The Terrible Traps of Egghead!
July 4, 1963
The desert is no place to be lost. Unless one wishes to be, in which case it is a decent place. Two figures made their way across the sandy waste towards a small outcropping of rocks. The first figure was a man, short and lean, with a hungry look about him. The other was also male, but he was as tall as his companion was short.
"I tell you Ape, it's getting where you can't find honest work nowadays!" The shorter man griped as he removed his long coat.
"I know Twister, I know." Ape wiped his brow. He hand came back drenched. "Sure is hot out today."
The unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked made them pause. Standing on top of a small outcropping of rocks was a man. His baldhead shone in the bright sun. His body was lean and ravaged and clad in mostly rags, but the weapon in his hand was shiny and new. Two baleful eyes stared out from behind two cracked lenses. "I'd suggest you identify yourselves gentlemen."
"Easy, easy!" Twister held up his hands. "Handle's Twister and this here is Ape" he flicked a thumb behind him.
"We ain't looking for trouble mister!" Ape held up his hands as well. "We're just hungry and lost, that's all."
The gun-wielding stranger glared down at them. "Judging from your attire, I'd say you were criminals. Correct?"
Twister nodded in agreement. "Yeah, we got run out of Center by that creep Ant-Man."
"Ant-Man!" The man almost dropped his shotgun. "Even here he haunts me!" Shouldering the weapon, he climbed down the rock. His entire demeanor changed as he walked towards them. Minus the gun, he could have been a welcoming party to a new set of neighbors. "It seems I misjudged you boys. What do you say we retire to my dwelling and plot some old fashioned revenge?" He stuck out his right hand.
"Mister, I like your style!" Twister lowered his arms and eagerly shook the offered hand. "By the way, who are you?"
The intensity returned to the man's eyes. "Men call me Egghead."
A short distance away, inside the abandoned shack, Egghead placed the shotgun down as his two guests helped themselves to the offered cans of beans and weak coffee. Once they had eaten their fill, their hosts sat down and cleared the table. "Now, what has my enemy been up to?"
Twister went first. "It's just terrible, that's what. Ant-Man and his squad have been worse than the Gangbusters!"
"Yeah, every racket's been broken!" Ape grunted.
"The gangs stay clear, leaving nothing for us working stiffs."
"And that don't pay nothing!" Ape clenched his fist at the memories. "All we can do is snatch purses and do small time holdups!"
"I tell you Egghead, crime's not paying like it used to!" Twister whined.
Egghead sat and listened, occasionally sipping his coffee. At length he sat the cup down and looked his two guests in the eye. "A truly moving story gentlemen, but how would you like to gain some revenge?"
"We're all ears boss!" Twister grinned like a puppy.
"Then pay attention." Taking out a scrap of paper, he unfolded it and laid it out on the table. "Did you ever wonder how Ant-Man would know where you were at all times?"
"We figured the ants told him." Ape rubbed his head in confusion. "But we couldn't figure out how."
"Ah, but I know how!" Spreading the paper out, he pointed to the various schematics he had drawn. "Small relay towers, hidden over the city! Tuning in like a radio, he listens to the ant's cries. Somehow he's able to translate their communications into speech, thus giving him total access to the city!"
Egghead leaned forward, his grin growing wider. "Gentlemen, I have here the first step in crushing that irritating insect once and for all!"
Taking a small pistol from his pocket, he placed it on the paper. "What's that?" Twister and Ape leaned forward.
"Merely a prototype of what I call an E.M.P."
"An imp?" Ape rubbed his head.
"No, an E.M.P., electromagnetic pulse. The large-scale version will broadcast a wave of electromagnetic energy that will scramble the relay towers, thus cutting off our foes methods of communication."
"But for that to work, I am going to need some money." Taking a rolled up magazine up, he tore out a page and showed it to the two men. "This gentlemen, is the famed Dr. Carl Striker." He pointed to a photograph of a dignified man speaking before a crowd."
"Say, he looks like you!" Twister jabbed his finger at the picture. "But how's he going to help?"
