Buckskin Blake: The Missing Detective
Prelude: November 1938
The two masked men were running. This early winter morning chill cut to the bone and each labored breath would billow out behind them. One mans red outfit was in tatters and his face showed bruises and cuts. Every so often he would stumble and his companion in a dyed blue buckskin leather outfit would help him up. Each time the man in buckskin would glance into the darkness behind them. He could hear the dogs baying and he wondered how far behind their pursuers were. He cursed under his breath, wishing he had handled this in about a dozen different ways.
"Its not much further to where I left my coupe," he said.
The battered masked man just waved a response that basically said, "well, what are you waiting for?" They started off once more. And their pursuers drew closer.
A few days earlier:
Like many of the pulp detective stories he read in his youth, this trouble began with a corpse and a woman. At least thats how Robert Blake, aka Buckskin, got involved. He had been a mystery man for only a short while and so far most of his cases were as a direct result of his helping the city kids, working to inspire them to a life beyond gangs and crime. Early this chilly October morning, the police had found a body. A child hood chum on the force who knew Bob liked unusual crimes and valued his insights tipped him off. So Robert Blake arrived at the scene about the same time as the other officers.
The body had been found on the embankment by a bridge. Bob chatted casually with the officers as he made his way over to it. He glanced down and then turned away. It had been a brutal murder, the throat was completely torn out.
"Know him," asked a voice behind him.
Bob turned around and found himself facing a young cop, his friend on the force.
"Afraid not Danny. He not only does not match any of the several descriptions we have of Buckskin, our resident masked man, he does not match any Ive ever heard of. For a mystery man, he is the most generic fellow I have ever laid eyes on."
"Well," said Danny, "I had pretty much ruled out Buckskin."
He was smiling when he said this and Bob knew Danny well enough to know he suspected Buckskins true identity. But neither man was willing to really broach the subject. Mystery men were not supported by the police as a general rule. Danny was willing to turn a blind eye towards his friends secret life as long as Bob did not cross the line.
The two friends stood behind the officers investigating the body.
Bob said, "no animal totems or insignia. While there are some fellows running around in evening wear and masks, this guy is not even that fancy. Just an irregular pullover monotone shirt and slacks with a mask to match. A very utilitarian outfit. However, judging from the brutality of the beating on his face and damage to his throat, Id say our rather bland fellow aroused some strong emotions in someone."
The officer examining the body slowly stood up and stretched himself.
"Most brutal animal attack Ive ever come across," he said.
"I dont think so, detective," said Bob. "While the throat does seem badly mangled, there are no similar injuries anywhere else. The bruises on his face appear to be more along the lines of a beating. Unless you are aware of an animal that hits with fists instead of claw, you are looking for a strong and incredibly vicious man. One who has a very nasty way of killing his victim. A saw would do less damage than what was used on this mans neck. Nor was the man killed here."
Surprise registered on all of the attendant cops except for Danny. He only smiled. He had already reached the same conclusion himself and spoke.
"Despite the fact some officers found an abandoned roadster up the street a bit, there are several signs that suggest that. For a man who had been in a fight for his life, there is little dirt or grass stains on his clothes. Nor is there a trace of all the blood hed have lost during this fight."
"It rained last night," said another officer. "Is it not possible the blood drained away?"
"No," interceded Bob. "Notice his body is only wet where it laid on the ground. He was brought here after the rain. Besides there is plenty of dried blood on his person. No, this man was brought here for us to find."
He turned to Danny.
"You said something about a roadster?"
Even as they made their way towards the automobile parked several yards away, the officer searching it began running back towards them waving something in the air and smiling triumphantly.
"I found a wallet! Theres some money, a few of his business cards and a picture of him and a dame in it. The mans name is John Struthers and he hails from Harrisburg. "
The officers milled around. Danny got a hold of the photo and looked at it. Sure enough, it seemed to look an awfully lot like the dead man on a much happier day. The woman was quite attractive. He turned it over but was disappointed in that no name was on the back. He turned to show it to Bob but Bob seemed to have gotten disinterested and was walking back and forth alongside the edge of the road.
Presently Bob walked back to the group.
"Interesting case you got here. Ive got a busy day at school today and a dinner-date with a wonderful woman tonight. Give me a call tomorrow if something turns up."
"Think Buckskin will get involved on this," asked Danny.
"Definitely looks like something hed be interested in. Maybe youll be lucky and he wont hear about it and then you boys can get all the credit."
As Bob walked away one of the older officers grumbled, "Buckskin is welcome to it. Ill be danged if I can make heads or tails of the thing."
Saturday morning found Robert Blake going over various evening and morning papers from the past 24 hours in his office downtown. The papers differed on how they wanted to treat the story. Many played up the mystery-man angle. Others focused on the grisly death and called it a "vampire murder." Bob laughed. None of them gave him any information he did not already have.
"I should have just spent the money and past two hours breakfasting with Jane for all the good this has done me. Ill have to make it up to her later.
An hour later as he was scoring tests, Danny called.
"We found the woman in the picture. Her name is Rebecca Dickson; shes his fiance and lives in Harrisburg. She identified the body as being Bob. "
As he hung up the phone, Bob Blake was already making plans.
