by Martin Maenza
The next morning in Central City, curator Dexter Myles opened the doors to the museum as he did every day. Often there would be a handful of tourists waiting for him, ready to take in the history and the celebration of Central City’s greatest super-hero — the Flash.
“Welcome, one and all,” Dexter announced in a joyful tone. “You are all about to partake in the greatest collection of heroic memorabilia this side of the Mississippi.” The blue-uniformed man bowed graciously as the day’s first visitors passed through the doors.
Dexter stood up just as a tall, lanky man in black overalls and a green shirt approached the doors. “And good morning to you, too, sir,” the mustached, Shakespearean-trained actor said.
The bald man looked around with a rather serious expression on his face. “Thanks,” he said absently as he wandered into the building. “Amazing, a whole museum devoted to the Flash! Who would have guessed?”
“Your first visit to our little establishment?” Dexter asked. “Might I suggest you save some time for the newest exhibit.” He pointed down the hallway that led to the wing devoted to the Flash’s greatest enemies. “We have a special program running twice daily that focuses on Roscoe Dillon, the recently deceased rogue known as the Top.”
“The Top?” the bald man said. “No, no, I don’t think so. I’m more interested in another of the Rogues Gallery.”
“We have mini-presentations on all of their exploits,” Dexter recommended. “Feel free to check out any of them.”
“I will,” the lanky man said as he sauntered off. “I will.”
As he moved down into the wing, the man shook his head. A whole wing devoted to his foes, he thought. I’d have thought it was a joke if I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes! He chuckled silently to himself as he entered the room.
There were portraits of the colorful villains posing together in celebration for a crime they never entirely got away with. There were mannequins posed in scenes: Captain Cold versus Heat Wave, Mirror Master standing before various funhouse mirrors, even a figure of the Trickster that moved overhead on wires. Incredible! I can only imagine if we had something like this in Gotham! I can’t imagine someone honoring the likes of Crazy-Quilt or Signalman! The man had to suppress every instinct to bust out laughing out loud. That would have tipped his hand.
Instead, the man made his way to one of the small viewing booths to the side. Sitting in one, he drew the curtain closed. He then selected one of the buttons on the panel in front of him, the one with the Trickster’s portrait. The little black screen next to the buttons came to life, and a narrative voice came from the small speakers. Still pictures appeared on the screen to accompany the story being told.
“The Trickster, born James Jesse to a family of famed circus acrobats. Initially terrified of heights, the young lad overcame his fears by focusing on the exploits of his namesake, Jesse James. In order to perform, Jesse developed boots with compressed air jets. These boots allowed him to walk the high wire to perform. Eventually, he overcame his fears and became a bit more of a daredevil.
“Bored with the circus life, Jesse decided to use his new tools to commit crimes. Adopting the costumed identity of the Trickster, he invented other unique gimmicks which gave him an edge over normal law-enforcement officers. From exploding rubber chickens to deadly razor-rings, the simplest of toys can become deadly in his hands. He even once utilized a simple tricycle that could emit high-frequency sounds to commit crimes.
“He soon found a challenge in Central City’s new hero, the Scarlet Speedster called the Flash. After a number of encounters with the super-speedster, the Trickster soon found camaraderie with other foes of the hero. Together, these villains joined forces under the name of the Rogues Gallery. Both with the others and working solo, James Jesse built a colorful reputation for himself.”
The bald man had heard enough. “Colorful reputation, bah!” he muttered under his breath. “It’s time for someone to show him the true meaning of colorful!” The man exited the booth and started for the front of the museum.
“Leaving so soon?” the curator asked.
“I’ve seen enough for now,” the man said. He walked outside, turned the corner, and headed down the street. As he passed by a phone booth, he yanked at the phone book hanging there and ripped it off. He continued on his way to rendezvous with his gang.
Twenty minutes later, the man stepped into a disguised motorhome and closed the door with a slam. There, three men sat playing cards. “Look alive, you bums!” the bald man said as he tossed a number of phone books onto the table. As the books landed, they sent the cards flying.
The bald man reached under his chin and pulled off the rubber mask, revealing his white complexion and green hair. He then snapped off the flesh-colored latex gloves. “I’m heading to the back to change out of these dull clothes,” the Joker announced. “When I get back, we’ve got some searching to do!”
