Titans West: Confidants and Robbers, Chapter 1: Old Gangsters Never Die

by Martin Maenza

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It was midday at the Gabriel’s Horn night club, and its owner Mal Duncan was checking the inventory behind the bar. I have to remember to give Bobby a little extra bonus this month, he said to himself. He’s been doing an excellent job keeping an eye on the stock and making sure we’ve always got enough of the top sellers on hand. He grabbed a white cloth and ran it across the surface of the bar. It really helps out a lot when you have good people to work for you.

The black man hummed a jazz tune to himself as he wiped down the bar and thought about his life to this point. Growing up in the rough neighborhoods of Harlem, he could have easily gotten involved with the wrong crowd and ended up jail or dead like so many other kids he had known. Luckily, Loren Jupiter gave him a chance to better himself. Through Jupiter’s special youth program, Mal had met other teens who wanted to make a difference in the world. Thanks to that one opportunity, he joined the Teen Titans, fell in love with and married Karen Beecher, and pretty much turned into the man he was today. Mal admitted to himself that his life had turned out pretty decent so far.

Suddenly, his attention became distracted by the muffled sound of clanging metal. The sound carried faintly through one of the vents near the floor behind the bar. Mal looked at the vent curiously, realizing the sound could have only come from one place. “That’s odd,” he said. “I wonder what that was.”

Mal made his way to his office in back and locked the door behind him. He then crossed the room to a large bookcase that held various books and knick-knacks. Reaching up to the top corner, he pressed a concealed button, and the whole wall section slid to the side, revealing a doorway behind it. The man opened the door carefully and began to descend the staircase that led to sub-basement below.

Quietly making his way downstairs, Mal noted that the lights were on. Weird, he thought. Did one of the others leave those on? The stairs opened up in the main chamber of Titans West headquarters, where the conference table and chairs had been arranged. To one side was an archway leading to the workout area, and to the other side was the archway that led to the computers and other systems.

It was from the latter that Mal heard another clanging sound and the grumble of a voice. Uh-oh, the black man thought. We got company.

There wasn’t any time for Mal to retrieve his Herald costume or horn. Whoever was in the Titans Lair was unannounced and unexpected. Looking around, he reached for a wooden bat that was behind the stairs and armed himself. He then carefully crossed the room toward the archway.

Peering inside, Mal could make out a large form at the far end of the room. The individual seemed to be dressed in normal clothes, albeit in extra-extra-large size to cover the large body. The intruder’s back was to the doorway, and whoever it was busily worked on some kind of equipment with tools. The young black man moved into the room and got closer. Then, in a commanding voice, he yelled, “OK, freeze, sucker! No sudden moves!”

The intruder grumbled something indistinguishable as he rose to his feet. Mal became startled by the person’s head, which was rather large and pink, and the face, which had a very thick, protruding jaw with visible teeth. As the intruder turned around, he said in a deep, grumbling voice, “Sheesh, ya poozer! Ya nearly scared the wits outta me! Didn’t anyone ever tell ya not to sneak up on a guy like that?”

Besides the intruder’s appearance, Mal did not expect a carefree, easygoing nature. Whoever this individual was, he acted as if he had every right to be here doing whatever it was he was doing. Finally, when Mal was able to speak, he asked, “Um, just who exactly are you, anyway?”

The large individual smiled in his alien sort of way. “I’m Kilowog,” he said. “Arisia asked me t’ come here and install some equipment for ya.” He started to go back to work, figuring that his explanation was sufficient.

“Arisia?” Mal blinked. He realized this individual must be an acquaintance of the alien Green Lantern who had recently joined the team. “Uh, excuse me, Kilowog, was it? What kind of equipment did she ask you to install, exactly?”

The large alien continued to work on the project. “Its a teleporter,” he said. “She wanted it to be a surprise, so she said I should just use my ring to let myself in.” He turned around, and the large tools made of emerald energy seemed to vanish. Mal could see the emerald ring on Kilowog’s rather large hand. The alien stepped aside and revealed a large, rectangular metal platform on the floor at the base of a large piece of equipment. “Shall we give it a test run?

