Author's Note: A rough draft of this was triggered by a challenge a few months ago on our friendly neighborhood "Writer's Anonymous" forum. The idea was to cast some of the regular cast of any non-superhero fandom as bona fide superheroes. Then I realized I wasn't going at from the right angle for the stated purposes of the challenge. Then I let it sit on my hard drive for a long time. Last night I finally polished it up a little (I hope) and decided to unleash it upon the world anyway. I figure the worst that can happen is my readers yawn and mutter, "Was this supposed to be funny?" And I've survived that before . . .

Mopping the Floor with Them

There is a bar which changes its location at least four times a year. You won't find it listed in a San Francisco phone book; you won't see it reviewed in the local newspapers and magazines. It doesn't have a glowing sign advertising its availability as a place to buy strong drink. If random strangers somehow become aware of it and try to enter, they are told at the door that it is a "private club" and they can't get in unless they are the invited guests of members in good standing.

But to any established supervillain residing within (or frequently visiting) the Bay Area, the current address is easily learned and membership cards are easily obtained. There is a need for a watering hole catering to the shady side of the costumed community, and so this establishment, like the one in Seattle and the one in Portland and at least two in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and many others in states further east, continues to operate along the same general lines as the once-notorious speakeasies of the Prohibition era.

Of course it occasionally happens that a superhero learns its latest location, by fair means or foul, and then invades the "private club."

This was one of those occasions. The bouncer didn't recognize the man at the outer door, but when the fellow in the amazingly drab brown hooded robe failed to produce a membership card, the bouncer recited the standard spiel and rested a huge hand on the fellow's shoulder.

Let's be fair: The bouncer did the best he could, considering that all he really had to work with was the ability to bench-press several tons and the knowledge that his epidermis was bulletproof.

But the interloper, having deduced at a glance that this particular super-strong specimen's embarrassing secret weakness was to citrus, quickly sprayed a fine mist of fresh-squeezed orange juice into the bouncer's face

While the bouncer was choking and frantically rubbing at his eyes (a procedure which didn't actually make remove his bane from them), the hooded man stepped past his blinded opponent and proceeded down the short corridor and into the main room of the bar, where he promptly became the center of attention.

The bouncer was new on the job and had not recognized this man at a glance, but most of the patrons and other staff knew him all too well.

He was The Monk.

There were many stories about how he became the man he was today.

Some said he was created in a test tube and then raised in a huge plastic bubble until he was released as a grown man, and had never quite come to terms with the idea that the world outside his bubble simply didn't conform to the standards of cleanliness and order which he had learned to expect.

Some said that his wife had died in a freak accident involving an unnoticed banana peel on the sidewalk, with the result that her grieving husband remade himself as an ascetic (hence his alias) who was devoted to the task of bringing law, order, and extreme cleanliness to a messy metropolitan area; thereby reducing the opportunities for Murphy's Law to wreak any further havoc in his life.

A very popular theory had it that he was a robot who had never had any form of childhood at all—or, if you preferred to look at it differently, was still in his emotional childhood, since he had only been a figure in the public eye for about six years now, and that might represent the lion's share of his life experience.

Some said one thing and some said another, but let's face it, most of the villains he tracked down didn't really care about his personal life. They only cared about his well-deserved reputation for always getting his man, woman, or neuter artificial intelligence, as the case might be. So the question in everyone's mind was: Who was the quarry tonight?

The answer was not long in the coming.

"Hello, Troubadour," The Monk said, pulling out a chair and settling down without waiting to be invited. "I've been looking for a perpetrator, and I think you're the guy. Will you come along quietly?"

The man dressed like a medieval musician (southern France, circa the twelfth century) waved a languid hand. "Slow down a moment, sir! What do you think I did and why do you think I did it?"

"I'm glad you asked." The Monk took a deep breath. "Here's what happened. The first thing I noticed at the crime scene was the German text on an empty candy wrapper. Your favorite brand; imported from Luxembourg. No stores in the Bay Area keep them in stock. So I knew . . ."

The Troubadour usually wanted to hog the limelight, but he was off the clock right now. He nodded pleasantly and made mildly encouraging noises from time to time while the man with the most staggeringly enhanced deductive mind on the planet outlined his latest chain of reasoning.

Nobody else interfered. This, of course, was one of The Monk's superpowers. His mesmerizing ability to explain the circumstances of a case in such detail, at such length, in such a strangely compelling fashion, that it temporarily paralyzed any other conversations previously taking place in the vicinity.