When he was a kid growing up on the family farm, Bob often heard about the mystery men and their adventures from the tall tales his Grandfather would spin. He'd alternate with stories of his own younger days as an Indian Scout. His Grandfather claimed to have seen the famed Spring Heel Jack in person during the Great War. When Bob Blake was a teen, Thunder Jim Wade and the Phantom Detective seemed to make the news daily. And, like many boys, he dreamed of the deeds he hoped to accomplish when he was grown. To that end, he would go on camps and hikes with his Grandfather who was glad to have a willing student.
College revealed in him a natural aptitude for the sciences. He began a name for himself in the halls of zoology and chemistry. Back home, somehow, the family farm flourished while people around him were losing their savings and homes. Despite the depression, life seemed optimistic for the young Robert Blake.
Then scandal struck. Bob could never figure out how or exactly what happened. Somehow, money his family had was gone. Payments could not be made. Before he knew what happened, most of the family fortune, lands and savings was gone. One evening his father went out to meet with some moneylenders. His body was found beaten and robbed a mile from the house. And, while Bob suspected a prominent businessman as being behind it all, he could never prove anything dishonest. Needing work, Bob became a teacher in the city, sending money home when he could.
Teaching city kids was tough though. They saw the easy life the gangsters had, the fame and power that notoriety brought. And, many of them were from impoverished families themselves. Taking jobs as look outs and bagmen were easier and more profitable than life as a newsboy or scrounging for coal. And, it brought a certain amount of respect. Bob realized another way had to be shown. What brains and initiative could bring. With masked crimefighters were popping up all over the place and he decided to take his cue from them.
He thought about the tales his grandfather told and all that he taught him and so his outfit was designed along those lines. Loose fitting and supple buckskin leather, dyed a faded blue gave him a visually memorable costume but one that was easy to move in and offering some protection as well. He eschewed the traditional domino mask for a cowl of the same material. And, slowly but surely, he became a positive role model for the kids as a masked man as well as a teacher.
Harrisburg was about an hours drive from Superior City heading towards the Adirondack mountains. That night with costume on underneath a coat, he drove to the fiances place.
Harrisburg was a small town and Rebecca Dicksons family home was on the outskirts. The town was dark and quiet by the time he found Rebeccas home. He slipped his mask into place, discarded his coat and walked towards the house. All the lights were out and a year old automobile was sitting in the drive. Buckskin showed more interest in the auto than he did the house and he went directly to it. A flashlight came on in his hands and he walked around the auto paying great attention to the exterior of the auto. Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, he reached in a pouch on his belt where he kept some burglary tools he originally brought in case he had to break and enter the house. He barely had started when he heard the click of the hammer brought back on a pistol.
"I would point my hands towards heaven if I were you," said a feminine voice.
A smile played across his face and he did as he was told. He was impressed. An expert tracker himself, he recognized the skill it took for someone to move so covertly. He slowly turned around.
The woman facing him was attractive. Amazingly so. Subtle curves in all the right places, long wavy chestnut hair. It didnt hurt that she had apparently been in bed as she was wearing only a nightgown and robe. The only ugliness about her was the seriousness about her face and the gun she had pointing at him.
"Rebecca Dickson, I presume," said Buckskin. If the fact that a masked man knew her name startled her, she gave no clue. In fact, the lack of response kind of alarmed him. Outwardly, he smiled. " I am Buckskin. I am investigating the death of your fiance."
"Then I guess you should come in," she stated matter-of-factly. She lowered her gun and turned and walked inside the house not looking back once to see if he followed.
"Extraordinary woman," he thought.
Over coffee, he found out little more than what the police did. No, she did not know her fiance was a masked man, criminal or vigilante. He seemed to be of independent means although he lived frugally. He was a very private man with few close friends. At one time in the past he had been mixed up in some dubious endeavors but the last couple of years he had been a model citizen. She was a secretary at the bank he did business with and was impressed with his quiet dignity. Buckskin knew without asking that it was she that instigated the relationship.
"There is one thing I didnt tell the police. Partly because I just didnt think about it. But, it seems significant now. Besides, if he indeed was a mystery man, whatever killed him could be more than the police could handle. Maybe this is something more for your sort to confront. He used to spend a lot of time at a hunting club up in the mountains."
She looked down in her coffee. " Im kind of ashamed to admit it, but he was spending so much time up there, I began to think there was another woman or maybe even a wife. So, I followed him. It was a very secluded place and modern looking. When he got there some other men came out greeted him. It appeared to be exactly what he said it was. There were even signs saying as much. I felt so small then. I never told him."
"Did you recognize the other men?"
"Never saw them before in my life. I didnt think about it then but that seems strange on the surface. But, if he ran around in mask, is it not possible he may have belonged to some gang or group? The hunting club would be perfect for a hideout."
