“Good morning, Mr. Kent,” the uniformed doorman said with a smile. “Always a pleasure to see you, sir.”
“Morning, Carlton,” Kent returned the smile. “Think the Marvels have a chance in the series?”
“Hate to sound disloyal, Mr. Kent, but the Gothics have it all over them this year.”
“Afraid you’re right. Could you ring Miss Lane’s apartment for me, please?”
“Already on it, sir,” Carlton said, picking up the phone. He held it to his ear for a few moments, then frowned. “That’s odd, Mr. Kent. She doesn’t answer. I haven’t seen her go out, and I’ve been on duty since six.”
“Could be she’s in the shower,” Kent suggested. However, his super-hearing tuned in on Lois’ apartment, and he heard no water running.
“Could be. Why don’t you go on up, Mr. Kent? Not strictly allowed, but you’ve been here a thousand times. I know you.”
“Thanks a lot, Carlton. Sure you won’t get into any trouble for it?”
“Not unless you steal something, Mr. Kent,” Carlton chuckled.
“I’ll try to keep my tendencies in check,” Kent joked back. “Thanks again.”
On the ride up to Lois’ floor, Kent silently cursed the slowness of the elevator. It was a high-speed elevator, one of the newest in Metropolis, but to the disguised Superman, whose concern over Lois was piqued, it felt like riding the back of an arthritic snail.
“Lois?” Clark called as he knocked on her door. He had to restrain himself, lest his fist go right through the paneling. “Lois, are you in there? It’s Clark!” Kent’s super-hearing scanned the apartment for any sign of life. No heartbeat, no breathing.
He took out the key Lois had given him the last time she went away on vacation and asked him to water her plants. Letting himself in, Kent entered the apartment. Once he had closed the door behind him, he searched the apartment at super-speed. It wasn’t until his third trip through the kitchen that he noticed something lying on the kitchen table — a picture of some kind? He looked closer. It was a completed jigsaw puzzle, and the picture it showed was Lois Lane’s face, frozen in an expression of stark terror. Anger welled up inside the Man of Steel. The Puzzler!
Superman stared at the puzzle in cold rage for long moments. Lois had been kidnapped by the Puzzler, a villain Superman had not fought or even thought of in years. This was why he had always resisted making her his bride; in his career of righting wrongs and fighting evil, he had made far too many enemies.
No time to dwell on that now, he thought, knowing he had to find the Puzzler and Lois. It wasn’t like the Puzzler not to leave some kind of clue to his whereabouts or where he would strike next. Perhaps something in the puzzle? Superman looked at it. He reached out and lifted a corner piece from the puzzle.
“Greetings, Superman!” a voice suddenly spoke. Superman realized it was coming from a voice chip in the puzzle, activated by his removing a piece. “By now you realize I’ve got your lady friend. Here’s an uncommon toot to help you find me!” A single musical note, produced by some kind of woodwind instrument, sounded in the silent apartment. Superman recognized it as C sharp. His brow furrowed. What could that possibly mean? C sharp? Music? Notes? Flute? This was out of his area of expertise; he was more used to villains like Luthor and Brainiac, and fantastic super-weapons he could punch his way through. He couldn’t get his mind to work like the Puzzler’s. He needed help.
“I’m sorry, Master Kent, but Master Wayne is away,” came Alfred Pennyworth’s voice through the telephone. “He and Masters Dick and Jason had to leave suddenly last night. Something involving a new lead on the location of Ra’s al Ghul, I believe. I don’t know when they shall return.”
“I see,” Superman said, hanging up the phone. He had hoped the world’s greatest detective would be able to help him solve this baffling puzzle, but that avenue was now closed to him.
He snapped his fingers suddenly. There was one other person, however, as good at puzzles at the Batman, perhaps even better. Would he aid Superman, though? He had to.
“Well, well, this is a surprise,” the thin man in prison grays said. “I don’t often get such illustrious visitors.”
“Let me come right to the point, Nigma,” Superman said to the Riddler through the glass partition. “I need your help.”
