Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Read the Intro to Arkham Asylum's Vacation

Small Potatoes

by David R. Black

Three months ago. The parole office of Blackgate Prison
"Next case please. Prisoner #1178142. Philip Cobb."

The bailiff's voice echoed off the room's metallic walls. Rising from a bench in the back of the room, Cobb and his attorney approached the table where the three parole board members and the prison's psychiatrist were seated.

As his lawyer addressed the parole board, Cobb looked straight ahead, trying his best to look attentive. He had been to numerous hearings like this over the years, and they all resulted in the same thing. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. A waste of time. No one cared that he was making an honest effort to reform. No one thought he deserved a second chance.

"…and what's your opinion of the prisoner's sanity, Dr. Mugabe?" asked a board member to Cobb's psychiatrist.

Cobb liked Mugabe. He was a nice guy, and the only one interested in helping him turn his life around and end his obsession with signs and signals. Most of the shrinks Cobb had seen in prison had become hardened by trying to treat villains who never change, but not Mugabe.

"Mr. Cobb is progressing rather nicely" responded Mugabe. "Treatment has nearly ended his obsessions, and he has even become involved in the prison's religious group organized by Father Cramer."

"That's all well and good" snapped the second board member impatiently. "But what's the bottom line? Is he ready to return to society?"

"Well, yes and no. Treatment of patients like Mr. Cobb is a complex issue…."

"No wishy-washy answers allowed, Doctor!" interrupted the second member.

"A-hem. Right." said Mugabe as he cleared his throat. "I recommend that he be transferred to Arkham Asylum's minimum security wing. Mr. Cobb poses little threat to others, but I think another few months of treatment won't do any harm."

Cobb raised an intrigued eyebrow, and a faint glimmer of hope shone in his eyes.

"Maybe this time will be different" he thought. "No. It will be different. This time somebody believes in me."

"Very well, Doctor" said the third parole board member after conferring with her colleagues. "Prepare Mr. Cobb for the transfer."

Two weeks ago. Arkham Asylum.

WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! Security compromised on all levels! Security compromised on all levels!

The klaxons thundered through the halls of Arkham. Every prisoner's dream, and every guard's nightmare, had come true!

As other inmates rushed by him in their flight for freedom, Phil Cobb stood motionless in his cell. Should he leave? Should he stay? He couldn't decide. The voices in his head - the ones Dr. Mugabe said represented his conscience and his evil side - waged an internal battle.

"C'mon Phil!" urged Evil. "Now's your chance! Escape with the others!"

"No! Don't!" countered Conscience. "You're almost there! You'll be paroled in no time!"

"That's what they said the last time!"

"Leave now, and you'll disappoint Dr. Mugabe. He's trusted you Phil" pleaded Conscience. "Don't let him down like you've done to everybody else in your life."

"Phil! Don't you want to see your daughter?" asked Evil. "Leave now and you'll get to meet her! Imagine being nine years old and not having met your father!"

The voices continued their battle, and Phil looked out his cell window, hoping to see a sign - a signal of some sort - to help him decide. Phil never ignored signals, in fact he was obsessed with them. They helped him make decisions, warned him of danger, and were the basis of his criminal career.

A single brown leaf floated by the window, an odd sight to see in the middle of Spring. Most leaves should have been raked up long ago….

"It's a signal!" cried Phil aloud. "A leaf. Leaves. It's telling me to leave!"

"Attaboy Phil!" exclaimed Evil triumphantly. "Lets get outta here!"

And with that, Phil Cobb sprinted towards the loading dock - towards the truck to freedom.

The present. New York Office of the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations)

The converted meeting room buzzed with activity. Previously used to debrief up to 25 agents at once, the room had become the command post for Operation Arkham. With all of Gotham City's biggest and baddest -not to mention looniest - villains on the loose, the DEO had devoted half of all available field agents to their recapture. The Director himself was even rumored to be personally involved.

"Damn! We lost Williams and Karchner to Killer Croc!"

"Scarface reported to be in Las Vegas…."

"Mr. Zsasz is fighting who?"

"What's the deal with the situation in Smallville?"

Amid all the flurried activity, Agent Cameron Chase quietly stared out a window in the far corner of the room.

"I should be out there!" thought Chase. "Helping out somehow. But no, I'm being treated like a junior high student in detention. Constantly under supervision…."