Buckskin was taken aback. Partly because the thought had not occurred to him. If he was a criminal, it was entirely possible that he was part of a group of others. If he was a bonafide mystery-man, he might have partners. Many of them did have sidekicks of sorts. He was also bothered by the woman next to him. She looked at him with such intensity and she was so beautiful. The desire he felt, it was almost smothering. He stood up, turned his back to her and walked over to the fireplace. Fighting for control, he thought about this case, what he knew, and, more importantly, what he suspected. Turning back around with calm resolve, he announced, "I think it is imperative we go to this hunting club immediately."
It was early morning with the sun rising when she announced they were within a mile of the club. He directed her to a spot to pull over and theyd walk the rest of the way. "It never hurts to be a little extra cautious," he warned.
They had gotten only a few feet from the car when he decided he needed some gear he stored in the trunk back at the house. She handed him the keys and he went back to the car. As he pulled some extra ammo for his colt, he took the opportunity to glance at the tire tracks in the soft dirt. As he suspected back at the house when he looked over the car, the tracks matched the ones he spotted at site where the body was disposed. And the car did show signs of some slight mud splashing. He frowned. None of this was conclusive, though. No telling how many cars would have similar tire tracks. Or have driven through mud recently. No, nothing that would stand up in court. However, he had to be extremely careful. The evidence seemed very contradictory which led him to only one conclusion: the more he progressed through this case, the closer to death he approached. He closed the trunk door and, smiling, he waved the extra pouches with the ammo. He attached them to his belt as he walked back.
After about a mile, they left the main road and walked down a dirt road that ended at a stone wall with a gate where a private drive began.
"This is as far as I could drive when I followed John out here. I parked my car behind the curve and then with my binoculars I could easily see the house."
Buckskin tested the gate and it swung open. He frowned and drew his gun. The house was in the middle of a clearing. There was no way to approach it with cover. There were no signs of there being anyone else around but he would hate to be wrong.
"Stay here," he said .
Then he left Rebecca standing there. Only he did not go through the gate but into the woods outside of the wall. An hour later, Rebecca was thoroughly bored and was about to forget about his orders, when Buckskin came walking back out of the woods.
"As far as I can tell, nobodys home. Lets go."
The walk from the gate to the front door was one of the most nerve racking walks Buckskin had ever taken. At any minute, he expected an attack from unseen assailants. However, he saw nor heard anything out of the ordinary. Once they gained the porch, it was apparent that he would not need his burglary tools here either.
The front door was not only unlocked, but had all the appearances of being blasted off its hinges. Amazed, the strange duo entered. The inside was not in much better shape.
"Wow," said Rebecca. "What came through here?"
"It appears to have been a battle royale," he replied as he picked up one of many spent cartridges from the floor. Even a casual search revealed this retreat was more than a hunting club. A quick search revealed a main room, a library, a couple of well equipped labs, an armory, and some rooms you would expect: a kitchen, dining room, and several rooms that served as living quarters. Not a single one was spared the destruction.
The main room was equipped as a command center. A large table and several chairs were tossed about. A special cabinet that contained maps had been overturned , and the maps scattered about. Along one wall was a row of file cabinets. The drawers laid all about emptied of their contents. He found a few reference cards that escaped the destruction. It seems these files contained information on criminals and heroes. He went to the fireplace and shifted through the ashes. He found an almost completely destroyed photo of an obscure hero. The only fact he could immediately recall was the hero had only been heard of for a month or two before disappearing.
In the library, there were bookshelves full of books on almost every subject conceivable: cryptography, medicine, criminology, atlases, science tomes, etc. For someone in Buckskins line of work, it invoked no small amount of envy. Almost every book he had in his own private library was here, plus many more. Needless to say, the floor was carpeted with them. All the shelves that were not built-in had been brought crashing down. Several times as he walked across the room, he lost his footing on a shifting book.
They moved on to the personal quarters. Searching the first room was revealing nothing about the occupant.
"This is a madhouse," said Rebecca. "Are you finding anything worthwhile? Whose place is this?"
"Thats the most amazing part of this. This destruction should yield something on the attackers and defenders. Yet other than some inferences on the personal ability of some of the people, I find nothing. A library full of books and not a single one inscribed."
"Well judging from the books, a few of the defenders are smart individuals. And from the weights in the gym, at least one person is very strong. The completeness of this whole setup and the general lack of personal information signifies a very meticulous and careful man."
"Do you think John was here, that this was where... where he was...killed?"
" I honestly dont know. He was badly beaten and he looked like he fought all out against..."
"I dont know what! I just dont know who or what it is Im hunting."
He heard the despair in his own voice and he sat down on the bed. When was the last time he slept, he thought. The lack of useful information was maddening. Suddenly he was aware that Rebecca was sitting next to him. He looked into her intense eyes.
Her lips found his.
Later, in the third bedroom, they had luck. Until then the most useful thing in any of the rooms were spare clothes that gave Buckskin some information on the general build of the people whose place this was.
The third room was apparently Johns. Beneath the mattress was found a picture of Rebecca and a half written letter to her. Rebecca took the letter, sat down in the chair by the desk, her face set in that dead look.
"What is she feeling," thought Buckskin. "Ive never seen anyone who could keep such control. Is she feeling guilty over what just happened? Man, I wish I never heard of this case."
