by Martin Maenza
Inside his private quarters, Copperhead was having a heated argument with one of the other residents of the Sinister Citadel.
“I told you lassst night,” the serpentine villain hissed, “that thisss isss mine!” His grasp upon a large diamond remained firm, despite the attempts of the other person.
“You messed up my robbery!” Magpie shrieked as she clawed at his hands with her red gloves. “That pretty rightfully belongs to me!”
“Forget about it, sssister! You can ssscream all you want, but it won’t change the fact that thisss diamond isss mine!”
“Oh, I think I can make you change your mind,” Magpie said with a wicked grin. With a flick of her glove, a needle popped up.
Copperhead merely laughed at her. “You think a little of your poissson’ll ssscare me? Ha! When it comesss to lethal venomsss, I wrote the book! Ain’t nothing your little needle can do but give me a little prick.”
Magpie growled at him angrily.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Both villains stopped their bickering. “Who isss it?” Copperhead called out.
“Dr. Quinzel,” the female voice on the other side of the door said. “I need to speak with you.”
Copperhead frowned. “Fine, just a sssecond.” He shooed Magpie aside as he scurried over to the dresser and deposited the diamond into the top drawer. He then pushed past the spike-haired woman to get to the door.
Regaining his composure, Copperhead opened the door. “Yesss?”
Dr. Quinzel stood there, her hands upon her hips. “May I come in, or do you wish everyone to know our business?”
“Of courssse,” the snake said. “Come in.” He opened the door wide enough for the psychiatrist to enter. He glanced across the way. “Magpie wasss jussst leaving. Weren’t you?”
The woman in the red glasses smiled. “Yes,” she said rather sweetly. “I was just leaving.” Magpie made her way past the two. “Ta-ta.” And she quickly disappeared down the hallway.
Copperhead closed the door. “OK, Doc,” he said. “What bringsss you to my door?”
“I’ll get right to the point,” Dr. Quinzel said. “Even though you promised Mirror Master you’d have sessions with me, you’ve managed to blow them off every time. I don’t take kindly to being jerked around.”
“Hmmph,” Copperhead replied. “Maybe I jussst don’t have nothing to sssay to you.”
“Well then, perhaps we’ll just have to see what Mirror Master has to say about the matter. I believe he made those sessions a condition of your staying on with the team, did he not?”
Copperhead glared at the woman. She was good, he had to admit. Still, she was also rather slippery as far as shrinks went. He never did like them. And this Dr. Quinzel appeared to like playing hardball. “OK,” Copperhead admitted. “I’ll make my next sssession asss ssscheduled. But I can’t promissse you you’ll get much out of it.”
Dr. Quinzel nodded. “You just let me do my job,” she said, then made her way to the door. “I’ll expect you on time.” The blonde let herself out of the room.
Copperhead grumbled to himself. He didn’t like being put in awkward positions. He started back across the room, only to realize that the dresser drawer was ajar. I could ssswear I closssed that before, he thought to himself. Opening it, he quickly realized what had happened while he was letting Dr. Quinzel into the room. Magpie had pocketed the diamond.
“I’ll kill that little bird!” he said aloud.
One floor below, on the level designated for the gymnasium equipment, two of the other residents of the Sinister Citadel were enjoying themselves in the large, indoor swimming pool. The larger man with brown hair, known to the other villains as Blindside, floated on his back. “I tell ya, Chad,” he said. “This is one sweet gig.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” said the taller blonde male, known to the others as Throttle, as he leaned against the side of the pool.
The bigger man stopped floating and stood in four-and-a-half-feet-deep water. “‘Mmm-hmmm’?” he asked. “That’s all ya got to say on that?”
“Oh, sorry, Ricky,” Chad replied. “I was distracted.”
Ricky turned around, focusing his attention to where his partner was looking. Funky Flashman sat in a lounge chair across the way, reading the Wall Street Journal and sipping a large margarita. “Oh,” Ricky said flatly. “Didn’t realize your eye was wandering again.” The large man started to trudge off through the water.
“Ricky!” Chad said. “Come back here!” The bigger guy hesitated. The blonde swam after him. “I didn’t mean distracted distracted. I meant that he looked familiar — reminded me of someone.”
