The Mighty Crusaders: A Study in Scarlet Jun 9, 2017 18:43:41 GMT
Post by lawrenceliberty on Jun 9, 2017 18:43:41 GMT
The Mighty Crusaders : A Study in Scarlet
By Lawrence liberty
A new team of heroes is formed to combat a mad scheme to rule the world.
Anything can happen on Broadway. It is a cliché and yet there is a lot of truth to the statement. Theaters attracted people from every walk of life. Wealthy pleasure seekers, ordinary families, eccentric performers, and the criminal element that alternately bankrolled or preyed upon the others all frequented those streets. The bright lights gleamed like beacons of hope and bright beginnings for some while to others they seemed to cast a painfully powerfully illumination over their own real or imagined failings. This kind of philosophical musing was not unfamiliar to a handsome black haired man in a rather cheap suit who knew the streets and their occupants like the back of his hand; however, Broadway columnist Walt Whitney was more accustomed to filling his popular gossip column with witty banter or acidic ridicule of inept public figures! He was a smiling, happy go lucky guy about town who liked his work, worked at his pleasures, and had more than one secret beneath his glib demeanor.
He whistled as he strolled down a side street and passed by an old theater.
“They don’t build them like that grand old lady anymore!” he thought as he admired the ornate façade.
He had a special fondness for the now shuttered and empty Marquee Theater since certain events connected with that now silent structure had changed his life forever! He leaned against a wall and his thoughts drifted back to that remarkable period in his life!
Four years ago in October 1938, he had been hanging around the rear of the theater after what sadly turned out to have been one of its final opening nights before its ultimate closure and decay. He had not had any particular purpose in lingering near a stage door that fateful night but he had stayed behind after a rather lackluster bill of aging Vaudevillians and a slightly hefty exotic dancer.
He knew that he had occasionally found a germ for a future column by mingling with the most unlikely of sources.
“Those showbiz gypsies have some swell stories to tell!” he had thought.
He smiled knowingly as an old man came haltingly out the door dragging a battered suitcase in one gnarled hand.
“The Phantastical Bob Phantom!” was well known to Walt Whitney since the columnist had watched the venerable magician perform many times over the years. He shook his head sadly as he thought about how the once celebrated stage magician had fallen on hard times.
“I sure wish the poor old guy could stay off the booze. He was a pretty impressive performer when I was a kid. I suppose the Depression hit him pretty hard. He’s just a shadow of his former self. Even when he gets work, he messes things up because of his habit of hitting the sauce a bit too often!” he thought.
“He reminds me of that old character actor from M.G.M.! The blustery old guy I saw the other night! Morgan? Yeah, that’s it. Frank Morgan!” he mused with a grin.
He started to approach the slightly tipsy old man when two shadowy figures stepped out of the alley and began to pummel the helpless stage performer! He was completely caught by surprise and he fell to the pavement as his attackers kicked at him with a vicious abandon!
Walt dived into the alley and began to drive off the muggers. He could tell they were raw boned country boys who were in search of any easy cash in the harsh city.
“You punks should have stayed on the farm!” he yelled as he smashed the nearest one in the face.
As one mugger staggered backward, the other one raised a bloody knife in one hand!
Walt hurled a trashcan lid at the thug and followed up with two swift blows that left the thug flat on the ground.
A groan caught Whitney’s attention and he turned to help their victim.
“Easy, old timer! Don’t try to move! I’ll get you some help!” he said even as his keen eyes realized that the badly wounded Bob Phantom was dying!
“Wait! I know you! Walter Whitney! You once bought me a meal! You are a good man! It is too late for me but I can still do something!” whispered the failing man.
Walt tried to reassure the old man but he realized as he gazed down at eyes that were oddly clear and attentive that the battered magician was all too aware of his condition!
Phantom clutched Walt’s hand and said, “Boy, I am…I was… a real magician. I wasted my knowledge on a foolish quest for fame! I drank away my talent and I ignored the promise I once possessed! My magic can’t save me. My body is too badly damaged to contain the kind of energy I might still be able to manifest but I can pass on something to you! Promise me only that you will use my gift for good and not for selfish gain!”
Walt said, “I promise!” even as he thought, “The poor guy is out of his head!”
A smile crossed the old man’s face as he clutched Walt’s hand and he whispered, “I guess I’m still a ham at heart! Will you also promise to carry on my stage name? Don’t let Bob Phantom be forgotten!”
Walt nodded but he had no idea what he was agreeing to do. He just wanted to comfort the dying man.
As police sirens signaled that someone else had heard the sounds of the fight, Walt saw the old wizard breathe his last.
He waited on the police to arrive and he explained what had happened as the cops carried off the stunned muggers and took Walt’s statement.
“You know if you guys and D.A. Grayson spent more time patrolling the streets and less time playing cards at the station house, things like this wouldn’t happen!” he said.
A grizzled old cop glared at him and said, “We know you too well, Whitney! You’re always writing something smart about us. Well, I sure don’t see you doin’ anything to keep the streets safe!”
As “Phantastical Bob Phantom” was carried away as well, Walt Whitney had made his own resolution.
“We’ll just see about that! I didn’t do too badly tonight!” he thought.
That evening back in his small apartment above a rundown theater, Walt had pondered the mocking challenge he had been given by the angry cop. He also thought about the sad death of the old magician and how vulnerable many of the Broadway denizens were to petty criminals or even organized mobs that often had a stake in the backing of the bigger shows.
“I know the area so well and I’m good with my fists. Maybe I could do something to help out!” he thought.
He shrugged and smiled ruefully.
“It could even lead to a good story or two for the column!” he admittedly sheepishly.
He knew an eccentric stage costumer who lived in a neighboring apartment and on a whim he approached the dynamic girl with a request. He hesitated slightly because he knew she had a thing for him and he didn’t really want to accidentally lead her on in any way. She was entirely too fiery and intense for his tastes.
Still, he had a sincere purpose in mind and he was determined to act on it. He approached her door and frowned as he heard the sound of a record on her phonograph which she played often and too loudly. She loved Polish music since she was from that troubled country but Walt had grown to dread the sound of the same records being played over and over behind the thin door!
He knocked and the strikingly lovely but serious looking woman opened the door and gazed at him with a rather hungry look in her eyes.
“Walter? What brings you here? Is it my music again?” she asked with a rather defiant look on her face.