Buckskin began searching the closet, again coming across some spare changes of clothes. He began checking the pockets and labels for some clues about their owner.
"He has property in Canada," said Rebecca
"He had just been notified that he had inherited an estate up in Canada. Not too far away, he was inviting me to come up and stay with him in a few weeks. He drew a map. Do you think its relevant?"
"Cannot see how but its a good lead. Lets keep searching."
He knew he was lying when he said it. He knew Canada would be the next stop.
The other quarters were pretty much uninteresting. The only useful thing he came across was one room was obviously of the leader. The room was a little larger, contained some books on poisons that he had been studying. The closet revealed more clothing than in the others leading Buckskin to believe the hunting club was this guys permanent residence.
"His costume was a little more flamboyant as well," he thought. " A bright red instead of the somber blue and grays that John was found in. But the mans spartan tastes reveal nothing of his name or habits. Who was this man?"
"It appears John was a lieutenant or an assistant," he told Rebecca. She didnt look too surprised.
"I figured that much out when we got here. This whole thing is way beyond him. I think he got involved in something too deep for him." She gave a sad little smile.
"He was a good man. Brave, competent, and a courteous soul. Loyal to a fault and would have fought to the end. But this?" She spun and gestured in the air encompassing all of that they had seen. "This is far too much for someone as simple as he was. A part of it? Yes. I see his stamp everywhere. But, he would not be the headman."
She walked out of the room. Buckskin sat there lost in his thoughts. He could not envision what they knew about John and Rebecca and how they fit together. Did John date her because of the sense of danger he got when he was with her, the same thing that drew the drab but competent man into the realm of mystery-men? But what drew Rebecca to John? That she could control him? He waved the line of thought as useless speculation and followed her out of the room.
The armory was the last room to be searched and it had been picked clean. He found empty gun racks and spent shells but nothing that could anyway be considered useful. He went over to a cabinet with broken glass doors. At one time it held some old weapons judging from broken piece of bayonet he found lying in it. He whistled and looked at the exterior right side and then looked back into the space. Rebecca looked on, perplexed.
Buckskin tapped on the interior back a couple of times and grinned. He then began to run his fingers up and down on the interior walls. Not finding what he wanted there, he pulled out the top drawer and reached into the space it yielded. Apparently he found what he was looking for. He smiled as the interior back slid down to reveal a secret cache in the cabinet.
"What...how did you...?"
"Elementary, my dear," grinned Buckskin. "It was kind of obvious given the depth of the cabinet. Yet it had a very shallow space and drawers. It seems our mysterious attackers missed something after all. Now, what kind of guns are these?"
He pulled out one of three identical guns. Larger than an automatic and equipped for ammo drum attachments, yet could fit in a modified holster (there were two of those and some ammo drums in the cabinet as well). The gun had been silver plated, a gift perhaps. He noticed a small card laying with the ammo. A simple white card with a foil trim, it read in elegant letters: To The Masked Marvel; Thank you. J. Wade.
"A superfirer," he whispered. He grabbed the other guns, holsters and ammo.
"I guess were done here."
Buckskin hated to admit it, but for one of the few times in his life, he was lost. Just as he was about to stop to get his bearings, three men came crashing out of the darkness in front of him. They stopped and muttered something in german and brought up their guns. As fast as they reacted, it was slow motion next to Buckskin and the Masked Marvel behind him. Even as Buckskin tackled one of the opponents, he heard the low moan of the special gun of the Masked Marvel. Two quick punches and his man was out. Buckskin then looked up to see how the other two were. He frowned at the sight of their lifeless bodies, their faces with looks of utter surprise. Marvel stood there holding the superfirer.
"There werent many options, and I dont plan on dying out here. The others will have heard the gunfire, though and be heading this way. Lets move."
"I think the autos this way," was all Buckskin said.
The trip to John Struthers inherited property was slow by automobile and Robert Blake knew he could have gotten there faster by plane. However, he wanted time to review what he knew. Rebecca was fast asleep at her home thanks to a sedative that he had slipped in her drink. Without her presence, he hoped he could think with a little bit of a clearer head. He smiled at the thought of the kiss they shared. Besides he couldnt afford a plane, he thought in disgust.
He reached a small town that the map showed to be about a half-hours drive outside the property. It was morning and exhaustion was catching up to him so he parked outside a small motel. Sleeping the next few hours seemed like a good plan.
The man at the front desk looked exactly like a middle-aged man who lived his entire life in a small town. He had a bored look about him. Even a stranger checking early in the morning was barely enough to warrant him looking up or dumping the ash from his cheap cigar.
Bob pulled out a copy of the map and showed it to the man.
"What do you know about this land up here? I just had to get away from the city and could use a quiet secluded spot to do some camping. Is it any good for hunting and fishing?"
The man kind of let out a defeated humph. It seemed he was going to actually have to look up for a change. He ran a dirty finger along the road, trying to picture the location in his mind.
"Seems to me Ive heard gunfire up that ways. Cant imagine at what, though. That part of the mountain is pretty steep. Wears a man out to carry a deer out of that section of woods. If ya want to be by yerself, probably cant beat it. But if ya really want to hunt and fish, ya usedta go here. Theres an old game trail right by that dirt road ya could take straight to the river."
