The Life or Death Lottery
The Murder Prophet is revealing the identities of his next murder victims in an underground newspaper. But when the next chosen victim is Mister Scarlet himself, how can the crimson crusader of justice overcome this so-called prophecy?
Mugsy McGraw chomped down on his cigar as he enjoyed reading the latest issue of the Gangland Gazette. The newspaper for criminals was a huge hit with the underworld, and many hardened mobsters could not start their day without checking out the various features in the secretly circulated tabloid. Mugsy grinned broadly as he read the latest instalment of Cracked Nuts. It was his favorite comic-strip.
Bellowing out loud, he waved the crumpled paper toward Lefty Reynolds. “Did ya see it?” he chuckled. “That crazy, round-headed kid gangster, Stripes Brown, just kicked that bratty Loosey across the playground!”
Lefty smiled slightly. “Comics are for kids. I like the Life or Death Lottery, myself. This week the Murder Prophet says he’s going to kill Jameson McGuire, the banker. The odds are pretty good. I might just bet against his chances.”
Mugsy sneered at the skinny man. “You’re stupid! The Prophet never fails. He says he’s going kill some goon, then you saps bet he can’t. He always wins and collects.”
Lefty shrugged. “Yeah, smart guy? Well, maybe his luck will fail.”
Mugsy returned to the comics section and laughed again.
Brian Butler moved a stack of documents across his desk and sighed. He was enjoying his new position as police commissioner. However, he never forgot how his friend and predecessor Lou Garde had died while posing as Butler’s former costumed role, Mister Scarlet. He had been killed by one of Scarlet’s enemies, and now Brian and his adopted son Rob were raising Lou’s daughter Melanie. The girl had adjusted as well as possible. She was bright and brave and had formed a real bond with the Butlers and their loyal aide, Wainwright. She even acted as the new Pinky the Whiz Kid alongside Rob, who was the new Mister Scarlet. Brian had given up his costumed role after capturing Lou’s killer. (*) Now he hoped to keep the city safe from behind the desk of police commissioner. It was challenging work and necessary.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Mister Scarlet: Scarlet Woman.]
Brian frowned as he scanned the reports on his oak desk. Many deaths have occurred in the last few weeks, but they have nothing in common to connect them. The victims have ranged from an army man to a banker to a supermarket checker! The deaths have even had different methods. What is the link?
Smiling wearily, he called his stately manor. He heard the gruff voice of his faithful butler answer on the other end. “Butler residence. Wainwright speakin’,” he said.
Brian resigned himself for what would surely follow. “Wainwright, I won’t be home for dinner tonight,” he said. “I have a heavy caseload. Don’t hold the meal.”
Wainwright’s voice took on a heavy edge of sarcasm. “Ya think a police force can run with its head having an empty stomach? What makes you so soit’n that crime can’t wait for you to eat somethin’?”
Brian knew the bald old man felt a fierce devotion to his family and worried about their safety. The police commissioner took his nagging in stride and tried to make the best of it.
Finally, Wainwright put down the phone and groaned as smoke poured out of his kitchen. “My pie! Ruined! Rob and Melanie are still on patrol. Well, they kin just eat around the scorch marks!” he vowed.
Pie was not on either of their minds as Mister Scarlet and Pinky the Whiz Kid raced through the night in the Scarlet Speedster. The customized van was a mobile crime lab, and it had a durable frame that could resist almost any impact.
Rob Butler was a young man with a humorous outlook and a desire to succeed as the second man to wear the famous red costume of Mister Scarlet. He admired his father immensely and hoped to bring honor to the heroic legacy. Next to him sat Melanie Garde. Her blonde hair fell gently across her shoulders. In her role as Pinky, she wore a pink minidress and moved restlessly in the van. She combined a keen inventive mind with a grace of a promising ballerina.
“The city is quiet tonight. Maybe I can catch Growing Pains!” she joked.
Mister Scarlet rolled his eyes and said, “Sheesh! You and Kirk Cameron! That crush is getting old.”
Pinky frowned. “Jealous? He gets more fan mail than you do.”
