The Key to a Woman’s Heart

A Black Spectre Adventure

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

SPRING was in the air. The time when men and women alike are consumed with thoughts of love and romance. The citizens of Terminal City all walked with an extra bounce in their step, a new twinkle in the eye. L’amour! Its spell was inescapable.

For everyone except Charlie Hecht.

Charlie threw back another swig of bourbon. He let it settle in the back of his throat for just a moment, then swallowed it down slowly to let the alcohol do its magic. It had been a rough day. One of the biggest stories of his career had just fallen apart on him (turned out his source had been lying through her false teeth). But that wasn’t what was really nagging at him. No, this one was a matter of personal pride that just cut him to the heart.

“Thought I’d find you here,” Ben Gelbert, fellow reporter at the Terminal City Standard, muttered through his chomped cigar as he meandered into O’Doule’s Bar, their usual hangout.

Charlie poured himself another drink from the bottle he’d purchased.

Gelbert bellied his squat girth up beside him. Against Charlie’s lean (if oily) good looks, they were the picture of opposites. “What’s eating you, Pal?” Gelbert asked.

“I’ve lost my touch, Benny Boy. Afraid I’m all washed up,” Charlie confessed. “Might as well send me out to pasture. I’m thinkin’ of joinin’ the priesthood.”

Gelbert shook his round head in disbelief. Not this again. Dames. And he knew just the one, too.

“I’ve tried everything — charm, flowers, jewelry, charm. Everything. But can’t seem to turn that doll’s head,” Charlie lamented. “Maybe I just don’t got it no more.”

“Vicky Rose,” Gelbert muttered under his breath. A rose by any other name. And that auburn-haired minx was their top rival over at the Crusader. Who’d have believed it?

“What does she even see in that bookworm she’s been tied to?” Charlie wondered aloud. “How could she turn me down for a guy like that?”

“Charlie, look. You been going about this all wrong.” Gelbert stopped and shook his head at the irony of the situation. “I can’t believe I’m giving advice on dames to a guy like you. You make Casanova look like a rank amateur. But you been going about this all wrong. The rules don’t apply with this doll.”

“Whatd’ya mean?” Charlie asked.

Continue reading The Key to a Woman’s Heart

Death is a Silent Intruder

A Black Spectre Adventure

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

“GOOD-NIGHT, all!” Karil Grantham called out to the last of her guests as they left for the night. She locked the door securely, then by force of habit, checked it again to make certain it was bolted tight. Her mother was so worried about her moving into an apartment of her own, in Terminal City of all places. She had promised her many times over that she would be careful. Lately, there had been several break-ins in her South Village neighborhood, just on the outskirts of downtown, so careful she was.

As she turned back around to face her now empty apartment, she couldn’t help but let out a sigh of disappointment. While she’d had a good time with all of her new friends at the art school where she’d been working as a secretary these past few months, the evening hadn’t gone nearly as planned.

Among her invited guests was a young artist from the school, Cyrus Martin. Known at the school for his daring abstracts, he’d always been very flirtatious with her. When he readily accepted her house-warming invitation, her heart leapt. Her mother would have called this behavior “much too forward” and “asking for trouble,” but she was a city girl now, she reasoned, and life was different there.

Much different, in fact, from sleepy little Prairieville where she’d grown up. All of her teenage years she’d dreamed of moving to the big city. After a couple of years of college, which included secretarial classes, she moved in with her Aunt Beatrice until she could finally afford a place of her own.

The moment Cyrus Martin had walked through her front door, she thought her life couldn’t be any better. Sadly, though, he was accompanied by his benefactor and (she was quick to discover) paramour — beautiful and wealthy socialite Constance Van Broman.

Karil’s heart sank. She knew she was pretty enough. But there was no competing with Constance Van Broman, who made Leonore Lamonte’s society column virtually every week. They only stayed a short while, of course. It wouldn’t do for someone of Constance’s standing to mingle with the “little people” but for so long, even if they were members of the art community. Somehow, Karil maintained a smile throughout the night, doing her best to hide the deep disappointment she felt.

After putting on her nightgown, she set herself to the task of cleaning up. It quickly became evident, however, that she just didn’t have the energy for it. She would take care of it in the morning.

She was about to call it a night when she groaned at the realization that her bed had no sheets, which were still in the laundry basket. She’d washed them earlier in the day and taken them down from the line just prior to the start of her party.

Now feeling even more blue, she curled up on the living area couch. It was the weekend, after all. She had the whole city at her feet. That gave her two whole days to rid Cyrus Martin from her mind before she would have to face him again on Monday. That thought brought the first glimpse of a smile to her face before she fell fast asleep.