“Say, Edyta, I was wondering if you could make a costume for me? You know Halloween is coming up and I was thinking about going to a party!”
The young woman smiled broadly and yanked Walt into her apartment with her customary eagerness.
“I would love to make something for you! With those broad shoulders, you would make a very handsome model!” she said as she circled him and studied him carefully.
Walt shrugged and said, “Thanks! I just want something kind of dramatic but not anything that would slow me down or make it hard to move around!”
Edyta smiled and said, “I know just the thing for you! I will do my best work since it will be motivated by passion, yes?”
Walt nodded slowly and said, “Thanks!”
The next day found a surprised Walt Whitney staring down at a small bundle outside his door as he climbed the stairs to his landing.
He read a hastily scrawled note that was attached to the package.
“Dearest Walter, I have been summoned to Hollywood! A job has come open at a studio and I had to leave at once! I hope you will like my creation! I only regret that I will not be able to see you in it! Love, Edyta!”
Walt unlocked his door and entered his home.
“I may actually miss that crazy kid!” he thought.
He opened the package and pulled out a rather brief green costume with a matching mask and red gloves, boots, and a cape!
“Not much material here!” he thought as he noticed the sleeveless costume and the shorts that accompanied it.
“Well, it will give me freedom of movement!” he thought as he tried it on and stood before a small mirror.
“The mask will keep my identity a secret. That may be a good thing since my plans may put me right in the middle of the law and the underworld! I’m not going to be too popular with either side if I manage to bring down criminals before the cops can do it!” he thought.
He frowned as he heard sirens outside the window and he saw a crowd rushing along the street.
“Those sure aren’t overgrown trick or treaters! Something big is going on down there! Those folks look like the world is coming to an end!” he thought.
He started to change out of the costume but then he heard a shrill cry and on impulse he raced out of his door and slipped out the side of the theater to emerge in an alley.
“Martians! I’m telling you its real men from outer space!” shouted a burly man in a battered cap.
“You heard it on the radio but that don’t make it true!” replied another man.
“The radio said Martians have landed in New Jersey!” cried the first man.
“There’s one now!” he gasped as he spotted the garishly dressed Walt Whitney!
“Get that crummy freak!” shouted the second man as he raced toward Walt.
Walt frowned and he backed away slowly with his hands raised in a placating gesture.
“I don’t what those idiots heard on the radio but I sure have stepped in it now!” he mused.
He whirled to see more frightened or angry figures approaching from the sidewalk!
“I’m trapped! I don’t want to hurt these people but I sure can’t let them rip me apart because they have had some kind of scare!” he thought.
“If only I could get away!” he thought.
Seconds later he found himself a few blocks away as a yellow mist briefly obscured his vision before blowing away on the October breeze.
“How? I was right in the middle of the mob and the next thing I know I was here! It was like magic!” he gasped.
He looked around the darkened street and realized that someone had smashed the streetlights.
“Looters? I don’t know what has scared all those folks because I sure don’t believe little green men have landed but anytime a crisis occurs some punks try to take advantage of it!”
He spotted a gang of five men carrying baseball bats and trash bags. They were smashing store windows and filling the sacks with stolen goods!
He ran forward and said, “Stop! This ends here! You boys can just put down those bats and run along home! Little League practice ended hours ago!”
The men cursed and charged at him and he planted his feet firmly to face their attack when he suddenly vanished from where he was standing and materialized behind the goons!
“It happened again! I can move myself around by just thinking about it!” he thought as the same yellow mist drifted away.
“Looking for me, fellas!” he yelled as he jumped up and caught a store awning before swinging forward and landing on the closest thug.
He blocked a punch and connected with a right cross that staggered the bigger man.
“I’ve been working out but I sure never knew I could hit like that!” he thought as he ducked under a swinging bat and rammed his head into the attacker’s face.
He elbowed the man aside and then kicked a third looter in the stomach.
The fourth man connected with a blow to Walt’s chin but to his surprise, he barely noticed!
He merely grabbed the man’s arm and hurled him into his friend. He punched out at the nearest goon and smiled with satisfaction as he collapsed on the ground.
“I did it! I stopped those looters cold! Nothing they did even hurt me!” he mused.
A woman stepped out of one of the stores and said, “Thank you! You saved me! They were surely going to hit my shop next!”
Walt said, “You are welcome! It sounds like police sirens are getting closer. Don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be safe now!”
She said, “Who are you? What is your name?”
He hesitated for a moment and then smiled broadly as he recalled his promise to the dying magician.
“Bob Phantom! You can tell everyone that Broadway is under the protection of Bob Phantom!” he declared before vanishing in a puff of yellow mist!
That night he could not sleep as he relived the events of the evening in his mind. He had called a few buddies from the paper that ran his column and he had learned the truth about the panic.
“Amazing! That whole scare was caused by a Halloween radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds!”
I guess more people took it for a real news bulletin than anyone would believe possible! It also enabled those looters to try to take advantage of the chaos! “ he thought.
He thought, “I don’t know how he did it but somehow that poor old magician really did give me magical powers. I can teleport myself at will. I have a bit of invulnerability and enhanced strength or at least I seemed to tonight!”
“The costume may be weird looking but with Edyta in Hollywood no one will recognize it as belonging to Walt Whitney and the name Bob Phantom may not be as dramatic as just calling myself The Phantom but I promised the man who gave me these powers that I’d keep his stage name alive and that’s exactly what I’m going to do!”
Now, in 1942 Walt Whitney could look back with pride on what had developed into a rewarding career as a mystery man as the press called the new breed of costumed heroes who had shown up across the nation!
“Guys like the Shield, the Wizard, Steel Sterling and the Comet get more attention but I was the first one to suit up and that’s an honor that belongs entirely to Bob Phantom!” he thought.
He had encountered some strange criminals and had risked his life over a dozen times since 1938 but he had also come to love every minute of it.
He had hired a secretary named Jinx Friday and he had prospered as Walt Whitney as well since some of his crime busting stunts as Bob Phantom had also enabled him to use his column as Walt Whitney to expose crooked cops and lawyers and do more than his share to clean up the area!
Now, as he leaned against the wall of the theater, he frowned as screeching brakes pierced the night and he saw a sleek red roadster race through the night and stop long enough for a dazed figure to be hurled to the pavement.
