Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Villainy on Vacation

Elongated Man vs. The Riddler

Takes One To Know One

CLICK HERE TO READ PART THREE

Matt O'Dare recovered first and found himself in the bottom of a vat next to the prone form of Ralph. He nudged, then slapped Ralph, all to no effect.

Shaking off the effects of the drug, he evaluated their status. The vat was dry but cold. There was a ladder at one side that led to the top, but the vat had been sealed. A device was mounted beside the ladder, with wires leading to the outside. Matt took a few steps up the ladder and saw that the wires fed through the wall, but it was sealed so that Ralph couldn't squeeze out. Two buttons were on the device. One button was green and said, "Get Out!" in big friendly letters. The other button was red and said, "Certain Death!" in jagged, scary letters.

Matt idly reached out to the buttons, his forefinger waving from one to the other. He hummed and furrowed his brow.

"I wouldn't," Ralph said from the floor, his head lolling over in Matt's direction. "No clue yet which one is right."

"Yeah, I'm not stupid," Matt said, still relieved that Ralph would be able to help him out. "He'd expect us to know that 'Get Out' is a trick. He also expect us to know that he knows that, so he'd double-bluff. But then you're smart enough to know that he'd double-bluff so he'd triple-bluff. And in the end, it's a fifty-fifty guess, assuming they aren't both trick buttons and there actually is no escape."

"Hadn't considered that last one," Ralph said, pushing his back to the vat wall and closing his eyes. His recovery from the drugging was obviously rougher. "Riddler does cheat at times. Still, he should at least give us a puzzle or riddle or something."

"Indeed I shall, Mr. Dibny," the Riddler's voice said, echoing around the vat. Both men looked up at the button device and spotted the microphone and speaker underneath it. "We were awaiting your consciousness. Now that you're here to play our game, I'm throwing in a new twist. The death trap. You will be dead in minutes if you don't figure out my riddle. But first…"

"First…allow me to say how much absolute fun this has been. Kudos to you! I hate to end things this way, but you wouldn't respect me if I went easy on you just because I like you. Also, please notice that your wife is safe and sound, as was stated in the rules of our game. However, since I think an opponent works best when another's life depends on him, this Opal cop is in there with you."

"Second, lest you begin seeking another way out, you have my assurance that all possible exits are sealed. The wiring harness for these controls is welded shut. The inflow and venting pipes are both blocked by razor-sharp rotating blades. You have to play, so no cheating! And in exchange, you have my assurance that I've not cheated. One of those buttons releases the top of the vat, I swear it."

"Finally, I must tell you that this is the final act. I've committed all the crimes I needed to in order for you to solve the grand puzzle. If you should survive this, then you have enough to find me by the deadline."

"Thus, we begin," The Riddler concluded. The vat shook and vibrated, and there was the sound of rushing water getting closer and closer. "Solve the riddle, and you will know which button to push. If you push the correct button, the lid will release you. If you push incorrectly, you'll drown. Here's the riddle: 'How low is a Chinaman?'"

And with that, the valves opened and the vat began to fill with a sticky liquid. Ralph and Matt stared at the gushing froth as it quickly rose above their knees in only thirty seconds. "It's orange soda!" Matt shouted above the din, "We must be at the soda bottlers!"

Ralph nodded, already soaked from the spray. "I want to make sure I heard it right. Did he ask, 'How low is a Chinaman?' Ralph asked, staring at the buttons. Matt shouted that he had. "That's an old riddle! But…I can't remember the answer!" Ralph shouted in dismay.

Four feet…five feet…the orange soda kept climbing. Ralph stretched his legs to get above the soda. Matt climbed the slippery ladder and clutched the top rung. The sixteen foot tall vat was soon over half full and still filling. The carbonated air was making it hard to breathe, and the air pressure had increased even with the exhaust valve open.

"Gah. Glg. Ralph! I…I figured it out!" Matt said as the orange soda bubbled towards the top of the tank. Matt fought for air and kept his head above the surface. "The answer is 'Yes, he is!' Yes, he is a Chinaman. His name…his name is Hau Lo!"

