Tim entered the dimly lit room and searched for his companions. This lounge was the one the Titans always frequented on a Friday night and he had been invited along.
The boy paused, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the light. When they did, Tim’s brow furrowed curiously. The lounge was strangely quiet. Sitting at a table in the middle of the room were Roy Harper, Victor Stone, Wally West and Garfield Logan. All had been members of the Titans at one stage or another and they continued to get together once a week to relive old time.
Each of the five men was staring intently at the other. Around the group was a small crowd of curious onlookers.
Tim strode across and stopped beside Garth who was among the audience. “What’s goin’ on?“
Tempest shook his head with disgust. “Insanity.“
Roy glanced up at Tim. “We‘re waiting to see if Wally‘s in or out,” the happy man whispered with excitement.
West pursed his lips thoughtfully, his pensive eyes on Roy.
“What’s the game?” Tim asked. He could see no cards.
“Now, let me clarify,” Wally mused. “We each take one in turn and drop off as we need to?”
Tim frowned. It didn’t sound like any card game he’d ever heard of.
The barkeep pushed his way to the table and laid a tray containing four jugs of water, several glasses and more than four dozen red-hot chilli peppers.
“Now what on earth are you crazy fools up to?” Tim chuckled.
“Chilli eating contest, Tim,” Gar explained a little nervously. The green-skinned youth wasn’t sure how he had ended up agreeing to be a part of it. He remembered Roy challenging him and before he knew it, he was laying his money on the table.
“Chilli eating contest?” Tim asked.
“Last man to grab for the water is the winner.”
Drake glanced at Tempest and shook his head. “They’re kidding?”
“Well, Wally?” Roy prompted.
West withdrew a crisp bill from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him. Roy smiled. “You haven’t got a chance in hell, Wally. I’ve only ever lost one chilli-eating contest in my life and that was only because the fella that beat me cheated.”
“Mr Harper, I am not in the habit of placing bets when I do not feel the odds are in my favour.”
“How do you figure that? Roy asked.
“Gar has never eaten chilli so he will fold quickly.”
“Hey!” Garfield protested. It was true he’d never eaten chillies but he had no intention of folding before Vic.
“Vic has already admitted to not liking the scorching vegetables.”
“Nope, don’t like them. Of course, that’s probably because I was raised on the damn things. Have eaten hundreds of them.” Roy, Gar and Wally turned to the big man. A smile the size of Texas spread across the ex-athlete’s face.
“And why didn’t you divulge this essential piece of information before we entered this contest?” Wally demanded.
“You didn’t ask.” The smile on Vic’s face got larger, if that was possible. “Hand your money over now, boys. I was practically weened on chillies.”
“You fellas are crazy,” Tim scoffed. “You eat them things whole and your throats will burn like Hell’s furnace. Hell, your toes will probably fall off!”
Roy, Gar, Wally and Vic glanced up at the young man, the challenge delivered by their four sets of eyes.
“Ohhhhh no,” Tim cried, shaking his head. “You’re not getting me involved. I've got a healthy respect for my taste buds.”
“It’s a test of manhood, Tim,” Roy explained, earnestly... in a way only Roy could.
“It’s nothing more than four fools acting like fools,” Garth argued.
Roy turned back to his fellow players. He face was solemn. “Garth, sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do, if he’s to be a man.”
Garth rolled his eyes.
Tim grinned at his companions. “You’re all crazy.” Drake sensed the approach of another. He didn‘t need to turn. He knew who it was. “Hey, get a load of this, Dick. These idiots are going to eat chillies raw.”
Dick stopped next to Tim, his hand coming to rest on his young friend’s shoulder. Grayson stared at the chillies in the middle of the table. “Room for one more?” he asked.
“As long as you have the entry fee,” Wally stated.
Dick pulled out a chair and took a seat. Tempest stood blinking. “I can’t believe... Grayson, what the hell are you doing?”