Continue reading Death is a Silent Intruder

Of Black and Scarlet

A Black Spectre Adventure

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)LITTLE Ricky Bartholomew sat poised on the edge of his cushioned seat high in the balcony of the ornate Orpheum Theater, his gaze transfixed on the action that took place on the stage far below him. He didn’t care that he and his kind, careworn mother, Mrs. Estelle Bartholomew, were seated in the cheapest section available, nor that his feet didn’t quite touch the floor and he was forced to maintain a careful balancing act throughout the entire show to keep from flopping backwards. None of that mattered to his ten-year-old mind, for he was living a dream that night, one that his mother had brought true by carefully saving pennies, coupons, and Green Stamps in order to afford it. His heart and soul were on that stage, transported back to 1790s Paris, and he bravely fought the unjust as The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was the most glorious night of his young life.

When the play was over, young Ricky dropped to his feet to join the standing ovation then quickly realized that he couldn’t see anything and had to pull his seat back down so that he could stand on it. Once again, he was involved in a precarious balancing act. His mother worried that it wasn’t proper behavior, nor was it very safe. But there was no deterring him from joining in the applause full-force. When the actor and actress portraying Percy and Marguerite had taken their final bows, Ricky knew in his young mind exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He wanted to be a stage actor and bring the same cheer to others that he had experienced on that wonderful night.

Ricky hopped down (thankfully, without getting injured) and clutched his mother’s hand as she they made the long climb down the narrow, winding iron staircase to reach the richly-decorated theater lobby. Actually, it was more like him leading her. Ricky was so full of exuberance that when they finally landed upon the ground floor, he jerked free of his mother’s grasp and bolted headlong across the lobby towards the waiting street outside.

“Ricky!” she called out, but she needn’t have worried. He came to a sudden stop when he ran smack into the back of a large, very well-dressed man in a bowler hat and gleaming white spats. Ricky let out a quick gasp when the man wheeled around with eyes aflame that burned brightly above his waxed moustache. Ricky instinctively took a step backwards and swallowed hard. The man’s expression quickly turned from anger to a broad smile when he saw his young adversary. Mrs. Bartholomew clutched her son’s shoulders from behind and curtsied apologetically.

“Beg your pardon, Sir,” she asked softly. He’s just a little full of himself this evening.”

Continue reading Of Black and Scarlet

The Red-Headed Ruse

A Tom Miller, Hollywood Newshawk Adventure

I aimed my bucket with all horses blazing towards UBC radio at the corner of Sunset and Vine. Didn’t let off the gas until I slammed to a stop. The skid was heard two blocks away. No worries about the cops, though. Because Lt. Hap Underwood, my portly compadre at the L.A.P.D, burned to a stop right behind me.

“Breck call you, too?” I queried.

“Of course,” Underwood chuckled. He squeezed his extra-wide frame out of his police-issue coupe. “This is a police matter, too, you know.”

We breezed in through the double glass doors. Tossed a quick wave to the cute little blonde jane behind the desk. Under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have minded waiting. But this wasn’t other circumstances. No need for protocol.

The horn-rimmed station manager, Herman Breck, was already waiting for us. Puzzled expression and all.

“So, what’s this unbelievable scoop?” I asked him.

He sucked in a quick breath. Then exhaled: “I’ve got the ‘monkey wrench’ back in my office. Wants to go on the radio and tell his side of the story.”

Underwood and I both did a double-take on that one.

“When did he get here?” I asked.

Underwood, being the silent type, was more than willing to let me take the lead. He knew I would anyway.

“’Bout an hour ago. Seems he hitched his way down from Fort Lewis, up in Washington.”

Continue reading The Red-Headed Ruse

Invitation to Death

A Black Spectre Adventure
Note: This story follows the events of “The Undressed Widow.”

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)CHARLIE “Cherry Nose” Caifano had been cooped up for the past three days in the hotel room where he lived in the lower South Side of Terminal City. It had been that long since he’d received The Spectre’s mark – a note card inscribed only with an “X.” He would never have admitted to anyone that he was scared, and certainly not even to himself. He was a hired gun for Vito “Spats” Gennaro, after all, boss of the South Side mob. He’d plugged many a guy that had it coming to him. So many, he’d nearly lost count. In fact, just the week before he’d taken down Frankie Maritote. Walked up and plugged him with a shotgun right outside his house, just after dark. Only it hadn’t gone off as planned. Just as Cherry Nose had squeezed the trigger, Frankie’s four-year-old little girl opened the door. It was a darn shame. But these things happen, Cherry Nose told himself over and over.

Frankie had it coming. No one else was supposed to have been home. It was an accident. So why should Cherry Nose even worry? He didn’t have anything to be afraid of.

