by Martin Maenza
It was after two in the morning when she entered the back entrance of the darkened building. Michelle Chambers felt a chill down her spine, and it wasn’t just from the cold air inside the abandoned ice-plex. She was truly scared about this whole situation — the possibility of her affair being exposed, the possibility of the man she loved being in danger, and the possibility that the angry criminal she spoke to on the phone earlier might not keep his word. She clutched the handle of a small satchel that bulged at the seams tightly.
But what could she do? The one called the Sportsmaster had warned her not to go to the police, or Ty was as good as dead. And the one called Wildcat had spent a good hour assuring her that his plan would work. All she needed to do was buy him enough time.
In the darkened hallway, she saw a faint light coming from a doorway propped open. That was where she’d been instructed to go. She gathered up her nerve and started toward it.
Just beyond, in a large open area down past the benches was the main floor. Even in the darkness, she could tell the surface was covered in ice; it sparkled in a slightly white glow.
And there, in the center of the rink, under a single spotlight from above, was Ty Hunter. The brown-haired man was tied up, spread-eagle, to the posts of a large hockey goal. His mouth was gagged, and his face was bruised heavily. From the shadowy sidelines, Michelle let out a loud gasp.
“Come on down, dear, and join the party!” a voice called from the speaker system. “Join your lover in the spotlight, so I can get a good look at you two together!”
“Do it! Or I come out on the ice and start taking slap shots on the pretty boy again!”
Michelle moved down the steps and approached the ice, holding the bag before her face. “I… I… have the money,” she stammered. Her own voice echoed off the walls, distorting it.
“This ain’t about the money, honey,” the villain said over the system. “But just the same, why don’t you slide it across the way? After all, it is mine, anyway!”
Michelle bent down, placed the bag on the slick surface, and gave it a good push. It slid across the ice and hit the far darkened wall.
“Good. Now join him!”
Michelle moved out on the ice carefully, taking small baby steps until she approached the lit area. Ty groggily glanced up, noticed her, and tried to shout something; the gag muffled his every word. She stepped into the light, and it bounced off her wavy curls. “It’ll be OK, Ty,” she said.
“What’s this?” roared the Sportsmaster’s voice. “Who the hell are you?”
Michelle blinked, confused. “I’m the one you spoke to,” she said, “on the phone. I’m Ty’s…” She couldn’t bear to say the word mistress, even though that was what she was.
“Where the hell is my wife?” yelled the Sportsmaster as he appeared at the edge of the ice. Within an instant, he glided to her and grabbed the woman firmly about the shoulders in order to get a good look at her. He was dressed in a hockey jersey with matching pants and gloves. He had his usual mask and lower face covering. “You’re not Paula!”
Michelle winced as the villain squeezed her. “You’re… hurting me,” she groaned.
“Where the hell is Paula?” the villain continued to rant, shaking her. “If this is some kind of trick of her’s…”
“Who is… Paula?” Michelle asked. “I don’t… know any…”
“Shut up, bitch!” the Sportsmaster exclaimed as he brought the back of his hand across her face. The slap made a loud sound, knocking the brunette to the ice. He looked about the darkened arena. “Paula! Paula! You better come out now! You know better than to play games with me, you hear?”
Ty struggled against his bonds and growled something.
“You shut up, too!” Sportsmaster warned, grabbing a hockey stick from near the net. It was similar to those used by the pros, except this one had a specially reinforced blade and handle. The villain raised the piece of equipment, ready to strike. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, Hunter, but giving me another woman’s number and passing her off as your lover was a stupid move!” He started to swing. Ty, helpless to defend himself, flinched, but the hit never came. The Sportsmaster laughed.
“Don’t!” Michelle cried out. “I am his lover!”
“Bull!” the villain spat. “My wife left me, but I know her, see. She didn’t head far, just down here to Gotham. Hooked up with another jock. That’s her type. I should know. I’ve been a jock all my life!” He had convinced himself of this scenario so much that he couldn’t see the truth before his own eyes.
The Sportsmaster continued to rant. “And, of course, she couldn’t resist this one, what with the name Hunter and all! Hunter and Huntress, what a combo!” The Sportsmaster turned back to the bound man. “I think I’m just going to have to beat the confession out of him, and this time I’ll be a lot harder on him, too!”
“You know what?” a firm, masculine voice called from the shadows. “You’re pathetic!”
The Sportsmaster turned to see the shadowy outline with the cowled mask and ears. “Batman?!”
Wildcat stepped into the light. “Guess again, buddy! You’ve got ten seconds ta surrender.”
