Ed Nashton reclined in his hospital bed, watching television.
“What is nylon?” he said, moments before Alex Trebek said it. “Who is Fredric Brown? What is Delaware?”
“What were you thinking, Ed?” came a voice from the window.
Ed turned his head and saw the Huntress perched on the ledge.
“Won’t you come in?” Ed said sweetly. “I’d offer you something, but unless you like bad vanilla pudding…”
“Ed, tonight I caught some gang-bangers busting up the Gotham History Museum,” Huntress said, stepping into the room.
“Good job,” Ed said with a smile.
“They said an old man named Nashton hired them to do it.”
“Amazing coincidence,” Ed said, without changing expression. “Did you find the man in question?”
“I hope not,” the Huntress said.
“Oh, come on,” Ed said. “Surely you don’t think I would have a reason to destroy the super-villain exhibit at the Gotham History Museum.”
“Ed,” the Huntress said slowly, “I never said it was the super-villain exhibit.”
Ed sighed deeply. “I know. I guess I’m not as sharp as I used to be.”
“Why, Ed?” Huntress asked. “Why did you hire them?”
Ed waved at a chair. “Sit down, Huntress, and I’ll tell you the story,” he said. The Huntress sat. “First of all, my last name isn’t really Nashton. It’s Nigma.”
The Huntress looked at the old man, a little puzzled. Her brow furrowed as she thought. “Where do I know that name from?”
“When I said I met your father a time or two,” Ed said, “I was being facetious. I fought him, twice, in 1948. Then he put me in jail.”
The Huntress gasped and pointed at the frail old man. “You’re the Riddler!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Riddler,” Detective Comics #140 (October, 1948) and “Crime’s Puzzle Contest,” Detective Comics #142 (December, 1948).]
“I was,” Ed said. “Now I’m just an old and dying man.”
“What happened?” was all the Huntress could say.
“Oh, what happened to my life,” Ed said bitterly. “I was a cocky young man, thought I was the smartest thing on two legs because I was good at puzzles. Thought I could challenge the legendary Batman. Boy, did I get taken down a peg or six. I spent seventeen years in prison; when I got out, my spirit was thoroughly broken. I had no interest in trying to go back to crime; all I wanted was to pull my life together. I made a good go of it, I really did. Got married, found a regular job. Then I lost my wife a few years ago in a car accident. Not long after that, I found out I had the big C. I found myself looking back on my life, and finding it wanting. That’s why I spend so much time with the kids; making them happy makes some difference in my life.”
“But… why trash the exhibit?” Huntress asked.
Ed sighed. “Stupid male pride, I guess. I’m not represented in the museum. Do you know they even included Professor Radium, and not me? Guess I just wanted to get back at them.” Ed lifted his trembling hands to the Huntress. “Will you be slapping the bat-cuffs on?”
The Huntress smiled at him and gently pushed his hands back down. “No, Ed. Frankly, if the worst regret you have is no statue in the super-villains exhibit, you’re doing all right.”
Ed chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s basically what they told me a few months ago when I became the Riddler for the first time in decades, along with a bunch of other over-the-hill Batman rogues,” he explained. At the Huntress’ quizzical look, he added, “You’ll have to ask Red Robin about that one. (*) Needless to say, it wasn’t my proudest moment, and they let me off with a slap on the wrist, since technically I hadn’t committed any real crimes, except fraternizing with other ex-cons and getting into a brawl.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robin: The Dark Knight Returns, Chapter 4: Second Chances.]
Ed sighed again and looked out the window. “Still, I only wish that were my worst regret.”
The Huntress’ eyebrows raised. “What is?”
“My son,” Ed whispered. “We had a falling out shortly after his mother died. I wanted him to make something of his life, not waste it like I did. Tried to push him into studying law, or medicine, or something like that. I guess I pushed too hard. He left, and I haven’t spoken to him in three years.”
