It all started with one of Lee’s editorials. In it, he accused Joey Scarapelli of running a smuggling operation through his plumbing warehouse down on the East River. Scarapelli was a respected businessman, a backer of politicians, and the first man to donate to any charitable cause on the East Side. The paper hit the street at five in the morning, and by noon the district attorney had a team of investigators hauling files out of Scarapelli’s home, office, warehouse, and his cabin in the Adirondacks. What was more surprising was that, by four in the afternoon, Lee Travis was standing before Judge Horace Cramer.
“Mr. Travis, the charges levied by your paper against Joseph Scarapelli are most serious. Not only do you accuse him of smuggling, but you infer that he is doing so with the intention of aiding European spies within the United States. The police commissioner himself has come down here to obtain further warrants to search properties owned by Mr. Scarapelli’s business associates. Now, Judge Boorman may have seen fit to issue warrants this morning based on the strength of your claims, but I require more evidence.” The judge scowled at Lee from his seat at the bench. “Where did you get the information for your editorial?”
“I’m sorry, Your Honor, but I cannot answer that question. My information comes from a source within Joey Scarapelli’s organization, and if I were to reveal his name, his life would be in jeopardy.”
“Your Honor, please! If Scarapelli is involved in such actions as the Globe-Leader has accused, then surely any of the people involved are not worthy of such protection!” Lee and the judge, as well as everyone else in the courtroom, turned to face the district attorney. “If one of these dirty rats is killed, that’s just one less body to take up space in the state pen!”
“Mr. Travis, I must agree with District Attorney Shapiro. I offer you a choice: either reveal the name of your informant, or I will have you taken to the city jail until such time as you are willing to cooperate.”
“Your Honor, I cannot place my own convenience before the safety of my source.” Lee turned toward the bailiff and extended his wrists. “I choose jail.”
As cameras clicked and flashbulbs burst in flashes of light, the courtroom went wild with questions. I tried to get close to Lee, but I could not get through the press of reporters and police. By the time I got near the front of the courtroom, they had led him out. I fought my way back through the crowd to the exit and sprinted around the building. The courthouse sat back to back with the police station, and I slipped through an alley, vaulted a fence, and jogged around to the front. When I went inside, I found the desk sergeant and told him that I was there to see Lee Travis. He arranged for me to meet with him in one of their interrogation rooms.
It took about a half-hour before they brought him in there. He told me that he had gone through the whole fingerprinting, photographing and paperwork routine while I was waiting. I got right to the point.
“What do you need me to do, boss?”
“Wing,” he said, “I appreciate it, but there’s not a whole lot you can do. My source, he’s really worried about his name being revealed. It’s not just Scarapelli that he’s worried about. He told me that there’s this new boss among the gangs. The call him the Hammer, and he’s coming down real hard on anybody that talks to the cops.”
“Any idea who this Hammer guy is, Lee?”
“No, but even that doesn’t worry me as much as the judge’s insistence on knowing my source. No other judge in the city has ever worried about that before.” Lee leaned back in his chair, looking at the ceiling. “I wonder why that is?”
“This may sound dumb, but what if he’s connected to the Hammer?” I snapped my fingers. “Wait a second, boss! The Hammer! The judge with gavel! You don’t suppose…?”
“It sounds crazy, Wing, but this city has seen crazier things.” Lee sat back up. “As soon as my lawyer gets me out of here, I’ll start looking into it. You’d better get going; he’s due here any minute.”
“OK, boss. I’ll stop by in the morning.” I left, but I was already forming an idea. Why wait until Lee Travis was released for the Crimson Avenger to start checking the local gathering places of the crooks?
I rushed back to the penthouse. I opened the secret door in his closet, revealing the sub-closet where he kept his uniforms. I pulled one out and tried it on. There, in front of his full-length mirror, I started laughing.
Lee Travis was an even six feet tall, with broad shoulders. At the time, I was only five feet, five inches, and I was really thin. Lee’s costume hung on my like elephant skin on a crane. I went to put it back in its place when I spotted something.
Folded on a shelf was a costume similar to that of the Crimson Avenger. Like his, it had the cowl with the fin on top and the domino mask, as well as a belt for the smoke capsules. But it was almost like a negative image of the Avenger’s costume — yellow where his was red, red where his was gold. The only major difference was that, instead of a sunburst on the chest, there was a character that looked like it was supposed to be a Chinese character (at least to Lee’s eyes) but signified nothing — a few months later, I would replace this nonsensical character with a red sunburst, but for now I let it be. I took it out and found that it was made to my size. Apparently, Lee had already considered that I might follow in his footsteps as an active crime-fighting partner rather than merely as the man-at-arms I then was. I donned the costume and slipped out of the building and into the nighttime streets of New York.
