Villainy on Vacation
Elongated Man vs. The Riddler
Takes One To Know One
Papers covered the office. A nearby chalkboard was covered in scratchings, musings, possibilities. Some were scratched out, some circled. Three officers sat at computers searching the Internet for options.
Ralph Dibny massaged his brain, trying to sort out the options. "The important thing is to define the 7, 26 and 9. Once we know what they are we can easily figure out what the seventh item is. If the 26 is 'letters of the alphabet', then 7 of 26 is G."
Sue tore off a sheet of paper from her notebook and showed it to him. "The 7 of 7 and 7 of 9 are tougher. If the 9 is planets, then 7 of 9 is Uranus. But that's one of the few 9s I've been able to come up with that goes in any kind of order. There are seven continents but they aren't in any kind of order."
Ralph nodded. "Plus, why would he use planets or continents? There's something too unoriginal about it. It would be more inventive if the numbers referred to to Oz books, or Bible verses, or an historical event. More importantly, there needs to be a hook. Something that tells the detective that he's on the right track, that he's not just taking a random stab at it. The last sentence gives relevant information. A female who in some way has a person inside her head. It could be a trick, such as the female being a boat and someone is in the command center or "head" of the boat. Oh, actually the 'head' would be the dunny of the boat. Hmm. Have you guys found out anything?" Ralph asked the officers on the computers.
"Not really. Well, we have in the sense of endless possibilities," said a young detective. "It doesn't help that all of our searches bring up porno for the top results."
"That's the Internet for you," Ralph nodded.
"But here's all I came up with so far for the '7 of 26' option," the detective continued, passing over a list. The clerk working on '7 of 7' turned in his list as well.
"Grrrah!" Hope O'Dare muttered, banging on the keyboard. "I'm sorry, but I'm getting nowhere on mine. Every search I do brings up pages and pages and pages of Star Trek sites! I've found about three options where '7 of 9' has numerical significance. Uranus, like Sue said. And then some ancient empires and there's something about a king with nine wives. I thought that might have possibilities."
"Why do you keep getting Star Trek?" Ralph asked.
"You know, 7 of 9. She's that Borg gal on Voyager that's you know," the detective answered, holding his hands in front of his chest. "There've been about two million websites devoted to her since about an hour after her first episode aired."
Ralph looked at the wall clock. "It's nearly 4 P.M. and we're nowhere. I'm going to take these notes and go sit in the park for a while. Fresh air helps me think." Ralph tried to dismiss the mental picture of his special shower costume before he had another laughing fit.
"What could it be? Kings? Planets? Empires? A a book series of some kind?" Ralph mused, slumping on a bench in the park. "'Who is in her head?' Who or what is 'her'?" Ralph sighed and wondered how far up he'd have to stretch to get a speeding airplane to put him out of his misery. Looking across the street, he saw an interesting store and walked over to it in two steps.
'Goblin's Spaceport' read the sign in giant letters. Underneath that: 'Comics, Cards, Anime, Role-Playing, Statues, Model Kits, Renaissance Weapons and Pokemon.' Ralph let out a whistle. "That title's stretched longer than me!"
"Excuse me," Ralph asked, poking his head into the store (not literally: he walked in normally). "I'm wondering if anyone here knows anything about Star Trek?"
A rotund bearded man in a Hawaiian shirt sat behind the counter sucking on a blow pop. He rolled his eyes and snorted derisively. "Oh, I get it. Just because we're in our thirties and run a comic shop we must be big Star Trek fans. Well, we're not all soup mix eating nerds who live with our parents, I'll have you know. And most of us have much more important uses for our time than debating violations of the Prime Directive or how many alien races make up the Federation."
A 17-year-old with a bad haircut spun around from the computer he was sitting at. "Hey, Zac! BigVulcanFan69 just got his hands on a script from Paramount. They're shooting an episode where the holodeck malfunctions! Keep it under your Klingon forehead, okay?"
'Zac' shot the kid a nasty look. "Ch! Kuh! Wh-- what was I just saying, doofus? Way to make me look bad."
"So you do know something about Star Trek, then?" Ralph pressed.
