Secret Files: Green Lantern
Times Past, 1931
High school student Alan Scott, working as a porter on a train one summer, encounters train robbers and must stop them with the help of a boxer named Joe! But when he learns that the robbers attacked Pete, the kindly old conductor, the future Green Lantern lets his temper get the best of him!
A gray-haired old man pulled a well-polished pocket-watch from his vest and gently opened it. A sad smile appeared on his face. “If she’s runnin’ on time,” he said with a hint of a Southern accent, “she ought to be rollin’ into the station in fifteen minutes.”
Closing the watch, he held it in his fist and glanced over at the blond youth sitting on the bench beside him. He thought for a second before addressing him directly.
“I take it you’re the new porter,” he said.
The boy set his valise down and smiled at the man. “Yessir,” he said as he stuck out his hand.
The man accepted his hand and gave him a smile in return. “Welcome aboard, son. My name’s Pete, and until this run’s finished, I’m the conductor.”
“I’m Alan… Alan Scott,” the boy introduced himself. “What do you mean, ‘until this run’s finished’?”
“I’m retiring,” Pete said. “I’ve been with the railroad for nigh unto fifty-six years. How old are you, son?”
“I’m almost fifteen.”
Pete smiled. “I was about your age when I climbed aboard my first train. Started out shovelin’ coal, but I had my sights set on bein’ an engineer.”
“Have you ever been an engineer?” Alan asked.
“Nope. Worked my way up to a conductor, figured it was one step closer to the job I wanted,” Pete told him, “but after a couple years, I decided I liked where I was.” He paused to check his watch. “So,” the old man continued, “I bet you’re aimin’ to be an engineer yourself when you get older, aren’t you?”
“Sort of,” Alan said. “I want to be an engineer, but not the kind that runs a train. I want to be the kind that designs and builds stuff. Either that or a doctor.”
“Then what are you doin’ workin’ on a train?” Pete asked.
“My uncle helped get me this job for the summer. I’m gonna use the money to help pay for college when I get out of high school.”
Pete patted him on the shoulder. “Well, good for you, Alan. With determination like that, I don’t doubt that you’ll make a fine engineer… or a doctor.”
Not too far off in the distance, the whistle of a steam engine sounded. Pete looked at his watch one final time before returning it to his pocket.
“Well, Alan,” he said. “It’s almost time to go to work.”
Alan Scott lay in his little bunk tossing and turning, unable to get to sleep. After a while, he realized how useless it was to even try, so he got up, dressed, and decided to walk the length of the train to see if anyone needed anything.
Very few of the passengers were awake at this late hour, but those who were — a traveling salesman and a couple of businessmen — thanked him for asking but told him they were fine. Of the crew, Pete was the only one who wasn’t on duty that he encountered. He was pretty certain he knew the reason the old conductor was still up.
“Alan,” Pete said softly, somewhat surprised to find his young friend prowling the train, “shouldn’t you be in bed? Five o’clock comes awful early.” He pulled out his pocket watch to emphasize the point.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Alan replied, “so I decided to see if anyone needed anything.”
“Well, since you want to be helpful, you won’t mind helping an old man,” Pete said, grinning. “Run on up to the dinin’ car and get us a couple cups of coffee and meet me in the caboose. That was my plans, but you can save me the trip.”
Alan knew that, even at nearly seventy years old, Pete could probably work circles around most everyone on the train. In the three days since they had left Capitol City heading west, he had marveled at Pete’s ability to interact with both passengers and crew, making everyone feel like he had been their lifelong friend.
“You go rest your weary bones,” Alan teased. “I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
Pete turned around and began to make his way to the back of the train while Alan headed to the dining car.
He had just stepped out of the last coach and was about to enter the dining car when he saw the moonlight reflect off of something several yards from the tracks. He watched for a few seconds and, seeing nothing else, continued into the dining car.
After another explanation as to why he was awake, and why he needed two cups of coffee, Alan headed toward the caboose.
Entering one of the empty premium cars, he was about to round the corner when he heard voices coming toward him. A quick peek revealed four men dressed like cowboys walking in his direction. Something about the way they carried themselves told him it would be best if he wasn’t seen.
Ducking back into the car he had just exited, Alan — careful not to spill the coffee –crawled under the seat closest to the door and waited. Within seconds, he heard the door open and the men enter.
“–shouldn’t have tried to stop us,” one of the men was saying.
“Yeah. He’s just lucky Shifty only hit him with the pistol and didn’t shoot him.”
A third man spoke up. “As hard as I hit him, it probably ain’t gonna make that much difference.”
The fourth man started to say something, then paused. “Hey, Spider, Mugsy, do you guys smell coffee?”