“My help?” Nigma repeated, eyes wide. “The mighty Man of Steel requests aid from the prince of puzzlers? That’s a hot one! What’s the problem, Supey — an unusually difficult clue in the Daily Planet crossword?”
“Lois Lane has been kidnapped,” Superman said evenly, “by the Puzzler.”
“The Puzzler!” Nigma snorted. “I’ve heard of him. A second-rate crook trying to cash in on my reputation, just like the Cluemaster. Probably gets his clues from Dixie riddle-cups.”
“I need your help to find her, Nigma,” Superman said, ignoring the urge to tell the egotistical Nigma that the Puzzler had, in fact, preceded the Riddler by a few years. “I’ve tried to figure out his clues, but my mind just doesn’t work that way. I need someone whose does.”
“In other words, me,” Nigma said. “I dunno. What’s in it for me?”
“I can’t promise you anything,” Superman said. “But you have my word, if you help me, I will speak earnestly to the parole board on your behalf.”
“Hmm, and Superman is likely to carry some weight with them,” Nigma said, considering. “Do you promise to do that even if I fail to find Miss Lane?”
Superman stiffened. “If I feel the effort is sincere.”
“Oh, it will be,” Nigma promised. “Who knows? The Puzzler’s clues might provide an intellectual challenge. Heaven knows I’ve had none of that since Batwoman stuck me in here the last time. Closest thing I get is playing chess with the Signalman, and that’s no challenge at all.”
“Very well,” Superman said, rising from his seat. He went to speak to the warden.
Twenty minutes later, Superman stood in Warden Creighton’s office, tensely waiting.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Superman,” Warden Creighton said.
“Frankly, Warden, so do I,” Superman returned.
Finally the door entered. The Riddler, attired in his familiar green costume, was ushered in by two grim-faced guards, who turned to leave when the warden nodded.
“Thanks for the lift, boys,” Riddler said to the guards. “See you soon, I hope not.”
“Why the costume, Nigma?” Superman asked.
“It helps me think,” Riddler explained. “And please, call me Riddler. If I’m going to think like a puzzling criminal, I have to get into character.”
Superman raised an eyebrow, then lowered it. “Thank you again for this favor, Warden Creighton,” Superman said to the prison official.
“Forty-eight hours, Superman,” Creighton said. “That’s all I’m empowered to give you.”
“I hope that will be sufficient,” Superman said.
“So let’s go, already,” Riddler said impatiently. “The game’s afoot, Watson! Tally-ho!”
Superman breathed a barely audible sigh.
“So that was it? Just a note blown on a flute?” Riddler asked as they streaked through the sky between Gotham City and Metropolis. Superman had the Riddler safely tucked under his arm as he flew.
“Maybe not a flute, but definitely some kind of wood instrument,” Superman said. “And it was C-sharp; I’m sure of that.”
“Not much of a clue,” Riddler said, scowling as he stroked his chin. “Was there anything else? Did he say anything before or after the note was played?”
“Well, yes,” Superman said. “His exact words were, ‘Here’s an uncommon toot to help you find me.'”
A broad grin slowly split the Riddler’s face. “Oh, he’s good, this one. He’s very good, indeed.”
Superman looked at his charge urgently. “You’ve solved it? You know where Lois is?”
“Not exactly,” Riddler admitted. “But I have solved part of the clue. It’s a simple word juxtaposition. Take the main phrase from his clue and invert the words. See what you get.”
Superman thought a moment. “The main phrase would be uncommon toot. Reversed, it would be toot uncommon… Tutankhamen?” The Man of Steel spoke the last word with sudden revelation.
“Right,” Riddler confirmed. “Something to do with Egypt. Where the note comes in, I’m not sure.”
“Wait a minute,” Superman said, remembering a story Jimmy Olsen had written for the Daily Planet. “There’s a special exhibition of Egyptian artifacts at the Metropolis Museum of Natural History, on loan from the collection of Clement Sharpe!”
“There’s your C. Sharpe,” Riddler said, smiling. “I may have been wrong about this Puzzler. He’s nearly as clever as I!”