He concentrated and his suit changed to the costume and mask of his alter ego. This was another trick he had picked up after discovering that his gifts were not limited to teleportation and endurance!
He teleported into path of the weird car and gasped as he realized there was no one driving the vehicle!
Bob Phantom thought about trying to enter the vehicle in order to take control of the car but he soon realized that even his slightly enhanced strength could not alter the unseen force that guided the empty car!
“Better help the guy who was dumped!” he thought.
He vanished seconds before the car raced over his last position!
“Whew! I don’t want to test my tough skin against the power of a speeding car!” he thought.
He bent over the blond man who had somehow been dumped from the driverless car.
The young man was handsome but his face was pale and unshaven. He stared at Bob Phantom with wide eyes that seemed devoid of any intellect. He was wearing a blue suit but the garment was dirty and torn.
“Are you hurt? What’s your name?” he asked as he recalled the similar scene that had unfolded years before when he had bent over the original Phantastical Bob Phantom!
“I don’t know my name! I can’t remember who I am!” cried the frightened young man.
Bob Phantom lifted him to his feet. He appeared to have no physical injuries beyond the natural bruises and cuts that would come from both his fall and a fight of some kind.
“I’ll help you. I promise I will! You can trust me. My name is Bob Phantom. I am no doctor but I know a guy who can work wonders. You might say he’s a real miracle man!”
Shortly after Bob Phantom had found the dazed man in the street, the pair entered a nearby theater and made their way toward the backstage area where performers had their dressing rooms.
Bob Phantom’s colorful costume drew a few stares much in the same way his athletic physique attracted approving looks from various chorus girls as he moved to one particular door.
He smiled reassuringly at the blond man and said, “Don’t worry about a thing. My pal will fix you up. He’s the top banana here but he’s much more than a master illusionist. He’s the real deal!”
The blond man nodded and said, “Thank you. I can’t remember a thing. I mean I know F.D.R. is President and I remember past skills like how to change a tire but other than routine things I’m a blank. I don’t even know my own name. Nothing personal remains to me!”
Bob Phantom said, “You weren’t carrying any wallet but you have the mannerisms of an educated and well to do man. In spite of its worn fabric, that’s a costly suit you’re wearing. I also think you’ll be okay.”
He raised his hand and started to knock on the dressing room door when it abruptly swung open to reveal a tall slightly portly man with dark hair and a thin black mustache. He wore a monocle in his eye and a turban rested on his head. The dim hallway was brightened by the red glow that emanated from an ornate amulet that hung across the man’s chest.
He stepped back and spoke in a measured yet commanding tone.
“Enter, my friends. You are welcome here. How may I assist you?” he said as he inclined his head slightly in a partial bow.
“Zambini the Miracle Man! I’d like you meet my new friend here. Sadly, I can’t tell you his name since neither one of us knows it!” said Bob Phantom.
Zambini gestured toward a pair of chairs which sat on either side of an elaborate illuminated stage mirror. The rest of the room was cluttered with the odd props that comprised the components of magician’s celebrated stage act. In spite of his rather dramatic nature and his flamboyant profession, Zambini had no vanity about himself.
He showed real compassion for the stricken man as he watched Bob Phantom lead him to one of the chairs. He quickly poured a dark liquid into a cup and scooted it across the table toward the newcomer.
“I find this Eastern tea is quite refreshing. Help yourself and unburden yourselves. I will do all in my power to aid you!” he said.
The blond man took the mug and sipped the tea slowly as he glanced around the room and back at the intelligent looking man called Zambini.
Bob Phantom said, “Zambini, can you use your powers to shed some light on the situation? I witnessed our friend here being tossed out of a fancy car. What I did not see was a driver!”
Zambini sat down in front of the duo and stared intently at the amnesia victim. The glow of the amulet seemed to shroud the entire room in its crimson light and Zambini nodded slowly.
“Your mind has been clouded by artificial means. No physical injury robbed you of your senses. I can not restore your memory without a prolonged effort and you are too weak from your ordeal to stand such a process at this time. I extend my sympathy to you because you have lost more than you know.
I can sense that you are in fact a man with not one but two names!” he said.
Bob Phantom nodded and said, “You mean he’s one of us. Is he a fellow mystery man?”
Zambini said, “Such is my conclusion but we will know more anon. For now, I have managed to recover some of his stronger mental impressions by drawing the fleeting will o the wisp images to the surface of his mind!”
The man said, “I don’t understand but something you said seemed right. I have had some perilous adventures before. I’ve concealed my identity as well! I know it because keeping it a secret was always a primary concern of mine! Maybe, I’m starting to remember!”
Bob Phantom said, “I told you that Zambini could help. As you’ve seen, he really does possess magical powers!”
Zambini said, “Can you tell us what new images dart through your clouded mind?”
The man said, “Red! The woman in a red dress! I can see her so clearly! She is so beautiful but she took my memories away from me! The dress was shiny. It sparkled like a starry night!”
Zambini smiled and stood up as he brushed the chair aside.
“Excellent! We have recovered enough of your circumstances to provide us with a clue to the nature of your strange plight! Stand up!”
Bob Phantom started to help the man up but he made it to his feet on his own. He seemed to be gaining some strength as his hopes increased and Zambini offered the chance of a cure.
Bob Phantom knew that in spite of his obvious concern for others and his selfless desire to help those in need, Zambini was reluctant to ever touch another person. He had once explained to the other hero that something about human contact temporarily sapped his powers and left him helpless. It was a puzzling and poignant Achilles heel for a man who clearly possessed great powers but was equally isolated from something as essential and vital as the touch of another person’s hand.
Zambini said, “Is this the woman in question?”
He gestured and whispered words that sounded like gibberish to the other men.
Suddenly, a striking beautiful black haired woman in a slinky sequined red evening gown and matching heels appeared before them. She was merely a phantasm conjured by the Miracle Man but she was also so vividly real that the fragrance of her perfume filled the small dressing room.
“That’s her! She is behind it all but who is she? Why can’t I remember?” cried the man in green.
Bob Phantom jumped up as well. “I know her. She’s a living doll who occasionally works at a night club near here as a singer!”
He didn’t add that he knew her because of the nearly encyclopedic knowledge he had of the theater district as columnist Walt Whitney.
