A Black Spectre Adventure
“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.
MR. GARDNER was in a terrible pinch. He nervously pulled his gold watch from his tweed vest pocket and checked the time. Again. It was a busy Monday morning, nearly lunch time already. His young secretary, Karil Grantham, hadn’t yet shown up for work. While she’d only been at the art school for a few months, she’d already proven herself to be hard-working and extremely dependable.
It wasn’t at all like her to just not show up. On the few occasions she’d been late before, she had always called beforehand.
As he struggled to answer phones and juggle his own responsibilities, he didn’t know whether to be furious or worried. He checked with the students, but no one had seen her since the party Friday night. He even called her Aunt who lived in the city, but she hadn’t heard from Karil all weekend.
Finally, in desperation, he called her landlord.
MRS. SANHUBER didn’t like dealing with the tenants. The apartments, just two-story bungalows really, had been her husband’s idea from the beginning. She didn’t care for other people living so close to her, especially the younger tenants who were almost always too noisy. Now one of them, the new girl, hadn’t shown up for work and her boss had already telephoned twice to ask about her. This one hadn’t caused any trouble to date, but she knew it was only a matter of time. The young tenants were all like that.
Unfortnately, Mr. Sanhuber was gone for the day, and the last thing the Mrs. wanted to do was miss her stories on the radio to deal with the situation. She waited for a break between shows before she grabbed the set of master keys and hustled down the narrow sidewalk in her housecoat and slippers. The girl’s room was in the very back bungalow that bordered the neighboring alley.
“Missy?” Mrs. Sanhuber called out as she banged on the door. She couldn’t remember the girl’s name. Karen, Carla, or something. Didn’t matter. She banged on the door again. Still no answer. Her stories would be back on soon and she didn’t want to miss anything.
“Missy!” She shouted as she tried the door knob. It was locked tight. She let out a groan of frustration. If she missed any of her stories because of this — ! She grabbed the keys and quickly unlocked the door, ready to give that girl a piece of her mind.
As she pushed her way in, she immediately noticed a slight, oft-putting smell. She fanned her nose. “Missy? Are you in here?” she called out again. “There’s people trying to find you.”
Didn’t look like the girl was even home, she noted. Most of the lights were out. The place was a shambles. Hadn’t cleaned up a thing since that party. Typical. That explained the smell.
She called out one more time before switching on the lights. “Missy!”
That was when she saw the bloody mess on the couch. Without even realizing it, the loudest scream just came right out of her body.
VICKY ROSE, beautiful, auburn-haired reporter for the Daily Crusader, arrived at the crime scene, surprised that for once, the police had actually beaten her to it. The large and grizzled Det. Shayne had already taken command and was barking orders to the uniformed police officers like a general to his troops on a battlefield. She opted, wisely, to drop back and see what details she could glean from the other officers on the scene before addressing him directly.
She soon learned that the landlady had discovered the body not an hour earlier. Mrs. Sanhuber had fainted at the sight and was given a sedative to calm her nerves. This was one in a long list of break-ins in the South Village area, but the first that had involved murder.
Like Karil Grantham, the victims were mostly young women, all of whom lived alone. Somehow — and this was the most puzzling aspect — the intruder had gained entry even though almost every girl swore she had locked her door. Even in her hysteria, Mrs. Sanhuber had emphatically stated that the apartment had been locked.
Most of the girls either hadn’t been home, or had slept during the intrusion. But on this occasion, the victim had most likely awakened and witnessed the culprit.
She had been struck fiercely in the head by a heavy blunt object, possibly a lead pipe. Afterwards, the killer had placed a kitchen towel over her face, presumably to shield himself from his own gruesome crime.
“Detective Shayne!” Vicky called out as she tried to push her way into the apartment, ready to take the bull by the horns. “Do you have any leads? Any information on a suspect?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” Det. Shayne replied as he glanced back at her. He’d had an idea already, but now that the crime had stepped up to murder, he was ready to make his thoughts known. “There’s only one person I know who can pass through locked doors: The Black Spectre!”
“You can’t be serious!” Vicky retorted. “So, where’s the X?” Vicky and Shayne both knew full well that The Black Spectre always left his mark behind. There was never any mistaking it.
Det. Shayne just ignored her. Vicky was incredulous.
“As many crimes as he’s helped you solve?” she shouted. “You sure this isn’t some kind of vendetta for making you look bad?”