Ten minutes later, The Monk was wrapping it up. "And that's what led me here! Your best bet is to throw yourself on the mercy of the court and hope the system gives you a break."

"Possibly, possibly," Troubadour murmured, "if you can get me under lock and key in the first place. Yet I think you're forgetting one thing. You're in here without any backup and I have lots of friends." He gestured. While The Monk had been talking . . . and talking . . . and talking, nine other supervillains had been slowly converging on the table. Some of them had not been visible in the main room when this conversation began.

The Monk twisted his head around to study the situation and found he recognized most of them. The Visitant, The Elephant, Springheeled Jack, Greased Lightning, Baroness Barrage, Sandstorm . . . and worst of all there was the shambling, odoriferous mass (he couldn't quite call it a body) of Mulch, the entity also known as "The Compost Heap That Walks Like A Man!"

"Now let's consider your options," Troubadour said as Monk looked back toward him. "We all know how tough you are. You might be able to take me out in a matter of seconds, since you're immune to the sweet sounds of my enchanted lute, and remarkably resistant to lightning, and durable enough to survive The Elephant's strongest punch, and so forth. It is bruited about that although wounding you is possible, killing you is entirely unworkable. Many have tried, but even burying you alive has repeatedly failed to make you curl up and die!

"But do you really want to get all that dirt under your fingernails from fighting Sandstorm, not to mention the way your current wardrobe will be ruined after going a couple of rounds with Mulch? Put it all together and we're talking about a fate worse than death, from your fanatically hygienic point of view!"

He waited to see if The Monk would now get off his high horse and sue for terms.

No such luck.

The Monk smiled. It was a warm, generous, tolerant smile, and Troubadour felt the blood chill in his veins at the implication that things were going badly awry.

"It's true that I don't like to get my hands dirty with such messy brawling," The Monk mused . . . waited a beat . . . then finished, "so I will let her do it!"

There was an awkward pause. All of the villains glanced in the direction of the entrance and saw, advancing upon them with her usual stealthy stride, a petite blond woman, wearing a black-and-dark-purple ensemble which technically covered most of her figure, but hugged it so tightly that there wasn't a heck of a lot left to the imagination.

"Ninja Natalie!" exclaimed several voices in a remarkable case of synchronization which would have made any choir director proud.

Troubadour turned back to face The Monk, who was still smiling. "Monk, you're despicable. When you waltzed in here, we thought she had the night off! Don't you feel ashamed of yourself, entrapping honest criminals this way?"

"Waltzing?" the blond bombshell snapped. "You were dancing around the room without me? With whom, then?" She began glaring suspiciously at every woman in the place and rubbing her hands together in a way which suggested mayhem in the very near future.

"He didn't mean anyone was playing waltz music, Ninja Natalie," The Monk said quickly. "He just meant I seemed relaxed and happy when I walked across the room alone."

"Relaxed and happy? Then he doesn't know you very well," she grumbled. "But never mind that. Were these guys giving you any . . . trouble?"

The Monk shrugged helplessly. "Well, just before you came along, Troubadour was explaining how he wasn't afraid of me and didn't have to submit to arrest, and that his friends would all back him up on that if push came to shove."

Ninja Natalie cracked her knuckles while grinning savagely. "He was, eh? Don't worry about a thing, boss—give me a couple of minutes and I'll have him singing like a canary that's made it to the final round of tryouts for a permanent job in the New York Metropolitan Opera House!"

"Uh . . . Natalie . . . I've never heard of that happening. There aren't all that many operas which include roles for canary vocalists . . ."

She focused a withering gaze on The Monk. "Do I criticize your metaphors when we're in public?"

"Actually, 'like a canary' was only a simile . . ." The Monk's voice trailed off in the face of her continued glare. He cleared his throat and then said, "Never mind. Actually, I don't even want to hear him sing. What say you just subdue him—and any of his friends who make nuisances of themselves—and I will owe you one."

Ninja Natalie smiled a much warmer smile than she'd given the hoodlums a minute ago. (Her mouth and jaw, along with her hair, were about the only things her costume didn't cover.) "You certainly will, and I know just how I want you to work off the debt—"

That was when Springheeled Jack lunged with his favorite monomolecular-edged knife, hoping to catch her offguard while she was still preoccupied with her partner. The Elephant lunged forward a split-second later, on the theory that Ninja Natalie might stay fixated on Springheeled just long enough for his inhuman strength to land one crushing blow on this superheroine's slender body, and then she wouldn't be able to do her patented flying kicks and other graceful maneuvers with nearly so much agility . . .

