Harris took his time walking down the long hallway to the Professor's “special” chamber. He knew the old man would take a few moments to prepare himself for the work he would perform on the girl, and so he believed he might take a moment to have a cigarette before continuing to the room. He pulled his mask up, uncovering his mouth and nose, with little worry of being recognized by his subordinates. They would be busying themselves in the observation theater, preparing to record for posterity the Professor's continued anatomy experiments. He leaned against a small table, lighting his cigarette and exhaling the smoke into the air, watching it dance and dissipate in the low light.
To his right, a mere six feet away, the door to the service elevator gave its familiar ding as the doors slid automatically open. Harris hurriedly pulled his mask down, exhaling the last drag through the fine weave of silk and coughing lightly as it blew up into his eyes.
“Damn you, Wilkes”, he muttered, walking to the door of the elevator to greet his powerful, but tiresomely cruel, lieutenant. When he got to the door, and looked into the brightly lit box, there was no one there. He stepped in for a moment, perplexed that Wilkes would send the box up without riding along with it. The doors began to close and he stepped out quickly before they could shut completely.
But they didn't shut.
At the last moment, they hung for a brief second, as if meeting some resistance, and then they opened again.
Harris' brow furrowed beneath the mask, his dark blue eyes squinting into the elevator box as the doors opened fully, stood for a moment, and then closed again. The elevator began its descent to the lobby without any further oddity.
Harris felt a chill go up his spine, and he shivered physically for a moment, taking a step back as if a ghost had just walked over his grave. Sweat popped along forehead and his upper lip, enough to seep through his mask and make him wish to tear it from his face, so as to mop his brow. He was alone in the hallway, but he felt as if he were being observed by an angry, hateful spirit. He had never in his life felt this way. He turned his back with some trepidation, hurrying along the hallway, nearly bursting through the door to the Chamber.
The door burst open, and Rose nearly shrieked as the man in the red mask rushed into the room. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, looking behind him as if expecting the door to open and the devil himself to chase him. The door, however, remained closed, and she saw him visibly straighten, as if calming himself. He turned his gaze on her.
“Guilty conscience chasing you?”, she asked.
He grunted before replying.
“Unlikely, my dear. I hope you're comfortable..
He raised a syringe filled with clear liquid.
“You can talk now, tell me how you killed my men, and I could give you a bit of this, to ease your suffering.” He tapped the syringe lightly.
Rose pulled against her bonds.
“I didn't kill your men.”
Harris harrumphed a bit of derisive laughter before shaking his head.
“Now, now. That will never do. You were alone in the tunnels, yet you somehow killed seven of my men. You must be a remarkable shot to have taken them all down so easily with this.” He laid the offending .45 on the table of instruments.
Rose looked at the weapon, mere inches out of her reach, and tears welled in her eyes thinking of the Black Mask, that daring adventurer who had tried so desperately to save her. The resignation came to her that he had failed.
She shook her head, blinking the tears away.
“Is that remorse, dear?”, Harris queried, amused, and a bit excited by her tears. This was the moment he enjoyed most, when they began to cry, recognizing there was no way out. He smiled now, the fear that had flooded through him in the hallway forgotten.
Rose grimaced, whispering her anger at him.
“I didn't kill your men, but I wish by God I had.”
Harris mocked horror at her words, theatrically throwing his hand up to his brow.
“If you didn't kill them, than who was it, my dear? Who would have the power, the skill, to outwit and outgun seven of the most ruthless men this city has ever seen? Eh? Did you sneak up behind them? Or, more likely, did you demonstrate your feminine wiles?”
He reached out, tearing at her dress.
“If it wasn't you, than who could have done it?”
Rose could not pull away as her jacket was torn open, her blouse ripping down the center, but she could look away, staring past the devil who was obviously enjoying her torment, discounting his presence as he groped at her.
Staring past him...
...At the door...
...As it opened, and closed, silently, all by itself.
She turned her gaze on Harris, filled with every bit of the hatred she felt in that moment, and spit the words at him.
“The Black Mask!”
Harris reached back his hand to grab at her undergarments, to tear them violently from her, and found that he couldn't move his arm, so tightly was his wrist crushed in the gloved hand of the powerful vigilante. Rose could hear the bones crunching in his wrist as the Black Mask swung him around, pouring incredible strength into a blow to the face that caused dark red blood to explode through the crimson of the red mask. Harris legs buckled, and he slumped to the ground, blood flowing freely from his wounds.
