Friday, May 25, 2012

Chapter 5

     The trains were running late tonight. Of course, the fact that the Blue Line had been shut down, having continued on it's route with one car spattered with the blood of an unknown man, and only just recently being brought to a stop for investigation in the very heart of the metropolis, accounted for the transit problems. At each station it had stopped in, passengers had stepped towards the train, waited for the doors to open, and then refused to board at the awful sight. Until the police of the 43rd Precinct had been able to bring it to a halt in their district. They were perplexed, horrified, and stymied by the liquified remains.
     Detective Second-Class Stockman chewed on the end of his cigar, attempting to keep the grue from getting on his pants-cuff.
     “Anyone seen the coroner?”, he grumbled.
     Many negative replies followed from the patrolmen who were in attendance.
     “Well, someone find out where he's at for me. I got no patience for this tonight.”
     One of the patrolmen headed up the platform stairs, only to come to an abrupt halt, and slowly walk backward to the station. Three men followed him down, each in dark suits, each with machine guns, and each wearing a mask of black silk over their faces.
     “Nobody move!”
     All eyes turned towards the three men as they fanned out from the entry, each taking up a point that afforded near perfect military fields of over-lapping fire. From behind them, a fourth man, walking as if he had not a care in the world, sauntered down the stairs, humming tunelessly, his mask of red covering all but his dark blue eyes. He stopped at the foot of the stairwell, lazily removed his hand from his pocket, a small caliber weapon in his gloved palm.
     His voice was barely muffled by the thin material of the mask.
     “Good evening, gentlemen. I'm so sorry we weren't able to meet you earlier, but we had a bit of a problem this evening. Several good officers of the law seem to have been gunned-down while performing their duties in a subway station across town. It held us up.”
     He stepped towards the Detective, his hand gesturing lightly with the pistol.
     “I assume you're in charge of this crime scene?”
     Stockman chewed on his cigar, his face the color of ash, and nodded.
     “Tell me, Detective. Other than our messy friend there, did you or your men find anything unusual?”, the masked man queried jovially.
     “More unusual than a melted stiff?”, harrumphed Stockman.
     The masked man laughed.
     “Well, perhaps not. Anything at all?”, the red mask tilted questioningly.
     “We haven't searched the train, just brought it to a stop, and we're waiting for the coroner”, replied Stockman.
     “Oh, well, this may take us a moment. You see we were hoping you had come across something we're looking for, and save us the time and trouble of having to search for it ourselves.”
     The red masked leader turned away from Stockman, returning to his men. As he walked he waved the small pistol lightly in the air, gesturing to the ether.
     “Kill them quickly so we may get on with our work.”
     The platform was consumed in the hail of bullets.

     Rose sat at the foot of the platform, waiting for the Black Mask to return for her. He had moved to the stairwell, placing her where she now sat, and told her to wait quietly while he checked the street above. She did as he asked, mostly because she was, for once in her life, truly unsure of what to do. It wasn't in her nature to take orders, or to sit quietly. She had carved out a career in a world where men still tried to call her “Doll” or “Dame”. It had been a bit since anyone had called her a “Skirt” to her face. She stopped with that thought. No, that wasn't true. Detective Mullins, earlier tonight, had called her a skirt, but she had let it slide, knowing Jimmie would put him in his place.
     Jimmie. And Mullins. Billy. They were all dead now.
     The Black Mask appeared at her side as if stepping out of a shadow.
     “There's a car, waiting at the street for our friends to return.” He indicated the two dead men, one sprawled in his own blood on the platform, the other down on the tracks. “And a rather tough looking young man hanging out near the entrance, keeping anyone who may be interested in the subway from coming down.”
     She stood up, dusting herself off.
     “What do we do?”
     He looked at her, but his face was unreadable behind the mask.
     “Miss Peirce, I need something of you. But in order to ask it, I need to know if you trust me”, his voice was calm, and the question so full of intent that she almost laughed.
     “That's a funny question coming from a guy in a mask”, she whispered.
     “Do you trust that I will not let you come to harm, if it is in my power to prevent it?”
     “You've saved my life twice tonight. I think you proved that.”
     He nodded, and she knew he wasn't agreeing with her, but approving of the logic.
     She looked at the mask, seeing her own reflection in the shiny black surface.
     “What do you need me to do?”
     He turned, looking up the stairwell.
     “I need you to go up there. Alone.”