“I can’t place it,” Chad said. “Something about the beard and the hair reminds me of some producer in Hollywood or something.” He turned back to the other man. “Let’s just forget about it.”
“Think you can?” Ricky asked.
Chad got a wild gleam in his eye. “I can think of a couple ways!” He dived under the water.
Ricky began to squirm in the water. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “Cut that out!” He started to giggle. “That tickles!” The big man splashed at the water around him with his large hands.
From behind his raised paper, Funky Flashman frowned. “Here I hoped for some serenity and solitude,” he said to himself. “Instead, I get rowdy ruffians resolved to ruin my relaxation.” Funky tried to focus once more on the article he had been reading when someone shouted.
As he lowered the paper, a large pair of soaking wet, blue swim trunks smacked Flashman squarely in the face. The man pulled them away to see the two men in the pool, giggling with delight. “Hmmmph!” Funky said in disgust as he rose from his chair. He slammed the wet trunks on the deck, tucked what was left of his paper under his arm, grabbed his drink, and proceeded to find more quiet surroundings.
“That wasn’t nice, Chad,” Ricky said between laughs.
“Oh, well,” the blonde replied as he wriggled out of his Speedo and tossed it to the side of the pool. “I guess that leaves us with the place to ourselves now.” The two dived under the water.
“I really ‘ppreciate you fittin’ me in under such short notice,” Power Fist said. The large ape-man tested the strength of the leather couch with his two hands. He half-wondered whether it could support his mass or not.
Dr. Quinzel took a seat in the chair near the couch. “You don’t have to sit if you don’t want,” she said.
Power Fist nodded. “Maybe I shouldn’t,” he said somberly. Instead, he settled down upon the floor with his back to the couch. “I’ve found a lot of things ain’t made for a three-hun’red-pound gorilla body.”
The psychiatrist began to scribble some notes on her pad. “So, Power Fist… or should I call you Luke?” She had, of course, pulled his real name from the file Mirror Master had given her.
“I don’t think it much matters,” he said, laying his head back on the couch to stare at the ceiling tiles. “Like this, ain’t no one gonna recognize me as either Luke Case or Power Fist. Not like I was big name to begin wit’ in the super-villain business.”
The blonde woman continued to take notes silently, allowing the man speak at his own pace.
“Ah, who am I kiddin’?” he said. “I’m startin’ to not believe myself, neither. Maybe all this time’s given me something to think about. I was young and foolish when I got into this. There I was, a big man with lots of muscle. I tried to turn it inta some cash by trackin’ down Black Lightning for Tobias Whale. (*) Instead, I ended up in the slammer for about four years. I’d prob’ly still be there today if I hadn’t tagged along with some guys who were makin’ a break for it.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Black Lightning: Times Past, 1982: Fist Raised in Anger.]
“We got away clean. My first thought was to head back home, to Suicide Slum. Maybe forget about my past mistakes and start over. But I knew if I went there, that’d be the first place they’d look for me. I couldn’t do that to my momma. So I hit the road to get as far from Metropolis as I could. While in prison, I’d heard talk about the Bar Sinister, a social spot for criminals that moves around lots. I figured maybe I’d run across it to see if my luck’d change. That’s when I met Copperhead and Gizmo.”
“So, did finding camaraderie in other criminals help your sense of belonging?” Harleen asked.
“It felt good to have someone to talk to,” Power Fist said, “someone who wanted me to be around. But then it all changed so fast when Grodd turned me into this!” He gestured with his large, hairy arms out wide. “I mean, that’s not what I was expectin’ when I signed up for this gig!”
“I hardly expect you could,” she said. “So, how does this make you feel? Angry? Hurt? Betrayed?”
Power Fist laid his head back. “Prob’ly a little bit of all that, I guess. More so in the beginnin’. But it’s been several months now, and it doesn’t look like there’s much hope of goin’ back to bein’ human. Gizmo keeps tryin’, though. That little guy doesn’t like to give up.”
