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.
She stared straight at him with fear-filled eyes. A million thoughts raced through her head. She glanced quickly towards the door and wondered if she could escape. She wanted to call for her husband, but he wasn’t there. She wanted to call for the servants. She worried mostly for the baby.
He stopped her with a smile and an apology.
“Please, Mrs. Davenport, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I didn’t realize that you would be home. My apologies.”
It was at that moment that she realized he had moved between her and the door.
“You have such a lovely home,” he continued. “I just can’t help but admire it. Please, don’t mind me. I won’t be much longer.”
He went over to the other Queen Anne chair and sat down across from her. She remained still in her chair, her eyes still locked on his. He was very friendly, but she was too afraid to return his kindness.
“May I ask what you’re reading?” he inquired then reached down to pick her book up off the floor. “Ah,” he reacted with a smile as he glanced at the spine, “Farewell, Lolly Shaffer. Of course, everyone is reading it these days. It’s quite the page-turner.”
He cheerily handed the book back to her, careful to keep it open to where it had fallen.
“Hope you didn’t lose your place,” he said apologetically. “Again, my deepest regrets for startling you.”
She stared back at him with fear and confusion then cautiously took the book back.
“Well,” he said courteously as he stood up and retrieved his bag. “Don’t mean to take up any more of your time. Do have a good evening and enjoy your book. Without me rattling on and in your way, you just may finish it tonight.”
TRUE to her usual form, beautiful, auburn-haired reporter Vicky Rose was on reclusive millionaire Brent Gregor’s doorstep early the next morning. She was hot on the story, as was every other reporter in the city worth his salt. But Vicky had an inside source that the other’s didn’t, a strong bond with someone who actually resided in Lakeview Heights, and she was determined to use it to her best advantage.
Bernard Worthington, Brent Gregor’s faithful manservant, led her into the warm, bright sunroom where his employer was enjoying breakfast and reading the mail. The room’s large windows and its position on the back side of the house always allowed for copious amounts of morning sunlight. Vicky had only been in this room a few times before, and quickly let her eyes dart about to take in the details once again. She could easily imagine herself having breakfast here every morning.
Brent sat in his wheelchair and pondered an invitation to a party from Julius Kennelly II. The only thing that puzzled him more than why Julius would ever invite him was for what reason he would ever want to go. But this was Lakeview Heights, after all, and appearances were far more important than childhood grudges.
“So, what can you tell me about the Davenport burglary last night? What’s the scoop up here on Nob Hill?” Vicky asked before even sitting down across from him. Brent’s attention was lost in her eyes.
It didn’t matter. She didn’t wait for him to answer.
“This is the ninth house now. I mean, Lakeview Heights of all places! Who would have thought this neighborhood wasn’t safe? Nothing like this has happened since…”
Vicky stopped short on the thought. She was letting her excitement get the best of her. Brent’s grim expression was just the brick wall she needed. She certainly didn’t want to remind him of the attack on his family fifteen years earlier.
“Well, in a long time,” she concluded quietly before changing gears. “And for Mrs. Davenport to meet him like that. Well, the story just couldn’t get any better. Any chance you could get me in for an interview?”
Vicky gave him a sweet, coy smile. It had the desired effect.
“I wish I could,” Brent offered, “but Cecil is rather protective. He’s barely let the police talk to Julia. She and the baby are already on a train to Florida.”
Vicky crossed her arms in frustration. “You’re supposed to be my inside man here. My connection,” she begged.
“Really, Vicky,” he explained. “If there was something I could do, I would. But I promise, if anything else comes up, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Well, now that he’s shown his face, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before The Black Spectre gets him,” Vicky sighed. “I just hope I’m there when it happens.”
“The Black Spectre?” Brent asked, puzzled. “Doesn’t he only help the poor?”
“Usually,” Vicky replied, “but whoever The Spectre is, I know he’s a man of means. So surely he won’t tolerate a thief in his own back yard.”
AFTER Vicky had left, Worthington wheeled Brent into the study where the young heir spread a map of Lakeview Heights across his father’s old mahogany desk. He added a new “X” for the Davenport house and dated the entry. The marked homes were scattered about in random fashion – some close together, others far apart. There was just nothing that came to his mind, or Worthington’s, that could lead them to an answer.
