He dialed the police while slipping on his pants, and had his shirt nearly buttoned before he got an answer.
"Listen, we need an ambulance and a patrol wagon down at Rowes Wharf, the Murgatroyd Pier, immediately! A guy's been shot trying to stop a hijacking. He caught the three of 'em before they shot him, but he's in really bad shape."
"And who're you, the watchman?"
"I'm a reporter for th.. Just get here, will you? I'm not going anywhere. Rowes Wharf, Murgatroyd."
He slammed the earphone back onto the hook mumbling at bureaucratic inefficiency, then put on the eyeglasses that made him nearsighted. He slipped his press pass into the band of his hat, just like they always did in the movies, and went over to see about the poor, dying hero.
He was ice-cold with shock, and coughing, choking on his own blood. An arm under his neck to keep him from strangulation was all that could be done.
Delirious eyes fluttered open.
"Just rest easy," he comforted. "There'll be an ambulance in a couple minutes. Just rest easy till they get here."
"Can' remember. Didja get 'em?"
The reporter grinned and nodded. "You got all three of them! They're laying there in a neat row waiting for the cops to scoop 'em up. You did a great job."
"Me? I din't get no chance ta.. No, it musta been you! You're.." but another convulsive cough cut off the rest of the sentence.
"It's better not to talk."
But the gaudily costumed young man in a domino mask persisted. "You're.. You're him! Ain'tcha!"
"I don't know wh.. "
"Yeah, I allus wondered where you went, after. Of course! You don' need no costume to do it. You need a costume to hide in. This is your costume, innit?"
He shook his head. "I'm just the reporter you called to come see... "
"Don' shit me!" he said. Then, after another fit of coughing, "I wouldn't blow your cover. 'Sides, I'm not gonna get the chance."
"Once the ambulance gets here.. "
"You been my hero, y'know? Allus there, stoppin' gangsters, screwin' up the hoodlums, savin' people from the jaws of certain death. I allus wish'd I could do like you done. An' I been pretty good wit' my fists. I wanted ta do like you done, fight for right and honesty, screw corruption. You're.. You're the greatest! Say, can you really fly, like some of em sez?"
"No," the reporter shook his head. The kid's dying, he thought. Let him think what he thinks. "Everybody exaggerates. But I sure can jump, though."
"An' bullets bounce right off your chest."
He nodded. "They got that right, at least."
"So it ain't just the costume. Y'know, I read about this guy over in Gotham, wears this big flappin' cape an' a mask. Scares people shitless! An' I'm pretty good wit' my fists. Thought I'd give it a try, when I heard what wuz goin' down tonight. I wanted to fight crime too."
"You were going pretty good in there for a while."
"Yeah. Till that Goddam bastard pulled that gun. Somehow, I never figured there'd be any gunplay. Just fists. An' I'm pretty good...wit'..... wit'.. "
"Hey, kid! Hang on! They'll be here any... "
But he was gone. Just a quick coughing gasp, and a convulsive twitch. The reporter was feeling for a pulse as he heard the paddy-wagon and the ambulance drive up behind him, but it was already too late.
"How's he doing?" the police sergeant asked.
"He's gone." The reporter straightened, and picked up the jacket of his suit. It was wet with blood. "I never even got his name."
"Hey, I know him!" a young foot patrolman exclaimed. "That's Choir-boy Callahan! He's a stevedore right here on this pier. Had some professional fights, too, until they tried to get him to lay down. He allus usta stick up fer me when the bullies got on me at Parochial School. Jeez, what's he all decked out like a fruit for?"
"He was trying to battle criminals," the reporter said sadly, in eulogy, scribbling Callahan's name into his notebook. "Called me saying he was The Caped Crusader, and I should get down to Rowes Wharf at two a m to catch him in action."
"Who's he tryin' to be? Big Blue?" the cop wondered.
"Just trying to be a hero," the reporter said, then corrected himself thoughtfully. "No. No, Choir-boy Callahan was BEING a hero! He foiled a robbery -- the fifth on this pier in the last month. He broke the jaws of three ruthless criminals, before he got shot. You'll find them back in the warehouse, waiting for you. He did what he came to do, and was cut down fighting crime."
"That the way you're gonna write it up, Clark?" the sergeant asked, as he came from inspecting the warehouse.
The reporter nodded. "The poor bastard's heart was in the right place. He wanted to be a hero, and he's going to be."
"I wish you wouldn't, Clark," the sergeant said. "I mean, at least don't talk about the costume and all."
"Why? I don't understand."
"You read your own paper? Read that story yesterday about a kid out in Decorah, Iowa, decked himself out in a suit of long- johns and a towel tied around his neck and jumped out of a hay- mow? Cracked his neck. He's gonna be paralysed for the rest of his life. And he ain't the first. Two months ago a kid hung himself trying to fly like Big Blue. You write your story your way, how many more Choir-boys with good hearts and bad reflexes you gonna write about next week?"
The reporter stared down at the yellow and green costume, and the darkening red stains. "The poor palooka deserves something, doesn't he?"
"And besides, those three hoods are in there trussed up like Christmas turkeys, but the gun's Out Here. So who really cold- cocked those guys? You, Clark?"
The reporter glared back into his eyes for a moment, then
sighed and slapped his notebook angrily against his thigh. "You're
squashing my big chance at a Pulitzer, sergeant. But -- okay, I'll
play it your way. I'll say Big Blue did it again. Just like
always. We'd hate to have a passion for fighting crime break out
everywhere, now would we?"
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