize it until Brian came up and whispered in my ear.
"I'm sorry folks but there's no more time for questions. I'll be available in the hall in 15 minutes to sign autographs. But before I go, I want to thank you all for coming, and for supporting the Children's Hospital Burns Unit. This event raised $5000 and the auction raised another $10000. The winner of my cape was Sonata Justice. Her bid says she's my biggest fan too! Is she here?" No one raised a hand and I spotted a room number on the winning bid. I decided to take it to her after I finished signing.
another hour later, my arm stiff from remembering to sign, "White Owl" and not "Athena" and I sat back. The people in line were polite, and I received some interesting comments from "Ummm....hi" to "Thank you for all you do in protecting us." I was flattered by all the attention but I could see what both Josh and Virgil were trying to tell me about giving back.
I bid a farewell to Brian, Ned and Alex, and informed them I'd deliver the cape to Sonata, since she wasn't at the speech. "No need," said Brian. "I took care of it while you were signing."
"Oh," I said, a little crestfallen. Still it was for the best I assumed. I flew out of the con suite and out into the night air. My jacket was warm, and I felt a glow of satisfaction. But I felt I had left one task undone. I returned to the New Century, and landed on the roof. Sonata's bid had her on the twelfth floor, directly below me, and I wanted to thank her personally. I entered the roof access and walked down one flight onto the floor.
Room 1210 was right next to the emergency access, and I knocked hesitantly on the door. "Who is it?" came a soft feminine voice.
"It's White Owl Ms Justice," I said. "I'd like to talk with you if I may."
The door opened and I saw a young woman in a wheelchair looking up at me, her face full of wonder. "White Owl?" she said. She was in her twenties, with dark hair and glasses.
"Hi, are you Sonata?" The young lady nodded and motioned me in.
I came into the room and sat on the sofa. "I won't stay long, I promise. But I wanted to thank you for buying the cape and for making a difference to the Children's Hospital. And if you'd like, I'll pose for a personal picture with you."
"Oh my yes!" she said. "Let me get you something to drink, then I'll get my camera. What will you have?"
"Oh I couldn't"
"All right then. A glass of ice and a diet Zesti?" Sonata smiled as if she'd been expecting this and disappeared for a moment into the bedroom.
"I never travel without the soda," she said. "Its so much cheaper than buying it from the hotel." She popped the can and poured with calm hands. She held out the glass and I took it, taking a deep swig of the sweet cola.
"Now I'm your number one fan," said Sonata, and yet as she spoke, I felt the room waver.
"Wha...what have you done to the soda?" I said, staggering to my feet.
"To the soda? Nothing. The ICE however, has a strong sedative in it my dear White Owl."
The room began spinning and I saw Sonata step out of her wheelchair. "You were always so trusting my dear," she said, pulling the wig from her head and revealing curly red locks. "
"M--Mel--Melody?!" I croaked, my throat closing up and my head pounding.
"That's right White Owl. And soon, I'll be the only Owl left in Queen City." I didn't hear the last threats though, as I was slumped unconscious on the couch....
to be continued