As the phantasm flickered out of sight, the trio approached the door.
“We can be there in no time! Gentlemen, I think the trail is hot as they say in the pictures!” quipped Bob Phantom.
Joan Burton clutched her coat as she tried to protect herself from the chill wind that swept along pier near a busy harbor in Civic City. The pretty black haired girl reporter was normally something of a people watcher since her journalistic instincts made her habitually notice those around her even in a crowded location. She often fancied she might make use of the odd sights and sights of the city in some planned novel that she had never quite managed to find the time to write.
“Of course, a girl can’t fit everything into her busy routine…not if she’s regularly abducted by supernatural monsters like the Mummy! I still get the chills thinking about how that creature wanted to make me his bride!” she thought.
Today, Joan had no interest in watching the pier traffic nor did she care about speculating about the secret lives –real or imagined- of the people arriving or departing from the busy pier. She had other more pressing concerns on this day.
“Senator Davis is going to be touring the shipyard today and that means I may have a chance to question him about the proposed defense bill!” she thought as she stamped one high heel in impatience.
She frowned as she saw several other reporters she recognized from rival papers along the East Coast. A blonde woman in a rather risqué and costly black dress with matching heels sashayed along the pier with a camera swinging from a strap around her neck.
“Babs Sutton! That spoiled rich girl burns me up! She plays at being a shutterbug while other more deserving pressmen are out of work! Look at that lacy number she’s wearing… or should I say, almost wearing!” fumed Joan.
Babs calmly freshened up her make-up while a ruggedly handsome man with dark hair and intelligent eyes dutifully held her camera.
He smiled mockingly and said, “You know, Babs, if you weren’t so shy and retiring, you might make something of yourself!”
She pursed her lips and shrugged her shoulders.
“Very droll, Mr. Burland! You might want some salt since you’ll be eating those words when I get an exclusive comment from Daddy’s old lodge brother Senator Davis!” she said.
Kip Burland was only teasing the girl. He knew that behind the glamour girl façade and baby talk, she was a smart and courageous young woman who had a genuine skill with a camera and a desire to do well.
Kip respected that kind of crusading instinct since he also had a passion for reforming society and protecting justice for all. As a cop and secretly as the masked champion known as the Black Hood, he was dedicated to helping those in need and waging war on crime in all its forms. His police training had been augmented by intensive study and physical training with a brilliant but eccentric old hermit who had nursed him back to health at his secluded rural cabin after the cop had fallen victim to a maniac known as the Skull. Kip had donned a black and yellow costume because at the time he had been framed for various crimes by the Skull and could not readily appear in public in his normal identity. Having cleared his name, he had continued on as the Black Hood and he relished the action this heroic role brought into his life.
He turned as several cars pulled up and the reporters hustled forward to greet the emerging Senator Davis and his entourage. Senator Davis was a fat man with a rather shiny face and plump jaws. He wiped his face with a handkerchief as he walked along the pier. Apparently, even in wintery weather, his girth man him easily winded or overheated.
Babs pouted as he walked right by her without more than a cursory glance and with no visible sign of recognition!
“Kip! He ignored me! What’s more he didn’t even seem to know who I was!” she sputtered.
Kip said, “He was probably looking at your legs and not your face. That slit in your skirt is a bit high!”
She took his arm and gazed up at him with piercing blue eyes.
“I’m not kidding. He didn’t know me. Something is seriously wrong with him! He and Daddy were the best of chums!” she added.
Meanwhile, as Senator Davis made a rather bland speech and refused to answer any questions, Joan Burton was equally puzzled by his demeanor and more specifically by his diction.
“I don’t get it! Davis is famous for his Southern charm. He deliberately uses colorful homespun jargon in his speeches to appear like one of the people. The guy never met a press release or public relations moment he didn’t love! He would not let this opportunity slip by without spouting some memorable quote! He did not even use a contraction when he spoke nor did he convey any emotion!” she said.
Joan frowned as she noticed Babs Sutton slipping away from the crowd toward the black limo that had brought Senator Davis to the pier.
“What does she think she is doing?” she mused. She hurried after the blonde photographer and her handsome companion. The other reporters had followed the senatorial party down the pier toward the Navy yard.
Babs said, “I want to get inside the car. If I can charm the driver into letting me in I can get Senator Davis alone or at least get some face time with him!”
Kip shook his head ruefully. He was used to the headstrong heiress and her will to get what she wanted at any cost.
As Joan followed the duo, all three overheard a strange broadcast that crackled over the radio of the parked car.
“Excellent! My drone version of Davis performed well! He may be stiff but he will obey my commands to the letter and in doing so help us take over this nation!” said a female voice.
The burly driver abruptly shut off the radio as he glanced up to see the three newcomers.
He gestured to two other men who appeared to be dock workers. They stopped working and hurried over as he confronted the threesome.
Kip stepped protectively in front of the two women and smiled disarmingly.
“We were just admiring your car. That’s some ride!” he said.
“They heard the Mistress! We must secure them!” said the driver as he and the other two men closed in on them.
Kip suddenly lashed out with a lightning fast punch that staggered the first man. He ducked under the outstretched arms of the second one and connected with an upper cut followed by a stinging blow to the stomach.
He flipped over the bigger man’s back as he doubled over in pain. A swift kick to the chest pushed the third thug backward but failed to stop him.
“You ladies need to get help! From what we heard this is more than a routine kidnapping! That man was not the real Davis!” he shouted. As soon as they vanished from view, he shoved past the thugs and rounded a corner into a narrow alley. He swiftly changed into the Black Hood costume and hurried after the three men before they could either find him or catch the ladies.
Babs and Joan had nodded readily. Each of them had noticed something odd about his behavior and they also had each had enough strange experiences in the past with super villains and weird devices to accept the concept of an imposter senator!
They raced off but neither woman was able to get very far when a startling sight stopped them in their tracks.
A colorful new figure landed in front of them with an impressive display of agility. He was a lithe but fit man in a black and red costume and mask. He had red hair and he moved with an unusual gait that seemed to convey both grace and power with each motion he made.
“The Firefly!” gasped Babs! “I’ve heard of you but I didn’t expect to ever meet you!”
Joan thought, “Just keep your expectations to yourself, sister! The Firefly or Dr. Harley Hudson is all mine!”
He said, “Are you ladies hurt? I arrived in time to see the chase. I came to protect Senator Davis!”
