by HarveyKent, adapted from Adventure Comics #40 by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman
One hour later, I reached the Dale mansion shortly after midnight, parking my car several blocks away and continuing on foot. Slipping through the surrounding police web, I crept into the shadows at the rear of the house, searching for a way in. For a moment or two I felt ridiculous, dressed as the Sandman, like an actor in an absurd Republic movie serial. When I found the French windows there standing ajar, I began to feel less foolish. I wondered for a moment why the rear door was left open and unguarded, with the premises supposedly secured by police. When I heard a soft humming coming from beyond a tall bush standing to one side of the door, and saw a thin trail of cigarette smoke wafting over the bush, I understood. Thanking Providence, I quietly slipped into the house, evading the notice of the police officer standing there.
Within, I found myself peering from a low balcony of a large, dark room through an open doorway into the drawing room. There, a plainclothes detective with a dark mustache who wore a green suit and a brown bowler hat accompanied by two uniformed policemen, was speaking to a small group of people, one or two in servants’ uniforms.
“You’re all suspects,” I heard the detective say. “All of you — house guests and employees alike — were here when Miss Dale disappeared, so you’re all possible accomplices of the Tarantula. We’ll have to hold you here tonight!”
The group of house guests and servants murmured loudly at this, obviously unhappy at being treated like they were guilty of the crime.
The uniformed police captain turned to the plainclothes detective and said, “Let me handle this, Lieutenant.” Raising his hands, he said loudly to the group, “I’m Captain O’Donald, and Lieutenant Burke and I simply want to get to the bottom of this the best way we know how. Now, if you’ll kindly allow my men to escort you back to your rooms, we can get about our business.”
“See here, Captain!” snarled an older, hawk-faced bald man who wore a fancy red suit and carried a cane. “I won’t stand for this treatment! I–”
“Sorry, Mr. Crossart,” interrupted Lieutenant Burke, “but you’ll have to. Now, everybody, go to your rooms, lock the doors, and stay there!”
A young woman with short brown hair — one of the maids, judging by her clothing — had evidently been arguing with the detective before my arrival. “Surely you don’t think I could be the Tarantula,” she said haughtily. That made me smile; this girl had spunk. She also didn’t act like any maid I’d ever seen; for all I knew, she could have got herself a job there so she could case the house for valuables.
“I don’t want to hear another word out of you, Miss Ware,” said Lieutenant Burke in a low growl that I could barely hear. “We’re expecting a visit — a message — from the Tarantula, and we don’t want anyone prowling about when he comes!”
“Don’t worry!” replied the hapless Miss Ware, her arms folded defiantly in obvious displeasure at the situation.
I came away from the window, shaking my head. It was like a scene from a bad movie — one of Miss Dale’s movies, perhaps.
I recognized the name Crossart from the newspaper article on Miss Dale’s kidnapping. The middle-aged man with the cane and the red suit would thus be Roger Crossart, her booking agent.
“So the Tarantula comes again tonight? Good!” I muttered to myself after the dramatic fashion of the radio program character. “Meanwhile, I’ll look around.”
Exiting through the French window after noting the cigarette-smoking officer had moved even farther away and out of sight, I climbed up to the eavestrough and skirted along it. Miss Dale’s boudoir would surely be on the second floor. Finding her room, I entered it, switched on my flashlight, and began investigating. After looking around and finding nothing out of the ordinary, I started searching the walls for a hidden trigger for a secret door, tapping the walls lightly here and there. It was perhaps simpler for me than for the police; owning such a secret chamber myself, I knew what to look for.
But a muffled rustling sound alerted me that someone else was entering the room from an unknown location. Snapping off my flashlight, I hid behind a curtain and watched as a figure sneaked into the dark room through a secret passage behind the prominent full-length mirror.
