“Five minutes, Jack,” a ringhand’s voice called from the other side of the dressing room door.
“I’ll be there,” the man in the dressing room called back. He looked at himself in the mirror in the spandex wrestling costume designed to look like a Native American outfit: the Arizona Apache. Time was, he was the biggest thing in wrestling. Everyone wanted to take him down. Now he was a has-been, reduced to scrub matches that opened the show. His eyes strayed to the hypodermic needle on the dressing room table. Well, after tonight, he’d be back on top again. This stuff he bought from Professor Milo was guaranteed to give him back his edge. He’d make short work of this Sir Slamalot, and from there he’d fight his way back to the top. He picked up the syringe, watching it glitter in the makeup table lights. What was it Milo had said? Only use two CCs at a time? What the hell was a CC? Ah, hell. The more, the better, right? Gritting his teeth, the aging wrestler plunged the needle into his arm.
Oliver Queen sat in his seat, waiting for the wrestling event to start and thumbing through his program. Full-page color photos were devoted to the combatants of tonight’s main event, Bulk Bogus and the Billion-Dollar Brawler. Other wrestlers got smaller photos. The scrub matches that opened the event didn’t even get photos, just text listings. Ollie had heard of the Arizona Apache before, but Sir Slamalot was a new one to him.
Ollie thought he smelled something peculiar. He realized it was coming from the program itself; it had an odd smell, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and yet vaguely familiar.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the ring announcer’s voice came over the public address system, “ARE YOU READY TO RUMMMBBBLLLEEE?” Cheers and shouts from the fans filled the arena. Ollie joined in the applause, but the strange scent of the program tickled his mind, not letting him focus on the ring.
“Now coming to the arena, led by his manager, Funky Flashman, weighing in at three hundred and seven pounds… Sir Slamalot!”
Ollie watched the gigantic wrestler in the King Arthur get-up strolling down the aisle, slapping hands with fans as he passed by. From the look on his face, he didn’t seem enthused to be here; maybe that was his gimmick, part of his image. Ollie watched Funky Flashman (where had he heard that name before?) hold the ropes open while Sir Slamalot climbed into the ring.
“Now coming to the arena, weighing in at two-hundred-eighty-five pounds… the Arizona Apache!”
Ollie watched the wrestler in Native American garb run down the aisle to the ring, waving a crude bow high over his head and screaming an Apache war cry or something that sounded like it. If Sir Slamalot wasn’t into it, this guy certainly was. The Apache leaped into the ring, shouting “Eh-Nek-Chok!” over and over again, laid down his bow and quiver of arrows, and immediately charged Sir Slamalot.
Ollie sat bolt-upright in his seat. He just remembered where he had smelled the strange odor of the programs before.
“Eh-Nek-Chok!” the Arizona Apache growled repeatedly as he slammed his fists into Sir Slamalot’s chest and shoulders. His eyes were wide and glaring, and saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth. “Eh-Nek-Chok!”
“Take it easy, will you?” Dufus P. Ratchet whispered to the Apache as he clamped a headlock on the other wrestler. “I’m supposed to win this one, remember? Let’s finish it off fast!”
But the maddened Apache shrugged off Dufus’ hold and followed it up with a roundhouse right that connected hard with Dufus’ temple. The gentle giant howled in pain, and boos and jeers sounded from the spectators at the illegal move.
Two costumed wrestlers, one in spandex tights decorated to resemble a Buckingham Palace guard’s uniform and the other in green tights with snakeskin-scales airbrushed all over them, watched the battle from the wings.
“Geez, the Apache is really giving it to him!” the palace guard wrestler said in admiration. “I haven’t seen the old guy fight like that since he took on the Hooded Hangman! I thought he was over the hill, but look at him!”
“Yes, look at him,” the wrestler in snakeskin said. “Is it me, or does it look like he’s getting… bigger?”
“Huh? Bigger?” the palace guard wrestler looked closely. The Arizona Apache was grappling closely with Sir Slamalot, and they stood eye to eye. He could have sworn the new guy was a head taller than the Apache before; but that couldn’t be right, could it?
“Eh-Nek-Chok!” the Apache howled as he gripped Dufus’ head in his hands and delivered a powerful head-butt to his forehead. Again Dufus cried out in pain, and the jeers of the crowd rang in his ears. When next he looked at his opponent, it was with rage in his eyes.
