The Cast: Bill (criminal), Erich (Tiger), Goons (Bill’s buddies), Myself (Praying Mantis), Richard (Shadow).
The sword was raised. Tiger was going to lose his head. By his own blade…
Usually, criminal crime-fighting went pretty well for us. We could either fight, run & hide, or a little bit of both. No matter what happened, it never went as bad as it did that one night in the summer of ’92.
Another typical encounter with Bill and his goons had Shadow, Tiger, and myself in a small skirmish that really should have been over almost before it began. To this day I still don’t understand what went wrong. The three of us had gotten pretty good at either avoiding the danger or quickly beating it down. This time, however, the enemy had quickly gained the upper-hand and was giving us a night to never forget. I guess it’s true what they say about how ‘every dog has his day’.
But, before I get into that let me take a moment to tell you about Tiger’s tail. See, I had gotten pretty good at the gadget building. Especially considering how I had to build most of what we used out of stuff I could find in junk piles or the local small-town hardware store. Tiger’s tail was no exception.
While I am in no position to judge, it did seem a little weird how overly attached Erich quickly became to his Tiger persona (I, myself, had developed multiple costumed personalities because I just couldn’t pick just one!). Even down to his wanting of a tail. Fine. It was his costume. His alter ego. His identity. His idée fixe. So, I said that I would see what I could do. And let’s just say that the first several prototypes were seriously lacking in… everything. For example: The first one was a cloth tube stuffed with batting.
It looked like… Well, it just looked wrong is what it looked like. We never even attached it, or tried it out. (I can’t believe I’m even writing about it. you know what just forget about it. just ignore that sentence)
After some real thinking, I mean REAL thinking, we were stuck by inspiration. As Erich and I were walking through the city park in the afternoon a jump rope had gotten loose from the grip of some overzealous jump ropers and the thing went flying and hit us both in the face. Which hurt like, like… It hurt. Okay? It hurt. It was one of those jump ropes with the plastic beads on it. You know the kind? Those beads that are there to help the rope to last longer and make that distinct clapping/slapping sound when they strike pavement. Yeah, it was one of those.
After some carefully chosen words were uttered under our breath, we returned that almost lethal jump rope to it’s eight-year-old owners and walked away. And while we walked we talked. Eventually, we had come to the conclusion that we needed one of those jump ropes for Erich’s tail. So, we had three options: Option one was to buy a new one. Option two was to steal one (like, from those two kids who…). Option three was to find out if Richard had one because neither Erich nor I had one. Richard did.
The design was simple and elegant—even if I do have to say so myself. First, we slightly altered the ends of the beads by adding grooves and angles to some of them so that they would interact uniquely with each other. Then we had to find a way to attach it to Erich’s butt. The initial Idea was to just connect it to a belt, but then Erich wanted to be able to use it like a monkey’s tail, and even though Richard and I reminded him that he was not Monkey-Man and that he was, indeed, Tiger, Erich still wanted to be able to use it like a monkey. Fine.
If becoming a load-bearing suspension tail was what it was going to become, we needed more than just a belt, we needed a weight-bearing belt. Richard came up with the solution to that one, “What about a weightlifting belt? They’re thick and sturdy. Right?”
“Yeah! Plus, if I get punched in the gut, it’ll be like another layer of armor! Sort-of.” Was Erich’s more-than-gleeful response. If his eyes had lit up any more he’da been a lighthouse.
Now all we needed was a weightlifting belt. Like they just fall from the sky or something? Well, they do. Or at least this one did. I was in The Sewer, working on the tail when the belt dropped through the open manhole and landed before my feet.
“Here you go.” I looked up to see Richard and Erich looking down and smiling at me.
“Where did you get this?” I had to ask.
“We-e found it.” “Yeah, found it.” To which they exchanged conspiratorial looks. “Now you can finish the tail.” “Yeah, get to work.” and with that, they left.
As I picked up the belt, I couldn’t help but notice the local college’s logo stamped into the leather. Well, it’s our now… And I got to work.