A scowl formed on Chase's face, and pushing a lock of golden hair away from her eyes, she thought back to the whole 'J'onn J'onzz Secret Identity Scandal' as the press was calling it*. Double crossed by the Director, set up and used like a stool pigeon, Chase had fumed for weeks. And if that wasn't enough, as a face saving disciplinary measure, Internal Affairs put her on 'Agent Probation.'

"Yeah, right" thought Chase angrily. "The Director's plan blows up in his face and I take the fall!"

Still staring out the window, Chase was oblivious to the sound of Sandy Barrett, the DEO Field Personnel Manager, approaching her from behind.

"Hey! Hello? Chase?" said Barrett as she tapped Chase's shoulder.

"Ahhh!" screamed Chase. "What's the big idea, sneaking up on me like that? You scared the…"

"You were a million miles away" interrupted Barrett brusquely as she handed Chase a manila folder. "Here. I've got an assignment for you."

"What? You mean you're letting me out of the house, Mom?" came the sarcastic reply.

"Look. I didn't like the J'onzz situation either." snapped Barrett. "But I'm trying to help you out here. I need every available agent to help resolve this crisis, and that includes you!"

"Sorry."

"Never mind. Just read the file I gave you" replied Barrett.


Cobb, Phil. The Signalman (see also Blue Bowman)
X reference: Batman, Green Arrow (old), Secret Society of Super Villains
Source: Gotham Branch DEO file. April 2000. Internal Use Only.
Bio: Among the villains escaping from Arkham, Cobb is a small time crook whose gimmick as the Signalman involves the use of symbols and signals (such as flashing arrows, bell buoys, etc) in the commission of his crimes.

Captured and imprisoned by the Batman during the Dark Knight's first year in Gotham, Cobb has escaped a handful of times only to be recaptured by Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Batman once again. Cobb has spent most of the last ten years in prison, but during one of his escapes, he is rumored to have fathered a daughter with a former girlfriend. He may attempt to contact the child.

Cobb has reportedly repented his former ways, but he should still be considered dangerous. His capture is low priority given the higher profile villains who escaped with him.


"What?" The Signalman?" asked Chase incredulously. "He's small potatoes. Like it says here, there's gotta be at least a dozen villains of greater priority…."

"He may be 'small potatoes'" chuckled Barrett before becoming serious once more. "But it's the only assignment Internal Affairs would let me give you. Cameron, I know its not what you want, but I still trust in you. You're a good agent."

"Thanks, I appreciate it" replied Chase. "So do we have any leads?"

"Just one." admitted Barrett. "Cobb stole a Vermont State Trooper's motorcycle after the officer spotted him walking along a highway yesterday. This next part is just a hunch, but Cobb's daughter lives in Newport, Vermont. We think he'll stop to see her before crossing the border into Canada."

"Hmm. And right out of our official jurisdiction" Chase realized.

"Right. Time's of the essence. Transportation has been arranged, so go snag us the Signalman!"

The next day. Newport Elementary School.

As the school security guard showed her the way to the Principal's office, Chase couldn't help but feel like a little kid being escorted there after causing some mischief.

"I wasn't too bad as a kid" thought Chase as she smiled.

Arriving at the office, Chase was greeted by the Principal, a middle aged, balding man named Grimsley.

"Agent Chase I presume?" asked Grimsley as he stood up from behind his desk and extended his hand.

"Yes." answered Chase as she shook Grimsley's hand. "Have you implemented the precautions I faxed to you?"

"We have. All visitors to the building are being screened, and Daphne's teachers have been informed of the situation."

"Daphne?" questioned Chase.

"Mr. Cobb's daughter" replied Grimsley. "You did know her name, didn't you?"

"Quite frankly Principal, our files on Cobb aren't as complete as others. He's not exactly a villain whose name comes up often."

"Ahh yes. I understand" admitted Grimsley. "There's only so much a person, or agency, on a budget can do. To be honest, I had never even heard of the Signalman before today. Let alone the fact that he's Daphne's father…."

"And what about Daphne?" inquired Chase as she brought out a notebook from her coat pocket, hoping to fill in the gaps in the DEO files.

"She's a bright young lady. Kind and compassionate. I suppose she must get that from her mother if her father's a supervillain." said Grimsley matter-of-factly.

"Don't underestimate Cobb, sir" warned Chase. "He's rather intelligent himself. He's just on the wrong side of the law…..And a tad bit mentally unstable."

