Sunrise came late to the westward-facing caves in a hillside overlooking the Hudson River. Within one of the caves, four figures in sleeping bags stirred, each moaning about the hard ground beneath them.
“OK, OK, I know. It sounded like a good idea at the time, though, you have to admit.” Dan Calhoun clambered out of the sleeping back, bumping his head on the low ceiling. “I also forgot that these caves would have shrunk as we grew up.” He rubbed his head with a sheepish grin.
“Hey, admit it. We’ve been spoiled, gang. We should have done something like this years ago, just to keep in the spirit of things,” said a still-sleepy Cassie Griffen. She nudged the bag next to her. “Neil! Remind me to start checking state parks with campgrounds when we get back. I think I’d like to spend a few nights with you out under the stars.”
“Hey! No need to advertise like that, hun!” Neil’s balding head popped out of the sleeping bag. “And no beaches, all right? I hear the water at night, it brings back bad memories of my days in the Navy.”
“OK, baby.” Cassie bent over to kiss his forehead. “Hey, Mickey! You alive there?”
“Yeah, though I wouldn’t vouch for my back.” Mickey sat up in the back, and the cracking of his back was audible to all of them. “Man, my chiropractor is gonna shoot me for this!”
“So, Danny, what’s the plan? Any ideas on how we can handle this chump when he comes for the money?” asked Neil.
“A couple of ideas, and a couple of treats from the lab that might help out.” Dan pulled an oversized pistol from a leather backpack. “I put this together a couple of years ago when I was waxing nostalgic for our days of adventure down here.”
“Oh, God, is that a gas-gun?”
“Yep.” The chemist’s face broke into a wide grin. “I couldn’t resist. And these are for you, Mickey.”
“You didn’t!” Mickey took a pair of glass balls, in which he could see a swirling mass of black chemicals. “Are they…?”
“You got it. Blackout bombs. Break one open, and you’ll get a cloud of black smoke, about twenty feet in diameter. The State Police started using them last year for drug busts. I don’t know how long it will last outdoors, though.”
“Oh, I almost forgot, Cassie.” Her husband pulled an odd, oversized bracelet from his overnight bag. “Professor Marks was doing some experiments with sound, and it reminded me of the stories I heard two years ago about your hero returning with some kind of sonic cry.” He placed the bracelet on Cassie’s wrist and pointed out a stud on one side of it. “Press that, and it emits an ultrasound pulse. This one has been modified so it’s in the range of human hearing. We’ll all want these earplugs that the professor gave me, or we’ll be puking our guts out.”
“Oh, honey, how sweet!”
“And me, I’ll just rely on brute force, as always. Now, how well does anyone remember the lay of the land here?”
Senator James Feeney entered Riverside Park, a metal briefcase in his hand. He walked slowly, as if waiting for a sign. Looking at the hill leading up to a playground, he spotted an area of grass that appeared to have been cut, just a bit lower than that around it, in the shape of a lightning bolt. He knew the direction he would be going when the action started.
He walked around for half an hour. There were few other people in the park. At the river, he saw a couple walking hand in hand. Up near the playground, a tall, thin man tightened bolts on the jungle gym. A short, heavyset caretaker ran a lawnmower on the other side of the park.
At two-thirty, another figure entered the park. He walked directly toward Feeney, a determined look on his face. As he got closer, the senator realized that the look was frozen there: the man was wearing a lifelike rubber mask.
“Nice to see you can follow orders when your family is at stake, Senator. Too bad you couldn’t have followed the mandates of the people.”
“The people elected me to use my judgment. Disagreeing with me doesn’t give you the right to terrorize my family,” said Feeney in a cold, hard voice as he started to hand over the briefcase.
“Hey, it’s gonna make me rich, so why not?”
“Because it’s not that easy, creep!” Feeney yanked the case back, and took off at a run toward the playground.
“Hey, come back here!” The kidnapper started after him, not noticing the other figures converging on the playground at the same time.
Jim Feeney slung the briefcase over his shoulder, letting it hang by its shoulder strap as he ran. The extra weight was hardly an impediment as he picked up speed going up the rise toward the playground. Fifteen years of first practicing, then making law had not dimmed the joy he once found in running, and despite the circumstances, this was just another excuse to stretch his legs and let the wind carry him. Behind him, the kidnapper had started giving chase, then thought better of it. He stopped, pulling a pistol with a silencer attached to the barrel from his jacket. “Go ahead. I’ll take the money from your dead body, then go back and kill your girls!” he shouted as he started to take aim.
Not too far away, the walking couple had stopped their stroll in the park. The woman had whipped off her scarf and was holding it between her outstretched arms as she knelt before the man. He had taken a small ball from her purse, and placed it at the midpoint of the spread scarf. Taking aim, he let fly, sending the globe hurtling at the gunman. He hardly noticed it striking the ground before him, until it sent up a billowing cloud of black smoke that obscured his sight.
