By David Marshall
The battle against Immortus complete, the Titans followed Mento onto Danny the Street once more. It seemed as if only minutes had passed since Steve Dayton appeared in the monitor room as a tween-aged kid wearing a goofy white ball cap with electrodes protruding from each side. He convinced the Titans to follow him into battle against the Brotherhood of Evil, claiming the Brain sought three mystic talismans that would grant him mastery over all reality. They fought General Immortus and an assemblage of troops from the annals of time on a mystical plane and retrieved the first of the items, a baby bottle.
A burly transvestite mime in a pink tutu and neon green fishnet tights waved to the Titans from the balcony of a second-story apartment building and pointed to a small alley across the street that lay between a cobble shop and a bakery. A bar sat at the end of the alley. An old-fashioned neon sign pointed to a doorway beneath. The sign read, “Off The Beaten Path Bar and Grille”.
“It seems we’re being summoned,” said Mento.
Static shook his head in disbelief. “Either I’m tripping on some serious Q-Juice or this is the weirdest amusement park ride ever!”
“It’s Danny’s way of communicating with us,” said Mento. “You grow accustomed to it and even develop a fondness for it.”
Aquagirl looked over her shoulder at the mime. He opened a retro-style paper umbrella though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Mento kept changing forms from the peculiarly-garbed adult superhero that fought alongside the Doom Patrol and that of a twelve year-old boy. Aquagirl wasn’t sure what lay behind the bar’s doorway but Mento claimed they were to face Madame Rouge who was supposed to be dead.
Changeling took the lead and pushed the door open. Once the Titans were inside they encountered a tall, skinny man bouncing on a trampoline. He was dressed in a tuxedo coat with long tails and a wrestling leotard underneath. Another door stood beyond him.
“Who are you?” Changeling asked.
The impossibly skinny man flashed a smile so wide Plastic Man would envy it. “Why, the bouncer of course! One absolutely must know the high sign to pass!”
“The what?” Blue Beetle asked. “This is all too strange.”
“It must be a code, a secret handshake or something to signify one belongs inside,” Mento answered.
Aquagirl leaned and whispered in M’gann’s ear. “This just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”
M’gann nodded in reply while their teammates stared in slack-jawed wonder. Even the normally unflappable Rose Wilson seemed shaken by the strangeness.
“How are we supposed to know your secret sign?” Traci finally asked. “This is our first time here.”
The bouncer’s face lit up and he turned a flip on the trampoline. “Newbies! We just love newbies around here! We don’t get many you know! I do hope you know the high sign!”
Rose unsheathed her sword and pointed it at the bouncer. “I’ve got your high sign right here, freak! Let us pass!”
Blue Beetle wiggled his way between Rose and the bouncer. “Rose, no! This isn’t the way. We need to figure out his little game.”
The bouncer slowed his bouncing until at last the trampoline was still. “Oh my, young lady! Weapons are totally unacceptable! Maybe in the bar but not out here where we civilized folk lurk!” He wagged his index finger and Rose’s sword changed into a bouquet of tulips and wilted. “Much better! I abhor violence you know.”
“I could give it a try,” said Traci. “These walls practically drip with a powerful magic.”
Blue Beetle shook his head. “No, we can’t take a chance on it backfiring as well.”
“The high sign!” Changeling exclaimed. “I’ve got it!”
The bouncer seemed please. “Oh I do hope so my dear boy! I do hope so!”
Changeling stepped forward and placed his hand palms down beneath his chin and wiggled his fingers rapidly.
Rose rolled her eyes and sighed. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever…”
“Success!” yelled the bouncer. “You may pass!”
Changeling circled around the trampoline and grabbed the doorknob. It turned in his hand and he disappeared into the bar.
At least Aquagirl hoped the bar was his final destination.
Rose followed behind but the man on the trampoline grabbed her shoulder. He waved his index finger at her. “Ah ah, young lady! Not without the high sign!”
“Get your creepy mitts off me!” Rose shouted. She grabbed the bouncer’s wrist and flipped him but he landed on his feet and reversed the bounce. The maneuver sprawled Rose to the floor.
