Friday, June 24, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Renegades (#116)

Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades coverSo Joe gets yet another “job” in Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades: he’s a disc jockey at WBBX, which evidently plays classic rock.

Joe started out as a summer intern at WBBX, but he was promoted when a DJ, Keith Wyatt, proved unreliable. After getting the job, Joe immediately becomes insufferable, explaining such difficult-to-understand radio slang as PSA (“public service announcement”) to Chet and Frank. But he’s getting respect from the station management, as Joe’s show is the most popular in his time slot among listeners 12 to 25. (It’s an odd age range, mixing pre-teens with adults, but it’s one Arbitron uses.) Also, Chet is intimidated by the grade-school math Joe uses to make the music and pre-recorded segments, like the news, run on time.

On the other hand, Chet references Joe’s bout of stage fright in Danger on the Air (#95) to put the youngest Hardy in his place. Joe’s witty rejoinder is to call Chet a “spazzo,” and I have to admit, the boys’ verbal sparring here is excellent. Teenage boys always give each other crap, even if they’re good friends, and that’s what Chet, Joe, and Frank do here.

For those playing along at home, WBBX hasn’t been mentioned before; the only radio station that has been mentioned is WMC in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). In this book, WBBX has been around a while, but since its first record played was “I Am the Walrus” from Magical Mystery Tour, the station can’t be older than 1967. (Side note: “I Am the Walrus” was actually the B-side of “Hello, Goodbye.”) WBBX, in reality, is an AM gospel station in Kingston, Tenn.

The mystery begins when a pirate radio station, Skull and Bones, knocks WBBX off the air during Joe’s shift by broadcasting at WBBX’s frequency. While Frank discusses the situation with Bill Crandall, the station manager, a fake grenade crashes through the window. Frank rushes outside and finds Wyatt, who denies throwing the grenade and calls Joe a “wimp” (does being a DJ require a superabundance of masculinity? Do DJs have to engage in combat with other DJs and vicious callers? Perhaps toss control boards through windows?). Frank and the police are forced to accept Wyatt’s protestations of innocence. Crandall and the FCC ask the brothers to investigate so that they can jail the pirate leader, Jolly Roger.

As Joe is about to end his shift, he gets shocked by a booby-trapped control board. He’s fine, of course — he has been shocked badly four times in the canon, including getting hit by lightning in The Disappearing Floor (#19) — and he waves away Crandall’s offer of an ambulance. That should teach Wyatt not to call Joe a wimp (if Wyatt had anything to do with the sabotage, which he didn’t).

Frank suggests they follow Wyatt to the Seven Thirty club, which Joe immediately remembers: “Oh, yeah … It’s a real dive, in a crummy neighborhood” (34). How do you think Joe knows about dive bars? Is he secretly a hipster who thinks it’s ironically cool to visit run-down bars? Does Iola crave the danger presented by the sleazy environs and rough habitués and insist Joe accompany her, flirting with thugs and lowlifes and forcing Joe to fight them?

Oh, sorry, drifting into fanfic again. I really should look into something that will stop me from doing that. Do you think electroshock would work? I mean, it has no effect on Joe, as we’ve established, but he’s a Hardy, impervious to tissue damage and learning.

You might think being underage would make my little Iola fantasy implausible, but Frank and Joe waltz in without opposition, so I see no reason why the Seven Thirty Club would get uptight about an underage girl. Anyway, Frank and Joe immediately spot Wyatt. He’s relatively forthcoming, telling Frank and Joe that Jimmy Collins hires DJs for Skull and Bones after Wyatt gets in a shot calling the brothers “Hardydum and Hardydee” (36). (The insult doesn’t make sense, but Joe still bristles.) The discussion degenerates into an insult contest — Joe wins on points — before Wyatt’s burly friends chases the Hardys away. Joe actually gets to use a karate kick during the escape, but the truth is they had to flee. Hopefully, they edited that part out when they met Iola and Callie at Mr. Pizza later.

