Four weeks after election day, Jay Garrick arrived for his first regular meeting of the Justice Society of America since taking a leave of absence for the campaign. As he entered the JSA Brownstone, he encountered the man who had taken his place during the past two years.
“Johnny! I’m glad you’re here; I wanted to talk to you before the meeting!”
Johnny Quick grinned and bowed his head slightly. “Hiya, Jay. I have to tell you, it’s been a pretty heady experience for me, working with the Society while you’ve been gone. I’m really going to miss it.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Unless you have an objection, I’m going to propose keeping you on board here. Can’t be any harm having a second speedster on the team, plus your ability to fly gives you a versatility that I’ve always lacked. Not to mention the detective work you did during the campaign.”
“If Jay didn’t propose it, I was planning to.” Both men turned to see Green Lantern standing in the doorway leading into the meeting room. “It’s long overdue, if you ask me.”
“Hey, guys!” Jay recognized the new voice coming over the intercom as that of the Atom. “Check out this news report I’m sending through to the monitors!” Before he finished, screens in the vestibule and the meeting room flashed to life.
“–izarre turn of events here in Washington, we send you back to our live correspondent, James Kenyon.”
“We still have not gotten details, but eyewitness reports say President-Elect Stanley Gunderson appeared to, and I quote, ‘melt like a candle’ as he was helped into his car by a member of his security detail. The incoming president had just completed a tour of the Pentagon when this occurred. We have just obtained a videotape of the incident, recorded by one of Gunderson’s supporters.” The scene cut to a shot, showing the president-elect and several staff members walking toward a limousine. As he bent to get into the car, one of the members of his guard detail reached out to steady the politician. When he was seated in the car, Gunderson turned to the guard with a smile and reached to shake his hand. The smile turned to a grimace of pain that was quickly obscured as his face seemed to melt and slide over itself in a mass of semi-liquid flesh. The scene quickly cut back to the news anchor.
“Dear God in heaven, what just happened?” asked Johnny Quick.
Marty O’Brien sat in a darkened room furnished with nothing but a table and three folding chairs. Looking toward one wall, he pondered his reflection in the mirror that hung there. He knew it wasn’t simply a mirror, that he was likely being watched from the other side of the two-way glass. He’d been in the NBI Headquarters building for six hours, since the incident at the Pentagon. Not that he objected; in fact, he was relieved that they were following standard procedure. Some of the agents whom he had encountered since his arrival were even apologetic. He’d made note of their names, intending to speak with their supervisors after everything was cleared up. An agent who was apologetic to a suspect, even to one of their own, was a risk.
The door opened and closed behind him. Glancing at the mirror, Marty let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding as he recognized the man who entered.
“Don’t get your hopes up, Plas. I’m here because Jay and the president requested it. Secret Service, FBI, and even your bosses, here, aren’t thrilled about it.”
“Can’t say as I blame them, Dugan. Bringing in a super-hero to run an interrogation, well, it ain’t exactly kosher.” Marty turned to look directly at the broad-shouldered Irishman who had headed up Garrick’s security detail after Alex Holton’s departure.
“So, what the hell happened out there today?”
Marty shook his head. “I don’t really know. I worked my way into Gunderson’s Secret Service detail two months ago, which can hopefully be backed up by my bosses upstairs. He was getting into the car today, and he slipped. I grabbed him by the arm, caught him, and he got himself seated. He turned to thank me, shook my hand, and, and…” Marty started to shake. “Damn it, Pat, I don’t know what happened! It felt like I stiffened up, and he turned into this mass of putty with nothing holding him up.”
“Crazy question here: can you stretch?”
“Huh? I — hell, I can’t. Not much, anyway.” To demonstrate, he held up his hand with fingers spread. The thumb and pinky each stretched out about half an inch, then retracted back to normal size. “Haven’t tried since the other agents pulled their guns on me. I try not to use my powers around the other agents; I mean, it’s not really a secret that I’m Plasticman, but I try not to bring attention to it. How did you know?”
“Lucky guess. Word from the hospital is that Gunderson’s turned into some kind of plastic. Thought maybe it had something to do with you.”
“You mean he got my powers or something? Some glitch in how I got them back again?”
“No, ’cause there’s something else they figured out at the hospital: that ain’t really Stan Gunderson.” Pat opened a folder he’d been carrying and laid it on the table. “When they tried typing his blood for transfusion, they found it wasn’t the same type shown in his medical records. Then, when one of the nurses grabbed his wrist, his body tried shaping itself into a female shape before it melted away again. So, for now, he’s a skeleton floating in a mass of elastic flesh.”
“Holy cats! They got any idea who he actually is?”
“Not yet. Red Robin’s looking into it, though. Doc Mid-Nite and his protégé are already at Bethesda, and I think Doctor Fate is going to join them, trying to figure out who or what he is.”
“What about the election? Does this mean Jay–?”
“No. The vice-president-elect, Minerva Schuster, will be sworn in as president if they don’t find the real Stan Gunderson — or even if they do find him, if this thing took over for him before the election.”
“And what about me?”
“Well, I can’t say for sure, but based on what you’ve said, and what we’ve found out elsewhere, you’re off the hook. But you’re also out of the Secret Service — the NBI wants you back.”
As snow fell in Keystone City, Jay and Joan Garrick sat in a darkened room, a fire crackling in the fireplace and a Glen Miller album on the stereo. There had been several evenings like this in the past five weeks since election day, as Joan tried to help her husband ease back into what passed for a normal home life for the hero-turned-politician. Conversation came in short spurts, with the easy silence of two who knew each other as well as they knew themselves in between.