Joan said, “We’re good. Help that poor guy!”
She thought, “You came to meet me for lunch, you Dear!”
The Firefly bounded into the air and landed near the fight scene. He kicked out and sent one thug reeling backward as he rolled forward and crashed into the second goon.
The Black Hood was busily ducking and punching as the burly driver circled him warily.
“These mugs can really take a punch!” he thought. “I could have dropped three ordinary thugs with ease even in this role but something about these three is not human!” he thought.
The Firefly felt a punch from one of the men and he realized the same thing Kip had deduced.
“They are stronger than normal men! They seem to shrug off pain too. Are they another batch of Dr. Dread’s reanimates!” he thought.
He referred to a criminal genius who had crossed his path in the past. The evil mastermind had found a way to turn normal men into slaves who obeyed his every command while benefitting from enhanced strength and resistance to pain or fatigue! The three men shared some of the traits those creatures had possessed although the current thugs were clearly more human than the monstrous reanimates had been.
As biochemist Dr. Harley Hudson, he had studied insects and developed a process by which he was able to master the muscular functions of a typical insect. He was always deliberately vague about the exact nature of the process that had enabled him to match what he called the “muscular coordination” of the insect world. He was now stronger and faster than any human and he could do things associated with a variety of exotic insects including surviving underwater for a prolonged period of time. He had shared his secrets with Joan Burton and had declared his love for her a few months ago. As the costumed hero called the Firefly he had vowed to “light the darkness that shrouds the underworld!”
Now, he used those remarkable abilities against the oddly mutated men who threatened the costumed Black Hood!
The Firefly spun through the air and dropped down beside the Black Hood.
“You better let me handle them! They aren’t fully human!” he said.
The Black Hood grinned roguishly. “Yeah, I’d figured that for myself. I’ll do my part though!”
The Firefly nodded as the other man displayed a raw courage and expert combat skills.
“He’s even better than I’d heard!” mused the Firefly.
As the two heroes resumed the fight they were abruptly stunned by a newcomer with a strange gun.
He spoke commandingly to the other men as he waved the paralysis ray.
“The women escaped but we must not waste time. Take these two and hurry away. I will pick up our Senator Davis myself!” he said.
He was a powerful looking bald man with an arrogant demeanor. The others deferred to him with eagerness unlike anything they had displayed during the brawl on the pier.
The three thugs obeyed and loaded the stunned heroes into the car moments before speeding away.
The Firefly kept his eyes closed as he regained his strength.
“I think I shielded the Hood just enough. I can tell he is still breathing. My own enhanced metabolism will allow me to recover fully in a while but I think we may be better served by letting this odd group take us to their proverbial leader as the saying goes!” he thought.
Meanwhile, Joan and Babs had witnessed the capture of the heroes from a hiding place after alerting the Navy Yard guards to the disturbance. Each of them was consumed with worry for the costumed champions who had fallen in defeat.
Joan said, “If that Davis really is a fake…a drone… as we heard that voice on the car radio call him, then he’ll merely smooth over things by telling the military guards that we were snooping around and his security staff decided to frighten us away. We can’t prove our story!”
Babs said, “We may not have to. I have some friends in high places and one of them knows another genuine masked super hero! If I can reach him, he might be able to help the Firefly and the Black Hood.”
Joan thought, “She didn’t mention the man who was with her. Either she knows he is the Black Hood or she is so caught up with a crush on the masked man that she doesn’t see him as he truly is beneath the cowl!”
The two women rushed off and prayed that this mysterious helper might be reached in time!
Bob Phantom, Zambini, and their blond friend stood outside a skyscraper and gazed up at the luxurious penthouse that rested atop the towering structure.
Zambini said, “It was easy enough to follow the lady in red to this location. She seemed oblivious to her environment even while she was performing!”
Bob Phantom said, “Yeah, I’ve seen Inez Courtney do her act before and she’s as hot as Betty Grable. I don’t get why she was so remote tonight. For that matter, I don’t know why she would have helped rob our pal here of his memory.”
The blond man said, “It was a story. I’m starting to regain my memory. I am a reporter. I work for the press. The Press…! I can’t remember the details but I was working on a news story for my paper and I stumbled on something to do with her. She got wise to me and something happened to take away my memory!”
Zambini said, “Do not distress yourself unduly. I believe you will soon recover your loss memories and we shall be by your side to help you when you do!”
Bob Phantom said, “What would a doll like that be doing here?”
Zambini’s amulet flashed a lurid red. He stared into space for a few seconds and then blinked slowly.
“She has feelings for the man who lives in the penthouse. I can sense her emotions even though as you said there is a cloud over her thoughts that have rendered her rather lifeless or stiff. I also sense pain and loss and a terrible purpose. The owner of the penthouse is a remarkable man. He is nearly consumed with grief, anger, and a desire to achieve some goal. I have rarely felt such undiluted passion from one man!” he said.
Bob Phantom said, “I think I can get in easily enough but I can’t take you with me! I have never tried to teleport straight upward like that!”
Zambini said, “Go. We will follow in our own fashion!”
Bob Phantom nodded and said, “Up, up, and away! I read that in the funny pages!”
He teleported in a cloud of yellow smoke and gasped as he materialized in the middle of the air above the streets below! He gasped and concentrated again and this time he fell on the deck of the penthouse’s terrace.
“Whew! I never want to try that again!” he thought.
He was suddenly surrounded by three men and Inez Courtney herself.
“I don’t know how you got here but you better not make another move!” said an elderly man with a monocle.
Bob Phantom glanced across the enormous terrace and whistled softly. An airstrip covered part of the terrace and a sleek plane with a futuristic design rested nearby under a protecting covering.
“What kind of place is this?” he said.
“It is my home. I know who you are and we are on the same side. That’s the only reason you are still standing. My name is the Scarlet Avenger!”
The words echoed in a funereal tone of voice from a cloaked and masked man in red and green who emerged from within the penthouse and approached him with a silent grace.
The others deferred to their leader and they retreated into the recesses of the huge building as the Scarlet Avenger ushered Bob Phantom inside.
“I have one purpose in life. I seek to eradicate all crime. I know you have a similar goal. You have done much good in your career. What brings you here? I will attempt to help you but I warn you that I am not a man to be trifled with in any manner. My time is priceless!” he said.