Det. Shayne stopped in his tracks. That had struck a nerve.
“Get her out of here!” was his only reply.
Vicky shouted again as two officers pressed her back out the door. “You think a robber couldn’t have learned how to pick locks, too?”
It was no use. She was off the scene and now even the other uniformed bulls wouldn’t talk to her for fear of catching Shayne’s wrath. It was no matter. She had enough to go on and at this point, the investigation was almost as news-worthy as the crime itself. She always knew that Shayne had a sore spot for The Black Spectre. He had an extreme dislike for vigilantes. But to pin a murder rap on him? She never thought Shayne would stoop that low.
Life is full of surprises, she mused.
BRENT GREGOR puzzled over the evening edition of the Daily Crusader while he ate his dinner in the formal dining room of the Gregor Mansion. He had been concerned about this series of break-ins, the culprit of which had thus far managed to elude him. But now the thief had resorted to murder and, according to Vicky’s latest story, he was being blamed for it. As much as Det. Shayne disliked him, it seemed unlike the man to pin a false murder rap on him. It could be, he reasoned, that Shayne had more on his mind than only catching a killer.
As had been their custom for the past ten years — since Brent was a teenager –Worthington, his meticulously bearded valet, sat with him sharing the paper. Worthington still clung to protocol and, despite Brent’s protestations over the years, ate afterwards in the kitchen.
“What do you think, Worthington?” Brent inquired as he tapped thoughtfully on the armrest of his wheelchair. “You think Shayne really believes I’m guilty? Or perhaps he’s just taking advantage of the situation to try to bait me?”
Worthington sat quietly for a moment, as was his custom, and considered the question. “I’m inclined towards the latter, Sir. I do believe the good detective is intelligent enough to differentiate your handiwork from a crime such as this. After all of the good you’ve done, to have you suddenly resort to murder, seems quite the leap in logic to my mind. However, if you wish to solve this crime and clear your name, you will have to exercise the utmost caution.”
“Agreed,” replied Brent. “But since we can’t go to the crime scene this time, we’ll have to find another approach.”
VICKY was worried for The Black Spectre. She knew she’d put enough of a warning in her article, even to the point of questioning if Shayne was more interested in catching him than the true killer (which had resulted in more than a few telephone calls from the police department to Frank Matson, her editor). Still, she knew that The Black Spectre would want to visit the crime scene himself that night. And that’s just what the police were counting on.
As she drove back to Karil Grantham’s apartment, she soon found that the entire area was surrounded by police cars. She was barely a block away before she was stopped by a uniformed officer.
“May I ask what you’re doing here, Ma’am?” he asked curtly.
Vicky quickly produced her press pass. “Vicky Rose, Daily Crusader. I just wanted to do some follow-up. What’s going on here?” she asked, as if she didn’t actually know.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to move along, Ma’am,” the Officer replied. “You’ll be notified with a statement in due time.”
“Of course,” she answered, more to herself than to him as she put her small coupe into gear and drove off.
She knew The Black Spectre would be coming. He would have no choice. That’s what Det. Shayne was counting on.
She could only pray that he would be extra careful.
THE BLACK SPECTRE touched the knob of the small apartment and felt it unlock. He moved silently inside and closed the door behind him. The tiny abode was empty, virtually unchanged since the recent crime that had been committed there. This gave him hope that he could find some clue that would lead him to Karil Grantham’s killer.
The police had her apartment surrounded, so he had done the next best thing. He had revisited the scene of the previous break-in. Surely, there had been something he had missed.
He knew from reading the Daily Crusader that the young tenant, Violet Haasbender, would not be home. Miss Haasbender had been rather shaken up by the break-in — even more so after the murder of Karil Grantham just two days later. She had told Vicky she didn’t know when she’d be able to return home.
Assuming that the tenant had been correct in her assertion that the door was definitely locked, how did the culprit get in, he asked himself. A window? A spare key? Perhaps, he reasoned, his quarry worked at a hardware store and had made duplicate keys for his intended victims? But how many young tenants would purchase new locks? Don’t they typically just take the keys from the landlord, he reasoned?