"Only the merest bit, okay. True sci-ficianadoes knows that Babylon 5 is better than Star Trek in every way possible, and 'Voyager' barely counts as Star Trek to boot. So if you want to ask me what the J in JMS stands for, I'm your man. If you're looking for detailed Star Trek trivia, you'll have to find someone else," Zac concluded, returning to the issue of Wizard he was perusing.
"Look, I don't really care whether Babylon 5 or Star Trek is the best sci-fi ever, I just "
"Hey!" a patron objected from the counter where he was feeling up a Danger Girl statuette. "Both those shows suck! Americans wouldn't recognize real sci-fi if it stabbed them in the eye! For pure science fantasy, Happy Princess Monkiko Z makes those shows look like the Hollywood regurgitated garbage they are!"
Zac huffed and sneered at the patron. "Oh, I'm sure that we are just anxious to hear how we're all missing out on the adventures of a 13-year-old lesbian schoolgirl with a huge green hairdo and eight-inch eyeballs who fights mutants when she's not too busy giving panty shots to the audience. Perv!"
"Dude, I buy those videos in your store, so who's the perv?" the patron replied, giving Zac a rude gesture.
Ralph Dibny slammed his palm on the counter. Everyone fell silent.
Ralph shot Zac a steely glower and, through clenched teeth, asked, "I need to know some Star Trek information. Now, do you know Star Trek?!"
"Yes," Zac admitted. "But I don't think I should tell you anything. It's taken me years of watching episodes to glean this information. Why should I pass it on to you? Then you'd be able to enjoy the show without making the effort of watching it from the beginning, and that's hardly fair to the rest of us."
"Look. How many seasons of the TV show Voyager are there?" Ralph demanded, taking a deep breath.
"Pht! Seven. You needed an expert to find that out?" Zac sneered.
"Okay. How many episodes per season are there?" Ralph asked.
"Oh my gosh!" Ralph said, opening up his notebook and whispering to himself. "7 of 7. 7 of 26. 7 of 9. So what happened in the seventh episode of season seven?"
"Ah yes. You're talking about the delightfully saucy episode 'Body and Soul' in which the Doctor uses 7 of 9's body to experience various human pleasures. Although like an idiot, it never occurs to him to spend the entire episode doing what any hot-blooded male would do in that body," Zac chortled.
"That's it! Thanks!" Ralph shouted, making a note in his tablet.
"Hey, what are you supposed to be?" Zac asked, as Ralph turned to leave.
"I'm Elongated Man!" Ralph said, rather taken aback. He'd forgotten that he was wearing his costume.
"Pht! Three things wrong with that. First, that's the lousiest Elongated Man costume I've ever seen. Secondly, he doesn't wear that costume anymore. Third, you can't possibly win the contest dressing up like that feeb!" Zac said, dismissing Ralph with a wave of his hand.
Ralph stretched his arm the five feet between them and grabbed Zac by the collar. "I'd ordinarily take offense at that, but I'm too curious about this contest you're referring to."
Zac was frightened of the blunder he'd just made. "I uh I'm referring to OpalCon's Costume Contest. I didn't know you were the --"
"Where and when?" Ralph demanded.
"Wh-- today! It's today, at the City Center! You know, OpalCon! The biggest fantasy convention of the year. That's where the rest of the staff is today."
"Today!? What kind of sci-fi convention is held on a Wednesday?" Ralph asked, perplexed.
"Be-cause, today is the King Of Days, when this week's comic books are released. Since today is when all the comic book buyers are rushing out to spend money, the organizers figured it would be the best time to gather them in one place."
"That's ridiculous! They should hold it on a weekend!" Ralph said, releasing Zac and grabbing a flyer for the OpalCon.
"Well, if you're making the ridiculous suggestion that the comic industry has no idea how to appeal to the average consumer, I will ask you to take leave of our store."
Elongated Man met Sue and the O'Dares at the City Center. "It's not a perfect answer to the riddle, but this is the best possibility. The first two lines of the riddle point to a Star Trek episode, and the second two refer to what's in that episode. And there just happens to be a convention on the same day. This has to be it. The big problem is finding Riddler and figuring out what he intends to do here."
"What's the answer to the riddle?" Sue asked.
"Huh? Star Trek, Sue. It's a Star Trek allusion," Ralph said, hoping he didn't sound condescending.