"But how does…ah!" Ralph said, grabbing the last few breaths of air from the ceiling. He reached for the control unit and jabbed at the button marked "Certain Death." There was a pneumatic whoosh as the lid of the vat unscrewed and swung open. Matt and Ralph burst through the surface, gasping for air. When they'd struggled to a nearby platform, Ralph stretched over to the controls and hit the emergency shut-off for the vat.

"It was a trick question, Matt! A trick!" Ralph spluttered. "So he tricked us with the two buttons and the Certain Death button was the correct one."

"Excellent, Mr. Dibny," Riddler's voice boomed, his clipped words echoing around the chamber of vats, assembly lines and catwalks. "I must say I'm surprised you figured that one out. But it appears you're no closer to finding me, so I'm going to lay low and let our time run out. I look forward to watching your disgraced concession tomorrow night. My string of crimes and your bumbling attempts at solving them have drawn reporters from all over, from Dateline to Entertainment Tonight, all waiting for you to haul me in. How embarrassing for you, to have to tell all the national media that the spaghettiman couldn't bring in a guy in green clothes with no powers. Oh! I feel for you, I really do, but you are the one who made a public challenge, not I!"

Matt pressed the sticky liquid from his hair and his mustache. The two men made squelchy footprints as they circled the vat, looking for any sign of the Riddler. Upon finding a remote control, Ralph deduced that The Riddler was phoning in his reply.

"Riddler! Can you hear me?" Ralph shouted into the small device. "These riddles have been easy," Ralph lied, shooting a look at Matt who realized he was lying. "I was expecting some colossal mind-benders, and what do I get? Star Trek trivia and old ethnic jokes. Some challenge! You think you're a master genius but you're nothing but a children's joke book author who missed his calling."

"If that's so," Riddler taunted, "why am I not behind bars? Batman would have me in prison by now! You're a pathetic excuse for a detective!"

"Riddler…you're forgetting a big difference between Batman and myself. Batman doesn't care about publicity; I do. This case is all but closed. I just didn't want to solve it before Friday. Tomorrow I'm going to parade you in front of every TV feed in the world and you're going to fulfill your part of the bargain. You can count on it because I'm better than you. There's no riddle you write that I can't answer, no puzzle you make that I can't solve, no nut I can't crack, no deathtrap I can't escape from. I've never failed, and you've never succeeded, and that's not going to change. So enjoy your last free night, and pleasant dreams!" Ralph finished. With that, he swung the remote device with his long arm in an arc so wide so that the device shattered against the platform.

"Okay, Ralph, either you're going mental or you're doing an incredible Shatner impression," Matt cautioned, a bit surprised at Ralph's agression towards their unseen tormentor.

"I'm all right. I just want to get Riddler on edge. His ego is his weakness…a common weakness, actually," Ralph admitted.

"I guess you ruined another costume, huh Ralph?" Matt chuckled.

"Actually, I'm not wearing a costume underneath this. I figured I'd risk it today. Let's go to the plant office and leave a message for the owners not to use this vat."

The two walked through the deserted factory. As they neared the office, Ralph asked, "What's the name of this place, anyway?"

Matt thought for a second, then recalled the name. "It's the Double Trouble Soda Bottlers. They make that soda that's two different flavors in each side of a squeeze bottle, and then they combine at the top when you drink it. Like, it's orange on one half and lime on the other."

Ralph and Matt found the door to the offices unlocked and walked inside.


"So Two-Face is in custody now?" Sue asked after Ralph finished the tale. She calmly filed her nails and looked at her sticky husband.

"Yeah, we stopped him before he could dynamite the company's safe and steal the payroll," Ralph said, wanting to slide his weary body into bed but desperately needing a shower first. He glanced into the mirror and saw for the first time that his hair and his face were the same color.


Friday.

Ralph looked at himself in the mirror. Most of his injuries were healing and his face was less orange than it had been. He slipped into his red and black uniform and slid on the yellow belt. He looked at himself again in the mirror.