“My, but you are a difficult one,” the Bouncer exclaimed.
Miss Martian approached the Bouncer and repeated the strange gesture Gar flashed moments earlier.
The bouncer rubbed his hands together and squealed with delight. “Give the lady a kewpie doll!”
Rose picked herself off the ground and flashed the necessary sign. “You have got to be kidding me!”
One by one Mento and the remaining Teen Titans approached the Bouncer and flashed the high sign he demanded. Once the strange ritual was completed the odd man allowed them to pass without incident. Aquagirl was the last to enter the doorway.
It was a bar alright but not what Aquagirl expected. Rather than a flashy disco or a seedy nightclub she joined her teammates in an old west saloon. The atmosphere was rowdy with cowboys and gamblers locked in high stakes card games. Saloon girls danced on the stage, kicking their legs high enough to see the bottom of their frilly knickers but the fleshly display thrilled the drunken prospectors whistling encouragement to the ladies. The piano player’s nimble fingers tickled the ivories with a stirring, if slightly out-of-tune, ragtime ditty. Some of the men danced with ladies of the evening within a cleared-out circle of tables. A large mirrored shelf of alcohol ran the length of the room behind the bar where an elderly barkeep with a handle-bar moustache poured drinks.
Aquagirl caught her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She was dressed in a light blue floor-length Victorian gown with lace trim. Her tight granny boots felt a size too small. Her head was topped with a matching silk-rim hat with a bouquet of tulips and roses tucked into the ribbon. She held a slightly-darker blue lace umbrella in her white-gloved hands.
She discovered Gar and Mento drinking shots at the bar and sat next to them. They too were dressed in old west garb with button-up shirts of primary colors and both wore chaps over their denim pants. Logan sported an animal-hide vest that showed off a large sheriff’s badge. Mento was his deputy. Both men sported cowboy boots and white cowboy hats.
“Where is your gang of ruffians, Sheriff?” Aquagirl asked. The voice she recognized as her own but the snooty inflections of her speech pattern was as unfamiliar as her surroundings. She covered her mouth with her right hand. Were all Doom Patrol adventures so strange? “My speech patterns are not my own.”
Mento took a shot of his rotgut. “I reckon it’s the spell of the place, Ma’am. No need to git a spur in your saddle.”
Gar pointed around the floor. “Our friends are casing the room for information. The Bug Bandit and Static Kid are over yonder at that gambling table fishing the Rounders for information. Traci is the saloon girl serving the booze and playing their railbird to keep them in the game. M’gann’s cutting a rug with that well-to-do gentleman caller pawing at her backside.”
Unlike Traci, M’gann was no simple saloon girl as evidenced by her tight, black corset with a gilded lily pattern at the waist and black vanity lace skirt. She took the man’s hand and led him to a table. She held up two fingers and a bar maid brought out two beers in large glass mugs and slammed them on the table. The man paid for them and M’gann took a seat on his lap.
“Scandalous! M’gann’s a lady of the evening!” Aquagirl exclaimed.
“Keep yer voice down!” Mento warned. “You’re bleating like a field of sheep eyeing a hungry wolf!”
Aquagirl fanned herself with a gloved hand. “My apologies gentlemen. I’m afraid I have the vapors and am a might excitable!”
“Shall I order you some soda water, Miss Lorena?” Gar asked.
Aquagirl shook her head. “No. I’m fine, Sheriff. The excitement’s a bit much for a lady of my delicate constitution.” She couldn’t believe the words coming out of her own mouth.
A rough-looking hombre dressed in black from head to toe shot up from a table at the center of the room and drew his six-shooter. “I’m calling your bluff, you no-good, cheating scoundrel! Bad Bob Blackpants don’t tolerate no cheaters! I’ll fill ye full o’ lead!”
Someone flipped the table over and it crashed down across the toe of one of his boots.
“Son of a…” Bad Bob yelled as his gun fell to the floor. He grabbed his boot and limped around in a circle.