"I know that, Ralph, but the question at the end. 'Who is in her head?' Who is it? Isn't that the answer?"
"Oh, it's the Doctor. Apparently he possesses 7 of 9 oh!" Ralph's face fell as he looked at the riddle again. "The answer isn't Star Trek, it's the Doctor! What if the Riddler is pulling off some crime related to the medical profession, and this is just an obvious decoy? Damn! We're going to be watching thousands of sci-fi dweebs in bad costumes while the Riddler steals something valuable from a medical center. Hope, tell the Opal cops to alert hospitals and increase security at them if at all possible."
Matt and Hope started to run back to their cars. Matt spun towards Ralph. "What are you gonna do?"
"I'm going to sit here and see if I can figure out what he's up to," Ralph said, sitting on the steps in front of the entrance.
"Ralph, now's not the time to second-guess yourself. For all you know, the actor who plays the Doctor on Voyager is in there. His life could be in danger!" Sue objected.
"Nah, I checked. It's that Picardo guy from Gremlins 2. His name's not on the flyer."
Sue tapped him on the shoulder, but he didn't respond. Sue grabbed the top of his head and twisted his neck around until he was looking behind him. Ralph gasped.
A sign easel declared, "6:00 PM only: All surviving men who played "The Doctor" will be in the Dr. Who Room for Q&A and a special presentation!"
"Ohhhhhhh. That Doctor!" Ralph said.
Elongated Man and Sue were making their way to the Dr. Who Room when Ralph snagged a booklet on the convention. He pulled on Sue's sleeve. "I figured it out. The one remaining element: what could Riddler steal that would be worth anything. That's it." Sue looked where he was pointing and nodded.
As they finally entered the great hall, the announcer was finishing up a presentation. "As many of you are aware, the BBC long ago cleaned out their archives, throwing away many shows that they thought would never see the light of day again. Those include dozens of show segments from the eras of the first two Doctors. It is my great pleasure to announce that a treasure trove of lost segments were recently discovered in the private collection of Duke Edward, and now that they've been copied we have the originals here in the building!" the announcer exulted. "We will be viewing three of the lost episodes tonight!"
"Riddle me this: What do you and a DVD have in common?" the Riddler shouted from the back of the room. "You're both tape-less!" Tossing some bulky videotapes in a bag and waving his cane good-bye, Riddler and Miss Quiz ran from the room.
"Now we have him!" Ralph said, bolting from his chair. His upper torso wound around the corner and saw Riddler and Quiz racing past confused patrons as they dashed for the next large conference hall. Ralph took a moment to haul in his legs from the other room (he couldn't run blindly in a crowd like this) and followed after them. By the time he entered the next conference room, he was just in time to see Riddler and Quiz ducking back into the first conference room through a side door!
Ralph raced back to head them off but upon entering he speedily cased the room and saw no sign of the Riddler.
"Did anybody see a weird guy in a suit covered with question marks!?" Ralph shouted at the top of his lungs. There was stunned silence. Ralph stared at the roomful of people.
600 men in Dr. Who costumes stared back at him.
Ralph stared at the 600 men covered in question marks for a moment longer, then said, "Um yeah. I'll just look around. Sorry."
"Wait!" said a man wrapped in an enormous scarf, "you don't mean the one who had a beautiful lady with him?"
"Oh, they went through there!" the fan said, and the 600 men pointed to a small door at the back.
Ralph found no sign of the duo inside the darkened backstage. The other side door led to an exhibit of science fiction monsters. It seemed remarkably empty compared to the rest of the convention. Surprisingly, he ran into Sue, who had tried to head off the villains.
"My Elongated Sense is tingling!" Ralph said to her, "Why are there so few patrons here? A life-size display of movie monsters; it should be flooded with people."
"Could Riddler be hiding in one of these costumes?" Sue asked, helping Ralph to case the area.
"Nah, it takes an hour to put these costumes on and you need help to do it. You can't just crawl inside a Dalek."
"What's a Dalek?" Sue asked.
"Those metal saltshakers over there. Next to that is the Cybermen not the originals, but the redesign they did for 'Earthshock'. Those are the two designs for the Klingons -- movie and TV. C'mon, these are the biggies," Ralph continued, peering into the surrounding aisles with his long neck. "You don't recognize them?"