He stabbed a finger up to the left, other side of the mountain.
"Cant do it anymore though. The dirt road leads to an old lumber mill that went bust back in the crash. Some outfit bought it out now."
"I guess it would be dangerous to camp with trees falling all about you"
The man looked over Bob, sizing him up with a highly critical eye. He humphed again and shook his head disapprovingly. Undoubtedly, the words "city-bred idiot" were running through his mind.
"They dont cut no trees. Dont really know what they do, certainly didnt hire nobody around here and the town could use the jobs. But, ya get too close, ya just liable to come back with your head blown off."
Tiring of the subject, he grabbed a room key off its hook.
"Kind of cold this time of the year. Yer gonna need more clothes than that if yer dead set on camping. Itd be the third door on the left."
He handed Bob his key.
"Thank you," said Bob with a smile. "And dont worry about me. I brought my long underwear."
The room was small and not the cleanest in the world. But it had a bed and a desk and chair. He propped the chair against the door to proof it against unwanted visitors and he fell asleep moments after lying down.
Late afternoon, found Bob awake and busy making preparations. He wanted to check on the design of the superfirers and he wondered if they were in working order. He soon realized that he lacked the proper tools for dismantling it and was unsure that he could put it back together afterwards anyway. So he checked his own weapon and ammo. He made sure that the pockets on his belt contained all the supplies he thought he could possibly need.
He sat at the desk lost in thought. He took out a sheet of paper and pen and drew a vertical line dividing the page in two. He then began to review the facts and clues that he discovered and wrote them down in one of two columns. One list was considerably shorter than others. Considering that was the list of the facts and clues he knew to be authentic would have dismayed most detectives. The long list was of the facts and clues that were manufactured just for him to find and lead him here. He smiled. He knew he would be entering a trap. With a little luck, the gang he was up against wouldnt know that he was aware of the fact. The only thing that worried him was the brutality in the way John Struthers was killed and Bob still had no clue to the killers identity.
At nightfall, Buckskin drove by the place indicated on the map, the place unsuitable to hunting. He had no doubts that was the way he was supposed to approach the old lumber mill. Investigate the phony inherited property and then work his way to the area adjacent labeled as abandoned buildings.
"If Im going to survive this night, Im going to have to change the rules. Lets see if I can find that game trail the clerk pointed out and I can approach them from the other side."
An hour later found Buckskin slowly making his way through the dark woods. Several times he lost the trail and had to backtrack. A flashlight would have helped immensely but it would have defeated his purpose. He judged he was only about a half mile from the mill when he was brought up short by a wire fence.
"A fence in the woods, how interesting," he thought. "Relatively new by the appearance and with barbwire running across the top. I guess they are serious about keeping hunters out. If they think its keeping me out though..."
With that, he began to climb the fence, not a difficult task. Once near the top, he took off his buckskin shirt and threw it over the wire. After that, it was a simple matter to hold the wire down as he climbed over. He frowned as he inspected the small tears and scratches in his shirt once done though.
After about a hundred feet, the woods ended. From where Buckskin crouched, he could get a good overview of the mill. He could see that there had been some new buildings added along the road that led up to the mill. There were lights on in several of these. He could also easily spot several guards walking the grounds. He was not too happy when he realized they wore military uniforms.
"This is more than an organized crime ring taking out mystery-men. This whole plot is a lot bigger than I thought."
Staying just in the woods, he began to work his way around. He was hoping to find some blind spot that would allow him to get closer. He had two objectives by this point. One, to find where they store their own files and the files they took from the Masked Marvels hideout. Two, to find where they store their ammunition and start a little fire.
Around the back of the buildings he found a huge cage. He only had a few moments to wonder what it was for when an alarm blasted. At first he was frightened he had given away his position somehow. All the soldiers began running in his general direction but they stopped at the cage. Soon all but a skeletal crew guarding the perimeter had gathered around it. At one of the buildings, a door was flung open and three men pushing a third came out. Buckskin instantly recognized the battered man: the Masked Marvel.
Marvel was very unassuming looking man. Around average height and build. Hair receding coupled with a high forehead, a nose too large for the rest of his face, and a slight overbite. The gathering parted, allowing Marvels three guards room to shove him into the cage.
A simple flex, and he broke his bonds. One guard who had not been quick enough to get out of the cage was laid out with one punch. The other two slammed the door. But, Marvel did not stop punching his victim. He continued hitting the man as the onlookers cheered and laughed at the hapless victim. When he stopped his fists were red and he flashed a grin daring any others to enter the cage with him.
The crowd parted again to let a man pass. With his attention on the cage, Buckskin failed to see where he had come from but he was not with the crowd originally. Of that Buckskin was sure. One does not forget a figure like this. He stood well over six feet tall, his hair in a crew cut, his gray uniform without any insignia whatsoever. However his most commanding feature was the metal jaw and jagged teeth where his mouth should be.
"Iron Jaw," thought Buckskin. "He actually exists? Hell."