This was his classic look. The uniform took him back to his glory days. Traveling the world with Sue, solving curiosities and conundrums. Then joining the Justice League of America beside his friend Barry…getting to know Hal, Ollie, Dinah, Ray, Carter, Shiera and Ronnie. Defeating cosmic foes, saving entire planets, rescuing people in need, fighting armies of baddies, traveling the universe, across time and into other dimensions.

This costume was special, even if he didn't like the way it resembled Plastic Man's colors. It was a great costume. It was the first birthday present he ever received from Sue. For a moment, Ralph envisioned himself in all the newspapers apprehending the Riddler, and that reminded him of the costume's main feature over all the other designs: this costume looked good on camera.

Downstairs, Ralph found the news crews buzzing outside his hotel and couldn't face them. Taking the elevator to the rooftop, he stepped across the street to a parking garage. He then reconsidered taking the stairs and instead strode over to another building and another on thousand-foot strides, until he arrived at the Police HQ. No wonder Batman and Robin liked rooftop travel! Invigorated, Ralph dropped by to see the O'Dares.

"So Elongated Man, are you going to apprehend the Riddler today?" Acting Commissioner O'Dare asked.

"Absolutely! I'll have him in jail tonight," Ralph said exuberantly.

"How are you going to do it?"

"No clue whatsoever!" Ralph said with just as much exuberance. "Ah, Mason, good to see you. Is Matt around?"


Matt smoked a cigarette as Ralph took the piles of notes they'd accumulated and began rewriting on a fresh tablet.

"The answer is here, Matt. You heard him. All the clues I could need to solve this are right in front of me. I just need to see them. The first step is to look at the data with a fresh perspective. So here it is, as I see it," Ralph said, finishing his quick list. He spun the tablet around.

It read:

  • Monday: Opal Lapidary Jewelers - rare broach - Mr. Tarantino - riddle in puzzle box for next crime
  • Monday: St. Christopher's Cathedral - unique angel statue - Father Joe Cabot - no clue left
  • Monday: Rubik's Cube with explosive and riddle given to Dibny
  • Monday: Buscemi residence - gold record - Todd Broderick (nee Buscemi) of Blondesmoore Fun - no clue left
  • Tuesday: 1000 piece puzzle with riddle for next robbery delivered to Police HQ
  • Tuesday: Pirates Cove Yacht - gambling money and personal items - Larry White - no clue left
  • Wednesday: ball-and-maze puzzle with riddle inside delivered to Police HQ
  • Wednesday: OpalCon - rare Dr. Who episodes on industrial videotape - Duke Guy Edward "the Nice" - no clue left
  • Thursday: Ralph and Matt placed in orange soda deathtrap - Double Trouble Soda Bottlers - all clues given.
  • Friday: ?

"For the moment, let's leave aside all of the puzzles and clues and focus on the crimes. The variety of stolen items and the kinds of victims, that seems to mean there's some grand point to it even if I can't see it."

"Agreed," Matt said. "Hey, wasn't Larry White the boss on 'Bewitched'?"

Ralph jotted this down as a possibility, but a quick scan of the other crimes didn't yield any Bewitched motif that he could see.

"Oh, no, wait. That was Larry Tate. I think the actor was named White. Sorry, got confused," Matt apologized.

Ralph erased the note. Then he glanced at the names again. And again. And then he laughed.

Grabbing a large Opal City phone directory, Ralph began paging through it. It took him only thirty seconds before he found his likely candidate. He grabbed a black felt tip marker and circled it.

Matt O'Dare couldn't contain himself any longer. "Would you tell me what the big deal is?"

Ralph told him. Then he pointed to the hints that had been there all along. Then he pointed to the block advertisement in the yellow pages. And then Ralph told him his plan.

Ralph grinned. Matt grinned back. Matt left to gather his siblings and Ralph made some phone calls.