Running a hand through his scraggly beard, Egghead chuckled. "Dr. Striker is presently deep in the grasslands of Africa, searching for a new species of wasp." Dropping the magazine, he thrust out his arms dramatically. "Noticing his similarity to myself, I have been keeping a close eye on the man and monitoring his movements. He alerts no one of his travels, so no one knows where he is. His crippling fear of his colleagues makes him the perfect patsy!"
"So you'll pretend to be this guy?" Ape's confusing was rising.
"Of sorts. What I've been hearing, the Ant-Man still uses partners, correct?"
"Yeah, some crazy dame" Realization hit Twister like a .38 slug. "Called the Wasp!"
"And plenty others too!" Ape chimed in.
"This will be our disguise. Masquerading as Dr. Striker, I will distract the public."
"And we can fleece them!" Twister and Ape added.
Egghead smiled. "Good, but don't forget boys, the money is secondary. We just need to do this enough for the big score."
The weeks rolled by. Egghead, as Dr. Striker, gave a series of impassioned speeches across Center City. He talked at length at the dangers of importing foreign honeybees, the destructive capabilities of various ants, and his talk of new wasps. At each presentation, Twister would slip through the throng, helping himself to wallets, while Ape would lie in wait several blocks away, to pick off random members of the crowd.
They worked slowly, supplementing their income with the occasional burglary. They stuck mainly to nearby towns, and stayed off the radar as much as possible. With each theft, Egghead made his EMP gun more powerful. As it grew in size so their boldness, with each increase they drew closer and closer back to Center City.
Holding the nearly football sized EMP gun, Egghead held it aloft before the puzzled eyes of Ape and Twister. "Gentlemen, gaze upon the instrument of our vengeance!"
"So are we going to ice the ant tonight?" Twister rubbed his hands together in glee. His joy turned to sorrow when Egghead glared at him.
"Don't be so rash. We must test it first, and I know the perfect place!"
An hour drive later, the three men were before the wrought iron gates of the Meyers estate. William Myers, being one of the richest men on the West coast, as well as one of the oldest, had recently bought his latest wife a diamond roughly the size of a kitten and set into a pendent ringed with emeralds. "Men, this is where our dreams come true!" Egghead pointed the large pistol straight up and squeezed the trigger.
Myers had inherited most of his money, but his personal fortune came from electronics. From Edison to General Electric, Myers had funded them all. He often boasted of his security system, which he personally designed himself and had installed using only the finest components. From video cameras to alarms, every inch of the estate was wired.
One bright blue blast later, and Egghead strolled in past the front door and made his way to the vault. "The police will write this off as a mistake, but knowing Meyer, they will still send a car. We have exactly four minutes. Open the safe."
The safe was located in the main study. Behind a framed portrait of the current Mrs. Meyers sat an impressive steel box built into the wall. Smoke rose from the electric lock. With a heavy grunt, Ape popped the door open wide enough for Twister to slip his hand in and pull out the pendent. "Boss, they must have a couple of grand in bills!"
"Leave them, it's the pendent we need."
"I said leave it!" Egghead pulled another pistol, this one conventional, from his jacket. "With Ant-Man dead, we would have the city at our mercy, but not until then!"
Twister reluctantly withdrew his hand. Ape closed the safe and the trip made their way back to their van. They were already on the road when the police arrived. "One more speaking arrangement," Egghead held the pendent up and watched it in the moonlight, "And Ant-Man will bother us no more!"
The Pym household, at a glance, appeared to be one of the dozens of track houses that dotted the suburbs in Center City. If one made it past the front door, the similarities would end. The entire inside had been converted into a laboratory, with machines and equipment taking up nearly every square inch.
In the interior, Maria Pym, better known as the Wasp, sat unblinking as she monitored the police bands. "Maria?" Her husband, Hank, formerly known as Ant-Man, gently tapped her shoulder. She whirled around with her fists clenched, but she relaxed when Hank stepped back.
"Hank, darling," she slipped the headphones off and powered the machine down. "You know better than to sneak up on me."