“Look at this, Bernard,” said Brent, pointing to one cluster of three estates. The outer two were crossed and dated, but not the center one. “The Smiths and the Norsworthys have both been hit, but not the Goulds, who do so much dealing off-the-books that they’re bound to have a bundle of cash lying around, and they’re right between the two. Instead, he moved on to the Davenports. I just can’t figure it.”
“Certainly odd that,” Worthington agreed.
“There must be some pattern here, Bernard, but I’m afraid I just don’t see it. What do they all have in common?” Brent pondered.
“Perhaps, Sir, you need some more information,” Worthington offered.
SPIDER MARKOWICZ was awakened sharply by the unearthly rumbling of his tattered and stained bed. He grabbed the mattress with his small, bony fingers, thinking that the entire building was shaking. He looked up with groggy eyes. A dark figure loomed over him, silhouetted by the scant rays of the afternoon sun that crept through his window. Spider let out a shriek.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, rubbing his head from the pains of a still-lingering hangover. “I thought you didn’t come out in the daytime.”
“Same as always,” The Black Spectre replied. “I need answers.”
Spider stared up at the black mask adorned with the gleaming white skull
shadowed by the wide-brimmed black hat and framed by the long, blood-red scarf that hung to one side. The sight of it still unnerved him.
“I want to know who’s behind the break-ins at Lakeview Heights,” The Spectre grumbled emphatically.
“Who paid you off?” Spider asked with a nervous chuckle. “You don’t usually work that end of town.”
Spider’s bed shook with a furious rumble that threatened to empty his stomach in every direction.
“Just tell me!” The Spectre demanded.
“Okay, okay,” the small man pleaded, holding his weakened stomach. “Please, just don’t do that again.”
Spider took a deep breath and waited a moment to make sure that everything stayed down for the moment.
“I don’t know who it is, I swear. But word on the street is it’s someone from out of town. Spats and Whitey sure want to know, too, so they can get a piece of the action. They don’t like nobody muscling in, you know?”
“Good job, Spider. I knew I could count on you,” The Spectre replied, then vanished in an instant.
And with that, Spider raced to the hallway bathroom and surrendered to the inevitable.
WORTHINGTON checked in on Brent to find him once again pouring over the map in his study.
“I take it we’re not going out this evening, Sir?” Worthington asked.
Brent’s lack of response confirmed his suspicion.
“Would certainly make things easier if the Thief struck my house,” Brent mused.
“Yes,” Worthington agreed, “though I suppose the iron fences and armed guards make it a far less attractive prospect.”
Brent sat straight up in his wheelchair as a sudden thought struck him.
“That’s it,” he stated emphatically. “You just found the answer, Bernard.”
“The answer, Sir?” Worthington asked.
“Yes, instead of looking at the houses that have been hit, I should have been looking at the ones that haven’t. What do we all have in common?”
Worthington pondered the question. Certainly theirs was the only house that was guarded like a fortress. Then the answer hit his just as clearly as it had Brent.
“Of course, Sir. We don’t have parties.”
VICKY pushed Brent’s wheelchair through the foyer and into the living room of the sprawling Kennelly mansion. She tried her best to look comfortable, but she couldn’t help but stare at the Victorian opulence that surrounded her. As despicable as she knew Julius Kennelly II to be, she thought she could learn to tolerate him in order to live in such a house.
“I’m not sure I belong here,” she whispered to Brent. Even in her best dress, it was clear that her appearance didn’t measure up against the women around her.
“Don’t worry,” he reassured her. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the room. None of these men will care what you’re wearing.”
Vicky’s eyes lit up with surprise. That was the first time Mr. Gregor had offered her such a compliment. She was glad that her boyfriend, Denny, hadn’t been there to hear it. Of course, Denny hadn’t been to keen on her evening out with Brent Gregor in the first place, working or not.
Brent, too, was surprised by his own forwardness. He quickly changed the subject.
“Besides,” he continued,” You’re here for a story, aren’t you? Just do what you do best.”
Vicky straightened up and scanned the room again, this time looking at the faces of her fellow guests. There were many she recognized, and just as many she didn’t. If the Thief was there, she would have a hard time picking him out.
“Do you think he’ll even show his face again, now that he’s been seen?” she asked.
“I certainly hope so,” Brent answered. “Since the Davenports won’t be here, I suspect he might.”
“Oh, my God!” A booming, alcohol-slurred voice echoed across the room. “Brent Gregor!”