If he had no powers, he asked himself, how would he have gotten in? Through the crawlspace? This apartment was on the second floor. A ladder to an upstairs window? There was no ladder found outside. He could look for impressions in the ground, though it seemed unlikely that a thief and murderer who’d thus far managed to operate completely unnoticed could have done so by carrying a ladder. Perhaps he simply climbed up on the roof? But this apartment had no windows with rooftop access. Every idea led him right back to square one. There was simply no other way in for someone without his abilities.
That’s when another thought struck him. Could there actually be someone else with the same abilities? Someone who was using them for evil? He quickly ruled that one out, too. Someone like that would do far more than break into apartments. No, he was sure, he was dealing with someone who was just merely clever.
He had already reasoned that the thief-turned-murderer was someone who lived nearby and was intimately familiar with the area. That would explain why the culprit was able to elude the extensive police surveillance that had already been searching for him. The Spectre also reasoned that his man had no taste for violence, but much preferred it to capture. Perhaps he’d already spent some time behind bars. For the exact same crime (robbery), most likely.
The Spectre took another look around the living room of the apartment. Just how did this fellow manage to get in? Pick the lock? That was one strong possibility. But there were no scratch marks on the around the keyhole (he could have been very careful) and why lock the door back? He kept coming back to the same thought — there had to be another way in that he was overlooking.
He closed his masked eyes for a moment and asked himself how anyone or even anything could get in, no matter how absurd. Mice and insects come in through the crawlspaces. Rain drips in through leaks in the roof. Santa comes down the chimney, though he’d have a hard time fitting through the narrow pipe that extended from the wood stove.
But not the wood box.
That was when it finally hit him.
The wood box built into the wall that allowed the landlord to replenish the supply of wood from outside. There was a lock on the inside, but it was unlocked. He lifted the lid and kneeled down to peer through and could see the lights from the building next door. The opening was narrow, certainly, but a small man could squeeze through. The kind of man who would need a lead pipe to defend himself against a defenseless woman at home alone.
He knelt down to the rug. There were traces of wood splinters and bark, as if someone had pulled out a large load of wood (but this was Spring). Or had simply climbed through.
VICKY kicked off her heels as she stumbled into her small apartment, bouncing one off the couch, and just dropped her purse where it fell. She’d spent a long night hovering around the crime scene — praying that, on this one occasion, The Black Spectre wouldn’t show up. Fortunately, he didn’t. That didn’t stop her from worrying, however. She still hadn’t heard from him, and it was the not-knowing that had her most concerned.
She locked her door tightly — then double-checked it just to be certain. Feeling secure and exhausted, she went back to her bedroom and tugged off her stockings. The bedroom rug felt so good on her bare feet. She threw off her dress which, like her purse, just fell where it may, and threw on her sheer nightgown. With winter finally over, she was glad to pack away her warm, but not quite as comfortable, flannel gowns.
She went back into the living room to check the door once more, just for good measure, when she encountered a familiar figure all in black.
“Hello, Miss Rose,” he greeted her calmly.
“Oh, my heavens!” she exclaimed, clutching her heart. “You scared me half to death!” She was used to his surprise appearances at crime scenes and the like, but never in her apartment.
As she attempted to regain her composure, she quickly took note of the mess she’d left behind. She scooped up her shoes and purse, struggled momentarily with where to put them, then simply tossed them through the bedroom door behind her, pulling it shut in one swift movement.
It wasn’t until then that she realized just how little she was wearing. He hadn’t failed to notice, either.
“Oh, heavens!” she exclaimed again as she instinctively turned around, only to nearly run headlong into the door she’d just closed. Now she was even more embarrassed.
“Please, allow me,” he said calmly as he pulled off his long, black cloak and in one move far more graceful than her own, swung it around her soft shoulders. She’d felt his cloak around her before, but only in his strong arms. This was the first time she’d worn it herself.
“I apologize for my intrusion,” he began before she quickly interrupted him. It was a sharp reminder that despite his schooling in upper-class etiquette, he still lacked some of the basic social graces due to his many years of being raised in virtual isolation.
“This is the first time you’ve snuck in here, right?” she asked, unsure of whether to still be embarrassed or just angry. She stopped him again before he could answer.
“Maybe ‘snuck’ isn’t exactly the right word,” she continued. “But you know what I mean.”
“Of course,” he replied. “On my honor as a gentleman, I promise this is the first time I’ve ever been inside your apartment.”
“Inside, of course,” she nodded knowingly.
