They Framed the Wrong Masked Man
The Black Skull is a myth, an urban legend to the New York underworld. A masked killer who can appear from shadows, he leaves only bodies and blood as evidence of his passing. They say he cannot be killed, cannot be stopped, and that no-one who has ever seen him has lived to tell of it.
They also say he doesn’t exist.
Gideon Slade was one of New York’s trust fund elite until the crash of 1929. Disinherited and thrown onto the streets by his industrialist father, he ekes out a living writing for pulp magazines. They say that he’s a drunk, a womanizer, and that he threw his life away chasing after old secrets that should remain hidden.
They think he’s the perfect patsy.
When dirty cops frame Gideon Slade for the murder of one of their own, they have no idea that Gideon has secrets of his own, and that the Black Skull is all too real. They have no idea that they are about to unleash a nightmare of fire, violence, and blood.
In the classic tradition of the 1930s masked pulp heroes, the Black Skull prowls the dark underworld. In a city corrupted to its core, where Justice is found at the barrel of a gun, the Black Skull battles against predators the law can’t–or won’t–touch.
Once upon a time, heroes had to wear masks.
March 3, 1932
New York Criminal Courts
After the first gunshot in the car, he couldn’t hear the others.
Deafened, New York District Attorney Matthew Bowman flinched with each muzzle blast that slapped at him in the confined passenger seat of the Duesenberg Limousine. He felt the bullets tearing into his secretary, jerking her body with each impact. She collapsed against him and he felt her wet blood soaking into his shirt.
The gunfire stopped as quickly as it had begun. Bowman looked down into the empty eyes of Alice Wentworth, her mouth frozen in the scream he never heard. Grayham, his driver, was slumped in the front seat, blood streaming from his ears and from the flap of skin torn away from his scalp where the first bullets in the murderous fusillade had entered.
Bowman saw the killers ringed around the limousine, immobile. He moved slowly, his mind still trying to process the attack. Only able to hear ringing in his ears, the world felt…wrong. The attack had come so quickly, with so much violence that he raised his hand to his eyes to study it for any evidence that the attack had happened. The hand was covered in Alice’s blood, made black in the streetlight’s glow.
They had left the New York Criminal Courts Building, working far later than usual on the growing list of indictments for corruption in New York’s city government, and he and his team were exhausted. Though his security detail, Officers Prentice and Grayham expressed concerned about his safety, as usual, Bowman discounted their fears as he helped Alice into the limousine. As a District Attorney, he always faced threats and he thought the danger was no worse than what he faced every day since he had joined the prosecutor’s office.
Alice shyly smiled at him and toyed with an auburn lock of hair. She glanced up and bit her lower lip, promising more smiles to come later that night. Bowman smiled back. He sat beside her, feeling the warmth of her hip and entwining his fingers with hers. Until he had heard Prentice call out, he had not known that there was anything wrong.
At Prentice’s shout, Bowman looked up. Seeing a squad of four police officers approaching he relaxed.
“Evening sir,” one of the officers had called out, and tipped his hat to Prentice and Bowman. When Prentice did the same, another officer whipped back his topcoat and one-handed a sawed-off shotgun to Prentice’s head. Bowman saw the thin-lipped police officer smile, and then pull the trigger, spraying blood out the back of Prentice’s skull onto the street.
The remaining killers were upon them in a moment. Two of them methodically shoved their revolvers into the limousine and slaughtered Grayham. They then turned their guns on Alice.
The limousine door flew open and rough hands dragged him out of the car and threw him to the street beside Prentice’s bullet-riddled body. Stabs of pain tore through his arms as the killers twisted his arms in their sockets to handcuff his wrists behind his back. The handcuffs bit deep, sending fresh sparks of pain through his arms. The same rough hands that threw him to the street now dug under his arms to jerk him to his feet.
He looked at the killers gathered around him. The streetlights masked their faces in dark shadows; Bowman would never be able to identify them. One of the killers came up close to him to grab at Bowman’s hair. He smiled as he twisted Bowman’s head sideways until Bowman cried out. Bowman saw the man’s thin lips twist around words, but his deafness rendered Prentice’s killer mute. Then a black canvas hood covered his head, and Bowman saw and heard nothing more.
* * *
NYPD veteran Alvin Tapley watched as his partners started to half-march, half drag the D.A. towards the waiting green and black police cruiser. He broke open the sawed off double-barrel shotgun he held and replaced the two shells with fresh buckshot. Snapping the breech closed, Tapley looked up at the letters carved on the courthouse doors – “Justice is the firm and continuous desire to render every man his due” and he snorted. D.A. Bowman was going to get his due all right. But unlike his secretary and bodyguards, he would never be found.
The press would have a field day screaming about the missing official.
“Should have taken the hints Bowman,” Tapley muttered to himself as he backed towards the cruiser. The shots would bring people soon enough. Even in this obscene hour, the granite battlements of the Manhattan Criminal Courts were not fully deserted and Tapley wanted to be out of here before his team was spotted.
Bowman struggled against being shoved into the police cruiser, thrashing from side to side and making Calhoun and Lewis stumble and fight to keep him under control. Seeing the struggle, Tapley reached between Calhoun and Lewis. He slammed Bowman’s head into the cruiser’s door frame. Their victim’s hooded head rebounded off the steel with a solid thunk, and Bowman went limp in the two assassin’s hands.
“We don’t have time for this.” Tapley grimaced and took another look around at the courthouse before running over to the driver’s side of the car. The he stopped, listening.
He heard the motorcycle engine approaching fast, being pushed so hard its screams echoed off the courthouse battlements. “We got company!” Tapley shouted.