Julius Kennelly II stumbled, laughing with every step, towards Brent’s wheelchair.
“How in the hell did you get in here? Someone carry you up the steps?” The room was mostly quiet save for Julius’ laughter. He was always the funniest man in the room. To himself, anyway.
Brent did his best to smile and offered a handshake.
“I wouldn’t have invited you if I thought you’d actually come!” Julius chuckled in response. He looked up until his drunken gaze locked on Vicky.
“Who’s the dish, Brent? How’d you ever get a date with her, huh? She like sitting down?” Julius smirked at his own wit then twisted his expression in thought. “You look familiar, Doll.”
Vicky smiled at him graciously. “Victoria Rose,” she introduced herself. “Daily Crusader. Nice to see you again, Mr. Kennelly.”
“Right, right….” Julius smiled with suspicion as his foggy memory suddenly achieved a degree of clarity. Particularly about the circumstances under which he’d met her before.
“What are you up to, Brent?”
“Not a thing,” Brent smiled back. “Just being neighborly, that’s all.”
“Well,” Julius slurred, “you two have a good time. And if you want to have a better time,” he said to Vicky, you come find me, okay?” Julius gave her a quick wink, then stumbled off towards his disapproving wife.
Just then, Vicky felt a familiar chill. There was another “intruder” at the party as well, she was sure of it. She quickly glanced around, though she would have been more surprised had she actually seen him. But he was there, no doubt. The Black Spectre was definitely there.
“Everything all right?” Brent asked.
“Just fine,” Vicky reassured him. “Just thought I recognized someone.”
BRENT and Vicky spent the next several hours moving from room to room, mingling, making small talk, yet all the while observing. Occasionally they split up then met back together to compare notes. Brent worried about the length of time they remained at the party. For someone who was well known for rarely attending social gatherings, he didn’t want to arouse suspicion by staying longer than he would have otherwise.
But one of the guests had caught his attention. After they rejoined in Julius’ sprawling library filled with a vast array of clearly unread leather-bound volumes (and with only a handful of other guests), Brent offered up his suspicions as he directed her attention to his quarry.
“You see that tall fellow over there?” he asked. “The tall blond man with the friendly expression?”
“Yes,” she answered, “he’s been here most of the night. Seems a bit of a wallflower. He’s probably the only man here who hasn’t whistled at me.”
“Exactly.” Brent told her. “Watch his hands.”
Vicky watched the Blond Man peruse the many shelves, though he seemed far more interested in the various artifacts on display rather than the books themselves. Then she noticed him casually raise a cupped hand and appear to quickly jot something down.
“He’s making notes!” she whispered quietly.
“I’m willing to bet my family fortune that this house is where our neighborhood burglar strikes next. If you want to catch him, I suggest camping out here the next time the Kennellys are out for the evening.”
The return of a familiar chill told her that she would not be alone.
VICKY had never broken into a mansion before, but there was always a first time for everything. She was just glad that the Kennelly estate wasn’t nearly as protected as the Gregor Mansion. She was certain she’d never steal her way into a place so thoroughly protected as that. Not without using her feminine wiles, of course.
Finding the service road that led to the back of the estate, she drove around to the service gate. No doubt where liquor deliveries were a regular occurrence. After parking quietly behind the servant’s garage, she took a quick look around and made for the rear gate.
It was high and made of black-painted wrought iron. Certainly scalable, but none too easy. Particularly for her. She was certain that The Black Spectre would be there, too, and was ready for him to show at any moment. Preferably, before she attempted to climb the fence.
After taking another look at the bars, she wondered if perhaps she could just squeeze through. They were widely spaced and she was thin. If she could get her head through, she thought she might be able to squeeze all the way. It was worth a try. Or so she thought.
She put her head up against the bars to test her theory. It was close, but the last thing she wanted to do was get stuck. She pressed a little closer. A rather tight fit. Tough decision. But nothing was going to get in her way of getting this story.
She pressed her head more firmly between the bars. It was much tighter than she thought. If she pushed a little harder, she might make it through or be stuck there for days on end. Not an attractive prospect.
“Mind if I help?” asked The Black Spectre.
She jerked her head free with a start and scraped the side of her face.
“Oh! You startled me!” she gasped, feeling rather embarrassed. Now she really wished he’d arrived sooner.
