by Immortalwildcat, with Doc Quantum
“Ted says she’s ready, and I think she is, too,” said Chuck Lane.
“I know you do, Chuck. I’m just scared for her. I remember what happened the first time she tried this.” Melanie Lane stood at the railing of the veranda, looking out over the pool of Ted Grant’s home. “Funny, you were the one most dead set against this, if I recall.”
“I didn’t want a repeat of what happened with Chuck Junior. But Charly’s different. She’s got drive, an inner fire. And she’s determined to make good on the name of the Jester. Once I got that through my thick skull, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop her. So better that I do what I can to help her succeed. She’s come a long way in the last two months.”
“Nevertheless, I’ll be scared for her every time she does this.”
Chuck got up from his chair and walked over to lay his hands on his wife’s shoulder. “If you didn’t, then I’d wonder, Mel. And don’t forget, Wildcat is going to be shadowing her.”
“And who is shadowing him? He puts up a brave front, but I’ve seen how badly his back and chest were burned. (*) Those muscles are still giving him quite a bit of pain.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Black Sunset (not yet published).]
“Ted knows his limits.” Melanie and Chuck turned as Irina Grant entered the room. “But he’s been doing this sort of field training for years. He’s had a close call or two, but he hasn’t lost anyone yet, and he’s not going to start now. Besides, I’ve seen her in the gym. Now that she’s built up her strength, she should more than hold her own.”
“Remember, I don’t have super-speed or super-strength, so if you get in over your head, I can’t bail you out as easily as Bobo did.”
The new Jester nodded, recognizing by now the nickname of Jake Bennetti; her father had told him that he was once a big-time bank robber known as Bobo Bennetti, until he became friends with the Star-Spangled Kid and Starman and decided to reform. Now Bennetti called himself the Goon and supposedly specialized in taking on supernatural creatures; the Goon was essentially a monster-hunter, so why had he been keeping an eye on her that night? Was it coincidence, or something else? She wondered if she’d ever find out the story behind it.
Unlike her first outing, Charly was clad in the black and white silks of a French Pierrot clown. Under the loose-fitting silks was a puncture- and burn-resistant bodysuit. The Kabuki mask hid her face and also contained a radio for staying in contact with Wildcat. The pointed boots on her feet had hard rubber soles, and the bells on the tips would be silenced with the press of a button in her white gloves, as could the bells on her tri-pointed hat. Her scepter was slung in a loop from her belt.
“Believe me, Wildcat, I’m ten times more prepared than I was then — a hundred times, even!”
“That ain’t hard, kid, considering you weren’t prepared at all when you tried that stunt. Now, how about a radio check?”
The Jester pressed her left thumb against the knuckle of her index finger. “Check one, check one.”
Wildcat did the same, and they nodded at each other. “I’m gonna stay a block or two behind you. I’d like it better if you could keep the radio on so I could hear everything on your end, but these things can’t send and receive at the same time. So we’re gonna play this like you’re a six-year-old — each time you cross a road, you check in with me.”
The Jester stuck her tongue out at that, barely visible through the small mouth hole of the mask. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. Just key the mike long enough to tell me the street name, got it?”
“Let’s go give the scumbags a little hell!”
For nearly an hour, the Jester prowled the rooftops of Sarasota, Florida. There was plenty of activity in the streets, but none of it criminal. The bars and clubs of the city were busy, and the tourists were pouring plenty of cash into the local economy, and if any of them happened to look up and spy a clown leaping from building to building, they chalked it up to the quality of the alcohol.
“Crossing Palmer Street at Sunset Avenue,” said the Jester in a quiet voice. Wildcat’s acknowledgment sounded in the earpiece. Then she heard something else: a scream. It came from across Sunset. She keyed the microphone. “Crossing Sunset. Something’s up.”
Sunset Avenue was wider than most of the streets she crossed this evening. Instead of the running leaps that had carried her over most of the spans, for the third time tonight she pulled out the scepter and fired. The jaws of the clown’s head latched onto the pole supporting a television aerial. Pressing the retract button on the scepter, she launched into the air.
As she flew across the road, she saw movement in an alleyway. She twisted her body to alter the path of her flight and sailed toward the alley opening. When she was soaring directly at it, she pressed another button to release the jaws of the grapple and retract the clown-head. Trusting the line not to get snarled, she slid the scepter into its loop on her belt, then curled into a ball to prepare for her landing. She hit the pavement like a stone skipping over water, rising a few feet back up into the air as she stretched out and came down on her feet. Four heads snapped around at the sound of bells and her feet hitting the pavement.
“What the hell?” asked the biggest of the three men. His arms were wrapped around the arms and chest of a young woman, one not much older than Charly. One of the others had hold of one of the woman’s legs, while the other was trying to cut away her skirt with a knife. He quickly stood and held the knife in front of himself.