Bob Phantom frowned as he saw rows of highly advanced electronic devices of every kind and above them all an elevated throne carved from something that resembled a huge shell. It depicted a looming skull and the mystery man in red sat down in it with the air of a king.
“Some place you have here. I bet you can pick up some swell radio programs on that thing!” said Bob Phantom as he nodded toward the communication devices and a large screen that covered one wall.
The Scarlet Avenger said, “Your allies are coming. My operatives are bringing them up. They were allowed to enter as you were. Nothing happens here without my awareness. I wage war on crime from this base. This is the only thing that gives my life meaning. The brave men and women who serve as my operatives are equally reliable. You may speak freely!”
Zambini and the blond reporter entered from an outer chamber as a slender black haired woman led them inside.
Zambini said, “You are an impressive man. Few can so easily ignore my illusions and yet you saw our approach clearly.”
The Scarlet Avenger spoke harshly to the woman. “Number 12, leave us. Have the others stay away. I am in no peril!”
She nodded and hurried out just as Inez Courtney and the bald man had done so earlier.
Bob Phantom said, “Our friend here has amnesia. Inez Courtney has something to do with his problem. We trailed her to you.”
The Scarlet Avenger frowned grimly as he had since he first appeared.
“I trust Inez completely. I will question her later should it prove necessary. In the meantime I have a device that may remedy your friend’s dilemma. Come over to this chair and be calm. You will not be harmed!” he said as he led them to a second chair with a weird domed helmet on its back.
“This is my hypnosis machine. It may cloud the mind of anyone placed within the helmet. It may also restore hidden or lost memories!” he said with a dramatic flourish.
Bob Phantom grinned as he thought, “This guy is a real showman although everything he does and says seems completely natural to him. He’s really not trying to put on an act!”
Zambini said, “I think we may rely upon his word. Please do as he says!”
The blond man obeyed and sat down as the Scarlet Avenger placed the domed helmet over his skull.
He adjusted a few controls and the stricken blond man’s face turned pale as he stared wildly into space and then began to shout.
“I remember! I know who I am! It’s all coming back to me!” he jumped up and removed the helmet as he raised his fists and stepped away from the Scarlet Avenger.
“This thing restored my memories alright because he was the creep who used it on me to begin with!” he shouted as he pointed an accusing finger at the Scarlet Avenger!
“I am a mystery man too. They call me the Press Guardian. My real name is something I’d rather not divulge. I was on a story when I stumbled on to a plot to replace some top government officials with doubles. These pseudomen look just like the real humans but they are artificial. They are some kind of fancy machines! Inez Courtney was luring the Police Chief of Civic City into a trap. She was going to replace him with one of the inhuman drones when I jumped her! She was not alone and I was knocked out and brought here. They put me in that machine and took away my memory then they dumped me out of the electronic car!”
He swung at the Scarlet Avenger who sidestepped and pushed him backward while he was off balance.
“Stop! No one raises a hand to me in this place! No here wishes you any harm. I have heard of you. You are a defender of justice in Central City. I deduced your true identity after reading a few of your newspaper stories in the Daily Express. Your real name is Perry Chase. I say this to show you that I mean you no harm. Had I wanted to thwart you I could have shut down your career with one phone call to other papers!” he said.
The Press Guardian said, “You are glib but you put me in that chair and robbed my memories. You did it to protect Inez who is clearly one of your operatives. Why a known vigilante who hates crime so strongly would try to take over the country with a bunch of inhuman drones is the real question here!”
The Scarlet Avenger said, “Pseudomen. You called these supposed doubles pseudomen. I know of them because I fought their creator in the past. Her name is Texa and she is a genius with a ruthless streak. She comes from some lost sect of Amazons and she has technology that would amaze anyone!”
Zambini said, “May I suggest you allow us to use this chair on you? Let it and the rays of my amulet make your own thoughts manifest to us all!”
The Scarlet Avenger scowled but he sat down in the chair.
“This machine reveals the truth. It has shown that there is something to what the Guardian says. For this reason and for the fact that I know your own reputations, I will submit to the hypnosis chair and your amulet.”
He lowered the domed helmet over his head and he stared unblinkingly at Zambini’s brightly glowing amulet.
Bob Phantom gasped in pain as he saw and felt the love of a genius named Jim Kendall for his wife and child. He also felt the pain of loss when he saw Kendell’s beloved family die in a fiery plane crash caused by a hijacker! He almost shuddered at the intensity of emotion as he felt Kendall’s resolve to avenger their deaths by warring on all criminals under the guise of the Scarlet Avenger! He also realized that the reason Kendall never smiled was because an accident had robbed him of the ability to move his facial muscles. He literally could not smile and he was trapped in his grief in both a figurative and a literal sense!
“I became the Scarlet Avenger and used my inventive talents to create the means by which I would destroy all crime. I assembled loyal operatives from every walk of life. I defeated menaces like Texa and the psychotic Mr. Nimbus!”
The words came slowly from the Scarlet Avenger as he also relieved his past pain.
The trio watched and felt it all as if they had also lived through such emotional moments. Thanks to the combination of Zambini’s magic and the hypnosis machine, they truly had vicariously experienced the tragic story on a personal level.
One of the most vivid memories depicted the Scarlet Avenger in battle against a tall woman in a white gown. She had reddish-blonde hair and it was clear that she and her allies had access to advanced technology! An epic battle occurred between this powerful woman and the Scarlet Avenger’s own operatives high over Capitol City. Ultimately, the Scarlet Avenger triumphed over her!
“Her name is Texa. She was an Amazon but I never fully learned her origin. She had the mind of a genius and the body of the perfect woman…if that woman was a skilled killer!” she said.
His eyes widened as one scene during the battle aboard Texa’s blimp showed something buried deep within his own mind. He had been strapped into a weird device by the Amazon and had resisted her efforts to control him but only to a certain extent!
“I recall defying her. I remember beating her attempts to brainwash me with a machine not unlikely my own hypnosis device and yet this new memory shows that she actually won! She planted some kind of post hypnotic suggestion or compulsion deep within my mind! I had no idea!” he said with horror.
They also saw the Scarlet Avenger use his hypnosis machine on each of his operatives and finally upon the captive Press Guardian before tossing him into the Scarlet Avenger’s electronically controlled car!