“Oh, come on, Dick. You won’t be able to taste anything for days. I thought you would have had more brains,” Tim laughed.
“Last chance, Tim,” Roy stated. “Last chance to prove you’re a man.”
“A team of wild horses wouldn’t get me to sit down at that table.”
Wally glanced up at his young friend. “First prize is five hundred dollars.”
Tim’s eyes widened. “How much?”
The others were nodding. “Hundred-dollar entry fee.”
“Tim isn't going fall for that,” Garth argued. They had tried to entice the former Aqualad earlier, but had failed. “No amount of money is worth... Tim?”
Drake had pulled out a chair and dropped into it, rubbing his hands together. “Pass those little red suckers over here. That pot‘s mine.”
“Oh, come on, Tim!” Garth cried in exasperation.
“Garth,” Drake stated, his face reflecting the same earnest expression Roy’s had not thirty seconds before. “Sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, if he’s to be a man.”
The crowd jostled for position. The competitors were ready. Silence had blanketed the room. Each man seated at the table studied his opponents for signs of weakness.
“Everyone understand the rules?” Roy asked.
They nodded, each still scanning the faces of the others.
“This is ridiculous,” Garth mumbled. Finally, as one, the brave warriors reached for a chilli. Gar glanced at his companions nervously. He was starting to think this hadn’t been such a good idea. Each of the six men placed his pepper in his mouth. All eyes flicked to Gar and they weren’t disappointed. The boy’s face went red, then purple as he sank his teeth into the small vegetable.
Roy and Vic burst out laughing. Gar started gasping and waving his hands in front of his mouth. The other men grinned watching as Logan grabbed one of the jugs and gulped throat-cooling water from it.
“What did I tell you?” Wally drawled.
Gar lowered the jug panting. Abruptly, he realized what had happened. He‘d grabbed the water without thinking. “Oh, hell.”
Garth laid a hand on his shoulder. “Relax. Your body will thank you tomorrow.”
“I... I ain’t never tasted anything like that in my life.” Gar opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out as far as he could so he could get a look at it. “I think I’ve damaged it. Has it got any blisters on it, Garth?”
Roy reached into the centre. “Gentlemen.”
Each of the others took another chilli... and another... and another and another. With each one, the men assessed one another. This was a test of wills. Who would break next?
Wally peered out through the steady stream of tears running down his cheeks. The inside of his mouth was blazing. “These are not normal chillies,” he stated, his voice hollow.
“Nope. They’re extra hot ones. I ordered them in specially. Ready to concede, Wally?” Roy asked, his voice slightly slurred from the swelling of his tongue.
“I...” Wally blinked once... twice and then with a passionate curse, he reached for one of the jugs and tipped it to his mouth. A groan of relief echoed out of him.
“Two down, three to go,” Roy announced.
West drew in a breath and then continued swallowing.
Garth shook his head with true disgust. “I can‘t believe I‘m watching grown men...”
“And again, boys,” Roy interrupted.
Dick, Tim, Vic and Roy plucked another chilli from the pile. Each hesitated waiting see if anyone else was going to concede. Eyes flicked around the table. Each man started to raise the chilli to his mouth. At the last minute, Vic’s hand darted out for a jug of water.
“I thought you said you were weened on chillies?” Wally asked, lowering his own jug.
“I lied,” Vic panted, before returning to guzzling the water.
“A bluff. I knew it!”
Roy glanced at Tim and Dick. Grayson looked unfazed, but it was obvious Tim didn’t have much more in him. “Lovely, cool refreshing water,” Roy teased.
Drake’s eyes drifted to the only jug that still held water. Tim licked his burning lips.
“I can just feel it flowing down my throat,” Roy continued. “A river of water cascading over my tongue. So cooling and... and...” Roy dived on the water and began to gulp it down.
The rest of the group burst out laughing. “What happened, Roy?” Gar asked.
“I convinced myself,” Roy panted.
