Tuesday, March 17, 2009

JSA: The Novel, Part 3

In 2005 I wrote a novel, JSA: Ragnarok, which was to be published by Byron Preiss' iBooks. Byron's tragic death in an car accident ended iBooks and, while the company's assets were bought by a new owner, the fate of Ragnarok remains up in the air. I've run an excerpt or two here in the past. Here's another, from a chapter set in May 1945:


JSA: RAGNAROK
JSA and all related characters and elements © DC Comics

Sandy Hawkins, in blue slacks and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves, turned the corner onto the Coney Island side street where Wes had parked and now waited by the car after ditching his Sandman get-up and Sandy’s Golden Boy costume.

Wesley closed the trunk of his 1936 Duesenberg SJ coupe. He checked the knot of his tie in the gleaming chrome bumper, then waved at Sandy.

“I brought you something,” said Sandy, handing Wesley a hot dog covered in mustard and sauerkraut. “I ate mine on the way over, I was starving.”

“It’s...what is it? A hot dog?” Wesley asked, scrutinizing the assemblage of foods in his hand.

“It’s not just a hot dog. It’s a Nathan’s.”

Wesley looked at him.

“You never heard of Nathan’s?”

Wesley shook his head.

“You’ve been to Coney Island before, right?”

“Of course.”

“And you’ve never had a Nathan’s hot dog?”

“We usually catered our little jaunts.”

“You’re trying to tell me that in your entire life, you’ve never had a Nathan’s hot dog?”

Wesley shrugged.

“You’re that rich?”

“I am that rich,” Wesley grinned and took a massive bite of the frankfurter and kraut. “And you are that gullible, my friend. I’ve been downing Nathan’s dogs, only the best frankfurter in the known world, since I was a third your age.”

Sandy laughed. “I knew you had to be kidding me.”

“No you didn’t. Listen, kid, just because I happen to be filthy, stinking rich doesn’t mean I’m not human. What’d you think, they fed me lobsters and caviar when I was a kid?” Wesley took another bite of the hot dog. “And if you know so much about fine dining, how could you even think of coming back here without any of their french fries?”

“I couldn’t carry it all and eat at the same time. Guess we’ll just have to go back for them.”

“Let’s go, kid,” Wesley said, popping the last bit of hot dog in his mouth. “The next round’s on me.”

* * *

Several hot dogs, fries, cotton candy, rides, popcorn, attractions, and ice cream later, Wesley and Sandy found an empty bench on the boardwalk. It was too early in the season for sunbathers and swimmers, but strollers filled the beach, many of them young and in uniform, hand in hand with wives or girlfriends, watching younger siblings or their own children, gathered in groups, all celebrating the end of the part of the conflict that required they wear those uniforms.

“Wesley,” Sandy said.

“What, kid?” Wesley couldn’t remember the last time he had been this tired this early in the day. Tromping up and down the boardwalk, waiting in endless lines to mount dizzying rides and pass through goofy funhouses, eating all that food that tasted so good but was so bad for you...unless you were a thirteen-year-old boy with an endless capacity for getting dizzy and eating junk. His stomach was begging for a bromo, his pants felt too tight and his feet were hot and throbbing.

“Thanks,” Sandy said. “This was a lot of fun.”

“Well,” Wesley said, suddenly not quite so bothered by his sour stomach and aching feet, “that was the plan.”

“Sure, but you know what it’s like for guys like us.”

“Guys like us?”

“You know, mystery men guys. I mean, before we could even ride the Cyclone, which is only the best roller coaster in the world, we had to go chase after that Bullwhip goon.”

Wesley nodded. “It’s not easy, Sandy, I know. Everyone else gets to go on with their lives while we have to break off from ours to do what we do.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Wes,” the blond boy said earnestly. “I wouldn’t trade being Sandman’s partner for anything, but it’s just that me and you don’t get to spend a lot of time together, y’know, when I’m not the Sandman’s partner.”

“Just plain Sandy, huh?”

“And Wes. Yep.”

“Okay, Sandy.”

“Thanks, Wes.”

They watched the waves roll onto the beach for a while.

“Wes?”