The first thing Iron Jaw did was remove his shirt showing the most muscular body Buckskin had ever seen. And the most scarred. The story of him being caught in an explosion during the Great War must have been true.
When he entered the cage, the Masked Marvel tried to take advantage of the open door and charged. One blow from Iron Jaws fist sent him flying back. He lept back to his feet, the fastest anyone ever recovered from such a blow Buckskin had ever seen. He charged back at Iron Jaw, blocked the next blow and began to deliver some of his own.
The fight was the strangest one Buckskin had ever seen. He soon realized he was missing half the blows they were deliver some of his own.
The fight was the strangest one Buckskin had ever seen. He soon realized he was missing half the blows they were delivered with such speed. Both men seemed to be capable of delivering and receiving great amounts of punishment and soon both men were bleeding and moving a little slower. Iron Jaw was now favoring his left side, Buckskin guessed some broken ribs. However, Masked Marvel was not pressing his advantage. Buckskin guessed some of the blood on Marvels hands is probably his own now from busted knuckles.
The crowd began to yell out cheers and jeers. Money began to change hands as wagers were made.
"The cage is an arena. This is probably where John Struthers was killed before being hauled off dumped for the police to find. And to bring me here."
The realization that this was the same fate they plan on serving him when they caught him gave him chills.
"If I dont do something, Marvels history. Hes wearing down fast."
Buckskin shrunk back into the woods. With the crowd cheering, he could forego some of his caution. They wouldnt hear him. He worked his way around until he had could see the building that was doing duty as a garage. Several vehicles were parked by it. He pulled out the ammo drums he had taken from the Masked Marvels gun cabinet. He had noticed that two of the three drums had a strip of colored tape: one yellow and the other red. At the time he wondered about the significance and now he hoped he had guessed right. He took the one marked red and attached it to the superfirer. He offered a prayer that the gun still worked, took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
The loud roar of the gun surprised him. However, the truck exploding followed by several other vehicles as well as the garage surprised the soldiers more. Soldiers began to race everywhere.
He had hoped that the Masked Marvel would either be returned to the building he was brought from or just locked into the cage. However it seemed if Iron Jaw had other plans. Content to no longer play with his prey he lept at him and only Marvels own superb strength was able to prevent Iron Jaw from clasping on his throat. Buckskin began running towards the cage, a good hundred-yard dash. He laid in a cover ground fire of explosive shots from the superfirer, hoping the chaos would keep him from being noticed. The old wooden buildings were going up like kindling. Somewhere a generator went out and the only light on the compound was by the various fires.
Halfway to the cage, he was seen by Iron Jaw. Iron Jaw roared and delivered a crushing blow to the Masked Marvel who slumped to the bottom of the cage. Then with his bare-hands, he forced the locked cage door open and burst out of the cage.
"I dont have time to spar with this monster," he thought. He pulled the trigger.
Nothing. He had emptied the ammo cartridge. And Iron Jaw was upon him.
Fear and instinct took over. Buckskin aimed his blows and kicks to various pressure points and sensitive areas. Iron Jaw was so enraged all he sought was closing the hideous metal teeth on any part of Buckskins anatomy. Thankful for having more space to maneuver than in that cage, Buckskin used a judo throw to gain some space. Before Iron Jaw could get up, Buckskin drew his colt, fired and Iron Jaw dropped.
He turned and saw the Masked Marvel stumbling out of the cage.
"Can you run?"
Buckskin gestured the general direction and the beaten man began to run. Buckskin could hear the shouts of the soldiers approaching. He threw several small explosives he carried as he and Marvel made for the woods. Once there, he threw the superfirer and ammo cartridges to the Masked Marvel and then began to re-load his own gun. He and the Masked Marvel began firing again sending the soldiers seeking cover.
"How many of them are there?" Buckskin asked.
"At least 50. Maybe more. Theyre all armed. Theyll flank us soon."
"Anyone else to rescue?"
"No. I was the last one."
Between the sadness and pain in the Masked Marvels voice, Buckskin was glad he couldnt see him.
"Lets go then. We have a good dash ahead of us."
Buckskin had not seen the dogs, but it was apparent that the soldiers kept a small and vicious pack. Their howls echoed through the woods and pretty much covered any sounds the soldiers made. Which was how they had stumbled onto the last three. He was not happy with any of this.
"I carry the gun as a last resort, blast it," he thought. "I am a detective not a soldier. I didnt want to kill anybody. I never had to kill before. I never wanted to cross that line."
Once they reached the road, Buckskin could see where he parked his car and made for it. Precious seconds were spent getting it started. Buckskin dropped the keys twice and Marvel cursed at him. Finally the car came to life and bolted forward.
Just as the car began to pick up speed, the dogs raced out of the woods ahead of them followed by their monster of a master who was bellowing his rage.
"Impossible. I shot him point blank," Buckskin muttered.
"He heals fast! Just hit the bastard!"
Buckskin floored the gas pedal and the car lept ahead. Iron Jaw and dogs scattered but not quick enough. The former was struck a glancing blow and at least one of the latter was hit.
"Go back, we need to make sure hes dead!" yelled the Masked Marvel.