Bob Phantom thought, “That’s the red car I saw! It ejected him and nearly ran me down!”
The Scarlet Avenger roared as if in pain and removed the helmet.
“Stop! I did it! I am guilty! I had no memory of doing so but the device does not lie. I owe you an apology and I owe you my thanks. You may have prevented me from betraying my every sacred value!” he said.
Zambini said, “You were not acting of your own volition. There is something obscured within your mind. I can sense a malice of sorts that lurked beneath your awareness and forced you to act as you did while retaining no memories of your actions!”
The Scarlet Avenger said, “Texa! The same Amazon temptress who tried to brainwash me once also created drones like the ones you mentioned! I defied her mental compulsion or so I thought at the time but now it becomes all too clear that she was far smarter than I ever imagined. She planted some hidden hypnotic compulsion within my mind. Even as I resisted her more overt attempt to control me, even as I defeated her forces, she had planted a seed for revenge! I have been performing her every command all this time and I never knew it. She will pay for this!”
The Press Guardian said, “I felt what you did. I guess we all did. We all know that you were a pawn. You didn’t willingly do anything against me or our country!”
Zambini said, “ I have witnessed more than one devious psychic enslavement and you have nothing to be ashamed of merely because yours was technological in nature. I may shield your mind from Texa’s influence now that you have indentified its source!”
The red amulet flashed again and the Scarlet Avenger regained his former composure.
“Thank you. I will deal with Texa. I will end her threat!” he said.
Bob Phantom said, “Look pal, we don’t doubt your conviction but we want to help. If this Amazon dame has replaced high ranking officials with fake doubles or drones or pseudomen as you called them, how will we ever locate them all or stop them from doing something terrible!”
The Scarlet Avenger said, “All of them are controlled by a single power source. If I can get to that source I can shut them all down like a bunch of broken toys!”
Bob Phantom said, “We will help you but I guess we better have Zambini shield all of your operatives too. They may be under her spell too!”
The Scarlet Avenger nodded and said, “Yes, and to my undying regret I am the one who placed those poor loyal men and women under her foul spell!”
Bob Phantom whispered to the Press Guardian. “The guy is pretty intense but who can blame him? He’s suffered so much loss in his life!”
Zambini said, “We won’t allow him to lose anything else!”
Friday March 13, 1942
Wall Street was not only the financial center of the city; it was a bustling avenue full of traffic. On this day, it was also something else! It was a battle zone!
Four highly stylized planes soared into view with a speed and accuracy that enabled them to defy even the most ardent of civil defense wardens!
The first plane unleashed a barrage of high energy that shattered the cornice of an office building and ignited the structure into flames!
As office workers rushed to evacuate and police and fire brigades rushed to the scene, ordinary men and women fled in a frantic rush!
“It can’t be! It’s another Pearl Harbor!” cried a balding man who raced out of a looming skyscraper.
At that moment aboard the first plane, Texa herself gloated before the crew of her deadly craft.
She was beautiful but her expression was cruel as she sat seductively in a chair and spoke to her operatives on the other planes.
The baleful beauty gave orders to a hulking bald man who commanded the second plane and stood over the chained forms of the Firefly and the Black Hood.
“Commander Blitzkrieg, you have done well for a man. Be sure that you and your men complete the attack on the city as I ordered. Do not deviate from my instructions. Unlike your petty Herr Hitler, I will not tolerate failure!” she said.
The Firefly and the Black Hood had been brought aboard the odd craft by the bald man with the weird gun who had first attacked them at the pier.
He smiled coldly and said, “Texa, we have these American swine where we want them. They will witness your victory and then they shall die!”
Texa scowled and said, “You state the obvious Blitzkreig but then again for one who calls himself the greatest killer alive today, you are surprisingly stupid!”
Blitzkrieg said, “You should remember that Herr Hitler himself respects my abilities. Why do you mock me?”
Texa laughed and then said, “You use that maniac’s name as if it is something to conjure by. I do not serve the Nazi cause. I serve myself. You would be well to remember that you owe your freedom to me. Your precious Hitler would have left you to rot in the cell Steel Sterling placed you in if I had not liberated you.”
Blitzkrieg scowled but he deferred to the Amazon. He knew that she did have the upper hand and he secretly coveted her and her amazingly resources like the stun gun he carried so proudly.
She said, “My pseudomen will rise up and strike after my ships had created total panic. No one shall know these artificial doubles of mine have replaced so many prominent citizens until it is entirely too late!”
The Black Hood said, “For a babe with Betty Grable legs, she sure has a bad attitude!”
The Firefly grinned and he added, “She really does need to change her disposition if she wants to meet the right man!”
Blitzkrieg kicked him into the chest and then said, “Jest now, heroes. You will soon be begging for your paltry lives!”
Texa closed the communication device and left the other two planes and their crew to follow her orders.
Commander Blitzkrieg said, “Enjoy the few moments you have left to love, heroes!”
He marched away and left the captive Mystery Men to their own thoughts.
At that moment, an agile boy in a red and white striped shirt and blue pants slipped out of the shadows and deftly freed the two heroes.
“I’m Roy the Super Boy! Don’t worry about a thing! My pal the Wizard is here too! He’ll mop up that witch and her goons in no time!” said the grinning teen.
The Black Hood said, “Nice to see you, kid! You and your buddy got here just in time!”
An explosion shook the plane and the Firefly glanced out of one of the windows to see a red and blue caped figure smashing through another plane with his bare hands!
“The Wizard! This may turn out better than I ever thought!” he said.
Little did he know that it was Babs Sutton’s frantic call to newspaper publisher Blaine Whitney that had alerted the wealthy genius to the plight of the Black Hood and the Firefly. Whitney was well-known to have a connection to the heroic masked Wizard since his paper often covered the hero’s astonishing adventures. This was entirely logical since Whitney himself secretly was the Wizard!
Once the Wizard learned something, he could usually focus his remarkable mental powers and given enough time, he could mentally “see” distant events related to either the information he had discovered or to specific individuals. He dismissed his extra sensory gifts as one of many talents he and his equally amazing ancestors had possessed along with a wide array of gadgets or formulas created by their brilliant minds.
He had experienced a vision that showed the captive heroes in a war plane over the city and he had raced to intercept the invaders in his own super advanced plane.