What happened over the next two minutes wasn't pretty. The flashes of energy blasts . . . the dripping blood . . . the crunching bones . . . the anguished screams . . . the breaking glass . . . the sheer humiliation . . . but anyone dumb enough to think he could attack faster than Ninja Natalie could react deserved whatever he got, right? (Or whatever she got, in the cases of Baroness Barrage and The Visitant.)

When the dust was finally settling (combat with Sandstorm and Mulch knocks a lot of particulate matter into the surrounding atmosphere), it became clear that The Monk was still sitting peacefully in his chair, Ninja Natalie had Troubadour's right arm twisted around behind his back in a horribly unnatural way which suggested something was badly dislocated if not already broken, and the other nine members of Troubadour's ad hoc group were carpeting the floor, all of them unconscious . . . or worse.

(The details of their conditions were uncertain at the moment since all the other customers had demonstrated superior survival instincts by fleeing the room during the ruckus, and not one of the staff was brave enough to volunteer to be the first to move in close and check for pulses. Ninja Natalie was running on adrenaline and would probably interpret any motion toward her as a fresh provocation! Besides, have you ever tried to check a compost heap for a pulse? It is not a job for the faint of heart.)

"I swear, Boss, I don't know what you'd do without me," Ninja Natalie said when she had caught her breath.

"I could have handled it!" The Monk protested.

"Sure, by talking them to death?"

"Not death," he protested. "Just into a stupor! I've never killed anyone that way!"

"No? What about the sad fate of Bouncing Betty, the bomb fiend?"

"That wasn't my fault! She told me she had set up bombs around the scene, but she didn't say she was clutching a dead man's switch that would automatically set off one of those bombs if she relaxed her grip for any reason. Naturally I tried to talk her down by explaining all the logical reasons she wasn't going to get out of this in one piece unless she surrendered. How was I supposed to know what would happen when Betty dozed off just as I was hitting my stride with Reason Thirty-Eight? Anyway, no civilians were hurt."

"Excuse me," Troubadour said through his teeth. "I hate to interrupt, but if you could tell her to ease up on my arm . . ."

The Monk spared him a glance. "I'm not interested in hearing his whining, Ninja Natalie. You can KO him now."

She applied pressure to a spot on her prisoner's neck and he slumped to the floor as she released the arm. Then she produced a cellphone, although most observers would have sworn there was no place that such an item could possibly have been concealed in her costume until that moment without creating a very noticeable bulge—which it hadn't. (Don't ask me to explain where it had been; I honestly don't know. Even in this day and age, the ninja still maintain many secrets. Yes, she was a bona fide member of the legendary Northern California Clan of ninjutsu practitioners. . . . but how a daughter of that clan became The Monk's junior partner in honest-to-goodness crimefighting is a long story which I won't bore you with tonight.)

Ninja Natalie flipped the cell open and started to punch numbers—then paused. "By the way, what was Troubadour's crime, the one that brought you here in the first place? The cops will want to know which case we've just closed."

The Monk beamed, well-satisfied with his evening's work. "I've got him cold on not one, not two, but three counts of littering in a public place! The candy wrappers were distinctive; you don't see them every day in this part of the world. So I traced his—"

Ninja Natalie hastily cut him off with an upraised palm. "You're joking, right?"

"How often do I do that?" he demanded.

"Once in a blue moon," she conceded. "But this could be the time."

"Well, it isn't," The Monk said firmly. "I wasn't going to let him think he could just commit such sanitary outrages and then walk away!"

Ninja Natalie glanced around the room again. "Not to mention that I . . . er, we . . just apprehended nine other people as well, and I'm pretty sure at least six have outstanding warrants on their heads for such things as bank robbery, grand theft auto, assault and battery, jailbreak, extortion, attempted murder, manslaughter, treason, and other serious charges I'm probably forgetting, not even counting the misdemeanors! Isn't that more important?"

"Good grief, Ninja Natalie," The Monk said in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone. "I can't believe the way you get distracted by such trivial details! Take it from me, the only way to avoid getting stretched too thin in this line of work is to choose one crime at a time, make the solving of it your mission statement, and then persevere to the end! If you happen to close a few other cases along the way, that's all well and good, but don't let it weaken your focus!"

Having gotten that sermon off his chest, he added thoughtfully, "While you call for the paddy wagon, I think I'll find a vacuum and clean up all the sand and other stuff you left on the floor . . . can't a woman of your talents learn to be tidier?"

"Sorry, boss," she said patiently. "I guess I get too fixated on such tiny details as winning the fight."