Alan covered the cups with his hands. About that time, the train hit an uneven rail, causing the hot liquid to splash up on his hands. He bit his lip to keep from crying out.
“Aw, I don’t smell nothin’,” Shifty said. “You’re imagining it.”
The four men continued on, and Alan waited until he heard the door close at the far end of the car. Once he was sure he was alone, he crawled from his hiding place and began to blow on his hands.
“They sure didn’t sound like the cowboys from the picture show,” he muttered as he retrieved the coffee.
As he resumed his trip to the caboose, he began thinking about what the men had said. It dawned on him that they must have been talking about Pete when they mentioned an old man, since he had been the only one awake. He was suddenly very anxious to get to the caboose. And that made him careless.
He had just entered the second sleeper car when he found himself face to face with a fifth cowboy. His mind began to race.
Most of the man’s face was covered by a blue bandana; only his eyes were visible. A desperate plan took shape in Alan’s mind.
“Sir, would you care for some coffee?” he asked.
The question caught the man by surprise, but not nearly as much as what the youngster did next. Before he could answer, the youth let the saucers drop to the floor and, holding the cup handles, flung the drinks in his face.
A pistol Alan had failed to notice joined the saucers as the man screamed and clutched his face. This brought about a flurry of activity in the sleeper car.
Curtains were flung open, and men scrambled to subdue the train robber. The man was finally laid low by a right cross from a stocky fellow. Alan did his best to restore order.
“There are other men on the train,” he said, “all dressed like cowboys, and they all have guns.” That got everyone’s attention.
Several of the men began offering suggestions as to what they should do next. Alan tried to get a word in, but he was quickly forgotten as the adults began planning. Finally, the stocky man made his presence known.
“Listen up.” His voice carried without him having to yell. “This is the kid’s show,” he said. “He’s the only one who knows what we are up against.”
Alan looked at the man. “Thanks…”
“Joe. Joe Morgan.”
“Thanks, Joe,” Alan said. “First thing I have to do is check on Pete, the conductor. I have reason to believe he’s been hurt.”
One of the men stepped forward, a black bag tucked under his arm. “I’m a doctor. I’ll go with you.”
“His friends might have heard this,” Alan said as he pointed toward the unconscious man. “We need to get him tied up and out of sight.”
Someone produced a length of rope and handed it to Joe. He began to tie the robber up. Once he was through, he hoisted the man up and put him in the sleeping berth he had occupied only moments before.
“There. If they come looking for him, they won’t know what happened.” Joe looked at Alan. “Now what?”
The boy wasn’t used to having adults look to him for direction. “Uh, I think everyone should return to their beds. I know it’ll be hard to sleep, but we gotta make it look like nothing’s happened here.”
When nobody moved, Joe spoke up. “Well, you heard him. Let’s get moving.”
With everyone spurred into action, he turned his attention to Alan and the doctor. “I’m coming with you.”
Alan led the two men to the caboose. Much to his dismay, they found Pete lying prone on the floor. After a quick examination, the doctor assured him that the old man was just unconscious. “He should be all right.”
Joe put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Well, now that we know Pete’s going to be OK, what’s next?”
Alan thought for a second. “Since we didn’t see any other cowboys, I think it’s safe to guess that there were only five of them.”
“I’ll stay here,” the doctor offered.
“Thanks,” Alan told him. He then turned to Joe. “We need to get to the front of the train.”
As they passed back through the sleeper car, they checked to make certain their prisoner was still secure. A couple of the passengers let them know that no one had come looking for the man.
With Alan in the lead, they passed through each car slowly. They made it to the dining car before they saw anyone. As Alan slipped in, he saw only one man. Quickly and quietly, he sneaked back out and told Joe what he had seen.
Joe pushed the door open and staggered into the car. Slurring his words, he began to sing as off-key as he could manage and made his way toward the man.
“Howdy, pardner,” he said. “Where can a fella find a drink?”
“You look you’ve had enough to drink already,” the cowboy said.
“Ya can’t never have enough ta drink,” Joe told him as he staggered closer.
“Go on back to bed, buddy.”
“But I wan’ a shot o’ whiskey,” Joe whined. “You got any whiskey?”
“Nope. Go back to bed.”
Joe was within striking distance of the man when he finally stopped walking. He swayed a little for added effect. “What about punch? You want some punch?”
“No,” the man said, agitation creeping into his voice. “I don’t want no punch.”
Joe suddenly stood up straight. “Too bad,” he said, “because you’re going to get some.” As quick as a snake he struck, delivering a one-two combination that left the man dazed. He barely felt the third punch land as he fell to the floor.
Alan joined his new friend. “That was amazing,” he said. “Are you a professional boxer?”