"As a matter of fact, I did, Ralph," Sue Dibny said into the phone, glancing over the stack of shopping items she hadn't unpacked yet. "A gorgeous black cocktail dress and jewelry to match. Well, it's low-cut and tight and revealing, but not too much. I mean, I can move in it, and the shoes are flats, not heels. I can even conceal a firearm in it if I had one, which I don't. Hey, spend a decade where every dinner ends chasing criminals, a girl learns some things. I assume you'll want your dress clothes? Can do. What time? Uh huh. Want me to lose the press or make sure they follow me? Should've guessed. Okay, I'll see you there."


It was 8:00 PM when Sue arrived at The Reservoir, the hottest night club in Opal City. A host of camera crews were hot on her tail as she drove the convertible up to the entrance and waved to Ralph. She held up a garment bag and popped the trunk. Ralph, still in his Elongated Man costume, grabbed the bag and disappeared into the back. Thirty seconds later he banged on the trunk and she popped it open again.

Out stepped Ralph Dibny, the World Famous Elongated Man, in a dark purple suit complete with matching fedora and cane. The cameras popped and strobed as he stepped to the door and helped Sue out of the car. With a flourish, Sue tossed the car keys to the valet and grinned as Ralph escorted her in. Ralph glanced at her and noticed for the first time that she'd had her hair done like Myrna Loy's in "The Thin Man."

Ralph enjoyed Sue's glee at getting into the newspapers again, but took a moment to remind himself why he was really there. He scanned the crowd for any signs of the Riddler's henchmen, but didn't see them.


"I suppose you're wondering why I've gathered you all here," Ralph said, once the guests had arrived.

"Not really. It's pretty obvious that it has to do with the Riddler burglaries," Mr. Tarantino answered.

"Obviously. It's just an opening line I always wanted to use," Ralph retorted, glancing around the table. Around the table were seated Mr. Tarantino, Father Cabot, Todd Broderick, Larry White, a representative of Duke Guy Edwards and Matt O'Dare, with Sue seated at his right. Nearby stood an easel. To Ralph's left was an old reporter friend of Ralph's, who furiously took notes while his pocket recorder taped the conversation. The reporter had agreed to share his story with all the waiting reporters, who were being held back at the door by several Opal cops. Around the room were more Opal cops hiding in the shadows, including Mason and Hope O'Dare.

Meanwhile, the other patrons dined or danced to the big band music playing at the other end of the hall. While Ralph and company were attracting some attention, members of the upper crust could hardly afford to look interested in front of all the reporters. Instead, they pretended to focus their concern on the pies available on the many dessert carts.

"More specifically, why have I gathered all of you here, at this club? The answer is that this club's name is tied in with the series of crimes perpetrated by the Riddler against you. And I say 'against you' with emphasis because your identities were, in fact, more important to the crimes than the stolen objects were," Ralph said, watching as the victims of the crimes reacted to that revelation. It was as he suspected.

"I should have figured out the mystery in the first day, since the most obvious hints were there. The brooch was taken from the shop of a Mr. Tarantino. Father Cabot, your angel was stolen not because of its value but because the church was run by a Joe Cabot. Mr. Broderick's band is called Blondesmoore Fun, and his real name is Buscemi. The answer…is 'Reservoir Dogs', a film by Quentin Tarantino with characters named Joe Cabot, Mr. Blonde and Mr. Pink, the latter played by Steve Buscemi. Thus, we are here at The Reservoir tonight," Ralph said.

"On Tuesday, Larry White's business was hit, simply because he is the equivalent of Mr. White. Wednesday, the rare Dr. Who episodes were stolen, not because they were important but because they belonged to Duke Guy Edward, nicknamed "Edward the Nice" or, for our purposes, the equivalent of Nice Guy Eddie from the same movie. And to drive home the Dogs references, Matt O'Dare and I were almost drowned in orange soda, since there was also a Mr. Orange in the movie."

"But there's another mystery beneath this mystery. Why did Riddler pull three jobs in one day and then work at a more leisurely pace the rest of the week? Why didn't he leave a clue in the angel statue when he obviously had one prepared? He later delivered an exploding Rubik's Cube to me, but that couldn't have been his original plan since I wasn't on the case until Monday morning. Why did he steal three irreplaceable items, then rip off a run-of-the-mill gold record and go on to hold up some senior citizens for their Social Security money?"