Now that I had the belt, the whole thing came together rather quickly. Using some simple metal cable, the plastic beads, and some sturdy leather, I was able to construct a pretty cool tail for my friend Tiger. With the right amount of tension put on the cable, the beads—with their customizations—buckled and twisted like a real tail might. We tried a few variations in the design to compensate for its weight and durability before we had it, but at the end (puns intended) we had it.
Because of the weightlifting belt distributing weight, tensions, and reinforcing his abdomen, Shadow and I could lean Tiger over a building ledge and it held up just fine. In retrospect, we should have tested that one from a single stair or a patio first, before we tried the second story of the city courthouse. Oh, well. Too late now. But it worked! It worked better than we believed it could. It also didn’t take long before Tiger got good at using it for a weapon.
If you know anything about Batman, you would know that everything he has serves more than one purpose. Even his cape has weighted tips to be used as a weapon. Erich followed this idea and added his tail-whip into a move he had developed about a year or so before.
The ‘Whirlwind’ was something Erich had concocted to keep himself scary, lethal, and defended while executing aerial attacks. As Tiger, he would jump into the air and add a spin, while holding his swords at different angles close to his body (edges outward), then he would twist his arms about his head and torso—like a bizarre dance move—adding extra movements to his swords. It created a ‘shield’ like defence. When done correctly, he would land at his opponents feet, and could extend his blades outward at any given time during this spin—to change the defence into an offence.
Well, you add a tail in there and Tiger could either just smack you with it, or wrap it around an ankle and then pull you to the ground as he stood up. It was pretty slick to see. Yeah, the tail was looking like a keeper. Then, the summer of ’92 happened and things changed.
To this day, I still cannot figure out how we got into that situation. Shadow had been missing for sometime, along with a few of Bill’s goon-squad. I was busy being overwhelmed by just three. Three!?! I’ve taken on much more than that and been just fine. But, three of them had me on the ropes. Then there was Tiger… Yeah, that situation was no good.
At some point in the struggle, to prove that Bill knew who the secret identities of Tiger, Shadow, and Praying Mantis truly were—he had become a little bit obsessive. While Bill believed it was Erich, Richard, and myself, he never could prove it—despite his best efforts. This had become a driving force for him that bordered on insanity. Some nights he would patrol the streets trying to find us while we were trying to find him, or crime, or both—sometimes Bill was the crime. So, yeah, after a few years of this, it just got, well… weird.
Then, one night, the three of us spotted Bill helping himself to some supplies from the back of someone’s truck. We weren’t sure who’s truck it was or who’s stuff it was, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t Bill’s.
“Put it back, Bill.” Came the command, as we stepped from the shadows.
“Finally. I’ve been unloading and reloading, and unloading this junk for two hours waiting for you jokers.” Bill looked smug. Fine. He’d looked smug before and been wrong every time. Nothing to worry about.
“What are you talking about?” Tiger growled and leveled one of his blades toward Bill’s chest.
“Get’em, boys!” Bill called out, with a wry smile upon his lips. And, that’s when we realized we had been suckered. Big time.
Thugs came out from the bushes, from out of the back of the truck bed, out of the shadows… What in the world?!? How did we not see this one? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! A fight is what Bill wanted, so a fight is what we gave him.
Shadow quickly gave two of them a close look at his staff (I think one even tasted the wood). Another came for me with a club and I deflected it with my gauntlets (I had long ago added metal plates into them to deflect blades and such—like the one that came right after the club), followed by a second block of a downward knife, with my right gauntlet. So far, so good. With everything happening so fast, it was difficult to get a count of how many there were. It didn’t take long to find out. There were thirteen. Unlucky—for us.
Tiger had been hopping about the truck, up and down and around, thunking bad guys and kicking some literal behind. Seriously, I watched him grab the side of the truck bed and as he swung himself up and into it, he kicked a goon’s butt so hard the guy fell onto his face.
Shadow was doing pretty good himself. Some staff swings here and there. A few well placed blocks. Then he got backed toward a wall as a brawny dude made a massive swing for Shadow’s midsection. But, there’s a reason he’s called Shadow. With all that dark cloak and stuff, the dude couldn’t see that Shadow’s torso was twisted, so the blow that would have knocked Shadow to the ground impacted with the brick wall behind. The sound of pain and broken bones… Good times.