"Regardless" continued Grimsley as he waved his hand as if to push Chase's comment away. "Daphne knows that her father went to jail and that he may try to 'visit' her sometime soon."

"But?"

"But like I said, Daphne's a smart girl. She probably knows more about the situation than we've told her" admitted Grimsley. "You can't hide stuff from her inquisitive mind for long."

"Speaking of hiding stuff" said Chase. "I'm going to look over your security and see if there's anything that might screw up my plan."

"And then?"

"And then we wait" replied Chase as she shrugged her shoulders. "We simply wait for the Signalman to show up…..And sometimes waiting is the toughest part."

A few hours later

"You shouldn't have done it, Phil" said Conscience. "Shouldn't have popped the officer and stole his cycle."

"Aww, SHADDUP already!" screeched Evil. "It was the fastest way to go see Daphne and then get out of here. Would've taken weeks if we kept walking."

"Yeah, I guess so." muttered Phil to himself as he pulled the motorcycle into Newport Elementary School's parking lot.

Phil reached into the front pocket of his faded blue jeans and pulled out a well worn photograph. The girl in the photo - Daphne - was five years old, and she was smiling straight into the camera, her crystal clear blue eyes sparkling impishly.

"She has her mother's good looks" thought Phil.

But four years had passed since the photo was taken, and it had been even longer since Phil had seen his daughter in person. Would she even remember him? Doubtful. Would she be scared of him? Probably.

"Yeah! You're a lousy guy Phil!" screeched Evil mockingly. "A supervillain. A deadbeat. A loser. You've never been there for her! You abandoned her, and you let her down - disappointed her. Disappointed her just like Dr. Mugabe and all the other people in your life who've actually cared about you!"

"Yes, you should have been there for Daphne" agreed Conscience. "But you were in prison. You've almost paid your debt to society, Phil. You've reformed, changed your ways. Just walk over there and tell your daughter you love her."

"Big deal!" laughed Evil. "What'll that do?"

"You can't change the past" admitted Conscience, as Phil recalled what Dr. Mugabe had taught him, "But you can make a better future. One small step at a time."

Phil swallowed hard and took that first small step. He walked towards the school's playground, where a number of children were playing, fighting, and running about. He looked over at a group of girls jumping rope, and he immediately noticed the jumper's impish grin and bright blue eyes. Phil looked at the photo in his hand, then back at the girl. It was Daphne!

"Daphne?" asked Phil as he walked towards the group. "Daphne Cobb?"

All the girls except Daphne scattered at his approach. Phil realized that with his two days worth of stubble, uncombed hair, and ill-fitting clothes, they probably thought he was a vagabond.

"I…I'm Daphne" stammered the remaining girl as she tightly clutched the jump rope her classmate had dropped. "Are you?….Are you…"

"Yes, honey." admitted Phil. "I'm your father. I want to tell you that I'm sorry. Sorry for going to prison. Sorry I never got to see you grow up. Sorry I was never there for you."

Inside the school, Agent Chase approached the school security guard who was guarding the door leading to the playground.

"Any sign of Cobb?" she asked the guard.

"Nope" said the guard without bothering to look up from the book he was reading.

"Hmmm…."

Chase walked over to the window, which the guard had his back to, and looking out, saw the awkward father-daughter conversation taking place outside.

"DAMMIT! He's here!" yelled Chase, before turning to scowl at the security guard "Why weren't you paying more attention?"

"I…I…"

"Never mind!" hollered Chase as she angrily pushed the guard out the door. "Let's just get this over with!"

Back outside, Phil Cobb could hear the approaching agents. He knew his time was running short.

"Daphne, I love you." he said as he reached out and hugged his daughter. "But I've got to leave again."

"I love you too, Daddy" said Daphne. "But can't you stay? Or at least take me and Mommy with you?"

"I'm sorry, honey." Phil said softly as a single tear rolled down his face. "I'm sorry, but I'll come back and see you again sometime."

"I'll miss you."

"I know, sweetie, I know" said Phil as, without turning around, he saw the shadow of the quickly approaching security guard. "Daphne, may I have your jump rope? I'm about to do something very bad."

"What?"

"Don't worry about it" answered Phil as he took the rope. "Don't be like me, Daphne. Be good. Be good while I'm gone, and…."