Ralph continued pacing around the table as he talked. "I took another look at the case and saw it from the Riddler's point of view. The original plan, if I hadn't messed it up, was to commit the jewelry heist pointing to the angel, the angel heist pointing to Broderick, the Broderick robbery possibly having a clue pointing to the Doctor Who episodes…and after that robbery, leave town. My appearance on this case caused Riddler to swipe the clue from the angel and give it to me personally, plus come up with more riddles to challenge me on a daily basis. The Tuesday robbery was probably an after-thought intended to keep the game going with me, which is why the clue for it was so last-minute, and the deathtrap on Thursday was most likely because he couldn't find any events happening on Thursday that tied in to Reservoir Dogs."

Ralph stopped behind Broderick's chair. "The more I thought about it, I realized that the Wednesday robbery was an after-thought too, if a serendipitous one. He'd originally intended to stop Monday night. That would give the cops Tarantino, Joe Cabot, Blonde and Buscemi as clues…more than enough to come up with Reservoir Dogs, once a person thought along those lines. And the reason he'd stop then…is because you paid him to rip you off, didn't you, Broderick?" Ralph finished, leveling a beady gaze at Todd Broderick.

"What? No! I didn't!" Todd objected.

"I watched you tonight and you haven't been surprised by any of this. Not the revelations about your names being tied to the case. Not the Reservoir Dogs solution. You haven't been surprised because you suggested it to the Riddler when you hired him," Ralph persisted, Todd protesting all the while. "The Blonde and Buscemi alone was enough to get him started, then he found Tarantino and Cabot in the phone book and figured out what to steal from them. And I should surmise that you are in this alone, as the other crimes ruin these people. Tarantino's and White's businesses will suffer. Cabot's church loses its unique statue that gets them mentioned in tourist brochures. The money those videotapes will raise at auction was to go to help sick and dying children. And you…you lose a trophy that hundreds of artists have received."

"No, honest. You're wrong," Todd continued.

"I've watched the papers this week. They talked about how your first album and singles did, but how your new second album hasn't done so well. You might be a one-hit wonder. But by Thursday, Entertainment Tonight and Jack Ryder were interviewing you, you were mentioned in the trades, the radio's playing your song again and your agent is getting you bookings. I checked," Ralph said. "I may not be the right person to give lectures about ego and publicity, but what you did to your parents and these people is repulsive. What's worse is that going to prison will probably get you even more attention and more money, which is why I'll encourage the others to sue you for damages! It won't replace the statue, the broach or the videos, since the Riddler has those, but--"

"You can get them from the Riddler! He's here in the club office!" Todd shrieked.

"And there's your confession, Matt. Take him away!" Ralph shouted, bursting from the table towards the office door.

"Not so fast, Elongated Man!" The Riddler shouted from the direction of the stage. Ralph spun, as did the O'Dares who had fallen in behind him. "And I'd advise those cops to back off. My people, unlike the police, are able to fire at will and have already chosen targets."

The Riddler was standing atop the backdrop for the band…a giant saxophone prop. Ralph noticed that Miss Quiz, Mrs. Query, Quentin Marx and J.S. Puzzle had appeared around the room, guns drawn.

"Congratulations. You solved the mystery. I was rather hoping you'd catch on to Broderick sooner or later, since he is a sniveling little brat. I did my job and have his money…plus all the nice collectibles I happened to pick up along the way…so you can do what you like with him now. Can't say I like working for people but it does have its rewards, such as pitting my intellect against yours and winning," Riddler said gleefully, descending from the prop.

"What do you mean winning? You lost!" Ralph objected, his hands in the air. "I solved every puzzle and tracked you down. Even if you get away because I chose not to risk civilian lives, you still lost intellectually. You're only succeeding because you had some hired muscle with firepower take hostages."

Riddler huffed at this and turned to walk away, with Quiz and Query on his heels.