Aquagirl had a pretty good idea where Rose was as startled onlookers fanned away from the table. Sure enough Rose remained seated in her chair with her right boot extended from kicking the table over. She was dressed like a common cowgirl with a long, tan cowhide skirt and a bright red button down shirt. A tan vest and matching hat completed her ensemble. Her holster was filled with wilted tulips instead of a gun. Her eyepatch was still firmly in place and she held a toothpick between her lips. “Better git the Doc to look at that big ugly toe of yours, SpongeBob DumbPants.”
Bad Bob lunged for his pistol but Rose somersaulted without removing her butt from the seat and landed the chair leg on the toe of his other boot. He yelped again and reached for his other foot. Rose finally stood and kicked the chair away. She drew the tulips from her holster and slapped him across the face with them. The flowers slashed his right cheek, leaving it a bloody mess. She lifted her shriveled bouquet again and gashed the other side of his face.
One of Bob’s men jumped Rose from behind and she tossed him over her back. A second associate of Bob’s felt the toe of her boot striking a decidedly manly part of his anatomy. He stumbled into a bystander who spilled his drink on M’gann’s lap. She jumped up and stared in wide-eyed horror at the big wet spot on her lace dress. Her gentleman caller handed her his handkerchief and punched the bystander who ruined her lingerie. One of the injured man’s friends grabbed M’gann’s caller and punched him. A full-blown bar fight broke out. Girls screamed and fled the floor. One wasn’t so lucky, taking a stray beer bottle to the side of the head. She collapsed beneath the crowd of drunken, testosterone-fueled cowboys and hell-raisers.
“I reckon we’d better break up this fiasco if’n we can,” said Gar to Mento. He downed another shot of rotgut and waded into the fray with both fists flying. It didn’t seem to matter who he hit as long as he pummeled someone. Mento drew his gun with a shaky hand and held it into the air. He pulled on the trigger but only elicited an underwhelming click from the small Derringer. “Aw gee Sheriff! See what happens when you take my bullet!”
A large Mexican vaquero sporting a massive sombrero and bright poncho snuck up on Mento and raised a broken bottle high above his head.
Aquagirl tried to reach Mento but the crowd drove her in the opposite direction. It was like being adrift on the ocean. “Duck!” she yelled.
Mento turned in time to see the vaquero raise the bottle. A cigar-smoking duck materialized from his helmet and slugged the vaquero to the ground with a bloody nose.
The grumpy duck didn’t look amused. He uttered a string of profanities at Mento before chomping his cigar and blowing smoke rings in his face. “Hey pal! Right kind of crazy, but wrong publisher! Now send me back to the House of Ideas before I get really mad!”
The strange duck creature vanished from sight.
Someone grabbed Aquagirl from behind and clamped her in a bear hug. Her assailant was a very powerful man and seemed intent on crushing the life from her body. He lifted her off the floor which was his first mistake. She dug the heel of a granny boot into his shin. He cried out in pain as she raked his leg but held on tightly.
Just when it seemed the man would squeeze the life from her, the ornate, round chandelier yawned to life above them and stretched its arms toward her attacker. It grabbed his collar and lifted the man off the floor. He dropped Aquagirl as he kicked and pawed the air helplessly. He wasn’t sure who or what had him in its grip. His face twisted in horror when he realized the building itself had attacked him.
“What the…” asked the confused hombre a second before the chandelier dropped him. He struck the ground hard and crumpled into an unconscious heap by an overturned table.
Aquagirl smiled and nodded to Traci in the corner of the room.
Static Kid drew his six-guns and fired at a couple of men bearing down on him. Electricity shot from the gun barrels and zapped them unconscious.
Gunfire interrupted the fight and everyone turned to the grand staircase. A woman in a tight-fitting red and black floor-length dress stood at the top of the stairs brandishing a Mare’s Leg shotgun. A red pillbox-style hat with a black veil adorned her head and sat slightly off-center and to the right. She was a strikingly tall woman with impossibly high cheekbones and ivory complexion. “Zis is my saloon and I do not approve of such violence on ze premises!” she barked in a thick French accent as she surveyed the floor. “I should have known you would be mixed up in this Sheriff!”