“Hm?”

“You’ve been dating Aunt Dian for a long time now, haven’t you?”

Wesley, his eyes closed as the sun warmed his face, said, “Did your aunt get you to badger me to marry her?”

Sandy’s laugh was a short, amused bark. “If Aunt Dian was that crazy to get married, she would just ask you herself.”

“Yes,” Wesley said. “Yes, she would. And, yes, we have been seeing one another for...well, we met at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Half a dozen years. And, yes, I do love her madly and completely and, I suppose, one day we will get married but so far neither of us is in a rush. Plus, I might add, I’m rather pleased that she has a nephew who, for a pain in the neck, is otherwise a pretty swell kid.”

Wesley glanced at Sandy, who looked straight ahead, but now with a big grin on his face.

“A bunch of us in the JSA were talking earlier in the week,” the older man said. “We all agreed that with the war winding down, now would be a good time to spend less time as our costumes and more time as ourselves. I know almost everything about Sandy, the Golden Boy, but I couldn’t even tell you Sandy Hawkins’ favorite baseball team.”

“The Giants,” Sandy said.

“Ouch,” Wesley winced. “Yankees here...although sometimes, and usually in secret, I’ve been known to root for the Brooklyn bums from time to time.”

Sandy looked up in surprise. “Me, too! Even when the Dodgers play the Giants, I hate to see ‘em stomped too bad.”

“All right, then,” Wesley said, “we’ll alternate between Giants and Yankee games...and an occasional Dodgers every month or so. Agreed?”

Sandy shook his hand. “Deal!”

“Next, favorite authors?”

Sandy grinned. “Who’s the guy who writes the General Glory comic book?”

“At last,” Wesley said in mock relief, “something we can agree on!”

* * *

The Duesenberg’s 240-hp engine rumbled happily under the hood as they idled at the traffic light on Surf Avenue, parallel to the Boardwalk.

The day had, Wes thought, been a complete success. Sandy was a good kid with a lot of heart and it was high time Wes started treating him as such and not as just another tool in his crime-fighting arsenal. He should, in fact, encourage the boy to spend more time being a kid instead of saddling himself with the grown-up responsibilities of catching criminals and defeating despots. Besides, what if something were to happen to him during one of their adventures? When Sandy had first joined the Sandman just a few short years ago, the world had been such a different place. Now, the war had somehow upped the ante and made it that much more dangerous. Bad guys were no longer disposed to surrender so quickly, the weapons seemed to have gotten bigger, and the costumed villains were turning insane and seriously dangerous.

Wesley said nothing of this to Sandy. Why ruin a great afternoon with something so serious? And the kid had had a ball, that’s for sure. Sandy had no father, no big brother to look up to. And here was Wesley Dodds, bachelor, man-about-town, bon vivant...auditioning for the part. Was he a sap or what?

Wesley glanced to his left as he waited for the light to turn green. He was stopped in front of the Half Moon Hotel, a rundown fleabag with a history. “See that place?” Wes asked, pointing to the painted brick fa├žade. “About a month before Pearl Harbor, New York’s D.A. William O’Dwyer had a Murder Inc. stool pigeon named Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles under police custody in the Half Moon.”

“I read about Reles,” Sandy said. “His testimony was supposed to send half the Brooklyn mob to the chair.”

“He helped get a few convicted, until someone pushed him out of the sixth floor window. They called him ‘the canary who could sing but couldn’t fly.’”

“I guess the only thing worse than a crook is a crook who turns rat, huh?”

“Like they say, Sandy, there’s no honor among thieves.” The light turned green and Wesley started to let out the clutch. He took one last glance at the old Half Moon, his gaze almost passing over the man with the carefully groomed goatee and string tie walking up the street. He hesitated a split second before putting the car in gear, looking straight at the bearded man.

He knew that face.

The man turned into the lobby of the Half Moon and was gone. Wesley frowned and then, at the urging of the horn of the car behind him, slipped into first and drove on.

Steven Sharpe III, the Gambler. Wesley wondered what brought him to town, all the way out to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn, no less. He would find out later, tonight, after he had gotten Sandy safely home.

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