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.

While his car was there waiting as expected, something unexpected was there waiting for him, as well. Three large men in dark overcoats quickly surrounded him. From first glance, Julius quickly assumed that they worked for the Southside mob kingpin (and Julius’ sometime partner, out of necessity, of course), “Vito Spats” Gennaro. It was a very safe assumption. The leader of the three pulled his coat open to reveal a Tommy gun safely tucked inside.

“Mr. Kennelly, we been waiting for you,” the man spoke. “We’d like the pleasure of your company, if you don’t mind. What’dya say we go for a little ride?” He nodded towards their own car, which was parked in the center lane and blocked Julius’ limousine from leaving.

Julius well knew that with times being as tough as they were and Prohibition having been over for several years, the underworld had to find new and different ways to earn a living. Kidnapping was one of those ways. They didn’t seem a bit bothered by the number of witnesses who watched from the sidewalk and the lobby windows.

Julius gave an agreeable nod and did just as he was instructed. He got in their car and was quickly driven away. The Doorman, Julius’ Chauffer, and the other spectators watched with mouths agape until the long, dark car disappeared around the corner. The Doorman then immediately abandoned his post to call the police.


NEARLY a week later, auburn-haired Daily Crusader Reporter Vicky Rose sat in editor Frank Matson’s office commiserating over their mutual frustration. Four days had passed since the Kennelly kidnapping, and there hadn’t been the first bit of news since. Vicky had tapped nearly all of her sources and hounded Detective Shayne nearly day and night, but no one was talking.

“John Brown it, Red, there’s got to be something by now,” Frank griped as he toyed with his ever-present loosened tie.

“They’re all singing the same song, Frank,” she reminded him. “There’s been no ransom, no demands, no nothing.” She was just as frustrated as he was, if not more.

But what was even more puzzling was the lack of news from the other side, as well. “What I really don’t get is that Black Spectre character. I thought he would have flushed Kennelly out by now, but he’s been quieter than the Cops.”

Frank shook his head. “Think maybe he’s involved in this thing, too?”

“Who can say?” Vicky shrugged. While Vicky’d had her share of encounters with The Black Spectre, she still wasn’t sure just what side of the law he was on.

“Something’s behind all this, for sure,” Frank mused. Just can’t figure out how it all plays together. ”

Vicky flopped back in her chair and mulled over the scant details in her mind. “The only thing I’ve got is the timing. Kennelly’s got that subpoena that just came through from Kansas City. Just his luck that he was nabbed before it got here. You think he rigged this whole thing just to lay low?” she asked.

“Worth looking into,” Frank replied. “Tell you what, instead of shaking down the D.A.’s office, why don’t you tackle this thing from another angle?”

“How so?” Vicky asked.

“Tap into the Blue blood gossip line up there in Lakeview Heights. Those housewives and their maids up there could write a whole set of encyclopedias with all they know,” Frank instructed.

“Now, how’m I supposed to do that?” Vicky asked as she crossed her arms. “I don’t exactly travel in the ‘ladies-who-lunch’ circle.”

“Oh, yes, you do,” Frank reminded her.


VICKY didn’t need any further clarification. She already knew what he meant, even before the wink in his eye confirmed it. Despite the glacier pace at which this story was moving, she well-knew that Frank expected her to jump right on it. She gave a quick call down to her boyfriend, Denny, in the paper’s archives, affectionately known as “the morgue,” to let him know she’d be late for their standing dinner date. She couldn’t tell if Denny was more disappointed about that or where she was going. Probably both. As much as she tried to reassure him, it never seemed to do much good. Denny had a jealous streak when it came to all matters regarding the wheelchair-bound millionaire recluse Brent Gregor. He tried to play it down, but she could see it plain as day, and no matter how much she reassured him, he wasn’t about to let it go anytime soon.