Now, outside of the rare occasion where I directly helped with a case, putting my martial arts skills into play, I had done little more than drive the Avenger to general spots around town. But he had told me enough of his adventures that I knew some of his usual places for gathering information. The first was a waterfront bar called the Wolf’s Den.
It was not a very noisy place. Most of the men in there weren’t trying to be noticed, they were there to avoid notice. Still, when I walked in, it got even quieter.
“Who da hell are you, punk?” asked a man sitting by the door. He stood up and glared down at me.
“I’m a friend of the Crimson Avenger’s! You can call me, ahh, the Yellow Kid!” I heard a few laughs around the room at that. Like me, at least some of them knew that the Yellow Kid was a comic-strip from the newspapers many years earlier. “I’m looking for information about Joey Scarapelli!”
All around the room, I heard the sound of chairs being pushed back, and I saw men rising to their feet. Men like that don’t like it very much when someone is out to get one of their own. So I decided to play it Lee’s way. “Look, you know the Globe-Leader doesn’t like the Crimson, and they’re trying to take down Scarapelli. Connect me with one of his people, and we can make the paper and their boy Travis look bad.”
“Way I hear it, the Crimson is one o’ them masked do-gooders. Who’s to say, we lead you to one of Scarapelli’s boys, what keeps you from turning him over to the cops?” This guy was small and hunched over a table with a bottle of cheap booze and red-rimmed eyes.
“The cops don’t talk to us, and we don’t talk to them!” I replied.
“Scrap’s going down,” said a quiet voice. “He ain’t playing ball. If the cops don’t take him down, he’s gonna get hammered.” I located the one who was talking. He was tall and thin, with a long nose and narrow-set eyes. He was standing by himself by the bar. I slipped through the crowd and joined him.
“You one of Scarapelli’s boys, or one of the Hammer’s?” I asked as I waved the bartender over.
“Used to be one’a Scrap’s drivers. I seen the writing on the wall, though. This guy, the Hammer, he’s got the goods on most’a the bosses in town. Probably got the goods on your buddy the Crimson, too.”
“Can you get me to him?”
“He’s got a meet set up for tonight, midnight, at the Lamb Theater.”
It was already after ten o’clock. I didn’t have much time. “What do you want out of this?”
“A ticket out of New York would be nice. Got a brother in South Dakota; maybe go see him.” I reached into my belt, and sure enough, there were some of the cards that the Avenger carried.
“Call this number tomorrow, before noon. If nobody answers, try again the next day. Keep trying until you reach someone, and mention the name of this place. You’ll be taken care of.”
“Yeah, sure.” He sounded doubtful, but he still kept the card. I spotted a side door and left.
At midnight, I was already in the balcony of the Lamb Theater. There was a movie that had started at eight, and people were still leaving when I got there just before eleven. With my mask and cowl off, and wearing an overcoat, it wasn’t hard to mix with the crowd and get in. Just before midnight, a group of men came in one of the stage doors. Most of them were the typical thugs and torpedoes in suits, but one of them was wearing black robes and a black hood over his face. That had to be the Hammer. And it wasn’t looking too good for Judge Cramer.
“All right, you guys have seen what happened to Scarapelli. It’s hung up over that newspaper guy right now, but that’s how I’ve planned it!” said the hooded figure.
“If you’re trying to cut Scraps out, why are you putzing around with the newspaper guy?” asked one of the suited men.
“‘Cause he got to one of Scarapelli’s men. We don’t know which one, and he might be working for one of us. By putting the squeeze on Travis, we find out who the stool pigeon is!” I heard several of the men murmur their appreciation. “I’m in a position to put that kind of pressure on anybody our guys rat us out with.”
“Not for long, Hammer!” I cried as I dropped down into their midst. I might not have had Lee’s fighting experience, but I was the one who taught him judo, karate, and savate. I was helped by the smoke capsules I had thrown down as I jumped, which burst open and spilled crimson smoke all over the stage. It was easy to hear them in their confusion, and I had knocked out most of them before I got ahold of the Hammer. I held his robes in one hand, and with the other I reached to rip the hood off of his head. “This is the end of your plans, Judge Cramer!” I yanked it off and saw his face. “You?!”