“I’m deeply wounded that you would think I could be so petty,” said Mister Scarlet. “Oh, and he does not!” Stopping suddenly, he said, “Look up there. Second window from right. Top floor.” He indicated a building to their right. A figure was climbing inside the window of an office building.
Pinky smiled. “That’s no window cleaner!”
Emerging from the Scarlet Speedster, they fired grapples to the edge of the building’s roof. They held tightly and were pulled to the roof with ease and speed. Wainwright had developed the lifts with Melanie’s help; she was truly living up to her name as the Whiz Kid.
Mister Scarlet kicked back from the roof and lowered himself into the open office window. He saw five figures in red jumpsuits circling a black man in a costly suit. Scarlet called out, “Do you validate? My van’s parked outside!”
The crooks whirled and cursed in dismay. “Mister Scarlet! Just what we needed!” muttered one thug.
Their victim sighed in relief. “Thank goodness!”
The thugs turned away from him to charge Mister Scarlet’s mocking form, but instead met with swift blows to their chins. As two fell backward, the crimson crusader shoved them into their allies and slowed the entire group. Pinky rolled across the floor like a cannonball and scattered the thugs who were clustered together by necessity.
Grinning, she jumped up to side-kick one of them as he reeled backward. “Strike!”
Mister Scarlet smiled and tackled two others in a flying leap. He slammed both of them down and said, “I got a spare myself. Too bad these mugs haven’t got the sense of a ten-pin!”
Pinky spun around to trip the final thug. He fell hard, and after she kicked him back, he moaned, “That girl is dynamite!” She winked at Mister Scarlet as if to say, “So there!”
Scarlet threw up his hands in mock dismay and helped the office owner to his feet. “Are you hurt, sir?”
The man shook his head. “Thanks to you two, I’m fine. They came through my window and started roughing me up. I’m Elmore Harris, an accountant.”
“These fellows are wearing the sign of the Murder Prophet,” said Mister Scarlet. “Red hoods with a lightning bolt across the front. Funny, I haven’t heard of the police getting one of his usual corny predictions.”
Pinky placed one hand on her hip and said, “Maybe he’s changed his style.”
Mister Scarlet shook his head. “Not likely. He can’t commit a crime without alerting the police or someone first. If he didn’t tip off the cops, then he alerted someone else.”
Pinky frowned as she bent over a fallen goon. “Look at this paper — Gangland Gazette! Now hoods have their own daily paper! Look! The Life or Death Lottery column is by the Murder Prophet. He says he will kill Elmore Harris on this date!”
Harris gulped and said, “Why me? Why would he want to kill me?”
Mister Scarlet placed a reassuring arm on the frightened man’s shoulder. “Everyone hates accountants,” he cracked. “No, but seriously, we’ll keep you safe and find the pattern. There’s always a pattern.”
The crimson crusaders then turned in the gang and departed after leaving Harris with police security. Pinky crossed her legs and frowned as they zoomed homeward. “Why does this Murder Prophet alert folks to his planned crimes before they happen? That’s dumb!”
“Dressing up in a red hood and killing people in order to fulfill your own predictions that they will die is not just dumb, it’s insane,” said Mister Scarlet. “Still, that’s his M.O. He makes self-fulfilling predictions and then tries to bring them about.”
“But this time he failed,” said Pinky. “We have to find out when he plans to strike again!”
“I have an idea or two along those lines,” said Scarlet. “Let’s call Dad.”
That night, Brian Butler sat across from Rob and Melanie as they munched on Wainwright’s warmed-over meal. Wainwright watched warily as if waiting on them to complain. The food was wonderful, as always.
“This paper gives me answers I’ve been looking for for some time now,” said Brian. “All those poor victims had nothing to connect them, except for the fact that I’ll wager their names appeared in issues of this newspaper. The Murder Prophet picked them and announced his plans to kill them first. Looks like he has crooks bet against his chances to pull off each murder, then collect when he succeeds. It’s a rather smart variation on his old theme.”
“Why don’t they tip off the cops so that he fails?” said Rob. “Then they collect.”
Wainwright cleared his throat. “Honor among crooks keeps them from doing it. They also fear reprisals. The Moider Prophet holds a grudge and never forgets an enemy.”
