Superman and the Riddler: A Puzzle a Day Keeps Superman at Bay, Chapter 2: Uncommon Toot

by HarveyKent

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The curator of the Metropolis Museum of Natural History was pleasantly surprised to see Superman at his office door. His expression turned to confusion when he saw Superman’s companion.

“Superman!” the director exclaimed. “What an honor to have you here! And — oh, my… is that…?”

“I’m Jimmy Olsen,” the Riddler quipped. “This is my Halloween costume.”

“We’d appreciate it if we could take a look at the collection of Egyptian artifacts Clement Sharpe loaned the museum,” Superman said to the director, ignoring the Riddler.

“Why, yes, of course, Superman,” the director said, recovering himself. “The exhibit has been closed all week for repairs to the climate control system in that area of the museum. But an exception can certainly be made for you.”

Superman and the Riddler exchanged glances. “Closed for repairs?” Superman asked.

“An excellent time to set booby-traps,” Riddler commented. “I’ve used that ploy several times myself. Did Batman ever tell you about the time I set up these crossbows…?”

Superman strode away from his reluctant partner, who hurried to catch up. They followed the museum director to the special exhibit area. The director moved aside the velvet ropes to let them into the closed area.

“Quite a collection,” the Riddler said, whistling as he looked around at the various artifacts. “This Clement Sharpe must be some Egyptology buff.”

“I don’t see any clue to the Puzzler’s whereabouts, though,” Superman mused. “Could you have deciphered the clue wrong?”

“Not likely,” Riddler said, slightly offended. “We just haven’t found it yet — hold it.”

Superman looked at the Riddler and saw him pointing at a glass display case. In the case was a musical instrument similar to a flute, carved of pure ivory and covered with hieroglyphic symbols.

“There’s your uncommon toot,” Riddler said smugly. “The clue to his hideout must be in there.”

Superman trained his x-ray vision on the case and frowned. “The case has a false bottom, but it’s made of lead. I can’t tell what’s inside it.”

“Better let me look first,” Riddler offered. “If the Puzzler has set a booby-trap for you, it’s liable to be kryptonite, and that won’t bother me.”

Superman raised an eyebrow. “Your concern for my welfare is touching.”

“Hey, if you bite it, so does my parole.” Riddler stepped confidently up to the case, fiddled with the lock for a couple of seconds, then lifted the glass box completely off the pedestal. “Simple lock,” Riddler muttered under his breath. “Wouldn’t keep out a sixth-grade kid.” The wizard of quiz picked up the ancient flute, blew a few notes of the Popeye theme, then put it aside. He ran his gloved fingers lightly over the surface of the pedestal, searching for a spring or lever. After a few moments, something clicked.

“Careful,” Superman warned, as he watched the Riddler lifting a panel.

“Relax, I’m oka-aaayyy!” Riddler shrieked as he felt himself being lifted off his feet and thrown into the air. The villain heard a muffled explosion as gravity caught him and he plummeted down. A hand grabbed the collar of his costume before he struck the hardwood museum floor.

“What was that all about?” Riddler demanded. “You scared me out of ten years’ growth!”

“As you lifted the panel, I heard a trigger catch,” Superman explained. “I raced in at super-speed, tossed you out of the way, and muffled the explosion.” He showed the Riddler his right palm, slightly stained with blasting powder.

“Puzzler rigged an explosion?” Riddler gaped. “But why? He knew it wouldn’t bother you.”

“Two reasons come to mind,” Superman said. “One, he figured I would figure any booby-trap would be kryptonite and ask a non-Kryptonian to open it for me.”

“That fink!” Riddler cursed. “He outsmarted me, or got me to outsmart myself, or something!”

“Two, he hoped the explosion would destroy the next clue, making it impossible to decipher.”

The broad grin returned to the Riddler’s face. “Another clever trick. That’s one of mine, too. I once tried to lick my compulsion to send clues to Batman by making them impossible to read. This Puzzler must be a fan of mine.”

Superman shook his head in exasperation, then showed the Riddler what he had pulled out of the secret compartment. It was a tiny plastic statuette of a very recognizable bird.

“A flamingo?” Riddler said in amusement. “Doesn’t exactly spell things out, does he?”

