For a moment, Hourman felt a chill of fear. He hadn’t counted on facing a super-villain without his Miraclo powers. Then he steeled himself, summoning up his courage. He threw out his chest and hoped to bluff his way through this.
“Might as well throw in the towel, Crock,” Hourman advised. “You know that Louisville slugger can’t hurt me! I’ll snap it in two like a matchstick! So why don’t you spare yourself some lumps and come along quietly?”
“Sheesh!” Sportsmaster sneered. “Do all you guys have the same dialogue writer, or something? And as for this bat, well, it’s not exactly regulation!” With that, the Sportsmaster thrust the bat forward. Hourman gaped in amazement as the top of the bat swung down, and a barrage of baseballs fired from the now-open muzzle of the bat like bazooka shells. The man of the hour moved as fast as he could to duck the whizzing spheres. He couldn’t move quite fast enough, however; as most of the balls sailed over his head to crash through the display window into the street, the last caught him on the left shoulder. Hourman felt the sharp stab of pain and heard the crunch of bone and his own cry of agony.
“Foul ball!” Sportsmaster cried, watching Hourman sink to his knees in sudden pain. With a flip of a switch on the handle, the top of the bat snapped back into place. Sportsmaster strode up to Hourman, holding the bat by the handle with both hands and raising it high above his head. “Time for a pinch hit,” the athletic adversary sneered, preparing to drive the wooden club down onto Hourman’s skull.
The longtime JSAer ignored the pain in his shoulder and drove his right first up high and hard into the Sportsmaster’s stomach. The villain was protected by the padded catcher’s vest he wore as part of his costume, but the blow was still strong enough and unexpected enough to make him drop his bat. Hourman pressed his advantage, kicking out with his leg and catching the Sportsmaster behind the knees, toppling him to the floor.
Holding his injured shoulder and biting his lower lip, Hourman scrambled to his feet and stood over Sportsmaster. “Ready to give it up, Crock?”
Sporstmaster writhed on the floor, clutching his stomach where Hourman had punched him. Then his right hand flew up from his belt, flinging a handful of blue dust into Hourman’s face and eyes. Suddenly blinded, the man of the hour instinctively covered his face with his hands, leaving his stomach open to a swift kick from the crafty villain. Already wracked with pain, Hourman toppled to the floor, barely conscious.
“Afraid you missed your cue, thanks to some billiard chalk,” Sportsmaster said, rising to his feet. He then shook his head in disgust. “Cripes, I gotta stop fighting you longjohn types! I’m starting to talk like you!” With that, the masked villain drew a small pistol from a holster strapped to his calf under his pant leg and aimed it at Hourman’s head. “If you’re a praying man,” he advised the helpless hero, “now’s the time.”
Red spots swam before Hourman’s eyes. He blinked twice to focus and saw the muzzle of the gun pointed right at his head. He did not think; he only acted. His legs shot out like pistons, propelling him upward from his crouching position. His head collided with Sportsmaster’s hand, and the shot went wild, the bullet embedding in the ceiling of the jewelry store.
“Don’t you ever give up?” Sportsmaster growled. “I could almost admire you, if I didn’t hate your guts!” Sportsmaster delivered a punch to Hourman’s jaw with pugilistic precision that would wring jealousy from Wildcat. Stunned, the hero went down.
“And now–” The villain’s tirade was cut off by sirens. Police cars, apparently drawn by the baseballs rocketing through the jewelry store window from inside, pulled up in front of the store. Hourman watched as Sportsmaster’s eyes momentarily flicked to the back of the store and the rear exit that undoubtedly lay that way. Then the man of the hour gaped in astonishment as the villain placed his hands on top of his head.
“I surrender,” he said simply.
Minutes later, uniformed policemen were putting handcuffs on the Sportsmaster’s hands, while another helped Hourman fashion a sling for his injured left arm from his cape. Hourman refused the offer of calling an EMT; he was reasonably sure Doctor Mid-Nite was on duty at JSA Headquarters that night.
“OK, let’s go,” one of the policemen said to Sportsmaster as they began to lead him away.
“Wait a minute,” Hourman called, and the police and their prisoner stopped. Hourman walked up to the masked villain. “I need to ask you something,” he said.
“Yeah?” Sportsmaster snorted. “What?”
“Why did you surrender?” Hourman asked. “You could still have escaped out the back way. Maybe you wouldn’t have made it, but you had a good chance.”
“But not with what I came for,” Sportsmaster said. “Don’t you know what tonight is, Flourman?”
“Valentine’s Day,” Hourman said automatically.
“Damn straight. And I forgot! If I go home without a present for my wife, I’ll never hear the end of it!” Sportsmaster said, referring to his wife, the original Huntress. “She’s still ticked off about that Super Bowl bet I lost to the Gambler. I’d rather go back to jail than face that!” Sportsmaster turned his head to the police sergeant. “And speaking of that, let’s go, all right? I don’t want to miss last seating for dinner.”
The police led the cuffed villain out of the store. Hourman watched them go until they were gone; then he threw back his head and laughed, loud and long.