When Mal Duncan’s stomach began to settle from the sudden teleportation, he was actually impressed by the equipment’s performance. One minute, he and Kilowog had been in the Titans Lair in San Francisco, and the next they were in a lavish office suite on top of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. As the black man checked out the view from one of the large windows, all he could say was, “Wow, this is cool!”

***

At Daisey’s, a chain fast-food restaurant near the University of San Francisco campus, Hank Hall took a big bite of his double-decker bacon cheeseburger. “So, how’re classes coming?” he said as he swallowed the large mouthful. He then reached for a handful of fries.

Dawn Granger finished the last forkful of her salad. “Not too bad, all in all,” she replied. “The new physics professor is all right. He managed to come up to speed quickly after Professor Szackas took leave.”

Hank took a quick drink of his large cola. “All that stuff with him and the Modoran government still bugs me!” He lowered his voice a bit. “I just kind of wish we’d found something more, you know? I really want to bust those guys before it goes too far!”

The blonde woman nodded in agreement. “I can see why you are frustrated,” she said. “I prefer to see the big picture on things, but so far there just isn’t enough information to know what is going on. Too many questions and not enough answers.” She snagged a couple of the remaining french fries before Hank piled up the trash onto his tray.

“Well, I’m not giving up on this one yet,” the brown-haired young man vowed. “I’m watching the news and such for any information about that country. If something comes down, I plan for us to be on top of it!” He dumped the trash in the can and left the tray in its holder.

As the two stepped out onto the street, they saw a young man rush down the sidewalk toward them. He was about their age, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. From his expression and the speed he moved, it was obvious the young man appeared upset about something. He practically ran into Hank.

“Whoa, slow down a second, fella,” Hank said. “Where’s the fire?”

The young man caught his breath. “The bank, back that way,” the blonde male indicated. “Two guys and a girl dressed up in old-time clothes with machine guns are robbing the place!”

Hank and Dawn looked at one another and nodded. It was time for a little after-lunch action.

***

“Sorry to inconvenience you folks,” said a man with a pencil-thin mustache. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and a brown suit with a bow tie. He gestured with the machine gun in his hand toward one his partners. “If you’d kindly put your valuables into the bag Miss Bonnie Parker is holdin’, we’ll be skedaddlin’ it out of here.”

The brown-haired woman wore a low-cut purple mini-dress with fishnet stockings and heels. In her right hand, she held out the large open carpet bag. In her left, she held a small revolver. “Better do as Mr. Clyde Barrow says, and no one will get hurt,” she said. An older woman dropped her necklace into the bag, which caused Bonnie to coo. “Oooh, that’s the cat’s meow!”

The other criminal, dressed also in a brown suit but with a black shirt and brown tie and a brown duster hat, stepped out through the vault walls. In his hands were a machine gun and a carpet bag stuffed with cash. “OK, ya mugs, let’s cheese it before the coppers arrive,” the man called John Dillinger advised his partners. “It’s time for the Untouchables to move their shoes.”

Suddenly, the plate glass window near the front doors shattered as two costumed figures leaped through it. “Not so fast, creeps!” Hawk ordered. “No one’s going anywhere!” The red-and-white-costumed hero jumped toward Clyde Barrow.

“Bonnie, to the getaway car!” ordered Dillinger. “Clyde, rub that clown out!”

Clyde Barrow simply stood there with a smile as Hawk sailed right through him. “Why shoot ’em when we don’t have to, John?” the gangster asked. The hero slammed into the large counter instead, his forward momentum causing the wood to shatter upon impact.

Why shoot ’em?” Dillinger repeated angrily as he hoisted his own gun up. “We’re bank robbers with gats! That’s why we carry them!” He began to empty a few rounds toward the white-and-blue-costumed heroine, but she easily dodged the spray of bullets.

Dove landed gracefully behind the criminal, spun around on one foot, and kicked the machine gun out of his hands. “So I guess your guns are solid in order for you to fire them,” she said as the weapon clattered across the bank floor. “Perhaps the bag is, too.” She lunged forward, but her hand passed right through Dillinger.

“You ain’t getting the dough, doll-face!” he said. “C’mon, Clyde, let’s make tracks!” The two brown-suited gangsters ran toward the front wall of the bank and passed harmlessly through them, thanks to the specialized equipment they wore.

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