“Just turn around and forget you saw anything, lady, or — what the hell are you supposed to be?”
Without saying a word, the Jester jumped and folded into a series of somersaults that brought her to within inches of the man with the knife. Her left arm came up in a sweeping movement that knocked his hand to the side and sent the knife flying into the shadows. Her right hand shot out, her fist driving into his nose with a crunching sound.
“Jeez, Lar, get him!” said the one holding the woman in a bear hug. The other let go of her leg and crouched low, both hands held out in a wrestling stance.
“C’mon, clown, you wanna play?” He reached for Jester with one hand as she gave a quick nod, causing the bells in her hat to ring again. She danced back, stepping to one side at the same time. He started to follow, then took a quick step back as her right leg snapped out in a kick at his leg.
“Ah, ah, ah, you can’t get me like that,” she teased.
He charged at her again, this time getting a hand around her left wrist. The Jester yanked downward with her left arm and jumped upward. Both feet slammed into Lar’s chest, and she kicked hard, breaking his grip on her wrist. She flipped backward, landing on her feet as he fell back into a cluster of garbage cans. As he struggled to get back to his feet, she kicked him in the head, and he dropped like a bag of wet cement.
The Jester heard a yelp behind her and turned. The woman had her teeth in one of her attacker’s arms. Smiling, the Jester ran up to them and grabbed the big man’s arms. Unable to dislodge his grip, she lifted her legs and swung down between the legs of the victim and the attacker. As she slipped between them, she punched upward. She heard him yell, and the victim jumped away from him. Coming up behind him, the Jester brought the edge of both hands down on the junction of neck and shoulder, as hard as she could. The big man roared and turned to face her. She leaped up, grasping a fire escape above her, and kicked him in the face once, twice, and a third time before he fell.
The Jester and the prospective victim were both started by the sound of clapping from the alleyway opening. Silhouetted in the lights of the street, Wildcat stood looking over the scene. “Not bad, kiddo. Not bad at all.”
“What’d you do, lady? You messed up my score! All I wanted was something for my head, make the pain go ‘way. It was a straight deal!” The young woman slapped the Jester, who stood stiffly upright in surprise.
“If that’s the case, I guess the cops will be wanting to talk to you, too,” said Wildcat as a pair of officers walked around him into the alley. “Attempted rape or dealing, makes no difference to the cops.”
Ten minutes later, on a nearby rooftop, the Jester and Wildcat stood looking down over the city. “I thought she was being attacked. I could have hurt an innocent person making a mistake like that.”
“No, you still broke up a crime in progress, just not the one you thought it was. So you’ve got four pieces of scum off the street, instead of three. That’s not a bad thing.”
“But what if it wasn’t a drug deal? What if it was a couple of kids trading mix tapes or something?”
“Then they wouldn’t have been holding her with a knife. She might have thought she was trading for the drugs, but rape is still rape. Listen to your instincts, kiddo. They seem pretty good to me.”
“Yeah, well, those instincts got me trashed in New York.”
“No, your lack of skills got you trashed. You’ve taken care of that.” Wildcat looked away, toward the waterfront. “You going back to New York with your folks next week?”
“For a few days. I’ve still got three weeks until school starts, so I’ll be back here on Monday.”
“You going to go find those guys who roughed you up while you’re there?”
The Jester looked out toward the water in the distance. “Maybe. It might be a little more fun this time.”
A few days later in New York City, when the new Jester went out again, she was ready. Tracking down the Black Dragons and catching them in the middle of a drug deal, this time she didn’t just laugh at them, but beat them as well.
As before, a big, beefy man was watching her from the shadows. But this time the man never made himself known. As he watched her finishing up the Black Dragons while approaching police cars wailed in the distance, Jake Bennetti muttered quietly, “You did good, kid. You did good.”
In 1952, the notorious bank robber then known as “Bobo” Bennetti had heard about a plot to murder Starman. Against his better judgment, he and the Flash foe known as the Shade stopped armed assassins hired by three big-time criminals from killing not only Starman but the Jester as well, all without letting those heroes know how close they had come to being killed. (*) Although it would be another thirty years before he showed a trace of heroism again, Bennetti would always credit that moment as being his first step toward his ultimate reformation. Even the Shade, notorious villain that he had once been, had now stepped over to the side of the angels, more or less.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Goon.]
Jake hadn’t been in any condition back in 1955 to save the Jester’s adopted son from falling into crime, but he was sure as hell wasn’t going to let the Jester’s daughter get killed on her first time out. It had been purely coincidental that Jake had been drawn to the same alleyway as the new Jester that night, but he didn’t believe in coincidences. As far as the Goon was concerned, saving the new Jester had just been one step in his efforts to make up for all the bad he’d done in his life. He still had a long way to go.
As the Jester proudly delivered the Black Dragons into the hands of the just-arrived police officers, the Goon turned and walked away.