"Sorry." Hank rubbed the back of his neck. Things had been growing tenser. "I just wanted you to know, I've been having some trouble with the relay towers on the west side of town."
"And I have had problems with the north and south." The Pyms turned at the new arrival. Janet Van Dyne entered the room, loaded down with overflowing boxes.
"What are you carrying child?" Maria rose to take some of the boxes out of Janet's hands.
"The latest costumes I designed!" Janet opened up a random box and pulled out a fancy union suit with a stylized 'W' on the front.
Maria put the box down. "Thank you, but we have bigger concerns at the moment." Maria pointed to a map on the wall. "We've lost contact with the ants in those areas!"
"This is serious. I could replace the towers" Hank mentally thanked Janet's trust fund, "But what is causing all of this?"
Janet, slightly annoyed that her costumes were having no reaction, turned up her nose in a snit. "Well, I guess no one's interested in anything I have to offer, is that it?"
"Janet, what do you have?" Maria scowled. Her temper had been growing worse.
One look at Maria's expression was enough to change Janet's mind. "The Meyer's estate was broken into last night. The thieves only took a pendent, but it looks like the lose of our towers originated from there."
"So it's connected!" Hank eyed the map. "Clearly someone did this to help the robbery. One of our old pals?"
"And I think I know who." Maria idly turned on the television set. Her scowl grew deeper when a picture of Dr. Carl Striker was flashed across the screen. "Egghead!"
The next few hours were spent in a furious rush of research. Phone calls were made, coffee was drunk, and plans were put into motion. Cross checking the rash of petty crimes with the speaking dates of Dr. Carl Striker, Hank sighed and pushed the small mountain of photos and letters away. "Ok, it is Egghead for sure. But what's his angle?"
"Revenge, no doubt." Maria sat ever ready at the dinning room table.
"According to this," Janet held up the evening edition of The Center City News, "Dr. Striker is giving a special dissertation tonight on the wasps of the Far East."
"Wasps, eh? Maybe I should attend." Maria cocked her eyebrow, but Hank held up his hand.
"No, he'd be expecting one of us. I'm too well known and suspected, as are you." He looked at Maria.
"That leaves me!" Janet chimed in.
"Absolutely not!" Maria glared at the younger woman. "This is a serious business Janet."
"Equal partner, equal risk." Janet pointed to the equipment that lined the walls. "I outfitted this house, I supplied the capital for your work. If you don't want me, then I'll take my money and go home."
Hank paled. "That's blackmail!"
"I prefer to think of it as an aggressive negotiation tactic." Janet smiled demurely. "So how about it?"
Maria broke the silence by laughing. "Excellent! I knew she had spunk, eh Hank?"
Hank nervously chuckled. Maria continued. "Alright, it's agreed. You're a fresh face and won't be recognized, but," She got up from her chair and went over to the counter. "You are going to take this." Her tone suggested there would be no negotiation, no argument.
In Maria's hands was a small black box. Janet's eyes lit up. "I recognize that!"
Maria held up the box proudly. "Yes, I took the concept from your father's security alarm. I altered it myself." She placed it on the table as she explained its features. "Press the red button and we pick up the signal and swoop in. It also acts as a homing beacon, so we can find you."
Slipping it into her purse, Janet threw her arms around Maria, much to the older woman's shock. "Thank you! I won't let you down!" Hank looked on but refused to comment.
The following night
The reptile house at the zoo was crowded with the curious. In a small office stood a large replica of a wasp's nest, and around it were its creators. "Say boss, do we have to pull the job here?" Ape nervously looked around. "Those snakes give me the willies!"
"Yeah Egghead," Twister added, "We already got plenty of dough. Why not sell this rock and split?"
"Quiet you fools!" Egghead slapped the pair. "I tell you, with Ant-Man out of the picture we would own this town! We'd have more money than we would know what to do with, and we will, but only if you stick to the plan!"
"Ok, ok!" Twister groused as he rubbed his cheek. He silently looked at Ape, and the pair nodded in agreement. "Tonight's the night boss."