“Did you ever?” Superman asked. “Well, I got you out of prison for that supposedly keen brain of yours. Let’s see it in action.”

“All right, all right, give me a minute,” Riddler said impatiently. “Gotham wasn’t built in a day, you know. Let’s see, flamingo… flamingo… there aren’t any trailer parks around here, are there? Didn’t think so. Flamingo… wait a minute! Isn’t there a restaurant in Metropolis called the Firehouse?

“Why, yes,” Superman said, confused. “It opened last year. It used to be a real firehouse about a hundred years ago. The neighborhood around it has become one of Metropolis’ trendy areas for the young, upwardly mobile.”

“Yeah, I remember reading a review of it in the paper,” Riddler said, stroking his chin. “That’s where we’re headed, Supes!”

The Man of Steel gaped at his unlikely comrade. “You deciphered the Firehouse restaurant from a plastic flamingo?”

“Bear with me, all right?” Riddler asked. “You’ll see when we get there.”

***

The Firehouse was an imposing brick building. Buildings like that had a sense of age about them, of having withstood the test of time. Little was changed in the outside appearance of this building, save for the sign. The word Firehouse was spelled out in huge letters of brightly enameled metal, topped with day-glo flames.

“This is it,” Superman said as he flew the Riddler in for a landing in front of the restaurant. “Now tell me how you figured this from a plastic flamingo.”

“I saw a picture of it in the paper,” the Riddler explained. “Look at it, Supes. Look closely at the sign. What do you see?”

Superman peered at the sign. “I see the word Firehouse in flaming letters. I don’t — wait a minute! Flaming? Flamingo — flaming O!

“Two for two, Supey,” Riddler said smugly. “I’ll make a quiz-master out of you yet.”

Superman stood still a moment, staring at the flaming letter O of the restaurant sign.

“What’s wrong, Supes?” Riddler asked after a long silence. “Spot something with your x-ray eyes?”

“Hm? Oh, no,” Superman said, coming back from his thoughts. “The letters are lead under the enamel. I’m going to take a closer look.”

“Want me to look first in case of kryptonite?” Riddler offered.

“No, thanks,” Superman said, floating up to the level of the letters. “Just be on your guard.”

“Aye-aye, moi capitaine,” Riddler said, throwing a military salute.

Superman floated close to the O and slowly reached out his hand. But before he could touch it, the letter flew off the wall, launching itself into the air like a frisbee disc. It arced around and headed for Superman; a blast of red light shot from the center of the O, striking Superman squarely in the back.

“Laser!” Superman cried out. “Watch it, Riddler!” Superman made a grab for the flying letter, but it dodged his hands and fired another laser-blast. This one was not aimed at Superman, but struck the street below, melting a patch of pavement into a puddle of tar.

“It’s firing wild!” Superman declared. “Riddler, get the people away from here!”

“Roger that,” Riddler said. He nimbly hopped up on a mailbox and waved his arms to get the crowd’s attention.

“You heard the man in blue, everybody! That thing is dangerous! Riddle me this: what’s black and white and dead all over? Anyone still on this street ten seconds from now! Come on, move!”

The crowd needed no further prompting. They fled like stampeding cattle. Superman made another grab for the flying disc, but it dodged him again and fired another laser-beam.

This way, Supey!” Riddler shouted, jumping up and down on the mailbox. “Guide it this way!”

Superman was confused by the Riddler’s request, but instinct told him to honor it. He maneuvered in the air in such a way that, when he next made a grab at the disc, it dodged his hands and flew in the Riddler’s direction. Superman watched the Riddler throw a handful of small objects into the air in the path of the disc. His super-keen eyes told him what they were: jigsaw puzzle pieces. When the disc touched them, they exploded, each with the force of a hand grenade. The disc wobbled in air and slowed down considerably, obviously damaged by the explosions. Superman caught it between his hands and folded it up like an accordion.

“Quite a dynamic duo we make, eh, Supey?” Riddler asked as Superman flew down to him with the ruined disc.

“Where did you get those puzzle pieces?” Superman asked sternly.

“A secret compartment in my belt,” Riddler shrugged. “The screws at the State Pen never find anything there.”

Superman made a mental note to have a word with Warden Creighton about that.

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