I was ducking and weaving, doing my slick maneuvering thing that I often did so well. A couple deflections, some headshots. A P.A.W. entanglement. Whatever the score was, we were in the lead. No question. But, Bill hadn’t really moved. He had just stood there, leaning against his car’s open door, arms folded across his chest, and smiling. I guess that’s when Tiger had had enough.
At some point, Shadow—in an attack—had his staff grabbed and broken by one of the bigger fella’s. I guess a broken hand equals a broken staff, or something like that. Then he took a few blows to the face and upper body before he disappeared. We would find out later that Shadow was attempting to lead some goons off, shake them loose, and then come back to help. Nice try. Noble effort.
All I knew—at the time—is that Tiger and I were outnumbered, and I was running out of ideas. Next thing I knew my arms were seized and someone was using my gut as a heavy bag. I was about to throw up.
Tiger had had enough. He leapt to the top of Bill’s car, pointed his sword at Bill’s face as if to say, “This ends now.” It worked. Bill, visibly terrified, backed away. Tiger leapt into his Whirlwind attack. It was a trap. We had been had. As Tiger spun, his tail would have hit Bill directly in the face if he hadn’t have been ready for it. Tiger had done this before and the result had left a wicked scar on Bill’s right cheek. As Tiger spun, and the tail came round, Bill grabbed it. Who would have imagined that Bill could think of an elaborate plan like this? Not us. He must had gotten help. I would have been more impressed had I not been in such pain.
With the tail now in Bill’s hands, it screwed up Tiger’s Whirlwind attack, and as he dropped to the ground, his swords skittering out of reach. Bill took this opportunity to complete his plan. He jumped into the driver’s side of his car and slammed Tiger’s tail into the door, to keep him contained.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here? Looks like I’ve got the Tiger by the tail.” This brought the typical chuckles from the dogs of idiocy. “What should we do with him? Oh, I know. Let’s drag Main.” At that, Bill started his car and revved his engine. Oh, the laughter that this brought. The kind of sickening laughter that comes from those who are warped and have lost their humanity. Oh, Tiger…
“Wait.” One of Bill’s lackey’s had picked up a sword of Tiger’s and was looking it over. “I have a better idea. Let’s see how sharp this thing really is.” He then raised the sword high in preparation. I was sick and helpless to assist my friend. My vision began to blur as tears formed under my mask. So this is how it ends? The sword came down with a flash and a clang. Clang?!?!
“What have you done?!” Bill roared as he tried to open his door, but the tail had jammed it shut.
“Look! I didn’t sign on for this! Beat him up, sure. Unmask them, sure. Kick them around some, fine by me. But I am not going to be a part of using a car to drag somebody to their death! No, sir.” This scumbag had some humanity after all. He had used the sword to cut Tiger’s tail off. To set him free. And, in the process, he made a nice scratch and dent in Bill’s car door.
The grip on my arms had loosened, so I took the opportunity to break free and run. Tiger had already grabbed his swords and was right beside me. We both headed for The Crick, as the southern Main Street opening was nearby. Upon our approach, we encountered the goons that had followed Shadow. Tiger and I both took them down from behind, jumped into The Crick, grabbed two stashed rafts (for just such emergency quick-escapes), noticed the third was missing (Shadow), and disappeared downstream.
At the other end, we found a soggy Shadow sitting on the slope of the bank. The three of us sat for some time, licking our wounds and lamenting the loses of the night. “I can’t keep my tail, can I?” Tiger asked, already knowing the answer.
“Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.”
“It lasted a month.” At that, Shadow punched me in the shoulder for my incesitivity. “Ow.”
Tiger never did use his tail again and Shadow eventually found himself a new staff—sadly, it was never as good as his first. And, after that night, Bill’s group of goons kinda disappeared. Sure, he still had some die-hard idiots that stayed with him. But, for the most part, after seeing the true nature of the lunacy that was Bill, they wanted no part of it.
The next school year the sword-goon and I became aquaintences in class—due to randomized seating charts. We were never really friends, but we could get along. And, over the years, we have bumped into each other, said our “Hello’s” and continued along our separate ways. Sometimes, you just gotta let things go and move on.