The relaxed atmosphere was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Joan glanced at her husband before rising to answer it. She came back into the room a moment later, carrying the cordless handset. Jay took it from her as she silently mouthed a name.
“Good evening, Max. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Jay, I’m sure you’ve heard the news this past week. Amanda and I have been working on the paperwork for a challenge to the election results.”
“But this is our chance to grab victory from the jaws of defeat, Jay! With an imposter running in Gunderson’s place, it’s wide open. Nothing in the Constitution or the succession laws covers a case like this.”
“I said no. First of all, the laws also don’t say anything about a person running under another name, even if it does qualify as a felony case of impersonation. So the man that was elected is the man that ran, as from what we’ve been able to find out, this thing took Gunderson’s place a year and a half ago. Secondly, all of the law enforcement parties involved, some of which even you may never have heard of, have decided that it’s in the best interest of the country to maintain the façade that it was Gunderson who was elected, and who fell prey to a mystery disease that prevents him from taking office. Therefore, under the Succession Act, Congresswoman Schuster will take office as president. And that’s how it’s going to stand.”
“You’ll never get another chance like this, Jay — you know that.”
“Of course I do, and that’s how I want it. Remember, it was you and Amanda who came to me, not the other way around. I have my own suspicions about who was behind that. And if I’m right, you can tell Vandal Savage that it’s over. He can move on to his next plot for world domination; this one is finished.”
Jay smiled with satisfaction as he heard Max Lord slam the phone down to end the call.
Ten weeks after the election, the inauguration of President Minerva Schuster was an anticlimactic event. Even among those who had voted for Stan Gunderson, she was barely known. As the first woman to serve as president of the United States, there was a great deal of historical significance tied to her inauguration, but after the tumultuous election and the still-mysterious fate of the election’s victor, the American people seemed to have had enough of politics, and paid little heed to the change of office.
This suited President Schuster just fine. On a cold, rainy January day in 1989, she strode through the city and up the steps of the Capitol Building and took the oath of office. She followed through with the traditional gatherings and parties, which were much more subdued than those held for the two inaugurations of Ronald Reagan. Near the end of the day, she was taken to the White House by her security detail. There, she found the now-former president and his wife waiting for her.
“We just wanted to take a moment out of the spotlight to wish you well during your term. But we don’t want to take any of your time, and–”
“One moment, Mr. and Mrs. Reagan. There is one matter you seem to have forgotten,” said President Schuster in a harsh, clipped tone. “Where is the Intrepid file?”
“The what?” asked Ronald. “I don’t recall that name.”
“Don’t play games with me,” hissed the younger woman. “The Intrepid file has been kept in the White House since 1941, and it is now part of my job to see to its safety. Where is it?”
“It isn’t here,” said Jane Reagan in a low yet even voice. “It was destroyed, on our orders, seven years ago. We felt that the information contained in that file was outmoded and unnecessary, and its existence put at risk the lives of some of the very people to whom this country owes its very freedom.” She stepped between her husband and the new president. “Now, if you will excuse us, we still have to go to Camp David to pick up a few personal items. Good day, Madame President.”
A few minutes later, in the privacy of their limousine, Jane Reagan broke into tears. “Oh, my God, Ronnie, I thought she was going to haul off and hit us or something! I’ve never seen such a look of evil on someone’s face!”
The big man in the dark blue suit wrapped his arm around his diminutive wife and pulled her to him. “It’s all right now, dear; it’s all right. You faced her down with more gusto than any Army Ranger.”
“The sooner we get that file away from this area, the better I’ll feel.”
“Don’t worry, dear. As soon as we’re at the ranch in California, I’ll give our friend Richard a call.”
That evening, another call was made, from the White House to a penthouse in Metropolis.
“It isn’t here,” stated the voice of Minerva Schuster, coming from a speakerphone in the Ultra-Humanite’s command center in the sub-basement of the UltraCorp building. “Reagan and his wife claimed they had the file destroyed.”
“They did, did they?” growled Ultra. “Phagh. It would have been most useful to have the White House’s files on all of America’s costumed mystery-men, but it really matters little. With you in office, and other candidates that I quietly backed in office in the Senate and the House of Representatives, we can make things most uncomfortable for the Justice Society.”
“What about Gunderson? What if he recovers and betrays you?”
“Already taken care of. If you turn on your television, you will see reports of an explosion at Bethesda Medical Center. It appears to have been a leaking oxygen tank, set off by a piece of electrical equipment. Most unfortunate, it appears two FBI agents have perished, along with the patient they were guarding. I will let you know when I need anything from you, Madame President.”
“As you wish, Master,” answered the new leader of the free world.
On a balcony overlooking the sparking waters of the Caribbean Sea, Vandal Savage hung up a phone and looked out over the water. “Incredible. My own people, working at cross purposes, meddling in the U.S. elections. Lord and Waller actually showed enough intelligence to be dangerous, manipulating Garrick and others around him, and very nearly succeeded in getting him elected. I’ll have to decide whether to move them up in the organization, or eliminate them entirely. And whoever orchestrated this business with Gunderson, he or she is to be applauded. President Schuster may prove amenable to some of my ideas, but I won’t know unless I ascertain who maneuvered her into this position.”
Stepping into an ornately furnished room, he ran a hand over an antique globe that stood in the middle of the room. “Yes, someone out there has demonstrated an aptitude for manipulating events that rivals my own. But they won’t hide from me for very long.”