But the fact was, Cherry Nose hadn’t gone out since getting that card. He’d heard plenty of stories about The Black Spectre. Stories about how he may not have even been human. Stories that couldn’t possibly have been true.

But Cherry Nose was hungry, and he was really itching for a drink. Even though the sun was already going down, Jack Smithy’s bar was only two blocks away. Cherry Nose shook off his nerves, reminded himself that he, too, was someone you didn’t want to meet in a dark alley, and grabbed his coat and .38 before he bolted out the door.

Continue reading Invitation to Death

The Gentleman Thief

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

A Black Spectre Adventure

JULIA DAVENPORT walked quietly through the large, Greco-Roman-styled Lakeview Heights mansion she shared with her husband, the baby, and their small cadre of servants. She never liked being alone, and even though the servants were there, she certainly felt alone when her husband wasn’t.

They had planned to go out together that night.  It was a business function and, as one of the most prominent attorneys in all of Terminal City, her husband, Cecil Davenport IV (heir to the Davenport fortune) always made an excellent impression with his young, beautiful wife dutifully at his side.  As such, their social calendar was always full – either going out on the town or hosting grand, lavish parties at home.  But she had come down with a headache just before they were to leave and had “with deep regrets” opted to stay home and retire early.  It had simply been an exhausting day.

Julia went into the sitting room with hopes of finishing the current novel that simply everyone was reading.  She would love to brag to her friends at lunch the next day that she had already completed it.  She curled up in her large Queen Anne chair and opened the tome to her bookmark. There was more left than she remembered.

She had been reading for some time when a man walked into the room

and began to peruse the shelves.  She thought it was Johnson, their manservant, and looked up with surprise to see that it wasn’t.  Nor was he a servant at all.  Julia dropped her book with a start and let out a small gasp.

He, in turn, wheeled around with a start himself.

Julia saw that he carried a large leather bag with handles that seemed rather full with several of their belongings.

He was a thief.

Continue reading The Gentleman Thief

The Undressed Widow

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

A Black Spectre Adventure

IT HAD been a long day for Albert Johnson, but he wasn’t The least bit anxious to get home from his job as art editor for Thrilling Fables Magazine. He was a small, soft-spoken, bespectacled man – the exact opposite of the kind that were featured in the monthly “pulp” magazine for which he worked. They’d just sent the latest issue to press and it was time to take a well-deserved breather before starting the next issue first thing Monday morning.

The last place he wanted to go was home, However. His wife, Ruth, would be there waiting, though certainly not glad to see him. She had been an innocent, pretty young girl when they were married nearly twenty years Earlier. But the truth was that they had little in common and really didn’t much enjoy each other’s company.

Not that they ever did.

It was only a few Block’s walk to their apartment on the South Side of Terminal City. Albert took his time, enjoyed the night air, then stopped off at O’Doule’s Bar for a hearty drink. He’d only intended to stay for a short while, but the quiet solitude of the bar at that Late hour was too enticing. It was nearly two in the morning before the barkeep finally nudged him from his stool and made him face the uninviting prospect of completing his walk home. It was a warm June night And he found himself wishing that he had a hammock and a back yard (with trees) in which to string it.

After he stumbled up the long staircase inside their brownstone building and stopped more than once to Catch his breath and exhale a healthy belch, Albert finally opened the door and walked into the dim, modestly furnished apartment. It was comfortable enough and, other than the back yard, was all that he cared to have. He listened for a moment, then quietly called out for Ruth. There was no answer. Good, he thought, she’s already gone to bed. He wouldn’t have to answer for his late arrival.

Not until morning, anyway.

Continue reading The Undressed Widow

Conscience for Ransom

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

A Black Spectre Adventure

JULIUS KENNELLY took a long, final puff on his cigar while lounging on the firm, dark leather couch in his ornately wood-paneled office. It had been another good day, among what seemed lately to be an endless stream of good days. With the nation’s economy still struggling to recover, and the war in Europe that loomed ever closer, he had taken over a long line of businesses, and each for a song. Like cherries for the picking. On this night, he would take his mistress to Vicedomini’s to celebrate. No need for reservations. They always kept their best table ready for him. He was the controlling owner, after all.

Julius got up from the couch and stood, as he did each night before leaving, and gazed out of the large glass window. From his viewpoint high atop the Kennelly Building in Downtown Terminal City, he could see the whole metropolis stretched out before him. And each time he peered out, more of that city belonged to him. It was a very good feeling. Almost as good as seeing his own finely-chiseled features reflected in the glass, perfectly superimposed over the landscape. To Julius, it looked just like a scene from a movie. One in which he was the author, producer, director, and star.

