Ed and Janice Flinch watched as their sixteen-year-old daughter, Barbara stepped down from the witness stands. It had been a drawn out testimony, describing how she was assaulted by a burglar while babysitting. Barbara had kept a solid grip on her legs to stop their nervous shaking. Dismissed by the judge, she slipped into her place beside her parents in the courtroom, and sighed with relief.

The courtroom was half full of observers; there was a twelve- member jury and a court recorder typing everything down on his stenotype machine. The two lawyers sat at their tables, in front of the rail, facing Judge Gardner. There was Mr. Hamilton for the prosecution, and Mr. Burr for the defense. His de fendant, Steven Grendal, was only 19 years old.

Mr. Hamilton rose and addressed the judge. “Your honor, the prosecution now calls Skunk-Guy to the stand.” He turned as the doors in the back of the courtroom opened a nd the bailiff escorted The Stinking Stalker into the room.

All eyes turned. All sound was hushed. Striding in through the doors was a lean costumed figure. White boots and gloves over black legs and sleeves, a white bodysuit with a skunk symbol emblazoned on his chest. His head was covered by a black pull-over mask with a white stripe down the middle that came to a point at his nose, and two white- netted eyelets. A large white cape fl owed out behind him as he walked. This was the defender known as Skunk-Guy.

As he walked, he felt as if he were moving in slow motion. He kept looking straight ahead. His st ride was even and strong. The doors closed behind him. Suddenly he lurched backward, his feet flew up in the air and he landed heavily on his black and white rump.

A collective gasp floated through the room, then a series of titters and giggles arose from the crowd. A corner of his cape had caught in the closed door.

The bailiff walked over and released the cape. “You okay, son?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine . . . just fine,” Skunk-Guy croaked. He rubbed his throat and cleared it a couple of times. Then he stood and took a deep breath. He proceeded down the aisle, through the gate of the railing and up to the witness stand.

As Skunk-Guy walked through the gate, Mr. Burr shot to his feet. "Objection, your honor! This is a court of law, not a freak show."

Mr. Hamilton, who was already standing waiting to begin his examination, countered the objection with his own statement. "Your honor, we have heard several witne sses testify that this... guy was instrumental in apprehending the defe ndant. Two of those witnesses were police officers."

"Your honor," Mr. Burr interjected, "that could be anyone in that getup."

"I am prepared to prove to the court that this is indeed the same hero who disrupted the attack on the Flinch girl," Mr. Hamilton declared.

"Very well," said the judge. "The court will grant you some leniency. But if you are unable to convince the court I will move to have this testimony stricken from the record.”

"Thank you, your honor." Mr. Hamilton nodded graciously.

Mr. Burr sat back down with an irritated grunt.

The bailiff held out a Bible and directed Skunk-Guy to place his left hand on the Bible and raise his right hand.

"Doyousolemnlysweartotellthetruththewholetruthandnothingbutth etruth, so help you God?" the bailiff asked.

"Huh... I think so... ah... I do," Skunk-Guy responded timidly.

"You'll have to speak up, son," the judge insisted.

"Sorry, your honor." Skunk-Guy cleared his throat again, took another deep breath and stated far more boldly, "I DO."

“That’s fine, son, now just sit down and relax.” The judge nodded for the prosecutor to proceed.

Mr. Hamilton was still standing behind his table reviewing his notes and didn't even look up as he asked Skunk-Guy his first question.

"Could you please state your full name for the court?"

Skunk-Guy leaned a little closer to the microphone. "The Stinking Stalker.” He sat back and then leaned forward again to add, “I have also been called Skunk-Guy.”

The tittering started up again. The judge slammed his gavel on its base and declared, "Order!"

Mr. Hamilton had expected that re sponse and he waited for it to quiet down before he continued. Th is time he looked directly at Skunk- Guy.

"Is that your real name?" he inquired.

"That's the name I go by," Skunk-Guy explained.

"But don't you have another name?"

Skunk-Guy swallowed hard. "You mean, my secret identity?"

"Yes, for lack of a better term." The prosecutor stepped around his table in a casual manner. "Could you please tell the court your secret identity?"

"If I did, it wouldn't be a secret anymore."

Giggles bounced around the room.

Mr. Burr popped up from his chair. "Objection!"

The judge banged his gavel again. "Mr. Hamilton, this court is growing impatient."

"Please, your honor, I can prove the validity of the witness," Mr. Hamilton assured him.

"Move it along then!" the judge demanded.

Mr. Hamilton walked over to the witness box and confronted Skunk-Guy directly. His tone was assuring but insistent. "Would you please explain to the court why you need to keep your identity a secret?"

"I need to keep it hush-hush so my folks won't freak out."

"Are you telling us that your family doesn't know about your alter ego?"

"Oh, they know," Skunk-Guy declared. He could see his entire family sitting in the courtroom two rows back from the front. His sister Barbara was the victim in this case and his parents, Ed and Janice, were there to give their support to her and – in a more secret way – to himself.

Skunk-Guy added in a confidential tone, "They just don't want anyone else to know."

So you are telling this court that your family knows of, and supports, this crime-fighting crusade of yours?" Mr. Hamilton asked.

"As long as I maintain a B average and get all of my chores done."

"Your honor," Mr. Burr sighed with great annoyance.

Mr. Hamilton turned his attention to the judge. "I am merely establishing the credibility of the witness."

The judge removed his glasses and looked the district attorney straight in the eye.