“This is my town, Madame Rouge!” Gar barked back at her. “And as long as I’m sheriff, I make the law around these parts!”
Madame Rouge laughed. “The law? My men have buried three of your predecessors on Doom Hill already! What’s one more lawman?”
The taunt sent Gar into a rage. He morphed into a coyote and charged up the staircase toward Madame Rouge. Her right arm extended to meet his challenge. It grew impossibly long and wiry like a whip with her fingers forming the tails. She struck at Gar and sent him flying back down the staircase. He yelped in pain but changed to a hummingbird and flew away before he hit the bottom step.
Two men joined Madame Rouge. One was a dark-skinned cowboy holding a voodoo doll resembling Gar. He stuck a pin into the doll’s heart.
Gar howled in pain and was forced to revert to his human form. He collapsed as the man with the voodoo doll added more pins. The second man at Rouge’s side waved his hands in a circle and opened a vortex that swallowed Gar whole before closing with a vacuous pop.
“Sherrif!” Mento cried at the sight of his partner disappearing before his eyes. He raised a fist to the stately gentleman descending the stairs. “Bring him back, Senor Warp!”
Warp laughed. “Oh don’t worry, Deputy! I didn’t send the boy far! It amuses me to trifle with him before I kill him!”
The saloon doors swung open and Gar didn’t look pleased. He took the form of an emerald tiger and charged into the room with a roar. He leaped and closed the distance between himself and Warp. “I’ll deal with Warp!” he growled to Mento. “You take Houngan!”
Warp waved his hands once more but Gar disappeared before the villain could open another gateway. A moment later Gar changed from a mouse to an ape and unloaded a huge, hairy right hand across Warp’s jaw. The blow sent the criminal over the stair rail and crashing into one of the few tables that remained untouched on the floor below.
Houngan produced a Mento doll and poked a pin into its head. “You’ll find it difficult to dazzle me with your mental images Deputy when it hurts to even think!”
Mento gritted his teeth and his helmet whirred to life. A cloud of energy danced around the helmet but Mento dropped to his knees and screamed.
Aquagirl flipped a table over and broke off its legs. She hurled the table top at Houngan like an Olympic discus. The heavy table struck the Voodoo priest in the jaw and he dropped the Mento doll.
Mento took advantage of the break. An energy bolt shot from his hat and enveloped Houngan. With a wave of his hand, Mento lifted Houngan into the air and slung him across the establishment into the mirrored wall behind the bar. It shattered into a million pieces as the villain slumped to the floor.
Madame Rouge’s fingers grew and took the form of serpents. She wrapped a single, ductile finger around Gar’s body. He struggled against the serpentine digit but her grip held firm. Static was the next ensnared in her clutches. Traci and M’gann were taken at nearly the same moment. Madame Rouge cackled as she rounded up the Titans and drew the struggling heroes toward her.
A slithering coil rushed toward Aquagirl. She ripped her elegant dress above the knee so she could move freely and hopped onto the bar. The relentless coil pursued so she tore loose a jagged piece of the shattered mirror wall behind her.
“You hope to escape me with a piece of glass?” Madame Rouge taunted. “Foolish girl! I am your mistress! You will bow to me!”
The dark tendril reached for her waist but at the last moment wrapped around her ankle instead. It jerked and Aquagirl fell hard onto her back. Madame Rouge dragged her across the bar over the broken glass. Aquagirl yelped in pain as the glass dug into her exposed flesh. The tendril pulled her off the bar and onto the floor but Madame Rouge didn’t lose her grip and drug Lorena toward her.
Rose rushed to Aquagirl’s aid. She grabbed her teammate by the arms and tried pull her free but Madame Rouge’s tactile body proved too strong even for Rose. Aqugirl felt like she was being torn in half. “Please stop, Mrs. Wilson,” she begged Rose. “You’ll be the death of me.”
“I’m not done,” Rose replied. She leaped onto the slinking coil and raised her bouquet of tulips into the air. “I’m not sure what the deal is with the flowers but they seem to slice through anything so…”
She slapped the tulips across Rouge’s tendril and they sliced through it. The tulips disappeared and took the form of her sword. Rose looked pleased. “Now this is more like it!”