Julius snuffed out his barely smoked cigar and gave a call to his very personal secretary. He smiled as she knocked on the door, admired her long legs as she rushed in with his long overcoat, and gave her a firm pat on her shapely posterior for a job well done.

Before the words “Good night, Dorothy,” escape his lips, she was already on his phone calling down for his car. It, of course, would be there waiting for him before his private elevator reached the ground floor. Life was good for Julius Kennelly.

“Good night, Mr. Kennelly” rang like a chorus as he walked brusquely through the vast lobby that looked like it had been carved from marble by Rome’s greatest artisans. The Doorman echoed the final greeting as he held the door open for Julius to pass through.

Continue reading Conscience for Ransom

The Hundred Dollar Baby

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

A Black Spectre Adventure

OSCAR TRAVERS grabbed another shot from the bar in his anvil-like fist and tossed it back like a glass of water.  His body was steeled from years of working on the docks, and now, thanks to a combination of whiskey and rage, his nerves were steeled as well.  He’d never beaten another human being to death before, but he was more than capable.  On this night, especially so.  His pride had been severely bruised, and he was smarting for revenge.

Feeling the alcohol work its way into his system, he glanced again out the window to the Orpheum Theater just down the street.  The doors would open soon to let the rich and influential step out among the masses for just a moment, then get in their expensive cars and ride back to their posh mansions in exclusive Lakeview Heights.

And Oscar Travers would be waiting.

Inside the Orpheum, the audience applauded as the curtains fell across the stage.  The sounds echoed through the small, but ornately-crafted theater.  Brent Gregor clapped, too, from his wheelchair in Box Five.  As much as he enjoyed the show, a musical farce about love and mistaken-identity, it only served to remind him that he was very much alone.  Of course, he had his faithful valet, Bernard Worthington, at his side – the only other living person who knew him as The Black Spectre.  But Brent longed for companionship of another kind, and those thoughts always led in the same direction. Vicky.

As the fates would have it, Victoria Rose, the headstrong, auburn-haired reporter for the Daily Crusader, actually sat far above him in the uppermost balcony.  With her was her boyfriend and co-worker at the Crusader, Denny Morris, who toiled daily in the newspaper’s archives.

They were celebrating the anniversary of their first date together and Denny had wanted to do something special.  He’d saved for many months and managed to pull a few strings to take her to the opening of a new show.  Though he wished he could have done a lot better than the “nosebleed section,” he was just glad to have a special night with her without having to encounter his chief rival for Vicky’s attention (aside from the newspaper) – Brent Gregor. Vicky was an angel, his angel.  And on this night, dressed in her beautiful soft-blue gown, she looked just like one.

Continue reading The Hundred Dollar Baby

That Fateful Halloween

The Black Spectre: Volume I (Buy Now!)

A Black Spectre Adventure

BRENT GREGOR had long dreaded Halloween. The holiday, if one could call it that, brought nothing but old, very painful memories of that night so long ago. The night that he never wanted to remember, but could never, ever forget.

But this particular Halloween, as Brent stood on the downtown rooftop in the cold night air, things were different. For nearly six months earlier, in exchange for the ability to walk again, he had taken on a new guise – that of The Black Spectre. In exchange for the simple joy of once again standing on his own two feet, of feeling like a whole man, of feeling stronger than ever before, he was forced to stalk the night and bring justice to those who have none. It was a price he had been well prepared to pay.

As he gazed down on the cold, bitter streets of Terminal City, his mind drifted elsewhere. He couldn’t help but wonder if this particular Halloween would be any different from the last fifteen. For as strong as he was physically, it was those terrible memories of that fateful night so long ago that still haunted him deep inside.

Bernard Worthington, Brent Gregor’s dignified and faithful valet, sat in the long black car and tightened his thick wool coat around his neck in an attempt to escape the growing chill. It would take some more time to get used to nights like these. He wondered how Master Gregor withstood the evening temperatures as he prowled the rooftops above. He wondered even more if this nightly vigil would continue once winter had fully set in.

Worthington was startled when he heard a small tap on the glass of his car window. His thoughts raced for a lie that he hadn’t been prepared to tell that would explain his presence. He’d been certain that he’d parked the car well enough into the dark alley so as not to be seen.

He let out a quick sigh of relief as the dark figure with the gleaming skull mask peered inside. Mere seconds later, The Black Spectre climbed into the back seat and closed the door behind him. Worthington wondered if the cold had been too much for him as well, but he wasn’t about to suggest it.

“You’re back earlier than I expected, Sir,” was all that he could muster without being impolite.

“I just can’t stop thinking about it,” Brent Gregor answered as he pulled off the hat and mask. “Please, take me home.”

“Of course, Sir,” Worthington answered as he started the motor and put the dark-curtained automobile gear.

Continue reading That Fateful Halloween