Ralph continued shouting, "If that's how you're going to succeed at robberies, you may as well drop the whole Riddler act and get yourself an AK-47! Call yourself Gunpower and threaten to perforate people if they don't hand over their wallets. It's not glamorous, but it's no better than what you're doing now."

Riddler stopped. He looked at the weapons in the ladies hands and knew that Ralph had a point.

"What do you propose, Ralph? Riddles in the Dark, like Bilbo and Gollum?" Riddler taunted.

"Oh my god, he is a geek," Matt O'Dare muttered.

"I suppose, since riddles is the only thing you're good at," Ralph replied. "It's not like you're good at anything else."

"I'll have you know I'm the full Renaissance man. You name it, I can beat you at it!" Riddler shot back.

"Why don't we settle it right here in the club, then. I do believe they have the proper facilities," Ralph suggested, hoping he was irritatingly smug. As he talked, he shrugged off the jacket and doffed his fedora.

"What are you thinking? Cards? Darts? A little pool?" Riddler asked, pantomiming a pool shot with his cane.

"Hardly, 'Fats'," Ralph said, taking Sue gracefully by the hand. "I challenge you…to beat me in a dance contest!" Ralph shouted to the audience.

The crowd erupted in applause. Riddler watched as the club's lights dimmed and two spotlights swung to cover Ralph and Sue as they walked to center stage. The club patrons, originally frightened by Riddler's entrance, now pressed forward to get a good seat. News spread to the door and dozens of photographers and camera crews pushed their way past the lone policeman who had expected them to behave. "Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance!" the crowd chanted as the Dibnys gave toothy grins and flashbulbs flared.

"Oh, this is…how silly. It's hardly a fair…uh…" Riddler said, his words lost in the confusion.

"What do you say, Eddie?" Elongated Man asked to the audience, turning and gesturing to the Riddler. Another spotlight popped on Ralph and then tracked over to Riddler. The audience fell silent as they awaited his answer.

Riddler took off his derby and flung it aside. With a grand flourish he gestured to the left of the stage and said, "Very well. Miss Quiz, will you join me?"

"Noooooo," Quiz said, backing away. "Uh unh. I don't dance. You aren't paying me to dance."

"Yeah, what are you doin', here?" Quentin Marx asked. "We've got the money from the safe. Let's go!"

"Query?" Riddler asked, ignoring Marx. Query didn't say a word, but smiled and nodded.

"Riddler! This is stupid!" Marx shouted, more insistent as he approached Riddler's ear. "While you're playing Dance Fever, the cops are gonna -- HURK!"

Riddler had spun and, pressing a button in his cane, set off an electric arc right in front of Marx. It was a warning shot, since Riddler couldn't spare any gunmen. Marx jumped back and fell off the stage, where Mr. Puzzle caught him. But Riddler had made his point and the gunsels slunk off into the dark corners of the club. "The Riddler, Quentin, is always up to a test of skill," ha said to the man's back.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Ralph shouted, gesturing to the orchestra, "a little number Benny Goodman recorded in 1943 after meeting this city's very own hero, Ted Knight…The Opal Stomp!"

A wave of a baton later, the drummer started in with a wild jungle rhythm, laying down the beat for the band. Toes tapped, fingers snapped…and as the two couples waited for the start of the song, Ralph gave Matt O'Dare a deadpan gaze and then indicated the side of the stage with his eyes. Matt nodded and sneaked away.

Suddenly the horns leapt in with a jarring introductory chord and the two couples started in with the fancy footwork.

"You've made a bad choice, my friend," Riddler shouted, "I was a master of ballroom and tap dance in high school. How do you think I stay this thin?"

"In case you hadn't noticed…I'm thinner than you!" Ralph said, and at that he grabbed Sue and swung her over his shoulder. She landed with a bounce, then did the splits and was yanked back upright by her husband. Ralph's fluid movements wowed the crowd, and Riddler frowned as he realized he was losing.

The song hit the first clarinet solo, and the Riddler suddenly seized the spotlight. Leaving his dance partner aside for the moment, he began a frenzied tap-dance aided by his signature cane…and after an initial stunned silence, the audience began cheering his talent.