"No, sorry. I had a life when I was a teen-ager," Sue replied. "I suppose you know all of these?"
"These are easy. That's a Sontaran. This guy with suction cup feet is a Sensorite. This is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. That giant bug over there is the Wirrn from 'Ark In Space,'" Ralph said casually, all the while peering under the stands and tables and behind displays.
A dash of green movement caught his eye, and he spun his head just in time to see Riddler and Miss Quiz making a dash for the door.
"There they ARHK!" Ralph yelped, the end of his sentence cut off by a tight fist around his throat.
Ralph spun his head on his squished neck and saw that his assailant was the giant bug. "Hungry!" was all it said as it reached another arm for Ralph's head.
"On the other hand, I could be wrong," Ralph said, acknowledging the obvious.
"Ralph! That's Chara- Charksa it's Killer Moth!" Sue shouted.
"Hunnnnnnngry!" Charaxes moaned, spooling sticky webbing all over Ralph's upper torso. Charaxes loomed over Ralph greedily. Suddenly, gunshots rang out in the echoing room, and Charaxes turned away clutching his wing.
"Stay away from him! Do you understand me?" Sue yelled, drawing a bead on Charaxes' head. She wondered if he even understood humans anymore. Charaxes' suddenly leapt into the air, his wings fluttering into a blur of motion, and then dove at Sue. Sue Dibny shrieked and leapt behind a large rock-like monster. Realizing that she'd dropped her pistol, she turned to get it and found it covered in a sticky white goo on the floor.
Ralph struggled and fell onto his back. Ralph tried to snap the webs by expanding his body in all directions, but it only helped adhere more of the web to the floor. Ralph glanced upward at Charaxes and noticed the high ceiling for the first time.
"Sue! Up there! I think I know why this exhibit is so under-populated," he said. Sue looked up and saw dozens of cocoons hanging from the rafters. "He must be storing up for the winter!"
"Hang on, Ralph! Do you need a knife to get free?" Sue asked, rummaging around in her purse.
Ralph Dibny watched as Charaxes finished swooping around the room. Patrons were screaming and running for the doors. He figured that the fleeing mob and gunshots would bring the O'Dares in a minute or two but with both of them powerless, the Dibnys may not last that long. He had to free himself from the webbing. Looking at it closely, he doubted he could break it with a measly knife. Charaxes' webbing was attached to his torso all the way from his upper arms to his knees, and it stuck like glue to his body.
Correction: to his costume.
As Charaxes returned to finish the job, Ralph thrust his entire body up through the collar of his costume like a tube of toothpaste and emerged in only his skivvies and boots. Ralph lashed out at Charaxes and encircled the creature's abdomen, then cracked his arm like a whip and hurled the insect upward into an overhead light. Releasing Charaxes at the last second, he watched as the snarling monster embedded its head in the light fixture and coruscated with electricity.
"Something fitting about using a bug zapper, eh Sue?" Ralph asked, glancing around to see if anyone was watching him in his underwear. He extended his arm down to his costume and found he couldn't even free it from the goo when pulling from a standing position! "I can't believe it. That's three costumes in three days!"
When the O'Dares arrived on the scene, Ralph was dressed in a Klingon costume and using a bat'leth to cut down the cocooned patrons.
"I can't believe it's Thursday already. So far I've bungled every attempt to bring in the Riddler. Heck, half the time it's pure luck that I'm getting these riddles!" Ralph Dibny lamented, flinging down the morning paper.
"Ralph! Only you could take a headline like 'Elongated Man Defeats Monster, Saves 73' as a reason to be depressed. What are you complaining about? You've saved people from certain death. You've solved all of the riddles so far. You've even brought in three other villains that you weren't even pursuing. And we've got 39 hours before the deadline!" Sue chastised, sipping her morning latte. "We're not doing that badly."
"One concern: I'd better not encounter anything messy this time, because I've got a five day mystery and only four costumes. My purple and white is blood-caked. My good one is ripped to shreds and muddy. And now my original resides under a pile of goo in a police lab." Ralph grumped. "If anything happens to my red one, I'm going to be calling Plastic Man for a loaner!"