Vicky drove straight over to the Gregor Mansion and was greeted warmly and gentlemanly, as always, by Bernard Worthington, Brent Gregor’s valet. Vicky did her usual once-over of the mansion’s grand foyer, which always gave her a shiver. She could easily get very used to such a home.

Worthington ushered her straight into the library where Brent sat behind the desk in his wheelchair, reading, appropriately enough, the newspaper. Vicky’s smile quickly disappeared when she noticed it was the Standard.

“What’s wrong with the Crusader?” she asked.

“Not a thing,” Brent answered as his striking features gave way to a brief smile. “I like to read all the papers, actually. Of course, I always read the Crusader first.” He qave the paper a quick lift to reveal a rumpled copy of her stock-and-trade underneath.

“So, what exciting story are we chasing today?” Brent asked cheerfully. “And how can I help?”

“The Kennelly Kidnapping,” Vicky answered. She liked the way that sang off her lips. It had made for the perfect headline the week prior.

Brent’s smile faded from view, though Vicky barely noticed as she launched into her “take,” before finally pausing long enough to ask Brent his opinion.

“So, you think it’s the real deal, or did he rig the whole scenario?”

“I certainly wouldn’t put it past him,” Brent replied. “I’ve known Julius since we were kids, and believe me, there’s no level to which he won’t stoop. I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything like that, but I’d have to say it certainly sounds plausible.”

Quite plausible indeed. Brent had many bad memories involving Julius Kennelly, from being bullied on that fateful Halloween night so many years ago when his parents were shot, to having to endure Julius’ endless torments as he went to visit his mother in the Asylum.

“There’s the little crippled boy, going to visit his crazy mother again!” Young Julius’ words still echoed in the back of his mind just at the mention of Julius’ name.

“But you know what really has me puzzled?” Vicky continued. “Is why we haven’t heard anything from The Black Spectre. When little Annie Brookman was kidnapped, and even that Seamus O’Daughtry, he was right on the case and had them returned in no time. But this time, nothing.”

Careful not to let his conscience betray his own thoughts, Brent offered, “Perhaps this Spectre person only helps the poor and downtrodden. He’s always struck me as sort of a Robin Hood character.”

“Not hardly,” Vicky smirked, then shot back, “then why did he help Seamus O’Daughtry? Or help any of the others who weren’t exactly ‘downtrodden’?”

“Then tell me,” Brent asked, easing back in his chair, enticed at the thought of what he was about to hear. “Why do you think he’s been silent?”

Vicky twirled on her heel, then plopped down with both hands on his desk, looking him straight in the eye. Brent couldn’t help but notice yet again just how beautiful she was. Especially her eyes.

“I think he’s got something against Julius Kennelly. Who knows? Maybe if I find out what that is, I might find out who The Spectre is, too, huh? This could turn out to be quite a story after all.”

Vicky’s words rang over and over in his head long after she had left. She was right, of course. It was his own history with Julius that had kept him still. As soon as he heard the news, he just assumed that Julius was likely behind his own kidnapping. And even if he hadn’t been, all he had to do was pay the ransom and that would be the end of it. One criminal paying another.

As he wheeled himself around the desk, Vicky’s words rang over and over in his conscience. As much as he agreed with her, it was hard for him to feel for a man who had taunted him so much when they were children. Try as he might, he could never shake the echoes of Julius pressuring him to peer into the haunted Patterson mansion that terrible Halloween night, or his taunts in the years that followed as Worthington pushed his wheelchair to the car for one of his many visits to his mother in the Asylum. Worthington had always reminded him to be stoic and take the high road. But after becoming an adult and his own man, he found adhering to his butler’s advice a difficult thing to do.

“What do you think, Bernard?” Brent finally asked his manservant and most-trusted advisor. “Is Vicky right?”

Worthington answered simply, “Were it someone else, what would you have done?”


SPIDER MARKOWICZ scooped up the shot glass from the bar in his small, bony fingers and tipped it right back. He’d only had enough money for one drink and as much as he wanted to savor it, he couldn’t help the urge to just swallow it right down. He needed the alcohol in his system, and it needed him.