Rouge cried out in pain. “Little girl! You hurt me!”
Aquagirl kicked the still-writhing tendril away from her and hoped Rose could hold her own long enough to allow her to catch her breath.
Another finger cocked like a cobra waiting to strike and whipped Rose across the back. She dropped to her knees. Rouge reached out with another of her finger tendrils and tried to wrest Rose’s sword away from her.
Aquagirl found one of the table legs she broke off earlier and planted it like a flag in Rouge’s digit. “We don’t cotton to evil dictatorial psychos around these parts, Ma’am!”
Rouge screamed again and tried to free herself but Aquagirl’s super-strength jabbed the table leg through the floor and kept the tendril pinned. It was all the distraction her captured teammates needed to escape.
The fight between the Titans and Rouge turned epic. Aquagirl couldn’t help but think it was like battling a giant squid or some deep-sea monster. “Anyone have an idea what we’re trying to accomplish here besides defeat Ursula?” The return of her regular speech pattern was a welcome surprise.
“Who’s Ursula?” Static asked.
Traci rolled her eyes. “You know… Little Mermaid.”
Static shook his head. “If it’s not PBS or BBC America, I don’t know it.”
Rouge coiled her tentacles and shaped herself into a Giant Anaconda. “What do you say Logan? Care to… bite?”
“Everyone back off,” Logan ordered.
“But we have her on the ropes,” Blue Beetle countered. “I think we should…”
Gar turned to Beetle. “You may lead your team but I’m still the senior Titan, junior! Back off and that’s an order!”
Beetle didn’t look pleased but finally nodded to his team to allow Gar the chance to end the fight.
While they kept Rouge’s goons at bay, she and Gar locked in mortal combat. He met her serpentine form with an Anaconda of his own. They coiled around one another and Rouge yelped in pain when Gar sunk his fangs into her soft underbelly. The mass of shifting coils and scales was a sight to see! Each combatant must have been at least twenty feet in length and as thick as a man’s body if not more. It was hard to tell them apart as they wrapped themselves into a large ball. Aquagirl had no idea who was winning. Every few minutes one combatant would cry out as the other exploited a newfound vulnerability in their opponent’s position.
Then inexplicably, Rouge’s serpent grew larger and dominated Gar. No matter how he twisted and flopped she was more than a match for him. He flashed between his serpentine and human form.
“Come on, Gar!” Traci shouted. “You’ve got this!”
Rouge’s human head appeared for a brief moment but still bore fangs. “The only thing he’s “got” little girl is a date with Doom Hill!”
At last Gar gave out. Rouge was too large and powerful for him. He collapsed to the floor and reverted to human form.
Rouge wasted no time. She unhinged her jaw and swallowed him in a single bite. She turned to his teammates and grinned wickedly. “It is how do you say… tastes like chicken?”
“Gar, no!” M’gann screamed.
Aquagirl turned away.
“Now the rest of you will surrender or die,” Rouge spat. “The choice is yours and I care not which you choose.”
Rose snarled her lip. “Then we die!”
The Titans attacked Rouge but her larger serpentine form proved formidable. The battle raged back and forth with neither side taking a commanding position over the other.
“We should regroup,” M’gann suddenly shouted over the fray. She moved to the other side of the damaged barroom.
Beetle shook his head. “If we let up Rouge will win for sure!”
M’gann jerked Beetle away from Rouge with her Martian strength and dragged him to the other side of the room. “I said it is time to regroup NOW!”
It was unusual to see M’gann so forceful and sure.
Beetle sighed. “Titans, fall back!”
Their teammates joined them on the other side of the room.
Rouge cackled. “Foolish youths! You have given me a moment of respite to collect myself and…”
A fist emerged from Rouge’s serpentine belly. She screamed and her human arms appeared to reach for her wounded underbelly. “What is happening to me? What are you doing?”
M’gann smiled “We aren’t doing anything.”