"Honey, by any chance did you enroll in the Stan Lee Angst 101 correspondence course? Because I thought whiney super-heroes went out years ago," Sue said. "You're going to start behaving like the big strong man you are or I'm going to go find Hawkman."
"Okay, bad joke, but you need to snap out of this. I need you to snap out of this. As of last night, you became my only protection," Sue snapped. "You think your costumes have it bad, you wouldn't believe what it'll take to clean my Glock."
"Clean your clock? What?" Ralph asked, distracted.
"My Glock! My gun! It's still covered in that web goo, and the guy in the gun shop didn't even want to touch it," Sue stated matter-of-factly. "My SIG Sauer is back home. I'm down to pepper spray, the taser, a rape whistle and some very rusty judo."
"Oh, just buy another. We can afford it," Ralph muttered, pouring out some cold cereal.
Sue turned and frowned at her husband's moping face. "Ralph, haven't you heard of the Brady Law?"
She saw his eyes light up. "It's okay, we're married," they said in unison.
"Nothing yet. No packages, no notes, no riddles written in the sky," Matt O'Dare said when Ralph phoned in. It was already the middle of the afternoon. "All I learned about the stolen tapes is that they were originals from the 1960s and they belong to a British nobleman, Duke Guy Edward. Copies were being shown to the audience on the video monitors, but the originals were touring with the convention before they're auctioned off in San Francisco in a month. They were expected to fetch a relative fortune which was then going to be donated to kids with leukemia. Apparently this Edward is a philanthropist rather known for it over in the U.K. He's even nicknamed Edward the Nice."
Ralph made more notes in his notepad and prepared to hang up. "Wait!" Matt said, "I got some thoughts of my own on this case. We don't hear from Riddler in another half an hour, why don't we get together, see what we got?"
"Sounds good. Sue and I will meet you down there. I'm going to double-check the front desk for messages."
"And these are all the leads I have on those supermodel henchmen of his. It's not much, since I've only caught glimpses of them. The original Quiz and Query are still in prison, so these two are a fresh batch. Quiz appears to be all-or-part oriental, but she's over six feet tall, so that gave me one lead. I figured she'd stand out. I inquired at all the local modeling agencies, strip clubs ummm, some whorehouses that I'm aware, I mean, the police are aware of anyplace you'd suspect that a tall stunningly attractive woman would work, and they don't recall seeing anyone like her. So I'm guessing that there's a good chance she and the other henchmen are imports," Matt finished.
Hope gave her brother a withering glare from across the paper-strewn table. "Now just a minute, bro," she said, "how is it that I had to patrol all the seedy bars and nightclubs on the waterfront while you're checking out models and strippers?"
Ralph ignored her, focusing on a point Matt said. Sue spoke up. "It's also possible that she's one of those women who doesn't turn to modeling or stripping just because she's beautiful."
"Damn, guess that was just a waste of time then," Matt said, clearly not meaning it. "Anyway, no leads on the rest. A tall leggy blonde, two generic handsome guys. As beautiful people go, they're stunning but about as distinguishable as mannequins."
"Hmmm they probably are imports. I've been nosing around some of those criminal hangouts you told me about and I'm not finding anybody. It's like they've all gone to ground at the same time," Ralph muttered, still sidetracked by his notes. "Hey, I'm going to read some things, you try to put them together, okay? A diamond broach. A carved angel. A gold record. Senior citizens' gambling money. Classic lost episodes of Dr. Who on industrial videotape."
The three others stared into space for a moment.
"Okay, here's an idea," Sue said, "Diamonds, gold, metal, videotape um, money. That's the connection I see. Substances."
"Yeah, that's all I had so far," Ralph said. "These individual crimes don't have any real pattern. One's a priceless piece of jewelry, the other's a plain old trophy given out by the music industry. Here he takes a collection of one-of-a-kind TV show episodes, the other time he holds up some old people for their money. Why? I think the items he's stealing aren't even relevant to the pattern."
"My head hurts," Hope said, holding the bridge of her nose. "I'm beginning to think maybe you've won. I mean, Riddler hasn't turned up yet today. Maybe Wednesday was the end of his crime spree? You're the one who promised Friday, but maybe Riddler never planned anything past Wednesday. I mean, was he expecting to encounter you when he started this?"
"What are you saying?" Ralph asked.