“For what, Boss?” Southpaw asked.
“We’re gonna find us an address, and then I’m going to show someone what a true trickster is capable of! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
In the early evening, James Jesse heard a buzzing of his doorbell at a small apartment he’d been renting. “That’s odd,” he said to himself. Crossing the room, the blond man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt checked the peephole. He saw a black man standing there. He unchained the lock and opened the door. “Yes?”
“Is this 119 Cany Street?” the man said. In his hand was a square box from which rose a wonderful aroma.
“Nope,” James said. “It’s 117 Cary Street.”
“Your last name’s Wyatt, right? Said so on the box down front.”
“Yeah,” James said with a curious eye. “Earl P. Wyatt, to be exact.”
“Damn!” the black man cursed. “I got the wrong address!”
“Oh, well,” James said, starting to close the door.
“Say, man, you want this pizza? We’re supposed to deliver in thirty minutes or it’s free, anyway. I ain’t gonna find this other Wyatt on Cany Street in time. Someone might as well enjoy it.”
“You don’t want it?”
“Nah. You deliver this stuff for a living, you learn to dislike it after a while. It’s pepperoni and sausage.” He held the box up.
James Jesse’s stomach grumbled. He hadn’t thought about dinner. Pizza sounded good, and it was already here. “Sure,” he said. “Why not? Can I at least pay you for it? That way, it doesn’t have to come out of your pocket.”
“I screwed up,” the black man said. “I should have to cover it. Thanks, anyway.” And with that, the man headed down the stairs.
“Oh, well,” the blond man said, stepping back into his apartment and putting back up the chain. “I tried.” He set the box down on the counter and opened it up. More of the smell rose into the room. It looked rather tasty. He got a plate from the counter and dug in.
The black man, meanwhile, left the building, rounded the corner, and ducked into a nearby alleyway. He approached the shadowy back where his boss waited. “Tell me, Tooth,” the Joker said from the shadows, “was this Wyatt really our wily enemy?”
“Sure was, Boss,” Tooth said. “Hiding under a fake name, just like you guessed.”
“Excellent!” the Joker said, rubbing his palms together. “Get back to the motor Ho-Home. I’ll be along in a bit, after I’ve taught that scheming super-villain a lesson!”
Not too long after, when James Jesse was finishing off his third slice of the pizza, he heard a rattling at the front door. “What the–?!” he exclaimed. The door pushed open, only to be stopped after a few inches by the chain. “Who’s there?” He scurried about for his bag of weapons and dumped them out on the table. He grabbed a gun-like weapon, figuring it would scare off whoever was trying to burgle his apartment. The idea of someone breaking into his place of living struck him as funny.
Suddenly, a spray of liquid hit the chain that held the door at bay. Instantly, the metal started to smoke with a loud hiss. In a moment the metal snapped, and the door flew wide open. Into the room burst the Clown Prince of Crime.
“The Joker!” James exclaimed.
The green-haired man slammed the door behind him. “Glad to see the warm welcome, Cowboy! Love the pseudonym, by the way. Good wordplay! Must’ve taken you hours to work that one up! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
James Jesse realized that he might need more than one weapon to handle this lunatic. If the Joker tracked him down, the man had to want something. He knew the man was crazy, perhaps crazy enough to try to kill him. He didn’t want to risk that. “What do you want?” He took a step toward the table where his items were.
Joker saw it. “Ah-ah-ah!” He waggled his finger at the blond man as he lunged forward. With his other hand, he produced something from his pocket. The Joker lunged at the table, shoving something into the backside of the air-walker shoes. “Can’t have you running away like before! Not when we have business to discuss!”
James Jesse looked at the shoes. Pink stuff was oozing out of it. Gum! He gummed up the shoes! “C’mon, let’s sit down and talk this over,” he said, “one man to another.” He noticed the pizza still sitting there with more than half left. “Can I offer you something to eat?”
Joker looked over at the box and started to laugh. “Ha-ha-ha-ha! Sorry, Stickler, but I never touch the stuff! Dairy doesn’t agree with my stomach!” He gave him a deep stare. “You don’t have that problem, do you? Hmmm?”