That’s when someone hit me with the butt of a pistol, and I fell to the floor, unconscious.
When I came to, I was tied to a chair. I didn’t move, and just opened my eyes enough to get my bearings. The Hammer had his mask back on, though a couple of his thugs were still lying on the floor.
“Hey, I thought the Crimson Avenger was bigger than this!” said one of his friends. “And doesn’t he wear a red costume?”
“After the way he slugged me, I don’t care how big he is!” said another. “I say we shoot him and drop his body in the river right now.”
“No, no, gentlemen. Far better to teach a lesson to any would-be mystery-men in this city. We’ll shoot him, all right, but it will be on the steps of the Police Headquarters.”
While they were trying to decide what to do with me, I had been working on the ropes that bound my wrists. They had tied them tight, but they didn’t count on the heavy wristbands of my costume. Lee and I had figured out that if we put some extra weight in the cuff of his costume, his punches landed harder. Luckily, he had done the same with the costume he made for me. When they tied me, the weighted band was under the rope. As I worked my wrists back and forth within the loops of rope, the band slid out from under it. That gave me the slack I needed to work the knots loose; I just needed a few minutes more.
“We gonna take him now, boss? The truck is out back, so we can stick him in there, chair and all.”
“Yeah, take him out,” replied the Hammer. That was it; out of time, and my wrists weren’t free yet. I was still feigning unconsciousness, but I had shifted my feet enough to get them under me. They were tied together, but they weren’t tied to the chair.
“Come on, Frankie, gimme a hand with him.” The speaker was right behind me. I leaned forward as far as I could, planted my feet on the ground, and stood up. The chair came up behind me, and I felt it hit the unseen thug. I twisted at the waist, swinging the chair around to hit the guy coming from the side. Unable to see where he was, I missed him. That put me in position for my next move, though. I jumped up and threw myself backwards. This brought my full weight down on the chair.
“Yow!” I cried out as I hit. I was expecting the chair to break, like they do in the movies. Real life doesn’t work that way sometimes, though. I looked up and saw this big ape jumping at me. I twisted over onto my side and let him come down on the chair. His weight, easily twice my own, broke the chair into pieces.
“Thanks!” I said as I hopped to my feet. I don’t think he heard me, though, from the way he was groaning on the floor. I looked around and saw that there were five guys left standing, not counting the Hammer.
The first one came at me, and I stopped him with a pair of quick jabs to the jaw. I slid one foot backward a bit and came up on my toes, waiting for the others to charge me. They didn’t keep me waiting long. Two of them came at me from ten o’clock and two o’clock, figuring I could stop one but not both. They were both trying to grab me, with their arms outstretched. I grabbed the wrist of the one on my left and pulled him in front of me. The one on my right plowed into him, and I kept pulling the first across in front of me so they both tumbled off to the right. That gave me just enough time to bring my left foot up in a reverse sweep into the stomach of a guy trying to sneak up behind me. The last guy was smarter, though; he had reached for a gun.
The two tacklers were already getting back to their feet as I reached for my belt. That’s when I realized they had taken it off of me before tying me to the chair. I dived low for the gunman, tackling him at the knees. The gun went off as he fell back into the wall, and I heard the spang of lead ricocheting off of harder metal. The lighting in the room started flickering, and the shadows were moving oddly, so I figured he had hit the light fixture. I grabbed the gun out of his hand and threw it with a backhand at one of the guys behind me. It struck him in the face, and he went down.
I made sure the shooter was out and turned back to see who was left. There was only one on his feet, and he wasn’t moving too fast. I looked around for the Hammer and saw him running up some steps. I sprinted after him, stopping only long enough to snatch up a broken leg from the chair and hurl it at the last man standing. It hit him in the temple, and down he went.
I had been in the Lamb Theater a few times, and I knew that the steps he was going up led to a series of private boxes along the side of the theater. I could hear his steps ahead of me, and I followed him to the uppermost box. He had stepped out into the box and was standing by the railing when I got there. He had removed the mask again, I guess because it interfered with his breathing while he was climbing. When I stepped out, he just stared at me, wild-eyed.
“Damn you! You’ve ruined it all! I could have run this city, but now it’s all ruined!” I took a step toward him, and he raised one leg over the railing. “Oh, no, you won’t take me in! This ends on my terms!”
I reached for him, but he was too quick. He leaped over the railing to the theater floor some thirty feet down. If it had been a flat surface, he might have survived it, but he deliberately jumped out over the rows of seats. I looked down at the broken body of District Attorney James Shapiro.