“So, explain this to me again,” the Riddler said to the little girl who sat beside him on the threadbare couch. The television screen bathed them in its cathode light.
“That’s Dick Dastardly,” Jennifer explained, pointing at the screen. “He wants to win the race. So he sets traps for the other racers.”
“Why doesn’t he just drive?” Riddler asked, puzzled.
“What do you mean, Mr. Riddler?” Jennifer asked.
“Well, in order to set the traps, he has to be far out ahead of the others, doesn’t he?” Riddler asked. “Seems to me if he just forgot the silly traps and put the pedal to the metal, he’d win.”
“That wouldn’t be any fun,” Jennifer said simply.
“I suppose not,” Riddler admitted, watching the cartoon on the screen. He suddenly coughed violently, covering his mouth with his right fist. “That Pat Pending has some nifty gadgets,” Riddler said after his coughing spell. “Got the Batmobile beat a mile.”
“Mr. Riddler?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes?” the villain replied.
“You’ve kidnapped me, haven’t you?” the ten-year-old asked simply.
“That’s a strong way of putting it,” the Riddler said. “I prefer to say I’m babysitting you. For a rather large fee.”
“I’ve seen stories on TV where people kidnap people,” Jennifer said. “They always ask for money. Have you asked for money, Mr. Riddler?”
“You bet, Jennifer,” Riddler said. “And a smart little girl like you is worth a lot!“
“But you haven’t used the phone or sent a letter or anything,” Jennifer said. “How did you ask for money?”
“Do you remember the riddles I wrote on your wall before we left?” Riddler asked. Jennifer nodded. “Well, they’ll tell the police where to go. Then they’ll find out what I want in exchange for you.”
“Oh,” Jennifer said. “I hope they find out soon. I miss my daddy.”
“I know you do, kiddo,” Riddler said. “But if your daddy’s as smart as his little girl, he’ll do what he’s told, and you’ll be home in–” The Riddler coughed again. “–in a few hours. Whew! I need some water. You want anything?”
“No, thank you,” Jennifer said, returning her attention to the television.
“Ah, sweet, delicious freedom!” the Joker cried as he walked out the front door of Arkham Asylum. He was flanked by the scowling Commissioner James W. Gordon on his left and the even less pleased Chief Clancy O’Hara on his right. His hospital grays had been exchanged for his trademark purple tuxedo. “You don’t know what this means to me, old pals!”
“Enjoy it while you have it, Joker,” Gordon grumbled. “Now, how about the riddles? Feel up to solving them yet, or do you want to take in a baseball game first?”
The white-faced criminal goggled at Commissioner Gordon. “Was that a joke, Gordie? I swear, I’m starting to rub off on you! I’ve never known you to crack a joke before! You or that gloomy guss, Bat-brains!”
“Actually, Batman is a million laughs when you get to know him,” Gordon said.
The Joker looked puzzled. “Was that–?”
“Another joke?” Gordon asked as they reached the police car. He opened the back door. “Yes. Get in.” Shrugging his bony shoulders, the Joker climbed into the police car. Gordon slid in next to him. Chief O’Hara shut the door, then got behind the wheel and drove off.
“OK, Gordie, I’m ready,” the Joker said. “Riddle me!”
“Finally,” the Commissioner sighed. “The first riddle was easy. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?”
The Joker’s eyebrow raised. “You figured that one out, I hope.”
“Of course,” Gordon said. “Grant, obviously. But the second one stumps us. Why is a man with a broken leg like a fisherman?”
The Joker stroked his chin in thought. “Hmm. Interesting. Eddie’s a clever one, all right. I may need some time with this.”
“Joker, if you’re stalling–” Gordon began angrily.
“Moi?” Joker asked, affecting a hurt tone of voice, placing a hand over his heart. “You wound me, Commish.”
“Don’t give me any ideas,” Gordon grumbled. “Now, can you solve the riddles or not?”
“Temper, temper, Gordie,” Joker said, soothingly. “I think I can solve ’em. Might help me to see what was on Eddie’s mind. How about running by the place where the girl was snatched?”
“Coleworth’s apartment?” O’Hara gasped. “Commissioner, we can’t take this lunatic there!“
“Hel-lo, person with feelings here!” Joker said.
“I doubt that,” Gordon sneered. “O’Hara, what harm could it do? There are two uniformed policemen there waiting with the Ambassador in case Nigma calls with a ransom demand.”
“Sure, ‘n’ if the Ambassador sees who we’ve brought in to help us on this case, he’ll be on the phone to Governor Stonefellow faster than you can say waterfront beat!” O’Hara said.
“Hmm… you have a point there,” Gordon said. “Call ahead to Wojohowicz at the Ambassador’s. Ask him to take the Ambassador out for some air; have him say we’re bringing the forensics boys in again, in case they missed something the first sweep.”
“Yes, sir,” O’Hara said reluctantly, picking up the mobile telephone unit.
“Nice place they’ve got here!” the Joker said in admiration as he strolled around the apartment. “The Ambassador’s doing all right for himself. My tax dollars at work, eh? Oh, that’s right, I don’t pay taxes!”