"FREEZE Cobb!" ordered Chase from behind. "Turn around slowly and let the girl go!"

"I'd never hurt her" said Phil to Chase before addressing his daughter. "Go on, Daphne. Go back inside with your friends."

Daphne scurried back inside the school, and the security guard approached Phil, whose back was still turned to him.

"Didn't you hear Agent Chase?" harrumphed the security guard. "Turn around and put your hands where I can see'em!"

"Anything you say…."

Phil swiveled around, and lashed out with the jump rope, striking the guard in the eye. As the guard crumpled to the ground in agony, Phil ran for his motorcycle.

"Damn! Why can't they ever just give up?" hollered Chase loudly as she unholstered her gun and took off after him.

Phil reached the cycle, and revving the engine, took off. He felt the whir of two bullets pass close to his head as Agent Chase fired at him.

"Not getting away that easy!" muttered Chase as she hopped into her rental car. "Time for a good old fashioned car chase!"

Soon After

"Stop running Phil!" pleaded Conscience. "Turn yourself in!"

"No! You're almost there!" urged Evil "Five miles to Canada….five miles to freedom!"

"You'll never be free if you keep running." said Conscience. "Don't you realize that the Canadian authorities will hunt you down too?"

"Bah! At least there aren't as many superheroes in Canada!" laughed Evil.

Phil tried to quiet his inner demons and concentrate on driving. The road was dangerous and winding, and Agent Chase was right behind him. Behind him and gaining.

"I want every available officer and Border Patrol unit on alert!" Chase said into her cell phone to the dispatcher. "Cobb's heading North on some back road just West of Interstate 91."

Up ahead, Phil noticed a faded yellow sign partially hidden by foliage. "Dangerous Curves Ahead," the sign read, "Use Caution."

"Always listen to signs" said Phil to himself. "Signs and signals…they're never wrong."

Phil leaned to one side as he took the motorcycle around the hairpin turn. Behind him, Chase was still talking animatedly into her cell phone and paid no attention to the warning sign. Looking in the rearview mirror, Phil watched as Chase's car skidded off the road.

Turning the wheel violently, Chase overcompensated for the missed turn, and her car swerved back onto the road. The wheels locked and the car spun round and round. Phil gasped as Chase's car slammed into a nearby tree and stopped.

Skidding the motorcycle to a halt, Phil had another crisis of conscience.

"Get going idiot! What are you doing?" screeched Evil. "She'll have backup here any minute!"

"No! Phil, she needs help!" warned Conscience. "The car's starting the spark, and if the gas tank ignites…."

"She's a cop. DEO." interrupted Evil. "Just like Batman, like Green Arrow, like all the others who put you in prison."

"She's still a human being, Phil."

"She'll put you in jail and take you away from Daphne!" warned Evil.

"You say you've changed, Phil." said Conscience flatly. "Why don't you prove it! Don't let another person down, Phil. You can save Agent Chase."

"I…I…I need a signal" Phil stammered. "I'm obsessed, I know, but please! Somebody, something, tell me what to do!"

Phil looked up towards the heavens, and his eyes widened as he saw a single dove flying through the treetops. A pure white colored dove!

"A dove! A dove!" Phil said excitedly. "The symbol of gentleness, tenderness…..and peace."

Phil ran towards the wrecked car, and as the flames licked the gas tank thirstily, Phil pulled Chase out. Carrying her gently in his arms, he ran for cover as the car exploded in a giant fireball. Bleeding badly from a head wound, Chase was floating in and out of consciousness.

"S-S-Signalman?" mumbled Chase as Phil put a cloth around her head to try to stop the bleeding. "Why…Why'd you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Rescue me."

"I really have changed" said Phil. "I'm no longer the criminal I used to be. It's time for a change. A change for the better."

Phil saw the flashing red and blue lights of approaching police cars, and he knew Chase's backup would soon be there.

"You'll be OK" said Phil reassuringly to Chase. "Your friends are coming."

"Th-Thanks" mumbled Chase.

Phil nodded and ran back to his motorcycle. Within seconds he was gone. The voices in his mind were silent as Phil crossed the Canadian border unnoticed. For the first time he could remember, Phil felt at peace with himself and with the world. The Signalman - no, Phil Cobb - had taken the first step in turning his life around. And you know what? It felt good.

* [see Martian Manhunter #17 for details - Dave]

 

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by David R. Black.

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

 
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