Now, as he ignored the blistering fire from the third plane, he casually ripped the second one to scrap metal!
The Firefly leaped across the deck and crashed into several of the pseudomen. He fought without hesitating since he realized that these inhuman beings could withstand his super strength.
Black Hood was equally active as he twisted and dodged the shocked Commander Blitzkrieg’s own impressive blows.
“I will rip you apart American!” roared the Axis agent.
The Black Hood ducked and then connected with a stinging punch of his own.
“You talk a good fight, Nazi!” he said.
Roy the Super Boy was swinging down from a railing to land on a group of the guards. He was clearly strong and more durable than a normal teen and his colorful costume seemed to offer him some protection from harm.
He was also clearly having the time of his life as he laughed and mocked the enemy troops!
“You creeps are slow! You oughta invest in some kind of Charles Atlas course!” he quipped.
The Hood was smaller than Blitzkrieg but he had been trained in almost every known method of combat and he used these combined skills to bring down his larger foe.
“We Americans don’t just talk our way to victory!” he declared as a final punch stunned the German.
The Firefly had forced his way into the cockpit area where he was suddenly greeted by the suave Wizard himself who had smashed through the craft’s front after having sent the other plane to a watery resting place.
“Are you gentlemen, ready to depart? My plane is nearby!” he said with a smile.
The three heroes followed him out of the shattered plane and aboard a silent and sleek craft that kept pace with the damaged bomber and seemed to miraculously be towing it out to sea!
“It pilots itself via preprogrammed remote control flight and hauls the other plane with magnetic grapplers. Nothing that complex in reality!” shrugged the Wizard as if the genius was merely discussing a new mousetrap!
Roy laughed merrily and said, “The Wizard makes Einstein look like Dagwood from the comics!”
“What about that Amazon and the other bombers? What about her pseudomen?” asked the Firefly.
The Wizard said, “Roy and I didn’t come alone! We brought one of our closest pals!”
The fourth plane had been attacked as well by a one-man Army who dropped down from sky on its wing and calmly made his way toward the cockpit while causally ignoring the speed, the altitude and the unsteady surface.
He had leaped aboard from below and now he used the same incredible power that brought him skyward to dismantle the bomber and force it off course and toward the harbor.
He wore a red, white, and blue costume and he went about his mission with the heart of a hero. This was entirely fitting since the Shield (Joe Barnes) was one of America’s greatest champions!
He waited until the plane was headed for the waters below and then he dived off to land unharmed below!
“When the Wizard called me here, I should have known I’d be in for an adventure! That guy certainly knows how to create some action!” he thought with a smile.
Meanwhile, in Texa’s plane, the irate Amazon had witnessed the destruction of three of her crafts and she screamed in fury as her main plane was suddenly rocked by a sleek red plane that soared by!
“The Scarlet Avenger! How did he shake off my mind control?” she fumed.
She gasped as Bob Phantom, Zambini, and the Press Guardian emerged from within her own plane.
“Zambini here had a lot to do with that little trick!” said Bob Phantom with a smile.
The Press Guardian shoved a stunned guard to the ground and said, “And Bob Phantom here brought us aboard one at a time from the Avenger’s cloaked plane!”
Bob Phantom said, “I’m modest but it is one of my many talents!”
Texa moved with a speed none of them anticipated! She knocked the Press Guardian into Bob Phantom and then brought a radio device down by pulling it off the wall! Sparks flew upward and blocked Zambini’s path as she hurried away!
She slipped through a secret panel and found herself in a small escape pod that detached from the main plane!
As it veered away from the speeding craft, Texa smiled coldly.
“I will still have my revenge!” she whispered.
“No, you won’t! I destroyed the battery that powers your evil doubles. All over the country your little puppet men are crumpling over like so many broken toys!” said a funereal voice as the Scarlet Avenger stepped out of the shadows of the small pod.
Texa hissed in anger as she faced her most hated foe.
“How did you find me?” she asked.
The Scarlet Avenger stepped closer and he said, “You thought you were so clever using me and in turn having me command my own operatives to obey you then forget what we had been doing. You didn’t realize that all my operatives have implanted devices that enable me to track them. Number 8 was on board. You used him and my other aides to lead your mindless pawns. I was able to find him and my friends helped me catch up to you all with my own plane! Number 8 is safe now too by the way.”
Texa was rattled by his appearance but she merely tossed back her head and said, “You can’t hope to win! I planted a mental compulsion in your mind to prevent you from physically harming me!”
He calmly fired his gun at the controls that guided the pod. They burst into a fiery nimbus and he sat down by her side.
“I would not dream of it. I will, however, crash your escape vehicle into the harbor!” he said coldly.
Texa turned pale as she cried, “But you’ll die as well!”
The Scarlet Avenger nodded slowly and he stared at her intently.
“Very likely but then again a desperate man has nothing to lose and nothing for which to live!” he said.
The small pod crashed into the bay and exploded!
Later, the assembled heroes stood on the pier and discussed the day’s events. They had informed one another of the facts each had learned and now they tried to make sense of the puzzle.
Bob Phantom said, “I’m glad the Wizard learned about Texa’s plans and brought the Shield in. You guys were really something else!”
The Shield said, “It was a good afternoon’s work. I’m glad we were able to stop the Wall Street Blitz before Texa could activate all of her pseudomen!”
The Wizard said, “And all of them have been shut down. I can sense as much. What I can’t detect is what happened to Texa herself or the Scarlet Avenger. They may have both perished!”
Roy said nothing but even his boyish high spirits seemed a bit quenched by the loss of the heroic Scarlet Avenger.
The Black Hood pointed to the bay where the Firefly emerged holding a red cloak.
“I found the Avenger’s cloak. I didn’t find any bodies!” he said. “I can stay underwater a long time but I just couldn’t see any survivors! Not that the pseudomen were truly alive to begin with!”
The Press Guardian said, “The Scarlet Avenger said he would stop her or die trying. I guess he was as good as his word!”
Zambini nodded sadly. “That poor troubled man. May he truly rest in the peace that eluded him in life!”
The Wizard said, “He did not die in vain. He saved the city. We should work together more often. We could make certain nothing like this ever happens again!”
The Shield smiled broadly. “I would like that. We could carry on the Scarlet Avenger’s crusade for justice! We could call ourselves the Crusaders!”
And so a legendary team was born!