“I attempted to telephone,” he continued, “but there was no answer. It was urgent that I speak with you.”
“Well, I just got home,” she answered. She studied him carefully. There was something so distant, yet so familiar about him. The perfectly tailored black suit with the straightest creases she’d ever seen. The perfectly starched white shirt stretched across broad, strong shoulders. She could only wonder if the man beneath the skull-adorned mask matched the exterior. She had to believe he did.
“Please, I need your help on an urgent matter,” he began. She held up a finger to stop him once more.
“No, no. I know why you’re here,” she said. “All in good time.” She studied him carefully a moment longer, then asked: “Who are you, really?”
“Excuse me?” he asked, for once caught off-guard.
“Well, I mean, tonight would seem to indicate some degree of familiarity. You pop in unannounced, and again, I use the term ‘pop in’ quite loosely. I’m practically undressed. I find myself at quite the disadvantage, since I know almost nothing about you.”
She was prepared to use all of her feminine wiles if that’s what it took to get him unmasked. Standing there wrapped in his cloak, she pondered, what else was she going to do?
She locked her eyes on his with a smoldering gaze. “I’ve never once seen any part of your face.” She took a few steps forward and let the cloak drop from her nearly bare shoulders. He wanted nothing more than to rip off his mask and kiss her with all the passion in his soul.
He reached out with his gloved hands and gently pulled the cloak back over her shoulders. It was all he could do to resist her. He knew he would regret his actions before he even left. He wanted to reveal his identity to her, to express how he truly felt when he was with her, but not like this. Most of all, he wanted to trust her completely. But she was a reporter. And he knew that she’d do most anything to get at the facts of a story. Which was the one nagging thing that made him question her actions.
If only he could have seen her heart deflate.
“Please,” he asked again. “I need your help. At the murder scene, was there a wood box or anything on the outside of the apartment? Some small opening that a slight man could squeeze through?”
She shifted her thoughts for a moment, quickly switched gears and put aside her disappointment as her reporter’s instinct kicked in. Perhaps if she had cried he might have given in, but that thought never crossed her mind. “I — I don’t know. Let me think.”
She turned away from him, revisiting the crime scene in her head. “Let’s see, there was the kitchen straight ahead as you came in. Then there was the couch all the way on the far right. Then the hallway to the bedroom….” She stopped short and looked back up at him.
“You, know, I think there was.”
THE BLACK SPECTRE reasoned, quite correctly, that following the murder his quarry would lie low for a time before eventually giving in to his basest instincts and resume his criminal activities. The Spectre used that time to study the South Village area, map out all the apartments he’d already struck, and locate a number of possible targeted areas.
With this information in hand, he took to the rooftops and staked out the area for what seemed to be weeks on end.
Finally one night, while watching from a church roof, he caught sight of a flashlight beam that popped on just for a moment then went back out again. He drifted silently to the ground and made his way over to where the light had appeared.
It was a set of mailboxes out by the street. One name in particular caught his attention, as it had likely done so with his prey: “Miss L. Pettigrew.”
DONALD BASKIN carefully made his way around the apartment building in the near darkness of the night. He could have turned on his small flashlight, but he didn’t want to attract any undue attention, particularly while he was out on the prowl. After the mishap from a few weeks ago when he accidentally killed that girl, he was determined not to make any mistakes. He hadn’t meant to hit her so hard, much less as many times as he had, but after she sat up and turned on the lamp, she wouldn’t stop screaming. He wasn’t about to go back to prison. Small guys like him didn’t stand a chance and he was sure he’d never survive another stretch in the pen.
He was certain that someone had heard the screams and had thought about bolting right then and there. But he knew that running would just draw more attention, so he switched the lamp back off, lit up a smoke, and waited it out. After a few agonizing minutes, he figured nobody heard. Either that, or they just decided to pay it no mind and went back to bed. It was after three in the morning after all. People got to sleep.
The only thing that bothered him was that bloody mess on the couch staring back at him, eyes still wide open. Gave him the creeps. So he grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and threw it over her face. Darn shame, too. She was a real cutie.
But the worst was still to come. After he’d dug through her purse, all he scrounged up was two sawbucks and a fiver. Drats. He’d killed that poor girl over 25 measly dollars. What a night.
