“Ape-Man, I know your secret! Meet me at the Wallace Ave. Warehouse tonight! –W.” was all the sign read. Why did it strike such fear in the heart of Ape-Man? Find out in —
“The Challenge of W!”
by Scott Casper, thanks to Lieber and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #36
Mattie was a small female gibbon, an “escapee” from the Bronx Zoo’s collection, as the other apes were. Mattie chattered a little, then sped to the wall, leapt up, and found the bars on the warehouse windows more than adequate for scaling up the side of the building. In moments, Mattie was inside; tense minutes after that, Mattie was hanging off the door handle of the back door as it swung open.
“Nice work, Mattie!” Ape-Man said. “Mattie, you stay here. Faben, you’re with me!” he said to the chimpanzee with him. He had some more instructions for Faben which he gave the excited chimp before heading inside.
Ape-Man could not even see the third floor windows when he entered; there was a partial roof over him and partition walls blocking his view of the whole floor of the warehouse. The partition walls extended out from the side walls to support columns that rose through the second floor. It was a little scary how good a burglar Mattie was, having found her way down here so fast.
Ape-Man moved cautiously into the dark interior of the warehouse. He had expected to find more cover, but the warehouse was disturbingly free of good hiding places, like stacks of boxes and crates. Multiple staircases ascended to the partial second floor of the place and, as Ape-Man moved into the middle of the warehouse, he could finally see all the way up to the roof.
A button was pushed somewhere up above him and the lights began to flicker on all over the warehouse. Looking up, Ape-Man spotted a figure who had been standing quietly on a catwalk connecting sections of the second floor positioned almost directly above him. The figure was a thin, slight man dressed like a cowboy, complete with ten-gallon hat and twin pistols holstered at his waist. The figure was casually posed, leaning on the rail of the catwalk, but had an old-fashioned Winchester bolt-action rifle cradled in his arms that lent him menace.
“Well, slap my knee and caaaalll me crazy!” the cowboy shouted excitedly. “If that don’t beat all, my trap’s done caught me an ape with some curious fashion sense! Now, the big money question is, is you a talkin’ ape, or am I just wastin’ my time not pullin’ this trigger…” the cowboy said, still sounding comical, but drawing the rifle up to his shoulder and pointing it right at Ape-Man with frightening speed.
Ape-Man raised his hands and spoke in a deep, growly, but still human-like voice. “You must be ‘W’. You can’t be surprised, if you know my secret…” Ape-Man said.
“W” laughed. The rifle jiggled a little, but was still aimed at Ape-Man. “For a talkin’ ape, you’ll be feelin’ mighty stoopid’ in a minute. ‘Cuz I never knew any secrets. I jus’ make up thangs’ when I need to get wut’ I want.”
“And what is that, Mr…?”
“Just call me W — most people do,” W said. “Mostly I aim ta’ get paid for shootin’ ya, but first…I’m wondering if there’s anything to be gained from keepin’ ya’ alive a little longer. Like that thingee you’re wearin’ on your noggin. Does that have somethin’ to do with you bein’ able to talk? Cuz that might be worth somethin’ to me…like shootin’ you so you’ll die quick instead a’ slow…”
“Wait, let me take this off…” Ape-Man said, reaching up for his headset. Instead of taking it off, though, he carefully increased the volume on his mic and shouted “Faben, now!”
The chimpanzee had found the circuit breaker box near the rear of the building, as per his instructions, and on command threw the biggest switch in the box. The warehouse was immediately plunged into darkness.
W, instead of shooting right away, fumbled for the control box for the lights he had meticulously strung out to the catwalk on an extension cord and wrapped around the railing. He pressed the button a few times, but could not get the lights to come back on. Frustrated, he growled. “My Pappy always told me not to trust a smooth-talker — even if he is a gorilla!” W had both hands on his rifle again and scanned the darkness below for some movement he might observe by moonlight. Something moved on the far staircase — he took quick aim and fired. The echo of the gunshot reverberated through the warehouse and a single shell casing clattered to the floor. The partial silhouette disappeared and W was left with nothing to look at again.
Ape-Man had been able to ascend the staircase quickly by swinging upwards from the railing. While the ground floor had been largely empty, the second floor had long crates stacked four feet high, cardboard boxes just as tall mounted on wooden pallets, and metal shelves that stood against the columns that rose up from the lower floor.
“Ah’ know you’re up here, Ape-Man…” W called out into the darkness. “I suppose you think this makes things even, but ah’m still the one with the gun here…” W talked tough, but he was prepared to take fewer chances; he switched his rifle from single shot to automatic fire.
Ape-Man heard the catwalk rattle; W was moving too. He could lose himself in the darkness quickly, the same as Ape-Man had, if he did not move fast. Ape-Man rested his hand on a shelving unit and realized that it was actually standing on a long, wheeled dolly.
W was about to move off the catwalk when he heard, and then saw, a wobbling metal shelving unit careening towards him on a runaway dolly. Figuring Ape-Man might be pushing it, W took the time to spray bullets between the shelves. As the dolly hit the uneven floor of the catwalk, the tall shelves began to tilt W’s way. W walked backwards, watching the shelves topple towards him as he dodged — and then saw Ape-Man bound out of the darkness onto the top shelf, riding it as it fell towards him!
Ape-Man let the falling shelves’ momentum catapult him towards W. He reached the gunman before W could raise the rifle again and swatted it out of his hands. The rifle clattered on the floor below, but hardly anyone heard it, for Ape-Man then slammed bodily into W and they both tumbled end over end across the catwalk until they landed on the other side, with Ape-Man on top. During the tumbling, Ape-Man had dextrously drawn the six-guns slung in holsters on each of W’s hips and held the guns pointed at W’s face.
W, for his part, calmly laid there underneath, smiling up into the face of an angry gorilla. In his hand was a flare, which W had pulled off his belt instead of going for his guns. W closed his eyes and flicked the flare on. Ape-Man, reacting a moment slower, was blinded. Ape-Man backed off, still well-armed, but not willing to shoot wildly. He had no intention of shooting anyway, but had merely hoped to force W’s surrender. Now Ape-Man could only struggle to see past the spots in front of his eyes as he heard W running to the stairs.
“You were smart, Ape-Man, but ah’m a mite bit smarter! Harvard-educamucated’ and everythin’! See ya’ in the rematch, Ape!”
Oh, I’ll be waiting! Ape-Man thought to himself.
And so Ape-Man’s secret was still safe — but what is his secret? The end — for now!