Of course, the pleasure it brought him immediately faded when he saw the white “X” that had been marked on the bottom of the glass. He immediately felt a shiver, and it wasn’t from the bourbon. Quickly, he twirled around in his chair and scanned the seedy bar that engulfed him. He thought he’d be safe in there. But he knew, deep down, that he’d never be safe from The Black Spectre.

His little mind raced, wondering where to go. The bathroom? The alley, maybe? He could try to get away, but he knew it was futile. The Spectre would find him. That was the whole point. If he couldn’t hide from The Spectre, the best he could do was go where no one else could see him, either. The only thing worse than talking to The Spectre would be if certain people knew that he had.

Spider dropped a few bits on the bar and dashed out into the cold night. There was a backstreet just a few blocks away that led to a near maze of twisting alleyways and dead ends, that was ideal for such meetings. It was the perfect place to stay out of sight. And it had served his purposes many times before.

No sooner did he reach its dark recesses than he ran straight into the dark-cloaked figure he was expecting. As always, The Spectre appeared from out of nowhere. Just like a ghost. Of course, that was the idea.

“What’dya want from me this time?” groused Spider. “You’re gonna get me killed one of these days.” Spider clutched his arm that had been broken at their first meeting.

“Where’s Julius Kennelly?” The Spectre asked, wasting no time.

Spider broke out into a fit of laughter. “What took you so long? I mean, everybody knows the guy’s no good, but come on! What’s the hold up?”

“Just tell me what you know,” The Spectre demanded.

“Word is, they got him down at the Dells,” Spider offered, still chuckling. “If you hurry, you might be able to catch up with that gal reporter from the Chronicle. Even she beat you to this one.”


WORRIED more for Vicky’s safety than anything else, The Spectre rushed back to where Worthington waited in the car just a short distance away, hidden from sight. As he jumped in, he ordered Worthington to speed quickly out of the city to the notorious roadhouse known as “the Dells.” Of course, The Spectre pondered as he found his doubts once more get hold of him. It was the ideal place for Julius to hide, with drink, gambling, and girls aplenty.

But what if Vicky had been right? What if Vito Spats really had been behind this? It was certainly just like the vile gangster to let the Kennelly family sweat it out for a while so that they would be more than willing to pay handsomely when the ransom came. Perhaps he’d let his own history with Julius cloud his thinking. Perhaps he’d made a terrible lapse in judgment.

When they reached the Dells, Worthington parked a good distance away, careful to stay hidden as always. The Spectre moved quickly through the shadows towards the lights and raucous sounds that seeped from the old, clapboard building. Again, he was most worried for Vicky, and hoped that he would find her before anyone else did.

The roadhouse, which sat well-outside the city limits, was two-story building with a tin roof and painted windows to keep prying eyes from gazing inside. Visitors who made it past the two or more men who manned the front door found themselves in a dimly-lit saloon with a long oak bar, tables for drinking and gambling, and girls aplenty to keep the booze flowing and the customers happy. The jazz music filled the room was the only thing that spilled out into the night.

For a certain price, the happiest of those customers could retire upstairs with the bar girl of his choice to one of many second-floor rooms that sat along a long, bare hallway, dimly lit by a single light fixture.

The Spectre surveyed the entrance from deep in the nearby shadows and found three of Vito Spat’s goons standing guard. They were well-armed with pistols in their shoulder holsters, which they didn’t even try to hide. Just as he was about to move on to the rear of the building, the front door burst open and another of Gennaro’s men called for the three outside. The Spectre reached for his two .45s that he kept under his cloak, but he wouldn’t need them just yet. The three goons rushed back inside.

Something was amiss.

One solitary thought entered the Spectre’s mind.


Silently, The Spectre rushed to the back of the old building and scanned the premises. No guards in the back. There were several windows on the second story, all of which were dark. Fearing for Vicky, he quickly leaped to the second floor like a sudden gust of wind and through the one open window. Hands on his pistols, he was ready for whatever he would face there.