The Sportsmaster paused for a moment, getting a good look at the costume, and laughed. “Oh, this is rich! You think you’re that guy from the funny-books, Wildcat?” He grasped his stick firmly. “I’ve always wanted to kick the stuffing out of someone in a costume like that! Talk about irony.”
“You’re welcome ta try!” Wildcat put up his dukes.
The Sportsmaster charged him, raised his stick, and cross-checked the hero. Wildcat took a tumble, his footing unsteady on the icy surface. Meanwhile, the Sportsmaster laughed as he skated around and back. “I thought cats always landed on their feet!” the villain mocked. “I guess not!” He started for his fallen opponent, stick raised.
The villain was on him in a second. Wildcat barely had time to roll left as the razor-sharp stick blade chopped at the ice where his skull had been. Ice chips flew everywhere. The Sportsmaster was moving around again for another shot.
Wildcat put his gloved hands to the ice. “You wanna see some footwork?” he said softly as the villain approached to attack once more. “How’s this?” Claws sprang out from his fingertips and dug into the frozen surface. Using them for an anchored support, he flipped himself up to a handstand. Doing so, his feet swept out and up, catching the handle of the villain’s hockey stick.
With his strong legs, Wildcat slammed Sportsmaster in the face with one foot while he knocked free the stick with his other. The stick clattered to the ice and slid away.
“Owww!” the villain exclaimed, grabbing at his masked mouth. “I think you knocked loose a tooth!”
Wildcat used the opening to get to his feet again, this time more conscious of his footing. “Ya seem ta like knocking folks about,” the hero said. “So, let’s see if ya can take as good as ya give!”
Michelle was over at the net, working on Ty’s bonds while the two costumed men tussled with fists. The bound baseball player jerked his head. “Oh, sorry, baby,” she said, and pulled the gag out of his mouth.
“Shelly, you never should’ve come,” he said. “Get out of here! Run!”
“Hush,” she replied. “We’ll sort it all out later, after we get out of this.” She continued to work at the knots, which were expertly tied. “Good thing I spent summers out on the sailboat.”
Wildcat dodged a right jab from the Sportsmaster. “Hold still!” the villain commanded.
“What’sa matter?” the hero said, dodging again. “Can’t hit a movin’ target?” Wildcat swung around and elbowed him in the right side of his ribs.
The Sportsmaster faltered, but remained on his skates. “I won’t be beaten by the likes of you!” he vowed. It was like his past was all coming around full circle again. This man in the costume that was here, disrupting his revenge, reminded him of Timmy Thomas. It was because of Timmy that his life was turned around, leading to him becoming Crusher Creel. Ever since then, everything was different — everything. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Huntress and the Sportsmaster: The Games People Play.]
Something in his head snapped, and he threw the padded gloves down on the ice. “Aaaghhh! I’ll kill you!” He lunged at Wildcat’s throat with his bare hands.
Wildcat gasped for air and was surprised by the man’s strength. His grip was firm, unrelenting. He seemed like a man possessed. When he found he couldn’t force him to release his grip by squeezing his wrists, the hero tried to break the grip by forcing his arms between the Sportsmaster’s and shoving them outward. It was of little use. He started to feel his lungs growing tighter as they strained for air.
“Back off!” a voice yelled. Ty Hunter was free and had retrieved the hockey stick. He brought it crashing down hard the villain’s back.
The Sportsmaster yelped in pain, his grip loosening.
Wildcat took the opening, broke out of the grip, and wound back his fist. He connected to the villain’s skull with a solid right punch, which sent the Sportsmaster across the ice. Wildcat bent over for a second to catch his breath, all the while keeping an eye on the downed villain.
“You OK?” Michelle Chambers asked him.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” the hero said. He turned to the ballplayer. “You’re pretty handy with that stick. Ever think of takin’ that up?”
Ty shook his head. “I’ll stick to ball.”
Wildcat nodded. “Well, thanks. I owe ya for that.”
“You risked your life to help me and Michelle,” Ty replied. “It’s the least I could do.”
“Then I guess we’re even,” the hero replied. “Let me go get this clown all trussed up for the cops. I got a feelin’ he’s gonna need a bit of therapy, too.”
“Why?” said Ty. “He’s just some crazed costumed lunatic.”
Wildcat frowned. “Maybe,” he said, “or maybe he’s someone who didn’t realize he had somethin’ good until it was gone.” He started to walk toward the downed man, then turned back to the couple. “Somethin’ to think about, huh?”