“Not yet,” Joe told him. “But hopefully, when I get to California… Anyway, that’s two down and three to go.”
Alan searched and found the cook in pretty much the same condition as Pete. “Well, at least they haven’t killed nobody.”
“Yeah, but when they realize that we’re on to them, that might change.” Joe looked at Alan. “What next?”
“Well, the mail car is next,” Alan said, “and I bet that’s where they are. We need to catch them off-guard.”
“You got any ideas?”
“One. Do you watch many westerns?”
The next thing Joe knew, he and Alan were climbing up the outside of a moving train in the dark. “Kid, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Well, I saw Tom Mix do this once.”
If Joe was having doubts about following the boy, he kept them to himself.
They had gone up the outside of the mail car so the men inside wouldn’t hear them jump across from the roof of the dining car. On hands and knees, they crawled the length of the train car until they were looking down on the tender. Without a second’s hesitation, Alan leaped down onto the pile of coal. Joe followed him. They proceeded to crawl to the front of the tender and peek into the engine. When he saw that everything looked OK, Alan started to scramble over the front of the car.
Joe clamped a hand over his mouth and pulled him back. With his hand still covering Alan’s mouth, he tilted the boy’s head down.
Alan’s eyes widened. Had he dropped, he would have landed directly in front of their third cowboy.
Joe removed his hand and pointed to a coal shovel beside Alan. He grabbed it and handed it to the man. Once he was armed, Joe motioned for the boy to toss a small piece of coal down onto their target. Alan grinned and did as he was told.
The man known as Spider felt something hit his hat and fall to the floor. As he glanced up, the last thing he saw was a big man with a shovel dropping down on top of him.
Alan scrambled down out of the tender and into the engine.
“You’re the new kid,” the engineer said with a sigh of relief.
“What in the world is going on?” the engineer asked.
“Train robbers,” Joe told him. “We’ve got three of them so far, but the other two are in the mail car.”
“Dang! We’re hauling a safe full of cash for Wells Fargo. I bet these skunks knew about the money.”
“We just got to find a way to get the last two,” Joe said.
Alan was looking around the engine when he spotted something that gave him an idea. He hopped over to the side of the engine and looked back at the walkway that ran along the side of the tender car.
“Hey, Joe,” he said. “Do you think you can carry the cowboy back to the mail car?”
Joe moved over and looked at the walkway. “I think so. Why?”
“Grab him and follow me.”
As Joe picked up the cowboy, Alan grabbed a steel pry-bar and scooped up a handful of coal dust. Still not sure what he was up to, the man followed him back to the mail car.
“The door swings open into the car. When I push it open, you shove their friend inside and move to the other side of the door. After that, be ready.”
A grin slowly appeared on Joe’s face as he realized pretty much what the kid had in mind. “Just watch where you swing that bar.”
Once they were both in position, Alan used the pry-bar to push open the door. Joe launched the unconscious man through the door and stepped to the other side of the door. As one of the cowboys rushed to the door to find out what was going on, Alan threw the coal dust into his face. Joe grabbed him and shoved him back into the car, making sure to keep him between himself and the last remaining robber.
The final cowboy was so intent on watching the big man holding his friend that he failed to notice Alan slide around the door and into the shadows. He drew his pistol and stepped forward to get a better shot at the newcomer. Without warning, he heard the snap of bones, and a wave of pain shot up his arm, causing his weapon to fall to the floor.
Seeing he was no longer in serious danger, Joe quickly dispatched his human shield and started toward the final train robber. A voice from the shadows stopped him.
“Sorry, Joe, but this one’s mine.”
The boxer heard the pry-bar strike a couple more times and watched the man fall to the floor. “Geez, kid,” he said, “that was a bit much, wasn’t it?”
“He’s the one that hurt Pete.”
“Oh,” was all Joe said.
The local sheriff and his men loaded the five men into a paddy wagon. He looked at the man and boy standing before him covered in coal dust.
“Well, pal,” he said to Joe, “it looks like you’ve got a reward coming to you. These fellows got a total worth of about one thousand dollars.”
Joe glanced down at Alan, then back at the sheriff. “The boy gets the lion’s share. He’s the one who discovered what this bunch was up to, and he took charge; I was just along for the ride.”
“Well, son. It looks like you’re a hero.”
Alan turned at the sound of the voice and saw Pete, with the assistance of the doctor, walking toward him. He ran and hugged the man.
“Pete,” he said. “You’re OK.”
“We all are, thanks to you and Joe,” Pete replied. “Look, I know you’re getting a big reward and all, but there’s a little something I want to give you myself.”
He took Alan by the hand and pressed something into it. When the young man opened his hand, he found Pete’s pocket-watch.
“May time be as good to you as it has been to me.”