"I could use a drink."
"Why aren't you guys drinking?" Matt asked when the waitress arrived with the beverages.
"What are you talking about? This is a Manhattan," Ralph said.
"Right. I'm asking why you don't have a drink."
Ralph glanced at Sue to see if he was crazy. "I do. A Manhattan is a drink. It has alcohol in it. Really."
"Yeah, but it's not a drink drink. A Manhattan that's like a 1950s businessman's drink. Makes me want to get you a fedora and briefcase so you can go get drunk at the office party and cheat on your wife with your secretary that you refer to as a girl even though she's 28," Matt O'Dare said, holding up his glass. "Now this is good Irish Whiskey, single malt. This, my friend, is a drink."
"Maybe, but I'm not really an Irish Whiskey guy," Ralph said, as deferentially as he could. He sipped his Manhattan in the delicate glass.
"Jeez, you're a redhead. Til now, we figured you were a long lost O'Dare or something," Matt said, teasingly.
"I get it. I'm a carrot-top, so I must be Irish," Ralph said, flatly. He looked at Hope and continued, "I like the way this guy does detective work. I suppose he automatically arrests men with goatees because they're evil. For your information, Matt, I'm pretty sure I'm Scottish. I never did a genealogy because I don't really care. I'm an American. Who cares what my ancestry is?"
"50% Scottish, 12% English, 8% Irish, 20% Dutch, 3% Welsh, 17% mixed," Sue stated nonchalantly. "Your dad was a quarter Sioux, did you know that?"
"Sue," Ralph began, swizzling his drink and picking his words carefully, "is there something you'd like to tell me?"
"Daddy had you investigated before we were married. No big whoop," Sue said.
"Aren't you a drinker, Sue?" Hope asked. "Don't be put out by my brother's spiel. I'm just asking."
"Oh, usually I drink socially, but I'm not right now. Ralph and I are trying, you know?"
"Trying? You mean "
"To get pregnant," Sue finished. "We've been trying for a while."
"Sue? Uh this is where you and Hope disappear to the bathroom while Matt and I talk about sports," Ralph said.
The ladies laughed and made themselves scarce for a few minutes.
"He seemed a mite uncomfortable," Hope said once they were in the tavern's ladies room. She reapplied her lipstick, the sole bit of make-up that she wore while working.
Sue, meanwhile, opened her make-up case, which unfolded twice on cantilevers to reveal many compartments filled with liners, powders, perfumes and applicators. Hope blinked, since to her eyes she hadn't seen any indication that Sue wore make-up.
"I think Ralph is a little touchy about the subject. We've been trying off and on for some years now," Sue said, dabbing on some fresh eyeliner. "I'm worried that we might not be able to have kids."
"They do have doctors you two can see about that, Sue," Hope suggested, glancing over Sue's collection of cosmetics. She finally decided that Sue was one of those women who spent an hour working hard to look like she wasn't wearing make-up.
"I'm aware. I I just wouldn't want Ralph to go with," Sue said, dropping her eyes to her cosmetics case. She took a deep breath. "I mean, if I get tested Ralph would probably learn my secret."
"You seemed a mite uncomfortable," Matt said, once the women were gone.
Ralph glanced around to make sure no one was listening in. "See, I haven't discussed this with Sue, but I recently got a note from my doctor that said it may be my fault we can't have kids."
"Why? Stretching power screw up your genes?" Matt said, downing his whiskey and signaling for another.
"No. My power's not genetic. It's the thing is you know how a guy will see a fertility doctor and the doc makes him change from briefs to boxers?" Ralph said.
Matt nodded. "Right. The tight material heats the equipment up and lowers your sperm count, so you need to air everything out."
"Delicately put. Exactly. That being the case, what do you think wearing a skin-tight unitard 24/7 does for a guy?" Ralph said, fixing his gaze on Matt and raising his eyebrows.
"You do realize that you have to tell me what this secret is now?" Hope said, leaning against a sink.
Sue glanced around and saw that no one else was in the bathroom. "See, Ralph and I have always had this devil-may-care lifestyle. Go where we want, do what we want, anything we want we can pay for. No ties, no house, no stability " Sue trailed off with a sigh. "Then, a few years back, Aquaman restructured the Justice League and wanted permanent members who were available at any time. Ralph and I got quarters in the JLA bunker and well, spending so much time hanging around the place with nothing else to do, I got pregnant. But I didn't know right then."