"Nothing doing. Look whats ahead of us!"
The soldiers had begun to block the roads while some had chased Buckskin and Masked Marvel through the woods. They raised their guns and began to fire on the approaching vehicle. Marvel leaned out the window and returned their shots. Buckskin just ducked and drove blind. The whole thing was a din of noises. The rifle fire of the soldiers, the loud roaring of the superfirer, bullets bursting through the windshield, and screams of soldiers. Glass rained on his head. He felt the thud of the car hitting a body and the wheels going over another. He winced.
He looked over the wheel just in time to cut the car left for a curve and then glanced at his passenger. The Masked Marvel sat there breathing heavy and bleeding from a fresh wound in his shoulder.
"Dont worry. I heal a little faster than normal as well."
"Its not that. I just bought this car."
During the long drive back, they compared notes. Where there were gaps, they were able to deduce the rest. Hitler feared US involvement in his affairs and he feared the power of her mystery-men. So he sent a small cadre of soldiers headed by Iron Jaw to surreptitiously hunt and kill mystery-men. They went after the small-time and most secretive of mystery-men first, leaving the big guns alone until they were ready to deal with them. Many of the heroes were killed in that cage for sport and training of the soldiers.
The mystery-men one only hears about once or twice...how many of those were actually killed, Buckskin wondered. The Masked Marvel who kept his own tabs on the heroes began to notice the trend of disappearnaces. He and his lieutenants began their own investigation. During the course of which, the one who Buckskin knew as John Struthers was captured and tortured to reveal the location of the Masked Marvels headquarters.
Iron Jaw dared an all out attack during which Marvels other lieutenants were killed. The Masked Marvel was kept alive for a couple of reasons. One, his own superior strength provided great sport for Iron Jaw. Two, they hoped to learn the secrets of several weapons and research that Marvel had been working on.
They had his files though, expediting their primary goal of taking down the mystery men. Buckskin had been their next prey. Knowing the body of a hero appearing in his city would start him searching, they fed him clues designed to lead him right to them. Which it did.
"Iron Jaw underestimated your own abilities," said the Masked Marvel. "He had not counted on you figuring out the clues were false and approaching the way you did. They figured their agent would let them know if you took the bait or not and theyd be waiting for you. They especially did not count on you carrying a small arsenal. My research revealed you had only one colt and you used that sparingly. You were counted on being a fairly easy target."
The Masked Marvel directed Buckskin to what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse in New York City. A back-up headquarters he explained. Once inside, it was apparent to Buckskin that the Masked Marvel did not use the warehouse often. It looked more like a garage. They walked past several vehicles under sheets and past several gun cabinets and workbenches. At the back, they entered a storage room. The room contained several file cabinets and Marvel started pulling folders and files.
"Its nowhere near as complete as my other one, but it has copies of a lot of the files stolen from me. It is important we contact these men."
He handed several folders to Buckskin. Buckskin gasped when he realized what the folders contained.
"These files are on other mystery-men!"
"Yes. And if my deductions were right on their identities, their lives are in danger. I think we should be able to count on their aid in leading a raid on that lumber mill. The first call we should make is for the police to pick up the woman you call Rebecca Dickson."
He got up and left the room. Buckskin could hear him talking. It seems his name must carry some weight. Buckskin found the file containing his own name. In addition to the cases he had worked on, it contained notes on his modus operandi and listed several names of possible contacts and identities. Buckskin frowned when he saw Danny Dartins name on the list in addition to his own. If Iron Jaw had just opted to wipe out everyone on the list...but, no, the German would want to be sure of getting the man he was pursuing. For that, he had to flush the Buckskin out in his heroic identity. Besides the vicious bastard enjoyed the hunt.
The Masked Marvel returned, shaking his head.
"We wont get any more information from that angle. It seems Miss Dickson must have recovered from that mickie you slipped her and realized your suspicions. Shes cleared out and the house has been torched."
Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, the two men called the different heroes contained in the files. It was a long and tedious process convincing the mystery-men to listen to them. Sometimes, the best they could do was to just leave warnings for the heroes to watch their backs.
Some did listen, though and during the night they arrived at the warehouse. Men in capes and silk masks. A few in tuxedos and top hats, others in simple street clothes and domino masks. They arrived mostly by autos, armored and other wise. Two came by autogyro. Zanzibars sudden appearance out of a cloud of smoke almost as soon as he hung up the phone was the most dramatic by far.
The planning was quick. Buckskin became the leader of the gathering by default. The Masked Marvel was the most experienced at this type of thing, but the men gathered did not trust him. To have their secrets compromised and laid bare so easily by one of their own bothered them. Almost as much as the fact that these secrets were stolen by a foreign power. So Buckskin addressed the group and laid out the strategies with minor interruptions and suggestions from those gathered. At dawn they launched their attack.
Unfortunately, it was all for naught. The time used had been enough for the Iron Jaw and his soldiers to flee. Acres of forestland were scorched to the ground by them covering their tracks. The dozen or so mystery-men spent days combing the mountain for clues and possible men left behind. The pursuit was mostly fruitless. The detectives of the group argued over the best way to investigate. Others, more fighters than detectives, became argumentative as the period of relative inactivity dragged on. If more than a few clues were found, the mystery-men didnt trust one another enough to share them. One by one, the men departed, either giving up or following there own lines of investigation.