Unaware of the glances between the two, Egghead stroked his beard. "Excellent. Now stay hidden and finish up the traps. I'll go play to the crowd."
Janet sat daintily in the front row. Being a socialite, she was given the best seat in the house, but she found it hard to concentrate with all the flash bulbs going off and the crowd's cheering. "Wow, I never knew insects were so popular."
As Dr. Striker stepped onto the stage, Janet made a careful note of the large-scale replica being wheeled in behind him. When the bearded Striker began his speech, Janet tried to follow along, but quickly found his droning tone and boring subject matter combined to form a combo that was fast putting her to sleep.
Propping her head up with her arm, she thought about excusing herself, but when her head dropped she spied a glint of something within the nest. More awake, she peered as best she could into the faux nest. Light briefly danced on something shiny whenever Striker bumped into the table. "The pendent, I'm sure of it!"
Quietly moving towards the back of the auditorium, she slipped her hand into her purse and pressed the alarm. "Now, just to stay here and wait for the Pyms."
Near the zoo's entrance, Hank was jolted from his daydreaming when a buzzer sounded on his dashboard. Maria lifted her head up from the backseat as he turned around. "That our girl?"
"Sounds like we were on the money." Hank stretched out his hand. He silently thanked Janet for tinting the car's windows. "You ready?"
Maria smiled under the mask. "Of course." Grasping Hank's hand, she suddenly shrank. Carefully placing her on the seat next to him, Hank reached back and picked up a small bag. Giving her the 'ok' signal, he helped her into the bag as he got out of the car.
Hank made his through the crowd. Stopping outside the reptile house, he carefully placed his bag near air vent. After seeing Maria slid past the grate, he picked up the bag and made his way to the nearest men's room. Once inside, it was a simple matter to disrobe inside a stall and shrink down to ant size. "I hope this works!"
The Wasp waited. Signaling to Janet, she waited until the girl was outside before making her back to the offices in the back. When Egghead's two men wheeled the wasp next into the office, she pulled a rope from her backpack. When they left, she tied off an end to one of the metal slats in the grate and climbed down.
Touching down, she slipped inside the nest via a large hole in the front. Flipping on her flashlight, she swore when she got a look inside. Inside the nest, in lieu of the usual cells, she saw a neat and orderly corridor. "It's a trap!" She spun around, but a steel plate slammed shut over the hole, trapping her. Egghead's voice taunted her from the dark.
"Greetings! This message has been prerecorded, but I doubt anything you say will be of interest to me." He chuckled. "Yes, in case it was not apparent, this entire nest is a trap, but there is a glimmer of hope. The pendent you so desire is at the end. Find it within the hour and the door open. Fail and die. Oh, and don't get any ideas of trying to enlarge yourself to escape. The walls are treated in such a way that no radio waves can escape, plus I've taken the precaution of rigging the table this nest is resting on with a rather large amount of explosives. Should the weight on this table exceed more than five pounds, well, you possess a brain. I sure you can figure it out."
A cold sap of fear went through her as she began her descent. "If I'm trapped here, who can help Hank?"
Ant-Man slipped in under the back door. The room was dark, but there was enough light coming in from the outside to give him a rough idea of what was in the room. Carefully making his way along the edge of the room, he was suddenly blinded when the door opened and someone flicked on the lights.
"So, you finally made it!" Egghead's voice was almost deafening. Ant-Man turned and rushed back towards the door, but Egghead easily cleared the distance with two steps and dropped a glass over him. Pressing down with one hand, he slipped a heavy piece of paper under the rim. "Like I said to your little partner, don't think of trying to enlarge yourself. If I don't return, your tiny friend will find herself in a rather hot situation. Understand?"
Hank swore and took his hands away from his belt. Egghead smiled. "Good, I know you would listen to reason."