Rouge’s scream was blood-curling as her eyes popped from their sockets. She tried desperately to regain human form but her serpentine body exploded. Another serpentine form took her place and grew even larger until it crashed through the saloon doors and into the street.
“This doesn’t look so good,” said Aquagirl. “It was all we could do to hold our own with the mommy. How do we deal with Baby Huey?”
The massive emerald serpent smiled. “Who are you calling Baby Huey?” Gar asked.
“Gar is that really you?” Traci asked.
The serpent nodded. “I’ve done the T-Rex thing many times but I remembered giant prehistoric snakes once roamed the earth as well. Just call me Titanoboa!”
Mento made his way to the Titans’ side. “Can you ditch that ridiculous form and let’s wrap this up?”
“Spoilsport,” Gar hissed. Aquagirl wasn’t sure if he stuck out his tongue at Mento or if it was the final throes of his serpentine form presenting itself.
The Titans searched the rubble.
“The last time it was a baby’s bottle. What are we looking for this time?” Rose asked. “A See and Say?”
Mento shook his head. “No idea but I’ll recognize it when I see it. There!” He pointed to a man crumpled by the piano beneath a Navajo blanket. He approached the man and stood over him for a moment but when he removed the blanket, no one was beneath it.
“What the heck?” Static asked. “You guys saw the form of a dude under the blanket too, right?”
“Nothing here makes sense,” M’gann replied.
Rose shrugged her shoulders. “So… an old Indian blanket?”
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Blue Beetle. “I thought we were looking for a baby theme or something.”
Mento folded the blanket and draped it over his left arm. “I assure you there’s a theme, Beetle.”
Beetle shook his head. “And that theme is…”
Mento shrugged. “Unclear. Let’s move.”
The Titans threw open the saloon doors and exited back onto Danny the Street. It was still dark and all the stores were closed. A large full moon hung high in the sky. The street was alive with the sounds of loud, 1990’s era punk-rock music.
“Bona ta Vada, Titans!” read a sales banner in the window of a butcher shop. “Did your adventure prove fruitful?” asked another small circular posted beneath it.
“I think so,” Traci replied. “It’s hard to tell without a score card.”
“So where to now?” Gar asked.
M’gann pointed to a long line of punks that wrapped around a street corner and disappeared into another of Danny’s alleys. “If I had to guess…”
The punks didn’t seem to mind the Titans skipping to the front of the line. In fact they almost expected it. Two large, broad-shouldered bouncers flanked a dwarf between them. Whenever he tapped one of the waiting patrons on the belly, the bouncers allowed them to enter.
Mento and the Titans approached the gate-keepers carefully.
“We need to get inside!” Mento demanded.
The pipsqueak held up a clipboard and screamed over the music. “Your name has to be on the list or you wait in line!”
“Mento and the Teen Titans,” Mento shouted.
The little man shook his head. “Not all of you.” He went down the line and tapped Mento, Gar, Blue Beetle, Static, and Aquagirl. “The rest of you will have to wait.”
“Like hell we will!” Rose argued.
Blue Beetle held up his hand. “It’s okay, Rose. We’ll meet them inside when we can.”
The “cool kids” usually got into clubs like this, not Aquagirl. She followed her teammates into the club. And of course it wasn’t a club at all inside. Instead they were in Doom Patrol headquarters and from the looks of the technology it was many years before she was even born. Niles Caulder rolled out in his wheelchair and approached them.
“Oh good, you’re back!” Caulder said. “The government of France asked me to convey their deepest gratitude but I’m afraid there’s no rest for the weary. You’re needed at Niagara Falls. I’ll fill you in on your way and monitor via the television set built into Robotman’s chest.
Aquagirl looked around for the Doom Patrol to join them and caught her reflection in a mirror. She was surprised to see Rita Farr’s lovely face staring back at her. Blue Beetle was Robotman and Static was wrapped in Larry Trainor’s Negative Man bandages. Gar was a young boy and wore a horned mask. Mento looked like himself.
“Alright Doom Patrol!” said Caulder. “You have your orders! Move out!”
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