“What the devil?” he cried out, windmilling his arms to disperse the smoke. As it cleared, he saw the couple closing from one side as the maintenance man dashed down the hill at him, joined by his target. He paused for a second, unsure which one to shoot first as he sensed his plan falling apart. During the delay, the tall blonde woman raised her hands in front of her, and he was suddenly struck by a wall of sound. It drove him to his knees, even as he squeezed the trigger.
“Cassie!” shouted Mick as the bullet struck her shoulder and knocked her to the ground. He bent down to help her as Dan and Jim reached the felon. Confusion ensued as Dan tried to drag the man to his feet while Jim attempted to knock him to the ground.
Amid the confusion, nobody noticed the loud roar of a riding lawnmower approaching through the semi-darkness left by the blackout bomb. At least, not until Neil Griffen launched his short, stout frame from the still-moving tractor. He careened into the kidnapper, knocking the wind from him and laying him out on the grass. “That’s my wife, you bastard!” he cried as his beefy fist slammed into the criminal’s face, knocking him unconscious.
“Neil, don’t worry, baby! It just grazed me,” said Cassie as she rose to her feet, leaning on Mick Steuben. “Good thing I was teamed up with the Doc, you know?”
“Right, honey.” Neil enfolded his wife in his arms, looking around to make sure the others were all right. “Nice sprinting there, Flash. Looks like you’ve still got the old pepper!”
“I’ll take running for office over running for my life any day. Now, how do we find out where my girls are?”
“I think I can help there, Jim,” said Dan Calhoun, crouching over the unmoving kidnapper. “But you’d better tie him up first.”
Dan reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ampule. He broke it in half, waving the ends under the kidnapper’s nose. The man became awake, coughing and choking.
“Want to tell us where we can pick up a couple of young ladies?” asked the tall, thin chemist.
“Go to hell! The only way you find out where they are is when I’m on a plane heading out of the country!”
“I don’t think so,” replied Calhoun, pulling the ungainly pistol from the improvised holster on his belt.
“What the–? No! You ain’t gonna kill me, are ya?” The criminal struggled within his bonds, squirming over the ground as best he could to get away from the weapon.
“No, nothing so permanent, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Dan pulled the trigger, and a cloud of gas issued from the gun with a soft hiss. The kidnapper tried to hold his breath and wait it out, but as soon as the initial cloud started to drift away on the breeze, Dan fired again, and the stubborn criminal was left with no choice but to breath in the gas. “Hold him up; it may make him a little dizzy.”
Feeney reached out to grab the terrorist by the shoulders. “Now, where are my daughters?” asked the senator.
“My house. Corner of Porter Street and Grand Avenue, number 872. They’re tied up in the basement,” mumbled the gassed felon. Mick pulled out a cellular phone and called the police, giving them the information.
“I don’t get it, Dan. I thought that was going to knock him out,” said Neil.
“I never said it was sleeping gas. I charged it with sodium pentothal — a gaseous form of truth serum.” Dan smiled. “I figured it would be more useful, especially with all of you around here to take care of knocking him out.”
Three nights after the rescue of Jim Feeney’s daughters, the five mystery-man-wannabes gathered again. This time, it was around the dinner table in Neil and Cassie Griffen’s home overlooking the Hudson River.
“I have to say, guys and gal, that it was great getting together again, even considering the horrible circumstances of it. We should have done this a long time ago.” Dan Calhoun raised his glass in salute to his friends and comrades-in-arms.
“Hey, the real JSA got back together — why shouldn’t we?” said a grinning Neil. “Maybe we could get us a young, busty gal like they did, too!” He ducked as Cassie tossed a dinner roll at him.
“Maybe we could get together on a regular basis? Maybe every month or so. Just to sit around and swap tall tales,” suggested Mick. “I know I’d be glad to do it.”
“Sure, and we’ve got room here,” added Cassie. “Better than crawling around in a ramshackle clubhouse.”
“Very true, but I think it needs something,” said Jim with a pensive look on his face. “I think I know what it is, though. Hang on a moment.” He rose from his seat and walked out the door, and they heard the front door open and close. Nobody said anything; they simply looked at each other with puzzled looks on their faces until he returned with a large, flat object under his arm. “See, when they were clearing the land for the park down there, I came across something. I tucked it in my garage, a little memento of the old days.” He pulled it out and turned it so they could all see the round piece of plywood.
Still faintly visible on the cracked and peeling brown-painted surface was a crudely drawn shield in red, white, and blue, with gold letters spelling out The Justice Society of America.