"The credibility of this witness will remain in doubt as long as he is dressed up like Pajama-Man. The court asks you, Mr. Hamilton, to prove that this is the man who apprehended the defendant."

"Very well, your honor." Mr. Hamilton nodded in agreement, then turned to the witness.

"Now, Skunk-Guy, we have heard testimony from three witnesses that there was a strong foul-smelling stench permeating the crime scene."

"Yes, there was," Skunk-Guy confirmed.

"You yourself smelled it?"

"Oh, yes."

"Was the odor strong enough to render someone helpless?"

"Oh, yeah, with all the gagging and coughing and choking and wheezing, they’d be pretty helpless."

"Do you know the source of the odor?"

"Yep, it was me."

The courtroom roared to life with laughter. The judge tried to bang it into submission with his gavel.

"Your honor," groaned Mr. Burr.

"Mr. Hamilton. . .” the judge began, but was interrupted.

"We are prepared to substantiate that statement, your honor," the DA assured him.

The judge leaned back in his chair and looked at his watch, then stated with forced calm, "If you do not do so in the next five minutes, I'm going to charge your witness with perjury and you with contempt of court."

Mr. Hamilton stepped to the side of the witness box, assuming a more private posture, directing Skunk-Guy’s attention away from the still- snickering room and the angry countenance of the defense attorney.

"You claim that you are the source of this alleged stinky smell?"

"Yes, I can make myself smell like anything. It's my special power."

Skunk-Guy happened to catch a glimpse of Mr. Burr, who had his head in his hands. At this point he was compelled to explain further.

"I used this power to overcome the defendant when he attacked Barb... err... the girl."

Mr. Hamilton spoke much softer now, as though he was attempting to learn some nasty secret. "And how did you come by this power?"

"It was the result of a freak lawn-mowing accident."

"You don't say," Mr. Hamilton said with a lilt of surprise to his voice. "What exactly happened?"

Skunk-Guy felt much safer now. It seemed to be just Mr. Hamilton and him. And he seemed genuinely interested in his crusade. Skunk-Guy found himself talking quite freely.

"Well, I was mowing along the hedges and I pushed the mower under a shrub. There was something hidden under it and I hit it with the mower. It exploded, spraying this brownish icky goo all over me and the house and the yard. It was a real mess. After I cleaned up, I soon discovered that I could smell like anything.”

"Can you prove this?"

Skunk-Guy involuntarily tilted his head and looked quizzically at the lawyer. "How?"

"Would you please stink for the court?"

The judge rolled his eyes.

"You mean right here?" Skunk-Guy asked in amazement.

"Yes, I do," said Mr. Hamilton with a wink. "Would you recreate the smell you used to overpower the defendant?”

"Are you sure?" Skunk-Guy asked.

"Go right ahead," the DA stated calmly.

Skunk-Guy looked over at the judge. "Your honor?"

"Go ahead, son," the judge confirmed; then he added almost under his breath, "Anything to move this trial along.

Skunk-Guy took a deep breath. "Okay."

Almost instantly the aroma of dead fish and ammonia filled up the room. People in the courtroom began to gag and cough. Many fell out of their seats. A few ran for the big double doors in the back. The few people seemingly unaffected were Skunk-Guy and his family who sat calmly within the calamity-filled room holding their noses.

The defendant Steven Grendal was also unmoved by the stinky onslaught. In anticipation of the demonstration he had simply held his breath. He sat un-breathing and glaring at the costumed figure in the witness box. What he had planned as a minor break-in, to get some jewels that he could convert to quick cash, had now turned into this full- blown trial. The charges were breakin g and entering, robbery, and assault with a fork. He was facing some serious jail time, all because of that decorated goof-ball. No matter how this trial turned out, Steven had determined he would get his revenge.

* * *

“The Allen County court house was evacuated this afternoon after a court demonstration went terribly wrong.” The black and white image of Dan Turnley glowed from the portable television set on the communications table of the Secret Skunk Station of the Stinking Stalker.

This hidden retreat was laid out in a crumbly brick and glass greenhouse, covered with ivy, just out side the woods in back of Wendell Higgins’ home.

“Hundreds of people were evacuated from the court house building and four other trials were interrupted,” Dan explained. “The fire department spent two hours search ing the building for any gas leaks, chemical spillage or stink bombs, before allowing people back into the court house. The cause of the disruption is still under investigation.”

“Oh they know,” Norman Flinch proclaimed proudly. “It’s just that the judge ordered the press not to say anything about me.”

Norman, still wearing his Stinking Stalker suit, minus the mask and cape, turned to Wendell and smirked.

Wendell Higgins, Norman’s best friend, was a grade A, brainiac with an IQ of 178. Both boys loved comic books. After Norman’s accident had given him this odd stink power, the two of them had started up the crime-fighting campaign of The Stinking Stalker.

“Wasn’t the judge mad?” Wendell asked.

“Oh yeah,” Norman nodded. “But the prosecuting attorney pointed out that the judge had okayed it so I wasn’t charged with anything.”

“Well, you’ll have plenty to talk about on the radio tonight.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait,” Norman admitted. “When Rina puts me on the air, I can go over the court hearing of my very first case.”

Norman slipped the mask back over his head and snapped on his white cape.

“I’ll see you back here in a couple of hours. Be listening for me.”

“I’ll tape record it,” Wendell told him.

The Stinking Stalker opened the warped wooden door of the greenhouse and disappeared into the night.