“Excuse me… pardon… sorry, gotta get through… excuse me…”
“Geez, siddown, will ya, fella?” an irate fan growled at Ollie as he tried to make his way out of the row. “Why didn’t ya go before ya left?”
Ollie smiled grimly. If only that were the worst of his problems. He had recognized the strange odor of the programs. It was a chemical that he himself had used in making his smoke-bomb arrows. By itself it was harmless, but when it mixed with a second chemical, it produced a thick, choking black smoke. If every program in the arena were saturated with it, and if the second chemical were introduced, the entire arena would be plunged into darkness. And the second chemical was odorless and colorless; it could easily be pumped in through the ventilation system. What was worse, Ollie realized where he had seen the program vendor’s face before. The JLA files on known costumed criminals — the Riddler.
The loud smack of flesh on flesh made Ollie turn his attention to the ring. He did a double-take when he saw the Arizona Apache; his muscles were bursting the fabric of his wrestling tights, as if he were growing too large for them before the audience’s eyes. His arms were growing so thick with musculature he was having difficulty moving them. And Sir Slamalot was attacking him with renewed vigor, pummeling him with his huge, meaty fists. His eyes were glazed over with rage, and saliva ran from his mouth as he snarled his anger at his opponent.
“You hurt Dufus!” he growled, the words rumbling like thunder. “Now Dufus hurt you!”
And Dufus did indeed hurt him, as the overgrown Apache went down like a felled redwood under his vigorous attack.
The crowd jeered and booed as Sir Slamalot pressed the attack. The Arizona Apache was down, wasn’t even trying to get up; but Slamalot was on top of him, pounding him madly with his fists.
“You hurt Dufus!” he snarled. “Why you do that? Dufus not hurt you! Dufus not want hurt anybody! Dufus just want be left alone!”
Funky Flashman scrambled madly into the ring to make a futile attempt at pulling Dufus off the fallen wrestler. He was fraught with worry, for he realized what had happened. Somehow, the Apache’s repeated blows to Dufus’ head had undone the surgery performed by the Gorilla City scientists. He was reverting to his former mental state.
“Dufus, calm down!” Funky said, tugging at his massive arm. “It’s me, Funky! I’m your friend! You–”
With a casual backhand slap, Dufus sent Funky spinning into the ring-post like a pinball.
“Damn!” Ollie hissed under his breath. If he didn’t hurry, the Riddler would flood the arena with blackout smoke; but he couldn’t let this mad monster kill the Apache or anyone else. With a singular thought, Ollie made his way to the ring. But just as he was climbing through the ropes, he saw a man in green wrestling tights with a snakeskin pattern airbrushed on them leap over the ring ropes acrobatically, turn a somersault in air, and come down feet-first onto Sir Slamalot’s shoulder. Howling in pain, Slamalot went down. Ollie could tell that he was not out of the fight, though, so he made to pull the Apache out of harm’s way. He gasped when he saw the wrestler’s body; it had become a huge mass of bulging muscles, too heavy for the man to even move.
The Apache merely groaned in pain, a weak, pathetic, “Eh… Nek… Chok…”
Ollie watched the snakeskin-clad wrestler nimbly dodge a fierce swipe from Slamalot’s ham-sized fist and come down on his feet.
“Nice moves,” Ollie said in admiration.
The wrestler winked at him. “Thanks, Ollie.”
Ollie did a double-take. “You know me?”
The wrestler leaned in close. “How were those identity papers I made for you a few months back? They get you into the circus all right?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow and Mister Miracle: Sideshow Lowdown.]
Ollie gaped in realization, then grinned. “Yeah, kid, they worked just fine.”
Dufus struggled to his feet, snarling with blind rage. “Hurt Dufus!” he snarled. “Pay!” Ollie tensed, ready to join the fight. The disguised Nightwing, however, produced a small pellet from inside the top of his boot and tossed it at the lumbering giant. The pellet erupted into white smoke, and Dufus sighed and collapsed to the ring. The crowd cheered; they thought it was all part of the show.
“I wasn’t aware you were a wrestling fan, Ollie,” Nightwing said.
“I am,” Ollie said. “I’ll bet you’re here looking for a certain gentleman in green, though.”
Nightwing did a double-take. “How’d you know that?”
“I spotted him,” Ollie confided. “I think he’s at the air-conditioning unit, or on his way there. What’s he after — the box office receipts?”