“Here,” he said, and offered a red kerchief to wipe away the trickle of blood that ran down her delicate face.
“Thank you,” she smiled and held the kerchief to the side of her face. It was silk, just as she suspected. More proof that he was a man of means. “I could really use some assistance. If you don’t mind.”
“Of course,” he said, then moved closer to her.
She looked straight up into the dark caverns for eyes that adorned his mask. She reacted with another start and her heart skipped a beat when he took her firmly by the small of her waist.
Before she could even make a sound of protest, she felt the strange numbing sensation she’d felt when he’d lifted her before. She quickly grabbed his shoulders as she felt her feet slip from the ground. They rose gently into the air and she felt the two of them glide like a feather on the wind as they drifted over the fence. They hovered in the air momentarily before descending softly down to the earth on the other side.
Vicky caught her breath then collected her thoughts before noticing the locked gate just a few feet from them.
“You could have just unlocked the gate, you know?” she said smartly.
“Yes,” he answered, “but this was more fun.”
Her slight smile showed that she agreed.
VICKY nestled quietly in one of the Kennelly’s large, comfortable den chairs and waited patiently. Even with the lights off and having been spent a reasonable amount of time there during the party, the room didn’t fail to impress her. It was a high-ceilinged room well furnished with Victorian furniture, high windows adorned with heavy curtains, and small tables and shelves containing many artifacts from Julius’ frequent travels. There were plates, cups, bowls and figurines from lands near and far, such as Mexico, Peru, Japan, India, and Egypt. On the mahogany lamp table next to her, there was a miniature globe with the continents stamped from gold leafing. On another shelf behind The Spectre, there was a collection of scrimshaw: images of ships carved into whale’s teeth and items carved from them, such as walking sticks and pie crimpers.
If The Black Spectre hadn’t been there, she certainly would have explored most of the house and possibly even tried on some of Mrs. Kennelly’s fur coats. Spectre or no, that still wasn’t out of the question.
The silent figure of The Black Spectre sat across from her and just stared straight back. Or, at least, that’s what she thought. With his mask on, it was impossible to tell just what had his attention. Curiosity and reporter’s instincts got the best of her. If she was going to spend all this time alone with him (and not explore the house), she’d better well make the most of it.
“So, who are you really?” she asked playfully.
“The Black Spectre,” he answered, matter-of-factly and offered nothing more.
“Well, I know a few things about you,” she teased.
“Oh?” he asked, curious.
“Definitely,” she answered. “First of all, there’s the whole ‘X’ thing. I’ve thought about this one a lot. Could be that Three-Finger Ned Vogel killed someone close to you, so you took his mark to get back at him.”
She was right on target with that one, but The Spectre stayed silent and stoic so as not to betray himself. Vicky watched carefully for a reaction, but there was none.
“Or,” she continued, “you could just be a copycat.”
Brent shifted ever so slightly to purposely display a sense of discomfort. Vicky displayed a sly smile. She was sure that she was getting somewhere.
“I also know that you’re very well off. Your bulletproof car and the fact that you have a driver gave that away. Not to mention the silk handkerchief. You probably even live in this neighborhood.”
“Oh?” he asked.
“Well, I didn’t hear you drive over here, for one,” she offered.
“Have you ever heard me walk?” he asked.
“No,” she answered reluctantly.
“Then who’s to say I can’t do the same with a car?” he asked.
“Okay,” she admitted with a furrowed brow. “You got me on that one. But since you are rich, it only makes sense that you live here.”
“Okay then,” he challenged as he sat forward, “who do you think I am?”
Vicky sat up, enticed by the game. It was something to which she’d given a great deal of thought. She’d never had enough information to come to a firm conclusion, but by questioning The Spectre directly, she thought he might offer some clue that could reveal his true identity.
“Well,” she reasoned, “clearly you’re a reasonably young man, so that narrows it down somewhat. “So let’s see, you could be Julius Kennelly for starters. The drunken, womanizing, cheating, chauvinist, absolutely loathsome, criminal bore would be an excellent cover….” She threw out as many negative adjectives as she could and studied his reaction.
There was none.
“Okay,” she continued, “Who else have we got? There’s Cecil Davenport IV, Walter Reardon Smith, Johnson Norsworthy, William Wentworth….”