My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, so my night-vision was poor, but I could still see the silhouette of a hooded man emerge, wearing a dark cloak and carrying a gun. It was the most surreal moment of my life up until that point, bringing into stark reality the fact that I was possibly facing my death if this figure saw me and managed to fire that gun at me before I could do anything.
But the moment of dread I felt quickly passed as the dark figure opened the door and made a silent exit. This was surely the Tarantula, I realized, on his way to deliver his message to the police. My wild guess had been correct; the Tarantula had been in the big old house this whole time.
Feeling a sense of relief along with a surge of adrenaline, I decided then and there to see this mad adventure through to the very end. I justified it to myself that it was my chance to find Vivian Dale, but the truth was that I’d had my first taste of adventure since my days in the service six years ago, and nothing was about to stop me now.
Feeling behind the huge, full-length mirror, I located what I had been fruitlessly searching for before the appearance of the Tarantula. As I pressed the catch, the mirror slid silently aside, and a dark chasm yawned before me.
What are you waiting for, Mr. Sandman? I asked myself silently, then stepped into the gloom.
Holding my gas-gun protectively before me, I stalked silently through the gloomy chambers. Progress was slow; someone had marked a trail through the tortuous passageways with luminescent paint, but I still had to be careful not to bump into anything and make a noise. I heard muffled voices far ahead, and I headed for them like a bat following a sonar signal (please excuse the florid simile; apparently those news stories from Gotham City have taken their toll on me). I wasn’t sure what I expected to find, but whatever it was, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what I did see.
A tough-looking young man in a disheveled green suit and a white hat sat with his back to me, across from a beautiful young woman wearing a red party dress whom I recognized as Vivian Dale. Her hands were behind her back, and she appeared to be tied up. The white cloth over her forehead gave weight to that assumption, even though I noticed it had been pulled up so she could see. I was about to move forward, until I realized there was a small folding card table between them. Puzzled, I stopped to listen closely.
“Got any threes?” the young man said, holding a few cards in his hand.
Vivian, who had actually been merely leaning back against the wall, resting on her hands, brought one arm forward to look at her own cards. “Go fish,” she said from across the table.
The young man took a card from the pile, looked at it, and whooped in glee. “Fished what I wanted!” he taunted.
“Hey, louder, huh? The cops didn’t hear,” Vivian Dale said bitterly. “God, I hate this! Hiding out in my own house!”
“If you got any better ideas on how to bring your career back to life,” the man said, “I’m sure Mr. Crossart’d love to hear ’em. Otherwise, Universal is always lookin’ for dames to scream in the background in Frankenstein pictures.”
“OK, OK, point taken,” Vivian grumbled.
I shook my head silently. A publicity stunt — the whole thing was a publicity stunt. I was of a mind to turn around, head home, and hang up this ridiculous Sandman idea. And yet, a great many police officers were here tonight, searching for Miss Dale’s “kidnapper,” police who had been called away from other duties, other crimes that may go unstopped or unsolved due to this foolish woman’s vanity.
Taking careful aim, I slowly pressed one of the triggers of my gas-gun. A sweet-smelling gas emanated, and a cloud of purplish mist flooded into the small room where Vivian Dale and the young man played cards.
“I smell flowers — violets?” said the young man, dropping his cards and holding one hand up to his forehead. “Guess this place… is… getting… on… Gee! I — I’m… fallin’… asleep…”
In seconds, both slumped over where they sat, fast asleep. I turned on my heel to leave, then halted, having remembered something. I reached into my pocket and sprinkled a handful of sand on the table and their heads.
Reaching forward toward Miss Dale, I tugged at her blindfold, covering her eyes. If she was playing the role of kidnap victim, I reasoned, she might as well look the part.
“The sands of deep sleep fill his eyes — and Vivian’s, too,” I said dramatically, playing my own role to the hilt. “Now to deal with the Tarantula, himself!”
As I turned and walked back up the secret passage, I heard footsteps coming from another direction. There was more than one passageway to this hidden room; this old house must be honeycombed with them. I hurried along, not ready to meet the Tarantula yet. I wanted him to see the results of my work first.