Hurtling towards the killers and their kidnap victim, a black-clad figure skidded a motorcycle to a stop in the middle of the street. He whipped the engine to a screaming pitch and squealed the tires in a charge towards Tapley and his men. The rear tire smoked, and then bit deep into the asphalt, rocketing the bike forwards.
“Waste him!” Tapley shouted, but the others were already shooting. The shotgun bucked in his hands as he fired both barrels of buckshot at the rider. The night erupted in gunfire again and again his partners squeezed triggers on their service revolvers. In reply, the black-clad rider gunned his throttle, forcing the motorcycle’s front wheel up and using the bike as a shield against the killers’ desperate gunfire.
Tapley ducked down behind the cruiser and cracked his shotgun to reload the barrels. He saw Calhoun rack the bolt on his chopper while he used the green and black police cruiser’s door as a shield. Lewis tipped the spent brass out of his piece onto the asphalt and fumbled in his pockets for fresh slugs.
The rider dropped the throttle on the motorcycle, bringing its front wheel to the pavement with a bang as the rider kicked the bike into a sideways skid. Tapley watched the rider one-hand a pistol at them. Flame spat from the pistol’s muzzle as the bike skidded past and Calhoun jerked and shuddered as multiple red holes tore open in his chest.
Tapley dared not look away from the rider as the skid took him past the cruiser. He watched the pistol tracking on him, and he dived away just as the rider unleashed a burst on the car. Gunfire hammered on sheet metal and shattered glass. Hobbs, the driver, cried out as the slugs tore through the steel car door and into his body. Then one slug caught him in the temple and snapped his head around, killing him instantly.
Tapley rolled to thrust the shotgun at the rider but froze just as he was about to squeeze the trigger. More demon than man, the rider dismounted. Clad completely in black, the rider stood silhouetted in streetlight. Even shrouded in darkness, underneath the hat Tapley saw nothing but a glinting steel mask in the shape of a Black Skull.
Ice water flooded his veins. Tapley had heard the rumors of a killer prowling the city who looked like the Grim Reaper himself. These were no rumors, and Death stood in the street in front of him.
The Black Skull twisted his wrist, sending a foot of shining steel blade springing out from a hidden forearm knife holster. Tapley’s eyes widened at the blade glinting in the yellow glow of the streetlights. To Tapley’s way of thinking, you only brought a knife to a gun fight for one reason. You liked killing people up close and personal, and you didn’t care how many bullets you had to wade through to get them. Tapley moved, racing for the other side of the cruiser as slugs from the demon’s gun screamed and spattered all around him.
“Nothing can fire that fast!” Lewis shouted.
“Machine-pistol! Grab the chopper!” Tapley blindly stuck the shotgun over the cruiser’s trunk and fired both barrels. The recoil tore the shotgun from his fingers and a spike of red-hot pain tore through his trigger finger. He scrabbled for the shotgun with his left hand and chanced a look at his shooting hand. Chunks of flesh hung down where the recoil had torn the shotgun’s trigger guard across the trigger finger. Useless now.
Lewis had the Tommy Gun up and spraying the street across the cruiser’s roof, the thunder of .45 caliber shells deafening the dirty cops. Tapley reloaded his shotgun with his last set of buckshot. After these, it was down to his revolver. If he lived that long.
He heard slugs on sheet metal and glass shattering above him. The Tommy Gun’s thunder had stopped. Tapley looked up and saw Lewis’ eyes wide open, his mouth gasping for breath as his fingers tried to staunch the flow of black blood from his throat.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.” Tapley transferred the shotgun to his left hand and reached into the cruiser. He grabbed hold of Bowman’s shirt collar to drag him out onto the street. Bowman started to struggle, then stiffened as Tapley pressed the shotgun to the back of his head. Tapley slowly rose, lifting Bowman up as his human shield.
The sound of submachine gun fire startled Tapley. The Black Skull stood beside him, drawing his blade out of Lewis’ chest as Lewis’ lifeless hands dropped the submachine gun to the pavement. The Black Skull lifted his gun at Tapley.
“That’s enough!” Tapley shouted.
The Black Skull turned to look at the police veteran. Tapley’s mind called images of a snake studying a mouse before deciding to strike.
“I…I said that’s enough. I’ve heard stories of you. Never believed them. Don’t matter.” Tapley held Bowman tight, digging the shotgun into Bowman’s scalp. “The Black Skull. Listen Skull, I got the D.A. here and I’m going to blow his head all over the pavement if you don’t get the fuck out of here. You hear me?” Tapley shouted, and then licked the spittle off his lips.
The Black Skull shook his head.
“Don’t you get it? I’ll fucking kill him! Put the gun down and get the fuck out of here!”
* * *
Bowman heard the gunfire thunder, and fell backwards, his kidnapper holding him in a deadly embrace. He landed on top of the kidnapper and rolled to the pavement.
The kidnapper wasn’t moving.
Bowman felt gloved hands forcing his fingers open and shoving a piece of metal into the palm of his right hand. He worked his fingers around it until he felt the familiar shape of a key. He worked it into the handcuffs. Once they clattered to the asphalt, he stood and tore off the black canvas hood the kidnappers had forced on him.
The thin-lipped kidnapper lay on the pavement beside him, the top of his head torn off by slugs that had shot into his eye and forehead. Bowman stood and looked around at the carnage, the bullet riddled vehicles and the dead bodies littering the street, but he saw nothing of his rescuer. He heard only the sound of a motorcycle engine receding deeper into the city.
Bowman nodded grimly. Once the mourning was done, he would find out all he could about the man the kidnappers called the Black Skull.
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Accused: A Black Skull Short Thriller
Copyright © 2013 Motion Digital Media Group Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
The Black Skull and associated characters are created by RJ Andron