The dark figure of a woman turned sharply to face him, only to find one of his .45s aimed directly at her head. She gasped a short breath, not knowing if she should be more afraid of the armed, cloaked figure before her or the footsteps that rapidly approached in the hallway outside. In the pitch dark of the room, The Spectre could see the hint of her auburn hair and caught the familiar smell of her perfume.

It was Vicky. She, of course, had known who he was immediately.

They could hear Gennaro’s men approaching, knocking in one door after another as they worked their way down the hall in their searching for her. In a flash of movement, The Spectre reholstered his pistols and flug his hat into the chair. He grabbed Vicky in his arms and swung her onto the bed. He lay over her, holding her tight, protecting her, trapping her.

Somehow, she felt safe.

“Don’t say a word,” was all he said.

She only managed to give a quick nod before Gennaro’s men crashed into the room and spied the two figures entwined in a deep embrace.

“Hey!” The Spectre shouted.

The goons retreated quickly, closed the door, and moved on to the next room.

“Don’t move,” he told her.

The Spectre held her for a moment longer as he listened to the sounds outside and waited for their door to close all the way. Of course, he wished that this moment could have lasted much longer. Holding her, even for that moment, even though she didn’t know his true identity, felt like she belonged in his grasp.

She stared straight at his mask, wishing she could see the features underneath. The thought immediately struck her that she could just reach up and pull it away. She silently moved her hand as he watched the door, ready to grab the skull-adorned mask that covered his features. One thought quickly entered her mind as she was about to touch the cloth – would she even know him?

The Spectre grabbed her hand and stared her dead in the eye.

“I told you not to move,” he admonished before leaping off the bed and retrieving his hat. In one swift, silent move, he backed against the door, his guns at the ready.

Vicky sat up on the bed like a dissatisfied mistress.  “So, where have you been?” she asked.

“I think the better question is how I get you out of here alive,” The Spectre shot back, putting his ear to the door to listen. Outside, they heard the goons make a sudden retreat and barrel back down the hall. He couldn’t be sure if any of them had stayed behind.

He moved back to the window and peered down. It was still clear, but most likely not for very long. They would have to move quickly.

The Spectre holstered one pistol and quickly grabbed Vicky around her shapely waist. Again, he couldn’t ignore the thought of how comfortably she fit there. It was a fleeting thought, however, because she just as quickly pushed him away.

“What about Kennelly?” she asked in a demanding whisper. “He’s right at the end of the hall.”

His conscience forced him to think once again.

“Is he a prisoner, or just hiding out?” The Spectre asked as matter-of-factly as he could.

“I don’t know,” Vicky responded. “I got a glimpse of him before I had to duck in here. “But don’t you want to find out for yourself? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“Mostly,” The Spectre answered without further explanation. His quick glance at her eliminated the need for one.

He moved silently back to the door and, using the powers of the Spirit Force, inched it open just slightly, enough for him to peer into the hall. As he suspected, one of Gennaro’s goons stood guard outside the door at the far end. With another wave of his hand, the lightbulb in the hallway flickered out. The goon immediately took notice and walked over to check it. Before he knew what was happening, The Spectre was on him like the Angel of Death and left him unconscious on the floor of the darkened hallway.

The Spectre motioned for Vicky to follow as he glided silently to the end of the hall. Vicky looked curiously as he stood outside Julius’ door, listening, his pistols at the ready. Then she quickly joined him as instructed. Just as before, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into the safety of his cloak.

“Stay with me,” he instructed. She only had a second to nod before he went into action, carrying her with him.

There were several loud screams from the room when the lights suddenly went out and the door whisked open. Only a few caught a glimpse of the dark figure that moved swiftly inside and immediately retreated to the darkest corner. Gunshots rang out and the one goon left to keep watch over Julius Kennelly was lying dead on the floor.