Dr. Quinzel put her pad down on the table and leaned forward, resting her hand on the ape-man’s knee. “Luke, listen to me,” she said. “What you’re feeling, in dealing with your adjustment, is perfectly normal. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would take it all in stride.” He raised his head to look at her. Her face seemed so honest and trustworthy. “You just need to give it some more time. That and try not to give up, OK? If you give up on yourself, it’s hard for others not to.” She gave him a reassuring smile.
Power Fist nodded silently. Deep in his heart, he knew the doctor was right. Sometimes it was just better to hear someone else say it.
It was late night in Central City. Most of the neighboring businesses on the street had closed up shop for the day not long after the street lights had come on. From only one of the shop windows was a dim hint of light peering from behind drawn-down blinds. The sign on the door said closed, but that wasn’t meant for the special patrons.
Behind the small wood counter of the front room stood a dark-haired man with gray temples and a long, full mustache. He was dressed in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and dark slacks. He was sort of stocky in build and had a full, round face. A pair of glasses sat perched upon his nose. His expression was that of a kindly old uncle you’d see at family reunions.
The room had a couple of dressmaker mannequins in the corner, one with some fabric draped over it. There was a box of pins on the counter near the cash register, an old metal model that the man had used for decades in his tailoring business.
Also in the room was a tall, thin man in a trenchcoat. He had curly brown hair and a rather pronounced chin. When he spoke, it was in a thick accent. “I ‘ope you don’t have nothin’ waitin’ t’be picked up by Roy Bivolo,” Digger Harkness said. “Last I ‘eard, the pisser got ‘imself captured by the Bat and his group down in Gotham.” (*) The man also known as Captain Boomerang shook his head and laughed. “I tell you what. Raider ‘ad a bloody great run going last year, so’s I’m not surprised to see he ended up in the brink finally.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Outsiders: The Fear Maker.]
“I suppose’a you’re right, sir,” the man at the counter said with a slight Italian accent. He slid the large package across the counter to his customer. The box was wrapped in plain brown paper, tied with white twine. “I included two extra pairs of slacks in with’a your order.”
“Good thinkin’, mate,” Harkness replied. “Saves me a trip back ‘ere. Old man Flag’s not fond of me coming and going all the time, you know.” He gave the man a wink, grabbed his package, and started for the door. “See ya later, Gambi.”
Before Digger Harkness could open the shop door, someone else did from the outside. The little bell rang as the door opened wide, letting in a waft of the night air. The man who entered had curly brown hair, was thin in build, and looked to be in his early thirties.
Digger narrowed his eyes, taking in the man’s face. He was familiar with the Rogues with whom he’d associated for years, but this face was not known to him. Naturally, it could be any one of Gambi’s clients; the tailor’s reputation for discreet and quality service was known throughout the criminal underworld. To avoid any complications, the Australian man left the shop quickly.
“I’m just’a closing up,” Paul Gambi said. “Perhaps you can come back another time?”
The man closed the door of the shop and approached the counter. “My name’s Eli Walston,” the man said. “I was recommended to you by one of your longtime special customers.” (*) Walston gave the tailor a knowing wink.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Society of Super-Villains: Rank and File, Book 2, Chapter 2: Loose Cannon.]
Gambi nodded. “OK, what can I help’a you with?”
Walston produced a small folder from under his arm. Placing it down on the counter, he opened it up to reveal some sketches and copies of a few news clippings. He pointed to one of the figures in the picture. “I’d like a couple suits similar to those of this fellow. He went by the name of Microwave Man. (*) I thought perhaps you might be able to tweak the design some, update it a bit.” He gestured toward his designs, which were done with black and yellow markers.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Super-Origin of Microwave Man,” Action Comics #487 (September, 1978) and “Superman Battles Microwave Man,” Action Comics #488 (October, 1978).]
Gambi nodded. “I can do that,” he said. “Two to three weeks.”
“Good,” said Walston. “I’ll call back then.” He left the shop quickly.
Paul Gambi picked up the folder and placed it in the top drawer of the counter. He never questioned those that came in for specialized costumes; he was a tailor and merely made the suits. What they did while wearing them was none of his concern. That helped him sleep better at night.