“Vivian?” I heard him call behind me. “Bert? Are you — what?! They’re asleep?” As I moved out of earshot, I can only imagine what must have happened next. Imagine Mr. Crossart’s reaction as he saw the sand sprinkled over the sleeping bodies of his co-conspirators. He probably thought there was something very strange going on. Then again, perhaps he never listened to the radio.
At that, I left. But as I did so, I took greater notice of the branching tunnels that I had earlier ignored while heading toward the voices. These tunnels, I noted, ran between the walls, and I soon found myself peering into various rooms of the old house through hidden viewports.
Following voices from inside the house, I located the drawing room and watched and listened from behind a candlestick as one of the officers rushed forward to the police captain, O’Donald.
“Captain!” said the young officer to the older man. “He’s been here! The Tarantula knocked out Sergeant Kelly, and left this note pinned next to his badge!”
“What?!” cried Captain O’Donald incredulously, and I continued on my travels.
I soon located another hidden passageway into one of the rooms, and I made my way into what I realized was an empty guest room. Mr. Crossart’s red suit and cane left on a chair merely confirmed my suspicions of the identity of the Tarantula. I then prepared an elaborate surprise for my friend the Tarantula, whom I expected to come bolting out of the secret door any minute.
It took longer than I thought. Perhaps he had stayed behind to try to awaken Miss Dale and Bert. No such luck there; the gas Lee and I developed would put them out quite a bit longer than that. Or perhaps he stood there, dumbstruck by it all, for a few minutes. At any rate, it was a good ten minutes or more before he emerged into the guest room after silently opening the secret door, wearing a blue cloak and hood that covered his entire head. Seeing him for the first time in the light, I thought he looked ridiculous, but who was I to talk? He glanced about the room as he emerged and saw a figure seated in a chair and bent over a desk — a figure in a slouch hat and long, flowing cloak. Snarling, he drew a revolver from his pocket and approached the chair, his gun aimed at the figure.
“OK, friend,” he growled, “I don’t know what your game is, with the sand and everything, acting like the Sandman from the radio. What, are you trying to cut yourself in or something? Figured out what we’re doing, decided to earn some hush money? Well, you just clinched the ending to our scene! I surprised the Tarantula and shot him dead, and the Tarantula’s going to be you! How do you like that ending? Talk, damn you!”
But the figure remained mute. So the Tarantula aimed his gun and fired. The gunshot was not loud, as I’d expected, emitting only a quiet cracking sound. The figure slumped forward at the same moment.
“Nobody heard! My silencer works well…” the Tarantula said in a quiet voice, and he seemed to be trembling as he said this. I doubt Mr. Crossart had ever expected to kill a man on this night, his threatening notes notwithstanding.
Instead of responding, I let the gas-gun do the talking for me. From my position hidden behind the bedroom door, I let him have it, a cloud of anesthetic gas right in his hooded face. I was a bit worried that the hood might protect him from the gas, but I shouldn’t have been. It was obviously porous enough to let him breathe, so it let him breathe gas. Gasping and clutching his throat, he crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
“So simple to fool you, Mr. Tarantula — alias Mr. Crossart,” I said as I unmasked the unconscious man. “My hat and cape on a pillow — a string to topple it when you shot.”
I retrieved my hat and cloak from the pillow in the chair and set about leaving the package for the police to find. “Now, I must hurry. I have arrangements to make!”
A little later on, as I reached my car in its hidden spot, I felt exhilarated. I don’t know why, of course; the whole thing was silly — a stupid ruse to boost a fading star’s waning popularity. And yet, I couldn’t deny the thrill I felt from having captured the Tarantula and his gang. Listen to me, his gang — a movie star’s unscrupulous agent, a master criminal. His embittered client and his hired muscle, his gang. I was romanticizing the whole thing. It was stupid.