Ducking down a hall, Egghead entered the hall of lizards. "I admit, not exactly the ideal way I had envisioned your death, but an effective one all the same." Handing the glass to Ape, he stepped over to a large display case bearing the sign I. Iguana. "Ah, the mighty Green Iguana. A harmless animal, I admit, but one who's company you'll find most disagreeable." Opening the lid, he snatched the glass from Ape's palm. "Remove your belt and helmet, please."
Hank tossed the items down at his feet. "Happy?" He shouted. Egghead nodded and removed the paper. Hank free fell for only a few seconds, but the distance to him was as great as a mile. He blindly reached out and snagged an outstretched leaf, which slowed his descent as he landed roughly in the animal's water bowl. Sputtering, he swam to the edge as Egghead closed the lid.
"Stay here and watch." Egghead roughly poked Ape's chest. "Do not leave this room until that lizard is passing his remains."
Unseen by all, Janet crouched behind the door. "Alright, things are not looking good. But what can I do?" She had seen the skinny man guarding Maria, and now with the bigger goon, what could she do to help the Pyms? She ducked back as Egghead left the room. "Dr. Pym seems to be more danger, but with that guard…"
Picking up a steel ashtray, she lugged it down the hall. Unscrewing the top and base, she hefted the pole. "Hollow, but not bad." Wrapping her coat around it, she barged into the back office.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" Twister's hand went to his coat. "This is a private office, employees only sister!"
Ignoring the man, she brushed past him and made her way to the wasp's nest. "Oh, how cute! How much?"
"Nutty broad!" Quickly closing the door, Twister turned around in time to see the pipe come crashing down on his head. He drooled a bit before collapsing to the floor.
"Ok, how do I open this?" Carefully avoiding the tabletop, Janet felt around the plate covering the hole. "The material doesn't feel too tough." Gently picking the nest up, she carefully set it down. "Maria, it's Janet. Can you hear me?"
Maria yelled. "Janet?" She felt the nest moving around, but dared not say anything. Her trekking through the nest was hard, with the occasional pitfall and trap at almost every corner, but she eyed the diamond pendent. "He didn't use metal, or else Janet couldn't have lifted it."
Snapping the thin gold clasp with a well-placed kick, she dragged the heavy stone towards the wall. Wrapping her arms around it, she half-rolled/half-pushed the stone against the material making up the wall. The sound of the nest tearing alerted Janet, who thrust her hand inside and helped pull her out.
Enlarging, Maria held up the diamond. "I always knew that was a girl's best friend." Janet quipped.
"Where's Ant-Man?" Maria tucked the stone and the rest of the pendent into her belt.
"Down the hall, but he's under guard."
Maria grimly smiled. "Leave that to me."
Ape sighed as he looked down into the display. The little figure of Ant-Man had done a good job of avoiding being killed by the lizard, but now it just getting boring. He spotted the miniature man snapping off a jagged twig and using it as a makeshift lance. "Smart guy, that." Ape had to whistle. "I never would have thought of that."
As the Ant-Man ducked around a pile of rocks, Ape's attention was brought elsewhere when he heard the unmistakable sounds of high heels clacking against the tile floor. "Who's there?"
"Hi!" Whirling around, his gun was already out of the holster. The young woman in front of him paid it no mind. "What are you doing?"
"Huh?" Unknown to Ape, the Wasp was busy crawling up his jacket. Reaching collar, she suddenly enlarged. Before he could turn around, she pulled out a small baton. Electricity arched between the two electrodes sticking out of the end. Jabbing into the base of Ape's neck, she stepped back as the larger man jerked uncontrollably.
Removing the weapon, she stood aside as the big man pitched forward. Janet gave a low whistle. "Wow, what did you hit him with?"
"Something we've been keeping ready, just for such emergencies. I call it the Sting." She poked Ape with her toe. "He should be out for a bit." Quickly turning her attention to the cage, she slammed the end of the Sting against the glass lid. Reaching down, she plucked her husband up as the iguana darted towards his hiding place.