“Nah, most people pay by credit card these days,” Nightwing explained. “He’s after the Billion-Dollar Brawler’s belt.”
“Dang!” Ollie exploded. “Of all nights not to wear my gear under my clothes! I–” Ollie paused as his eyes fell on the prop bow and arrow discarded by the Arizona Apache. Crude, primitive, barely fifty pounds of pull — but any port in a storm. “Let’s go!” Ollie cried, snatching up the bow and arrow and vaulting over the ring ropes. With a grin, Nightwing followed him.
The Riddler, having discarded the vendor’s uniform for his familiar green costume, hummed to himself as he worked at the air conditioner unit. Two maintenance men struggled to free themselves from a net that appeared to be wire mesh, but on closer inspection was made of hundreds of bent nails linked together like a puzzle. They cursed as they thrashed on the floor.
“Keep it down, will you, guys?” the Riddler said as he adjusted the valves on a small cylindrical tank he was attaching to the air-conditioning unit. “I can’t hear myself think!”
“Can you hear yourself surrender?” a voice thundered through the small arena basement. The Riddler whirled at the sound of it. The voice sounded familiar, like one he had heard before, but deeper, stronger. But when he spun, the Riddler saw no one he recognized, only a wrestler clad in snakeskin tights.
“Oh, who’s this, then? Don’t tell me, don’t tell me… Nathan the Python? Rattlesnake Jake? Sidewinder Smith? Oh, I give up. What do you call yourself?”
“Give it up, Riddler,” the disguised Nightwing demanded. “There’s no way out.”
The Riddler scratched his head in puzzlement. “Now, that’s a funny name. Must be hard to fit on a trading card.” While he was scratching his head with his left hand, his right hand was easing around behind him to the question-mark-shaped pistol stuck in his belt there. Suddenly he whipped it out and pointed it at his challenger. “There’ll be no ten-count after this, Cobra Clutch! I’ll leave you with a parting riddle: when is a wrestler like a hit song?”
Before Nightwing could reply, something knocked the gun out of the Riddler’s hand. He howled in pain and surprise, and, massaging his injured hand, looked to the opposite wall. A wooden arrow was buried in the old mortar of the wall, his gun hanging from it like a Christmas-tree ornament. The arrow had gone right through the trigger guard like threading a needle.
“I don’t–” The Riddler didn’t have time to finish his statement. He looked up to see the snakeskin-clad wrestler leaping acrobatically through the air, somersaulting twice before coming down feet-first in the Riddler’s chest.
“That about wraps that up,” Nightwing said, standing over the unconscious wizard of quiz.
“Except for one thing,” Ollie said, helping the maintenance men out of their net. “When is a wrestler like a hit song?”
“When he’s one with a bullet,” Nightwing said.
Ollie groaned. “And they say my puns are bad.”
“Thanks for the assist, Ollie,” Nightwing said as he fastened handcuffs on the unconscious villain. “Want to tag along when I turn this goon over to Gordon?”
“No, thanks,” Ollie said. “I want to catch the rest of the matches! Wendy ‘The Wonder’ Marvin is wrestling Zanjaina, the Babe from Space, for the women’s title!”
“Babe from Space?” Nightwing asked, rubbing his chin. “Mind if I join you?”
“More coffee?” the middle-aged waitress asked, popping her gum.
“No, thanks,” Funky sighed. “Just the check.” He winced as he shifted in the uncomfortable diner seat. He still wore the neck brace he got from being tossed into the ring-post by Dufus P. Ratchet. Here he was, down on his luck again. He really thought he had found a meal ticket in that super-wrestler. But he hadn’t counted on the repeated head blows undoing Dufus’ brain surgery. He could still see the maddened Dufus being carted away in a straitjacket, still hear the wrestling federation president chewing him out. How was he to know? It wasn’t his fault. But now he needed another gimmick, another meal ticket. But what? What?
“Hey, Sol,” the counter man called into the kitchen. “Get out here with a mop on the double! Some kid spilled half his root beer float!”
“Coming,” a deep, bass voice boomed from the kitchen. Funky Flashman watched a tall, muscular giant lumber out of the kitchen, clutching a mop. His skin was pale, almost chalk-white; his eyes, dull yellow orbs sunk deep in his granite-chiseled features. Funky gaped in horror. The pale giant caught sight of Funky and grinned at him.
“Hey, miss!” Funky called to the waitress. “Where’s that check?”