Suddenly, James felt a weird sensation in his lower intestines. It was short, but it passed. He glanced at the pizza, then back at the Joker. “You didn’t!” His face grew wide with concern.
“Oh, don’t get your panties in a bunch, Jessie!” the Joker laughed. “It’s not like I poisoned you or anything! Not that I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to! Let’s just say, Montezuma isn’t the only one who knows how to get revenge! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
James Jesse groaned. Between the humor and the tainted food, he wasn’t feeling well. “Fine, fine!” he said. “If you want the painting so badly, take it! Take it and go!” He picked up the artwork he’d stolen from Galighar’s office and handed it forward.
The Joker took the frame in his hands. “Good man! Now, what about my bonus for the inconvenience you caused me? I think you owe me more!”
“Inconvenience?” James Jesse said. “You bust into my home, give me food-poisoning…” His stomach gurgled again, giving him a very uncomfortable feeling once more. “And you want to talk about inconvenience?”
“Just looking for my pound of flesh, Jimmy-boy!” Joker said, grinning.
James Jesse had reached his tolerance point. This clown just waltzed in here, and he was letting him walk all over him. He was the Trickster, damn it. He battled the Flash, one of the best heroes around. He wasn’t about to stand for this. He started to pull back on the frame.
The Joker was surprised by this. “Hey! What’s this? Now you’re an Indian-giver, too? Ha-ha-ha-ha!” The clown pulled hard on the frame, and the tug of war was on.
Both men held firmly to the wooden portion of the artwork with both hands. They dug their feet in and began a struggling match over the item. “Let go!” the Trickster ordered.
“You let go!” the Joker replied.
The Joker considered releasing one hand to reach for his squirt flower filled with acid when there was a loud cracking sound. The end of the frame that James held onto broke off, sending the man tumbling backward to the floor.
The Joker laughed loudly at this. “Hooo-hooo, ha-ha-ha! Nice pratfall, partner!”
James Jesse felt a pain where his backside had hit the floor. His stomach gurgled again. He wasn’t sure how many more warnings he’d get. Then he noticed that his quarry was just standing there, examining the picture. “What is it?” he ask, rising to his feet. “What’s wrong?”
“The joke’s on us, Tricksy!” the Clown Prince of Crime said. He raised the picture over his head and sent it crashing down on the blond man.
James Jesse’s upper body poked through the canvas. “You’re crazy!” he exclaimed. “You track me down to get the picture, and then you go and ruin it! Why?”
The Joker leaned in. “Seems old man Galighar was a bit of a comedian, too! This is a fake!”
“A fake, a phony, a reproduction!” the Joker said. “Really, Trickler, you need to knock over a library and steal yourself a thesaurus! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” The man in purple started to saunter toward the front door of the apartment.
James Jesse’s brain kept telling him to just let the man go, but his mouth couldn’t keep quiet. “So, that’s it, then? The picture’s a fake, so you’re just leaving?”
The Joker spun around. “Trickster, old boy,” he said. “You need to learn to appreciate the irony of the situation. Besides, my work here is done.” He reached into his coat pocket for something.
James Jesse winced as the clown tossed something his way. Here he was, arms pinned by a canvas, and the Joker was going to kill him.
A roll of toilet paper bounced off his head. “Here you go, Jesse!” the Joker said. “I think you’ll need this in about two minutes! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” And with that, the master criminal departed.
James Jesse breathed a sigh of relief that the villain was gone. Then he had an urgent reminder of what was left behind. He struggled to get the painting off his arms before it was too late.
The Joker stepped back into the waiting mobile Ho-Home. “Okay, boys, time to head back to Gotham town!”
Southpaw put the vehicle in gear and pulled off. “But, Boss, you came back empty-handed. Where’s the painting?”
“Boys, sometimes it’s better to give than receive! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
About three minutes later, while the Joker and his gang were heading out of town, the Central City policemen were pulling up to the apartment of one Earl P. Wyatt, AKA James Jesse, AKA the Trickster. The daily papers would report the next day that the member of the Rogues Gallery was an easy apprehension for the city’s boys in blue.