The next day, the Hardys get a ride to the SS Marconi, the home of Skull and Bones, from the irritable and insane Capt. Steelheart. Collins hires Frank and Joe as the DJ combo of “Big Brother and the Renegade Kid” (57); when Wyatt shows up looking for a job, the Hardys convince him not to rat them out by promising to do Wyatt a favor. (I’m sure they will never pay off this favor.) While they work for a totally illegal radio operation, Chet fills in at WBBX with delightful radio incompetence; as a bonus, he receives a gas bomb on his first day.

Frank and Joe’s next step is to find out who owns the warehouse Capt. Steelheart uses as his base. For some reason, Frank and Joe are able to find property records at the library instead of the courthouse; the records and a friendly librarian tell them the warehouse is owned by former radio station owner Ben Harness, who now is a record producer. After Harness’s secretary stonewalls them, Frank and Joe track Wyatt instead. They find him heading out on Barmet Bay on a motorboat. Frank and Joe follow in … in … in …

A rented motorboat. No mention is made of the Sleuth. Honestly, I don’t think the Sleuth has been mentioned yet in the digests; looking over my notes, it seems the Hardys’ motorboat appears only in Crime in the Kennel (#133) and High-Speed Showdown (#137). (During a hovercar chase in The Secret of Sigma Seven [#110], Frank mentions his love of speedboat racing without mentioning the Sleuth.) Wyatt meets a mysterious man; when they follow that man’s boat to his estate, they are quickly caught and “frisked with professional efficiency” (91). (Which is more than Iola and Callie can hope for — zing!) The rich guy is Harness, who allows Frank and Joe to annoy him with questions for longer than I would have, but even his patience runs out eventually. Frank and Joe conclude Harness is working a payola scam with Wyatt.

Frank and Joe think they’re getting somewhere, but Crandall pulls the rug from under them: WBBX is going under, so who cares if they find out who Jolly Roger is? Station owner Charlie Horwitz, who just bought out his partner, promises to give Joe a recommendation if he ever applies at another station, but everyone — even the reader, especially the reader — knows that’s not going to happen.

Of course Frank and Joe soldier on; of course they’re in over their heads. After pulling all the circuit breakers at Harness’s offices, they pose as electricians to look at his records. They learn the Jelly Roll Corp. is renting Steelheart’s warehouse, but Jelly Roll is as fake as Chet’s latest diet plan: the only thing at the company’s address is a wrecking ball, which someone tries to use as a blunt object against them. They manage to escape, of course.

While working their shift at Skull and Bones the next day, Joe figures out who Jolly Roger is when he matches Horwitz’s signature to the address on the envelope the gas bomb was mailed in. Unfortunately, Frank doesn’t cut his mike while they’re talking; Collins stops the revelation from hitting the airways, but he calls his boss to take care of the Hardys. Horwitz and his bodyguard arrive on his yacht to take care of the Hardys permanently, then decides to eliminate Collins and Wyatt as loose ends as well. Just as the explanations end and the executions are about to begin, Steelheart and his men set off an explosion on the Marconi. Horwitz was using Steelheart’s smuggling operations — golly, it’s nice to have a smuggler in the books again — to blackmail him into cooperating, so Steelheart decided to blow up his own ship to spite his blackmailer. Steelheart isn’t all that stable.

A chase between Steelheart’s barge and Horwitz’s yacht ensues, with everyone including the bodyguard chasing Horwitz. (The bodyguard didn't appreciate being abandoned on a sinking ship, and he puts bullet holes in the yacht’s gas tank in retaliation.) Joe not only ends up knocking Horwitz out, but he also sneers at the unconscious man — sneering is what villains do, Joe — and calls him “cream puff” (146). Thus ends Horwitz’s brilliant plan to cheat his business partner out of half of WBBX (Skull and Bones would have gone off the air after the sale was final) while thumbing his nose at old rivals, like Harness and Steelheart.

Another successful mystery. But when Joe wants to return to his “job,” he finds that Chet and his malapropisms are even more popular than Joe was among the youth. Ah, the fickleness of the entertainment business! Also, the fickleness of Chet and Joe, because neither of them will ever talk about their radio careers again.

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