When the door slammed shut and the lights came back on, Vicky found herself huddled beneath The Spectre, covering her ears. She still felt a strange sensation from being carried by his ghostly powers, her feet having never touched the floor. The Spectre had his guns aimed at a very surprised Julius Kennelly crouched on the bed. He was mostly undressed, with a five-day shadow, and the company of three equally undressed young women who obviously worked at the Dells. The room was littered with empty beer bottles, snuffed cigar stubs, and a card game that had been interrupted by a more enticing activity.

“Thank goodness, you saved me!” Julius quickly blurted out, his bloodshot eyes searching for the right words to lie his way out of the situation.

“Just as I thought,” The Spectre answered, grabbing Vicky up again and moving for the window. They would only have but a minute before there was more gunfire.

Vicky dug her heels into the floor, urging him to stop.

“You’re not going to leave him here, are you?” she asked. “If you really want to punish him, the worst thing you can do is rescue him.”

Knowing she had a point and lacking the time to debate it, The Spectre gritted his teeth and grabbed Julius by the neck. The Spectre had heard the approaching footsteps outside the door. Vito’s goons had returned and it was time to deal with them instead.

Using his powers, The Spectre doused the lights again and forced Vicky, Julius, and the girls to the floor when the door flew open. The goons immediately opened fire into the room, with no concern for who may be caught in their gun sights. The women all screamed as a hail of gunfire ripped over their heads. Just as swiftly it was silent again, with the three goons lying dead in the doorway next to their revolvers. The Spectre was the only one left standing, his two .45s smoking from the dark corner.

There would be more coming in just moments. It was time to leave.

With a wave of The Spectre’s hand, the window went up and the black curtains parted. He grabbed Vicky and Julius again and sailed for the window. They both felt the strange sensation through their bodies as they floated effortlessly to the ground. A long, dark car was there waiting, its door already opened for them.

They only had a second to get inside before the door slammed shut and the car was riddled with gunfire from two more goons racing around the building with tommyguns. The bullets ricocheted off the glass and metal alike as the car sped out of the parking lot and disappeared into the night.


ONCE they were safely away and Vicky finally had a chance to catch her breath, she glanced around to examine her surroundings. The back of the car was cavernous, with two seats facing each other. Vicky and Julius sat with their backs to the driver, while The Spectre sat across from them shrouded in deep shadow. Vicky peered over her shoulder to get a look at the driver, hoping this would offer a clue as to The Spectre’s identity. Unfortunately, they were separated by a dark glass panel that obstructed her view. Only one thing was certain: The Spectre was a man of means.

“So, this is how you get around,” she said.

The Spectre’s mask did more than hide his identity as they made the long ride back to the city. It also hid his disgust at Julius Kennelly, who sat straight across from him, completely at his mercy.

“Thank you… uh, Sir. Lucky you came when you did. I don’t know how much longer they were going to keep me alive,” Julius continued his ruse. He was almost convincing.

This was the chance for which he had long waited. He had Julius firmly in his grasp. He could take revenge for all those years of torment and no one would be the wiser. But now, for the first time, he understood Worthington’s words. And Vicky’s too, for that matter. He would take the high road and drop Julius off at the police station.

“Lucky you,” The Spectre answered.

He had planned to take Vicky home last, but when they arrived at the station, she opted to get out as well. “Got a story to write,” she explained. “But thanks anyway.”

As Vicky climbed out of the long, armored, black car, she made as many mental notes as she could, though the license plate was blank. As it pulled slowly away, she secretly left a mark of lipstick along the rear fender. Perhaps one day she would see this car again. Perhaps the mark would still be there. Or at least a trace of it.

The next morning, when Vicky awoke in her apartment, she remembered that her car was still at the Dells. She would have to take a cab to work and arrange with Frank to have it picked up. But as she left the building, she was surprised to find her vehicle safely parked outside.

And on the fender an “X” was written.

In lipstick.

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