“You're alive” was all Rose could whisper as her savior reached for the buckles that restrained her wrist. She was in awe, and the tears began to form anew.
“There's no time for that. Quickly, unbuckle yourself.”
He had released one hand, and she quickly began fumbling with the other as he reached down to take up the pistol that had been taken from him. In one single deft move, he charged the slide, aimed up into the theater where the evil observers had been preparing their cameras to film her demise, and fired off two rounds, punching bullets through glass and into two of the three monsters. The third ducked out of the way, scrambling to escape and warn his dark master.
“Professor!”, screamed the thug, as if his master could save him from the terrible dark thing that had appeared from nowhere, blazing death into his compatriots.
Hearing the terrible ruckus from the operating theater, The Professor snatched up the case containing the two cylinders and efficiently made his way to a hidden passage in his study that led to a private elevator. He didn't know what had happened, but it was obvious that something had gone horribly wrong this night. His plans had not yet crumbled, but there was now a force that was opposing him. He nearly laughed with glee at the thought of having an actual, worthy opponent to pit his vast mind against, but his mirth was short-lived as he pulled three books from the shelf, and pulled a lever hidden behind them.
Shaking his head, he entered the passage that would lead to his escape.
Rose had finished the last restraint on her ankle and leapt from the terrible chair, clutching the shreds of her clothing around her. At her feet was Harris, who stirred slightly, opening his eyes, and reaching a clawed hand out to grasp her. With all the force she could muster, she kicked him in the stomach, and he collapsed once more in a heap.
The third crook, realizing there was no escape, raised both of his hands over his head, and slowly began to rise.
The Black Mask held his aim, tracking the thug as he stood, his pistol never wavering.
Rose stepped forward, anger in her voice.
“Take off your mask”, she commanded, and the man, hesitating, reached for the dark cloth that covered his face.
As he pulled it off, Rose gasped.
It was the face of Charles Barton, the son of the Police Commissioner. She had met him twice before he had been sent off to University to study criminology. He was a strapping young man, considered quite eligible among the city's debutante's, and bound for glory on his own genius and his fathers coat-tails.
Now, though, he stared in horror at the man in black. The man who had killed his friends, who had likely destroyed his life, who was ready, at the slightest provocation, to take that life without hesitation.
“Why, Charles? Why would you do this?”, Rose stammered, still shocked by the revelation.
Charles shook his head.
“You couldn't understand his genius. His grand scheme is so powerful, no one can stop him.”
Rose stepped forward, looking up into the beautiful but terrified face of the young man. The look of fear was replaced by one of adulation as he continued.
“He can take over the whole city, even the country now, and it will be ruled by a mind so vast, so brilliant, that anyone who tries to stand in his way, will be destroyed instantly. He'll lead without the worries our current leaders have, needing to dispel fear and cajoling the masses with promises. No, the Professor will lead by showing those of lesser intelligence that it's their place to be afraid. That they were all meant to serve those of us with the minds to lead. In time, the world will realize that only through unemotional intellect will we all prosper. Only through subservience to the higher power of cold intellect will the world find peace. Soon, we'll rule...”
The bullet punctured through his throat, blasting the words in a spray of gore across the window he stood behind.
The Black Mask spun,crouching, as he fired three times into Harris. The first tore the pistol that had killed the fervent youth from his hand, the second ripped into his face, spraying crimson through the fine weave of his silk mask, and the third followed so closely that it merely made a ripple in the spray as it exited the back of his head.
Once more, the Black Mask hung his head, once more he sighed. There was still no answer to who was behind the terrible events of this night.
Rose felt the weight he carried, and she rested her hand lightly on his shoulder, feeling the powerful cords beneath her fingers, like springs ready to uncoil. She felt him slowly stand, but was reluctant to take her hand from him.
He turned to her, and once more she saw her reflection in the armor of his mask.
She didn't even think about it as she threw herself into his arms, holding him tightly, feeling his arm wrap slowly around her back. The tears swept down her face as she embraced him.
“You came for me. I thought you had been killed, and...” The words wouldn't come, her throat was constricted by her emotions, by the horrors she had seen this night.
“Hush”, he whispered. “There's still much to do before daylight.”
She nodded, wiping her tears away, looking down at herself, her torn clothes, the blood pooling around her shoes. She looked up into his mask.
And down the hall, in the study, the first bomb exploded.