A sullen Quentin Marx leaned on a room divider, watching the Riddler. Mason O'Dare, who had dressed in plainclothes at Ralph Dibny's request, eased up to Quentin and watched in silence beside him for a moment. As casually as he could, he mentioned, "That Riddler's kinda mean to you." He waited, but there was no reply. "Bet you'd like some way to get him back."

Quentin finally looked at him for a second, then returned to his moping.

"Did you know…" Mason began, idly looking at the ceiling, "that this ballroom is built atop a swimming pool? And did you know that the room divides right where the Riddler is dancing? And did you know that the controls for moving the floor are right over there? And did you know that the key to those controls is…"

"Hey, shut up," Quentin said. "I got a job to do."

When Quentin had turned away from him enough, Mason threw a sucker-punch and knocked him out cold. Grabbing the gunsel and dragging him behind a bar, Mason gave an "O.K." hand signal to Matt.

Matt tapped Hope on the shoulder and whispered, "You take Miss Quiz, I'll nail Puzzle."

"Don't give me the girl. You take the girl. I'll take down Puzzle," Hope said with a glare.

"Fine. Whatever," Matt said, disappearing into the crowd. Hope ventured off in the other direction.

Onstage, Ralph finished a hitchstep and pulled Sue close to whisper, "Keep it up. He's lapping up the attention." He swung Sue out a good ten feet, and she spun back in, coiling his arm around her. In the snug embrace, she whispered to Ralph, "Just signal with a wink, okay?"

Ralph kicked back with an anchor step and yanked on his arm, spinning Sue away like a top. The audience roared. Then Ralph stopped her spin with a steady hand on her waist, and the two of them danced a synchronized mirror dance that the two of them had done many times before.

"Huh! If they liked that mess, they're bound to be impressed by some real hoofin'!" Riddler sneered, tugging on Mrs. Query. The two of them did their best to upstage the Dibnys.


Meanwhile, Hope O'Dare was hiding behind a potted plant a few yards away from Mr. J.S. Puzzle, who was patrolling the back of the crowd. She glanced at Riddler to make sure he wouldn't see her movements, and then she charged. "Hey," she said in a normal tone, barely audible above the crowd, and leapt to a nearby table. Puzzle spun at the sound of her voice but she was no longer there. He briefly caught a blur of motion as she tumbled over his head and then landed behind him. A second later, he was unconscious from a quick jab at his back. Hope gave the "O.K." sign to Mason, who nodded back and watched for Matt's signal.

Miss Quiz had her gun trained on the crowd but jealously watched Mrs. Query dancing with the Riddler. Matt O'Dare darted from the crowd and chopped her wrist so hard that she dropped the gun. In the same forward move, he put a hand over her mouth and tackled her to the ground. "Quiet. You've lost. Give it up," Matt hissed, trying to silence her as she struggled.

"Foul brigand," a man at the bar said, crossing to where the two of them wrestled. "Regardless of one's objectives, only the vilest wretch would harm a fair lady. I originally came to burgle, but methinks my time would best be spent giving an etiquette lesson!"

Matt grunted and lifted his head from Quiz's back to see who the new arrival was. He saw a man dressed like a musketeer.

"Stay out of this, D'artagnan!" Matt muttered, reaching for some handcuffs, "I'm a police officer."

"Then, as a gentleman and an official of the law, you are doubly entrusted with a lady's safety…and doubly guilty for this rough treatment," the Cavalier said, unsheathing his blade. "En guarde!"

Matt stopped at the sound of metal against metal, and then he rolled away to escape the path of the sword. Matt lay on the floor, backed up against the bar, as the rogue pinned him with the point of the sword. Glancing to the side, he saw Quiz making a run for it and cursed.

"I realize there is no glory in this, but I cannot spare the time to duel you properly. Say your prayers," the Cavalier said, preparing for a death blow.

Mason O'Dare hurtled from the crowd and hit the Cavalier with such force that the costumed criminal flew ten feet and landed in a crumpled heap.

"Thanks, bro!" Matt said, struggling to rise. "Go get Quiz before she alerts the Riddler!"