"Iron Jaw will be back." said the Masked Marvel back at his warehouse. "And others like him or even worse. Its only a matter of time before the U.S gets involved in this mess over in Europe. Then all bets are off. Hitler cannot afford to let the likes us enter the war. And we cannot afford to let him win."
Buckskin thought of battalions of men with strength like Marvel and Iron Jaw or powers like those of Zanzibar's. He thought of these super battalions battling across Europe, laying waste to the lands. He shudderd.
"God, I hope not," he prayed.
"That was three years ago. Before Pearl Harbor," said Buckskin.
He was talking with a man clad in a gray suit and cape. A mask covered the top half of his head with a black bird head emblazoned on the forehead. The Raven. aka Danny Dartin, one of his best friends and a mystery man in his own right for two years now. They stood atop the old abandoned warehouse that used to be the Masked Marvels backup headquarters.
"Over the following years, we kept up with each other. He recruited new lieutenants and kept his hunt up for Iron Jaw. I helped him when I could. We were never really friends. His obsessions ran deep and he allowed little in his world he couldnt control. However, through his efforts, we were able to prevent similar widespread assassinations. God knows how many nights I was dragged to some place to rescue a novice mystery-man or chase down a lead to Iron Jaws whereabouts. Most of the times, it was a false lead. Sometimes it wasnt. I have a scar on my leg from that fiasco in Boston. However, I thought we got rid of Iron Jaw in 40 for good."
He smiled when he thought of the assault that the Masked Marvel had led that dark night. The battle itself was horrific. However, the sight of over 20 masked men working towards a common goal (ridding the world of Iron Jaw and his regiment of monster-men) was something he never thought hed see.
"But, Marvel was doubtful. He seemed unable to believe that Iron Jaw could ever die, that wed ever be rid of him. He kept up the hunt. I guess he was right"
He looked in the package that the Raven had brought with him. It was addressed to Danny Dartin, care of the police department. Inside were some cards with fingerprints on them and a mangled superfirer. He pulled out one of the fingerprint cards and inspected it closely.
"We have the hand in the morgue," explained the Raven. "They think he was already dead when it was severed."
Buckskin and the Masked Marvel had started using their fingerprints as identifying messages being authentic. Just another manifestation of Marvels deep-seated paranoia thought Buckskin at the time. They had even worked a code depending on which fingers used. Buckskin had gotten to know Marvels fingerprints better than the palm of his own hand. There was no doubt. He rubbed his eyes.
"Yes. These are Marvels. Damn."
This was originally intended for the fan-fiction site YesterYear which was holding a Red Bee contest. However, it soon became apparent that I would not make that deadline so I opted for a hero I knew a little more about and who was also a lawyer. Also, I wanted to make full use of the YesterYear concept which was combining a variety of companys characters into one story. So, I chose Mr. Scarlet.
Well, YesterYear is gone and recently I started thinking of putting out a fanfic site devoted to the Golden-age characters myself. However, I wanted the site to concentrate on the non DC/Marvel/Archie heroes. All of their golden-age characters can be found at numerous fanfic sites around. That means coming up with a new hero for the story and subbing him. So, I chose Buckskin or Buckskin Blake as he's sometimes called. I've read one or two of his adventures, so I'm a little familiar with him and he seemed to be a very capable hero. Although, by placing this story in 38/39, I'm moving up his dates a little.
Buckskin Blake originally appeared in 1941 in Super Mystery Comics. Seeking to inspire his students, Robert Blake wears a blue (!) buckskin costume and mask. Trained by his ex-Indian Scout grandfather, Buckskin is really good pretty much at everything.
The Masked Marvel appeared in 1939. My only exposure to the character is what little Ive gotten from a variety of books on comic history (which did say he had super-strength) and the modern version from Malibus Protectors comic. Needless to say Ive ignored the latter. I also changed a few small details to his story such as his glass-domed mountain hide-away to a more practical utilitarian headquarters. His appearance is based on the only panel Ive ever seen of his golden-age strip and personality is completely made-up. His death clears the way for the later movie-serial hero of the same name. Who knows, maybe the movie Masked Marvel was once one of the originals lieutenants.
Iron Jaw was an extremely bad dude who fought the teenage Crime Buster for years. His origin was as stated here, an explosion had horribly disfigured him and so his mouth was replaced with a metal one.
The Raven was originally the Black Hood in the story. But as I had to get rid of the Fawcett Mr. Scarlet, the MLJ Black Hood had to go to. The Raven burst on the scene in 1940 in Sure-Fire Comics. Police Detective Sgt. Danny Dartin is also the Raven who preys on criminals and redistributes their loot among the needy and downtrodden with the help of his (adult for once) assistant Mike. As such, he is also hunted by the police. His girl friend is Lola Lash, the daughter of the Chief of Police. The Raven is basically a comic version of Frederick C. Davis excellent Moon Man short stories.