"Of course," Hope said.
"So, a month later when Ralph and the JLA have moved back to their Rhode Island cave and I'm staying at my cousin's house, I get a call from my doctor and he confirms it. I got all excited and decided to drive out and surprise the JLA. As luck would have it, Ralph's new costume arrived from my designer and I took it with. I hop in my cousin's station wagon and take off. But on the way I ran into Gypsy."
"One of the new JLA members," Sue answered, continuing. "She's upset because the other JLA members were hunting this walking potato named Juni--stop laughing!"
Hope was doubled over clutching her stomach. She snorted while she laughed. Sue couldn't help chuckling as well, and finally when the laughter died down they fixed their hair and went on.
"Sorry, Sue. You were saying?" Hope said, forcing her face to be serious.
"Honest, it was this giant walking potato from outer space that had been living in the cave. They called it Junior."
Hope's expression cracked, she let out a burst of laughter and the two women's laughs bounced off the tiled walls.
"I'm not even sure if I want kids. Even if they weren't a handful, I'd have to quit being a shuperhero," Ralph said.
"Shuperhero? You can't handle your liquor, Ralph!" Matt said, polishing off another whiskey.
"I didn't shay shuperhero, I shaid shoohooperhero," Ralph drawled. "I'd have to disappear from public activity, even give up my powers. I couldn't risk being a a shup- a crime-fighter."
"Why not?" Matt asked. "Ted Knight had kids and they grew up pretty normally."
"Aside from the shot one?" Ralph asked, pointedly. Matt nodded, conceding the issue. "Let me ask you, Matt. Y'ever heard 'a Black Manta?"
"Aaaanyway," Sue continued, suppressing her laughter, "we get to the JLA HQ and we find Vixen and Martian Manhunter and Ralph shriveled up like mummies. It seems Junior is sucking the lifeforce out of everyone in the vicinity. Gypsy, Steel, Vibe they were all attacked right in front of my eyes. I managed to hit the emergency signal right before I got drained as well."
"Oh my God," Hope gasped.
"And the next thing I know, the original Justice League members are waking us up. Superman and Batman had found a way to drain all of Junior's energy back into us. But we were still exhausted, because Junior had been burning a lot of energy the same way we burn up the food we eat. And then suddenly it struck me. I panicked and had Superman quietly fly me out of there to a hospital. Sure enough the baby hadn't survived it." Sue's voice caught, and Hope held her close. "And I I swore Superman to secrecy because Ralph had never known about the baby and I didn't want him to know. Ever."
"Why? Why wouldn't you? He's your husband. He'd be supportive," Hope asked, confused.
"Ralph would think that it was his fault, that I'd only been injured because he was a superhero. He'd quit and stop stretching and stop doing mysteries because he'd be afraid to put me in harm's way," Sue cried. "He would, because he loves me and he's strong that way. He'd give it up for my sake. But he'd be miserable for the rest of his life."
Sue turned away and stared at her ruined make-up job in the mirror. Hope could only hold Sue's shoulders and comfort her.
"Ralph, could I getchoo nother drink?" Matt asked, his words slurring.
"Matt, I think you and I and you should stop drinking now. Yer drunk."
"Am not. I don't get drunk. Look at that hand. That's rock steady," Matt said, holding up his shaking hand.
"Nah it's not. It's all blurry and moving. We should have shome coffee. I didn't drunk to get mean like this, Matt," Ralph said. "You see our waitress?"
"No," Matt said, his head dropping onto his arm.
"Which one's she?" Ralph said, stretching his head around.
"Really tall, brunette. Looks Asian," Matt said into his arms.
"Tall Asian?" Ralph asked, stunned. "Uh ohhhh."
After a second, Matt realized what he said and looked up at Ralph. He looked at the dregs of his glass. "Tol' you ah wasn't drun-" Matt mumbled, collapsing in mid-sentence. Ralph's head also dropped to the table.
Two minutes later, when Hope and Sue returned from the ladies' room, Ralph and Matt had disappeared.
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This piece is © 2001 by Michael Hutchison.
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