It was too late.


The band had reached the rousing climax of the "Opal Stomp", as all instruments played at full blast. The horns built to a crescendo and the woodwinds played fast, inventive melodies that intertwined and then went off in separate directions.

"Riddler! Riddler!" Quiz shouted over the big band music, "It's a trick! They're gonna catch us! Come on!"

The Riddler finally heard her and stopped dancing. For the first time, he realized how ridiculous this was. A wanted criminal, trying to dance better than his enemy all for the applause of a crowd. He'd been played for a chump!

"Curse you!" Riddler shouted as the band continued to play. "It takes more than a trick to defeat the Riddler! Mrs. Query…your weapon."

"Now!" Ralph Dibny said with a wink. Sue winked back.

To the beat of the music, Ralph twisted and flung Sue up into the air a good twenty feet. Still dancing, Ralph stretched his legs into an arch and caught her on the downswing. Using the momentum, he swung Sue between his legs and hurtling across the dance floor in a perfect knee slide. As she sped past Query, she said, "Thank you!" and grabbed the woman's gun. Ralph slowed Sue to a stop and Sue trained the gun on Query.

Riddler glanced into the audience and saw that the O'Dares had apprehended Quiz. It was down to Elongated Man and the Riddler.

Riddler began backing towards the long buffet table. "Very well, Dibny, I do believe I won the dance contest…if, uh, grading purely on skill and not employing stretchy powers. Therefore, I get to go, right?" Riddler said with a false smile. "You know, heh, we never really established an impartial judge, so I do believe you should just forfeit. It was your idea."

Ralph Dibny did not look like he was willing to play along. He merely advanced on the Riddler, who backed up as far as he could go.

"It's time to give up, Riddler. When a contest is over, the loser should graciously concede and not quibble about minor loopholes. You lost fair and square. I solved your riddles. So be a good loser and go peacefully," Ralph said, advancing carefully. "If I take you kicking and screaming, all these photographers will see it and you'll have egg on your face."

"True. But you'll have pie on yours!" Riddler shouted, flinging a pie from the dessert cart.

Ralph's head dodged the pie. "Ha!" Ralph shouted, his head rebounding into place. His glee was cut short by an agonized scream from behind him.

"That does it! I've had all I can take from that guy!" Quentin Marx shouted from the spot where Mason had handcuffed his left arm to the bar railing. Cream and pudding dripped from his face. With his right hand he snagged a chocolate cream pie from a nearby cart and sent it hurtling through the air. But as a lefty, his aim was off.

"Gah!" Sue Dibny yelled as the pie splatted into the cleavage of her brand new dress. Query doubled over, roaring with laughter. She recovered to see Sue winding up with a coconut pie.

Query dodged in time for the pie to sail past her face and hit Cavalier, who had woozily risen to his feet.

In no time at all, pies were filling the air, flung by heroes, villains, reporters, audience members and the owner of the club, a matronly woman who bore a striking resemblence to Margaret Dumont.


Flashbulbs snapped as The Riddler was hauled to the paddywagon by Elongated Man. Unfortunately for their egos, it wasn't the classiest photo of either of their careers. One cream-encrusted blob was indistinguishable from the other.

Ralph wiped some pudding from his face and shook Riddler's hand. "Riddler, I can't say it's been fun, but it has been interesting."

"Yes, this has certainly been a change of pace for me, too. It's…it's nice to be appreciated for once. I'll have to look you up again sometime," Riddler said.

"Well, let's not be hasty there. For now, I think it's time for you to uphold your half of our wager," Ralph reminded him.

"Ah, yes. I'll take care of that right now. Never let it be said that I don't stick to a gentleman's agreement," Riddler said, turning back to the surrounding media.

Riddler walked to the photographers, reporters and waiting news crews, and said in a loud ringing voice…

"Ralph Dibny, the World Famous Elongated Man, deserves his own comic book!"

 

Special Thanks to Joey Fuentes, Kevin A. Voith and Duane Thomas for their help and inspiration.

 
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