The Spectre was glad that she couldn’t see him smile beneath his mask. He hadn’t seen Billy Wentworth in years, but thoughts of Billy always led to thoughts of Abbie. And that most definitely would have betrayed his identity.
Vicky studied him again, waiting for something, anything to show that she was on the right track.
But there was nothing.
“Well,” she continued, an air of frustration coloring her voice, “the only person who even acts like he could be you is Brent Gregor, but that’s not even a possibility.”
Once again, he was glad that she couldn’t see him smile beneath his mask.
She was about to continue when The Spectre held up his hand and stopped to listen intently. That was when she heard the footsteps, too.
Someone else was in the house.
In one silent, graceful move, The Spectre floated quickly from his chair and, taking her into his cloak, pulled the two of them back into a dark corner. She felt the same numbness as when he had lifted her before, but much more so felt the warmth and security of being held in his arms. Not knowing what to expect next, it was exactly where she wanted to be.
They waited and watched the doorway ahead of them. Soon they saw the dark silhouette of a tall man carrying a large, handled bag. As he stepped into the light from a window, his features became visible.
It was the man from the party.
In his other hand was a piece of paper. As he strolled into the room, he went directly to a set of shelves in the corner. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. He set his large bag down on a nearby chair and quickly plucked a neatly folded bundle of kerchiefs from it. He casually draped them across his arm as a waiter would a wine towel then, with careful precision, wrapped each dish and placed it in the bag.
After he had removed all of the foreign dishware, he consulted the paper, retrieved a pencil from behind his ear and checked them off his list. From there he went straight to the gold-leaf globe and carefully bagged it as well.
As he was about to move to the scrimshaw, he was startled to see the frightening figure of The Black Spectre looming before him.
“Oh, heavens!” he gasped, touched his heart and leaped back. “You gave me such a start!” With a quick glance around, he assessed his situation. “Looks like I’ve been caught, haven’t I?”
Vicky stepped out from behind The Spectre. If she didn’t get any closer to discerning his identity, this certainly made up for it. She would have quite a good story for City Editor Frank Matson in the morning.
“Well, hello there!” the Thief said with a smile when he saw her. Now this is a most welcome surprise. Quite pleased to make your acquaintance.”
MRS. DENNIS MCKAY, a pretty young schoolteacher expecting her first child, was quite startled when she heard a loud knock on the door of the tiny, sparse Crawfordsville apartment that she shared with her husband. Particularly when a gruff voice on the other side shouted “Police!” and requested her to open it.
She rushed to the door and did so, where she was equally startled to see the large, grizzled figure of Detective Shayne, accompanied by two of his uniformed officers, as well as Bill Hammond, the Crawfordsville Sheriff. She worried immediately for her husband, from whom she hadn’t heard since he went out of town two days earlier.
Det. Shayne removed his hat and offered a quick apology upon seeing her condition. “Pardon me, Ma’am.”
“Sorry to bother you, Evelyn,” Sheriff Hammond offered as he stepped forward, “but these officers came out here from Terminal City and they need to ask you a few questions. It’s about Dennis, I’m afraid. But don’t worry, he’s just fine.”
Mrs. McKay’s face went flush anyway and she motioned politely for them to come in. She was relieved to know that her husband was safe, but knew that he must be in some terrible trouble for the Terminal City police to drive the nearly three hours to get there.
Detective Shayne was polite but still straight to the point as he asked her a round of questions, mostly about her husband’s activities when he was out of town (which, of course, she knew nothing about) and whether or not he had a storage unit of any kind. She affirmed that he did and led them to a large closet in the spare bedroom that he kept secured with two padlocks. She’d always wondered what was in that closet that had to be locked so tightly, but her husband would never say. Now, she wondered if perhaps she didn’t want to know.
Detective Shayne had one of his officers retrieve the fire axe from the outside hallway, then asked her to stand back and proceeded to chop his way into the cabinet. After breaking the locked handles off of the doors, they pulled them apart to reveal what was inside. There, stacked quite neatly on the shelves was a small fortune in jewels and other very expensive treasures from her husband’s many forays into thievery. Mrs. McKay clutched her heart in shock. Sheriff Hammond caught her when her legs gave way and directed her to a chair.
She’d had no idea.
Detective Shayne stepped in for a closer look. That was all the evidence that they needed. But what grabbed his attention even more was the large “X” drawn on the inside of the left cabinet door.