Dick glanced at Tim and smirked. “Concede, Drake. You don’t have a hope.”
Tim’s eyes narrowed and defiantly he pushed a chilli into his mouth. Despite the fact his mouth felt numb, the addition of the chilli’s scorching flesh caused him to gasp.
Dick grinned and took his next chilli. He wasn’t even sweating, Tim noted. Drake’s eyes had started watering.
“Again?” Dick asked.
Tim reached for a chilli. Through the tears, he could see Dick raising his to his mouth. Tim’s got to his lips but his jaw locked. His brained ordered it to release, but his mouth remained closed. The boy sighed. Common sense finally took purchase. Tim glanced at Dick and shook his head.
“I’ll get you some water,” Garth offered, noting the jugs were empty.
“Mr Grayson, you must consume one more chilli to be declared the winner,” Wally pointed out.
Dick smiled, rose to his feet and looked as if he was reaching his hand out to shake Tim’s. Instead, he stopped his arm short and tapped his sleeve. Instantly, five chillies rolled from it and tumbled across the table in front of Tim. Drake started at them. It took several seconds for him to realize that...
“YOU CHEATIN’ BASTARD!”
Roy winked at Dick. Gar’s jaw dropped. Vic shook his head with amusement and Wally’s mouth was opening and closing but nothing was coming out.
Dick smiled. “You win. I dropped out five rounds ago.”
Tim was still staring at the chillies. Finally, he dragged his eyes up to Dick. Grayson was grinning from ear to ear. “You no good, double crossin’, cheatin’ bastard! I can’t even feel my damn tongue. Five rounds ago! You‘ve been shoving the things up your sleeve?!”
Dick patted Tim’s shoulder. Drake shook his head. He’d been watching Roy and Wally in case they tried something like that, but Dick! Before he could react further, Garth returned with the water and Tim gulped the soothing liquid.
“Drinks, boys?” Roy asked, moving off to the bar.
“Water,” Logan called after him.
“Five rounds ago?” Wally spluttered. “Then you dropped out just after Gar.”
Dick nodded. “You don’t think I’d be silly enough to do that to myself?”
Tim lowered the jug from his mouth and thrust a finger at Grayson. “You’re a dead man, Dick Grayson.” He took another long gulp of water. “I swear, one day when you least expect it, I‘m going to...”
Roy dropped a bundle of onions onto the table. “All right boys. You got to eat’ em whole. Last one to cry wins the pot. Twenty dollars to be in.”
Garth let out a howl of exasperation. “You aren’t serious?!“
“A test of manhood, Garth,“ Roy explained earnestly as he slipped back into his chair.
“Bullshit. You aren‘t proving anything except the fact that you ain’t got an ounce of common sense between you.”
The men at the table ignored him. They scanned one another. The smiles fell from their faces. They had been presented with yet another challenge. Who would accept it and who would turn it down? One by one, Gar, Wally, Vic, Roy and Dick put their money on the table. Once again their eyes were narrowed, flicking around the table gauging their opposition.
“Tim?” Roy prompted. “Hundred dollar pot.”
“Tim!” Garth cried, pleading for at least one of his companions to show some semblance of common sense.
Drake grinned, slapped his money on the table and took another gulp of water. “Under the condition, he rolls his sleeves up,” he demanded, pointing at Dick.
“I quite agree,” Wally snapped, indignantly.
Garth stared at them. He started at the onions and then back at his companions. With a snort, Tempest reached for a chair, dragged it out, sat down and slammed his money on the table. His friends watched him with knowing grins.
“Garth, what are you doing?” Roy asked.
“Roy,” Tempest stated earnestly. “Sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, if he’s to be a man.” A wide smile consumed Garth's face. “Well, even if I don’t believe a word of that shit, I do believe the old saying if you can’t beat’ em, join ‘em. Deal them onions. That pot‘s mine!”
© June 2004 Aussie Nightwriter : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.