     Joey Turner was on his fifth cigarette, and his tongue was starting to burn. He had wanted to go down with the others, wait for the dame to come through the tunnel, and be on his way, but Leon, the driver, had told him to keep people from going into the subway. It didn't take much, he just had to lean against the wall near the entrance. That was all. Because Joey Turner was roughly the size of a bull gorilla, and 25 years of bare-knuckle boxing had left his face looking like a chopped steak that had healed badly. It had also left him with a cruel streak towards women, who shunned him for his looks and his violence. He had caught a glimpse of the little curvy red-head as she ran down the tunnel, and wanted to watch her dance in the gunfire.
     He looked at the steep entrance to the subway, wondering what was taking so long. Three cigarettes ago, he thought he had heard gunfire, but sometimes his ears worked funny, and he hadn't wanted to embarrass himself again by racing down the stairs. Leon was still giving him hell from the last time he had reacted badly, and that had been a year ago.
     He looked over towards Leon, sitting in the car, it's engine idling. He almost waved, but decided to keep his hands down.
     He thought he heard footsteps coming up.
     Turning to look, he cocked his head, listening intently.
     He strained. Little footsteps. Like someone in heels, slowly coming up the stairs.
     That wasn't possible, though. The guys would hurry up the stairs, and they would all run across to the car, and go on to join the boss downtown. These were cautious steps, and they sounded like...
     The curvy little redhead walked very slowly up the steps, staring wide-eyed at Joey. At first he was confused. Where were the guys? Had they sent her upstairs? Were they following behind her? They were supposed to kill her in the tunnel if she made it to the platform, leaving her body on the tracks to be ground by the train when it started again. Was it possible...
     Had she killed the guys?
     That confused Joey, and outraged him. No dame could get the drop on his buddies. It wasn't possible. She stayed still, watching him as he watched her, the two of them seemingly waiting for the other to react.
     Joey snarled, and reached his hand for his gat.
     In that instant, directly beside him, the Black Mask made his appearance from the darkness, swinging his pistol around to slam against Joeys head with enough force to kill an average man. Joey staggered to the right, blood spurting from the inch-long gash on his temple.
     The Black Mask turned his attention to the car across the way as it's headlamps came on. It roared loudly, gears grinding as the driver forced it out of rest, turning to flood them all with the deadly shine of it's oncoming lights. He took aim, firing into the driver, spraying the mans brains across the backseat, just as Rose screamed.
     Joey, no ordinary man, grasped the Mask in his ape-like hands, raising him high overhead to hurl him into the onrushing car.
     He threw the darkly clad warrior at the vehicle, bouncing him off of the roof and rolling into the street behind the deadly juggernaut as it plowed into Joey at top speed, crushing the killer under it's weight as it climbed up his body before pulling him beneath it's wheels, embedding itself into the building he had been standing against.
     Rose raced to the still body of the Black Mask, picking up his fallen .45 on the way.
     He was lying face down, his great coat fanned out about him. His hat lay to his right, and his left hand still clutched his remaining pistol.
     Kneeling beside him, she turned him over cautiously, unsure if he was breathing. She put her ear to the tiny holes in the mask, and could hear only the pounding of her own heart in her ears. She grasped him by the lapels of the coat, trying to drag him from the street to the safety of the sidewalk.
     It took tremendous effort to get him there, and he didn't stir at all. She knew he was dead. Killed while trying to save the city...and her.
     She felt the tears rise as she knelt beside him, running her hand across the smooth surface of his mask. She didn't even know who he was.
     From down the street, she could here a car coming. Hoping against hope that it would be a police cruiser on its rounds, she leapt to her feet, running into the thoroughfare, waving her arms. The car came to a stop, it's headlights illuminating the strange tableau; beautiful, crying woman waving her arms, car embedded into a building, a pool of crimson growing from the twisted body beneath it, it's interior splashed with gore.
She held her arm in front of her face, blinded by the bright lights. She heard the door open, and a friendly, concerned voice call out “Are you okay?”
     “No”, she choked out, “get a cop, please! My friend is injured!”
     More car doors opening, and the sound of several voices.
     “What friend?”
     Rose turned to point at the Black Mask, and a powerful arm snaked around her throat, choking the air from her.
     “Drop the gun, sweetheart, or I'll choke you where you stand.” The voice was hot and foul on her neck.
     “Good job, Wilkes”, with the same friendly tone.
     The dapper man stepped into the light, his head completely wrapped in red silk. He reached down, prying the pistol from her hand.
     He hefted it, his eyes never leaving her.
     “Is this what you used to kill my men, dear? Is this your injured friend?”
     He slapped her hard across the face.
     “Take her with us. I want to know how she survived, and what she knows. Tie her securely, and if she puts up a fight, you have my permission to pistol-whip her.”
     The thug holding her laughed into her hair.
     “Thanks, boss”, he chuckled.
     “Yes, I thought you might like that, Wilkes. Now, hurry up, we haven't all night.”
     The dapper man returned to the car, as his cohort pushed Rose to the ground, expertly hogtying her as if she were a calf at a rodeo. He lifted her up, tossing her over his shoulder, carrying her to the car.
     Rose Saint Peirce looked at the carnage they were leaving behind. The crashed car, the pool of blood, the body of...
     She gasped.
     The body of the Black Mask was gone!

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