As he reached the woodbox on the side of Ms. Pettigrew’s apartment, he chuckled at his own ingenuity. The cops was too stupid to catch him, and these dames were too stupid to lock up their woodboxes. In the Spring, no less.
He quietly lifted the lid and crawled right through. Within seconds he was inside the tiny apartment. He stopped for a moment and listened to see if anyone was home. He didn’t want to have to use the pipe again. But he would if he had to.
Hearing nothing, he took a quick peek with his flashlight. As it danced about the room, it landed on a slender figure standing before him. His heart stopped.
Instinctively he turned the flashlight upwards to find a woman’s face staring back at him, her eyes filled with fear. He tightened his grip on the pipe and was about to raise it up when he noticed that a black gloved hand covered her mouth to keep her from screaming. He darted his light to the right to see that the man standing behind her wore a black mask adorned with a gleaming white skull.
He dropped his flashlight and dove for the woodbox, banging his head pretty good. His only hope was to get outside and disappear into the shadows, just like The Spectre himself. He’d grown up in South Village and knew every street and alley like the back of his hand. That’s how he’d successfully avoided the cops for so long, and that’s how he’d escape from The Black Spectre.
Or so he thought.
As he ran headlong into the neighboring, narrow alley, The Black Spectre swooped down on him from above like a hawk attacking its prey. He felt himself being pushed to the ground by an unseen force as his entire body went numb. He was powerless even to move. He was caught. Trapped. There was no escape. He could only cry like a baby.
VICKY raced into the police precinct through a side entrance, her heels echoing loudly down the tiled hallway as she hurried towards the front desk. She’d received a brief hurried call from The Black Spectre (no personal visit in the dead of night this time) instructing her to meet him there right away. She sensed it was something she would not want to miss. She was right.
Only seconds later, the two front precinct doors flung open with a force of their own.
The Black Spectre bolted into the light like an untamed spirit. This was the first time she had ever seen him out in the open. No shadows, no darkness. Out in the “broad daylight” of a well-lit hallway, right in the main police precinct. It was a shocking sight.
If that weren’t enough, he carried with him a young man, bruised and unconscious, in the folds of his long, flowing black cloak. This must be the killer, she thought. He’s found him!
Desk Sergeant Coffey and the other officers could only stand dumbfounded and watch. The Spectre blew right past them like a force of wind.
Vicky knew exactly where The Spectre was headed, and she wasn’t about to miss it. She darted straight for the elevator.
The Spectre blew past even more uniformed officers as he floated through the hallway doors to the main stairwell. They could only watch in amazement as he and his victim lifted straight up into the air rather than alight on the steps. In one continuous gust, they went all the way up to the fourth floor landing.
Vicky bolted from the elevator just in time to see The Black Spectre storm straight into the Detective Bureau and make a beeline for Shayne’s desk.
The large detective only had a moment to stand up in wide-eyed shock as The Spectre bore down on him and hurled the small man’s limp form directly at him. Shayne ducked to one side to avoid being struck as the unmoving culprit flew over his desk and crumpled into a mass on the floor.
Shayne still barely had time to react before The Spectre loomed over him, his dark, black eyes filled with anger.
“Here’s your murderer!” The Spectre shouted. “You can check all the evidence. When he wakes up, he’ll be ready to confess!”
The Spectre grabbed Shayne by the shirt collar and pulled him up, face to face. Shayne could only see the white skull on The Spectre’s mask. The eyes were merely empty pools of blackness without end.
“Next time you want to blame me for something, do it to my face!” The Spectre told him. “And just so you know, everywhere I go, I always leave my mark.”
The Spectre raised a gloved hand into a fist. Det. Shayne steeled himself for the inevitable blow. Instead, he watched wild-eyed as The Spectre cleared the desktop of papers, telephone, and everything with one quick wave of his hand. Then, with a concentration of his powers, The Spectre carved a large “X” in the oak surface.
“Now maybe you won’t forget!” The Spectre shouted and turned back to leave. He stopped and gave a silent, knowing glance to Vicky; then headed back out the way he had come in.
She stood weak-kneed for just a moment before she quickly regained her composure and followed after him.
Down the stairs and right back to the front desk.
Again, the dozens of officers on duty just stood in motionless amazement. This time he moved more slowly, but with no less deliberation. He just walked right past them and out the main entrance. Then he disappeared into the night.
Vicky fanned herself. “Oh, my heavens!” was all she could say.