“Your son,” Huntress said softly. “He resented you pushing him into a career. What did he want to do?”
Ed smiled. “I think he inherited some of his old man’s creativity. He wanted to be a writer.”
“Mr. Gaimen, I’m glad you came,” Huntress said, welcoming the gangly young man into the JSA reception room.
“Anytime,” Eric Gaimen said. “You said you wanted to discuss something with me. Was it a story idea, or…?”
“It’s your father,” the Huntress said softly.
Eric looked up sharply. “My father? I-I don’t understand.”
“Your real name is Nigma, isn’t it, Eric?” Huntress asked.
Gaimen looked stunned, then resentful. “Look, I don’t know who told you, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not my father’s son, and even if he was a super-villain forty years ago, I’m still my own person! If you don’t want me working on the JSA comic because of it, that’s pretty damn unfair–”
“I don’t have a problem with it,” the Huntress said. “But why haven’t you spoken to your father in three years?”
Eric gasped. “Just what business is it of yours? No offense, but–”
“Do you know where your father is right now?”
“No, I don’t! And I don’t much care! My father is an embarrassment, a pathetic old man who used to run around in his long johns sending clues to the police, and he tried to tell me how to run my life! I want nothing from him, no part of him!”
“Is that why you changed your name to Gaimen?” Huntress asked. “An anagram of enigma?”
Eric waved his hand dismissively. “So, I inherited a bit of my father’s flair.”
“Your father is a kind, loving man,” the Huntress said. “He spends hours every day in the children’s ward of Gotham Mercy Hospital, telling jokes to the children, reading to them, making them happy. He’s one of the most selfless men I ever hope to meet, and that’s knowing that he used to fight my father.”
“He does?” Eric said. “I didn’t know that.”
“Your father’s a wonderful man,” Huntress said. “His only crime — not counting his Riddler career — was caring too much about his son’s future.”
Eric looked away, unable to meet the Huntress’ gaze.
“Your father is dying, Eric.”
Eric turned a wide-eyed gaze at the Huntress.
Ed lay back in his hospital bed, watching television.
“Oh, come on! You bought a vowel?” Ed complained.
“Knock knock,” the Huntress said, gently knocking on the door frame.
Ed looked up, smiling in surprise. “Well, using the door this time. Come in.”
“I have someone who’d like to talk to you,” Huntress said. Ed craned his neck to see. His eyes widened when he saw his son enter the room.
“Hi, Dad,” Eric said. “I heard you’re sick.”
“I’ve felt better,” Ed admitted. “What are you doing these days?”
“I’m writing comic-books,” Eric said. “The JSA comic, in fact.”
Ed’s eyes brightened. “You’re Eric Gaimen?”
Eric did a double-take. “You read my comics?”
“I love them! Gaimen, Enigma — I should have known!”
“I hear you’re pretty popular with the kids, Dad.”
“More than I was with my own,” Ed said, smiling ruefully.
“I guess these are smarter than your own,” Eric said.
The Huntress left with a huge smile on her face.
Two months later:
“Eric, hi,” the Huntress said as she saw the young man walking out of JSA Headquarters.
“Hello, Huntress,” Eric said, stopping to talk to her. “I was just talking to the Atom about next month’s issue. Listen, I really want to thank you for bringing my father and me back together. These last two months have been just wonderful, and I owe it all to you.”
“I was glad to do it, Eric,” the Huntress said. “How is your dad, by the way? I have a surprise for him. I spoke to the board of directors of the Gotham History Museum, and I’ve convinced them to put a Riddler statue in the super-villain exhibit!”
Eric smiled wistfully. “Thank you, Huntress. He would have been touched.”
“Would have?” Huntress asked, confused. “What do you m — oh, no!” Huntress’ gloved hand flew to her mouth as she gaped in shock.
“I’m afraid you’re too late, Huntress,” Eric said, sadly. “But, thanks to you… I wasn’t.”