Bringing him up to her ear, she listened patiently as he quickly outlined his plan. Turning to Janet, she nodded. "Here's the plan…"
Egghead quickly finished his speech and darted back towards the office. As he entered through a side door, he swore as he stumbled over something in the dark. Scrambling to his feet, he flicked on the light switch. The sight of Twister and Ape's bound forms made him sweat. "How, how could he have escaped?" Spinning around, he let out a sigh of relief when he spotted the wasp's nest on the table. "At his meddlesome partner is still here."
Seeing a red and blue figure dart under a chair out of the corner of his eye, Egghead chuckled. "Well played my tiny adversary. But I am afraid I planned for your eventual escape." Moving quickly to a black carrying case, he opened up one the sides. "Prepare to meet your maker!"
A large anteater jumped out of the case. As it honed in on the crouching ant sized man, both Egghead and the animal were shocked when the red and blue figure suddenly rushed towards the animal, growing larger as he went. Within seconds, the now regular sized Ant-Man picked up the anteater and gently put the squirming animal aside.
"How?" Egghead was dumbstruck.
"He had help." The Wasp stepped out from behind a file cabinet. "Put your hands up." She pointed the Sting at him.
"Clever, very clever." Egghead stretched his arms over his head. "But I fear you forgot to perform one important task." With a jerk of his wrist, a small pistol shot out of his sleeve and into his hand. With one fluid motion, he brought his arm down and squeezed the trigger. "You forgot to search me!" He laughed as an intense flame shot out of the pistol's barrel. Within seconds, the ceiling, drapes, and wall were ablaze.
Backing away from the heat and smoke, neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp saw Egghead turn tail and flee through the nearest door. They did hear his panicked screams of "fire!" and the resulting chaos. Reaching out, Hank grabbed Maria's arm and pulled her over the flames. Taking a side, they rolled the now awake duo of Twister and Ape out of the office and away from the fire. A security guard took them out as the heroes slipped back towards the exit. A familiar voice called out to them over the panicking din.
Janet rushed up to greet them. "The fire department will be here in a minute." The sprinklers kicked on, helping to douse the fire. "But Egghead's gone. I lost him in the crowd."
"Not a problem right now child." Maria coughed. Moving down the corridor, they ducked into an empty washroom.
"Right now we need to leave." Hank and Maria shared a glance. Before Janet's eyes they both began to shrink. Reaching out, she scooped them up and dropped them into her purse. Opening the window, she shimmed out and made her way back to the car.
Maria dried her hair as she entered the den. The police had arrested the two goons and saved the reptile house. Egghead was still free, a fact that ate at her. She looked around the room. Hank had already taken a quick shower and retired. Janet was sunk into an easy chair, already asleep. "You did good tonight."
Maria quietly sat down next the slumbering girl. "I admit, you surprised me tonight. Getting involved in this madness, well, I had written you off as a thrill seeker party girl, but I admit, you really came through for the both of us tonight."
Getting up from the couch, she went towards the bedroom. Janet opened her eyes and smiled. "Thanks."
Egghead shifted on the bus seat. It had been pure luck of his escape. Making his way back to the desert had been rough, but since his two former minions had been kind enough to give him the keys, he saw no reason to leave the truck. A hurried packing frenzy and spilled gasoline later, he watched the shanty and truck went up in a small fire. "It breaks the heart, but I'll get my revenge for this insult." He turned up his jacket's collar as he walked off into the night.
Notes to Astonish
This story was based "The Terrible Traps of Egghead!" which was first published in Tales to Astonish#45 (July 1963). With credits to Stan Lee and H.E. Huntley/Ernest Hunt (script), Don Heck (pencils/inks), and Artie Simek (letters).
And now to the fan mail!
From They Call Me Bruce
Pretty good story. That's about the size of it.
And from Tiffani
Cool story, as usual. Definitely a story people should be checking out.
Well, if you though this month's tale was pretty good, how about next time, when four certain guest stars show up…and one special surprise villain. Be here for "The Micro-World of DOOM!"
Journey Into Mystery#13-The Demon Duplicators!
Sensational Comics#13-Rumble in the Desert!
So face your monitors frontward true believers. How else could you read the stories otherwise?