“I cautioned you once about stalling, Joker,” Commissioner Gordon said evenly. “You asked to see where it happened — well, here you are. Now can you solve the riddles or not?”
“Patience, Jimbo, patience,” Joker said. “You say Eddie used knockout gas on the Ambassador?”
“That’s right,” Chief O’Hara confirmed. “Sprayed from a jet hidden in a phony pizza box.”
“Gotta give Eddie credit for a sense of humor,” Joker laughed. “I mean, I’ve heard of pizza giving you gas, but that’s ridiculous!”
“All right, all right. Lemme think.” The Joker sat down on the leather sofa and crossed his bony legs. He rubbed his pointed chin in thought. “Hmm… Grant… and fishermen. Say, isn’t there a fish market on Grant Avenue?”
“Begorra, there is!” Chief O’Hara cried. “Why didn’t we think of it, Commissioner?”
“Call Headquarters,” Commissioner Gordon ordered. “Have them send a prowl car to Grant Avenue. Check out the fish market, but don’t be obvious about it. On the double!”
“Yes, sir!” O’Hara snapped, and raced to comply.
“OK if I use the can, Commish?” Joker asked. “My back teeth are floating, as the saying goes.”
“Yes, yes, go ahead!” Gordon said impatiently, waving toward the bathroom. The renewed hope of the fish market was uppermost in Gordon’s mind. The Joker entered the luxurious bathroom and closed the door. Gordon listened and heard the sound of water hitting water.
“They’re on their way, Commissioner,” O’Hara said a few minutes later, returning from the other room where he had made the call. “They’ll let us know as soon as–” O’Hara’s eyes widened as he looked around the room. “W-where’s the Joker?“
“In the bathroom,” Commissioner Gordon said, nodding toward the closed bathroom door with his head.
“Oh,” O’Hara said, listening to the sound of the water hitting water. Both men remained silent for a minute, and still the water sounded. “Really had to go, didn’t he?” O’Hara commented.
Gordon and O’Hara stared at each other for a moment, then galvanized into action. Gordon pounded on the bathroom door. “Joker! Open up!” There was no reply; only the sound of water hitting water. Gordon tried the door; it was locked. O’Hara threw his weight against it, and the door burst open wide, banging into the wall behind. The bathroom was empty; the sink faucet was running in a steady trickle, and the drain had been stopped, creating the water hitting water sound.
“The devil!” O’Hara cried. “He gave us the slip! But how?”
“Look, O’Hara!” Gordon cried, pointing. In the wall near the far corner of the bathroom was a laundry chute. The flap had been propped open. “That’s how! Come on; we’ve got to get to the basement!”
The two police officers raced out of the room. Their footsteps pounded through the living room and out the front door; they slammed it behind them. Hearing it slam, the Joker waited sixty seconds, then pushed the bathroom door closed again and slowly stood up from his hiding place, crouched behind the door.
“That was almost too easy!” he laughed to himself as he selected a large overcoat from Ambassador Coleworth’s closet.
With the Ambassador’s overcoat covering his own distinctive clothing and a large hat tucked down over his hair and obscuring his face, the Joker was able to sneak out a side door of the apartment building. He then caught a bus to the middle of town and walked from there to a small emergency hideout he had established long ago, in the basement of an abandoned store in a run-down neighborhood.
“Those flat-headed flatfoots!” the Joker laughed to himself. “Thinking they could keep the Joker on a leash! Ha! It is to laugh! In fact, I think I will!” The Clown Prince of Crime threw back his head and indulged in a long, hearty laugh.
“Ah, much better! Well, I wonder when Batsy gets back in town? I need time to plot my next crime, to figure out my next contest of wits with him!” A slow smile of revelation crossed the Joker’s white face. “Waaait a minute! Hold the phone! Contest of wits, indeed! Gordon is a boob, but he was right about one thing. It really would stick in ol’ Batboy’s craw if I solved the Riddler’s crime while he was away! I can see his face now! Oh, I’ve got to do it!”
The Joker sat down at a table, propped his chin on his fist, and started to think. “Now let’s see. Those bungling coppers even got the first one wrong. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Nobody! You bury someone in a grave; you entomb them in a tomb! Cheap, sneaky trick question, but that’s Eddie’s trademark! But the other one. Gordo was right again, that is a stumper. A man with a broken leg and a fisherman? Hm. Broken leg. Broken bone. Cast. Whoop! That’s it! A man with a broken leg is like a fisherman, because they both need a good cast!” Joker’s triumphant grin turned into a puzzled smile.
“But what does that tell me? Hm, I’m starting to appreciate the trouble Batsy has figuring out clues guys like Eddie and me send him! Cast? Cast? I wonder if it could be an acronym? C-A-S-T. C-A… hold it. C-A? Could that be an abbreviation for California? And S-T; that could mean street! There is a California Street on the west side of town! But where on California Street? Hm, the first riddle. Nobody; or… no one? And that could mean number one! Number one, California Street!”
The Joker banged his fist on the table and laughed loud and long. “Look out, Riddler! This looks like a job for the Joker!”