Melanie smiled. “So all we need to do is get our hands on this newspaper for no-goods!”
“And Wainwright’s old connections could enable us to do just that!” suggested Rob.
Wainwright rubbed his bald head and frowned. “I paid my dues. I have been a perfect citizen for decades now. Still, I might have some old pals who owe me a favor or two.”
Brian hid a smile. “Wonderful. If we get the name of the next victim, then we’ll be ready for them.”
The next day Brian Butler glanced up from his paperwork to see the smiling face of Assistant Commissioner Roz Doyle. She held out a paper with a satisfied look on her pretty face.
“We caught Jim Donovan today,” she said. “He works for the Murder Prophet, and he was carrying this paper. It seems to predict the next victim of our mad prophet.”
Brian read the edition and nodded. “This is the break we were looking for in this case. The victim is Penelope Shupe, the model. She lives just outside of the town. Let me make a call. I’d like to summon Mister Scarlet. He can handle this without attracting the attention a squad would draw.”
Roz frowned. “You think we should keep relying upon him? The last commissioner couldn’t blow his nose without asking Mister Scarlet first!”
Brian’s face grew dark. “I know you didn’t get along with my predecessor, but I won’t listen to any remarks like that. The man was a good cop and a good friend.”
Roz drew back. “Sorry. It’s your call.”
That night, Mister Scarlet and Pinky approached the isolated home of Penelope Shupe and prepared for battle. Melanie shivered in the cold night air, and Rob grinned. “That’s what you get for wearing the minidress!” he joked. “I never got cold when I was Pinky.”
Melanie smiled and arched one brow. “You don’t have the legs to pull off this look!”
“OK, woman of the world, I hear you,” said Mister Scarlet. “Now, let’s get our gear ready.” They drew out small guns and silently slipped closer to the house.
Pinky whispered, “It was a lucky break that the police caught that punk. We didn’t even need Wainwright’s sources to find the name of the next victim.”
Mister Scarlet nodded grimly. “It was almost too lucky. He didn’t like us going out before he heard from his source.”
Back in the office of Brian Butler, the busy police commissioner slammed the phone down in concern. He was alone in his office and had just received word from Wainwright. The crafty old man had contacted an underworld pal from his crooked past and had indeed been given a copy of the newest issue of the Gangland Gazette. It had differed markedly from the one found on the crook brought in that morning.
“It was a setup,” gasped Brian. “The Murder Prophet wanted us to catch those five men back at the accountant’s office in order to learn about his Gazette, and he sacrificed Donovan as well, so we’d send Mister Scarlet into a trap at Penelope’s house. As this real copy of the paper shows, the true victim he plans to kill tonight is not the model, but Mister Scarlet himself!”
Meanwhile, Mister Scarlet and Pinky had slipped inside the house to discover that not only was Penelope not there, and had not been there for some time as shown by piles of gathered mail, but the house was full of costumed thugs. They charged the crimson crusaders as a fight for their lives broke out.
“Use the guns!” yelled Mister Scarlet. Pinky nodded, and they began to fire their special weapons. The gas-guns emitted choking and blinding clouds of red mist that filled the house and confused their foes. Scarlet grabbed Pinky’s arm and lifted her up as he fired a line and was drawn across the room until he reached a point above the thugs. He anchored the agile girl as she scrambled next to him on a roof beam. She signed rapidly as he accessed the situation.
Scarlet gestured to indicate that she should hold tightly to their resting place as he activated a device on his belt. Pinky smiled in understanding as the red cloud began to dissipate below them to reveal a few stunned goons and several new reinforcements led by the Murder Prophet himself.
The villain raised his fist to the sky and said, “Tonight, Mister Scarlet dies! I predict it!”
But the Murder Prophet gasped as the room was shaken when the armored Scarlet Speedster smashed into the house, scattering the gang in desperation. Rob Butler had summoned the vehicle by remote control, and it had bought them needed time.
Mister Scarlet dropped down to tackle the Prophet as Pinky spun into the remaining thugs. She high-kicked and sent two reeling as she ducked under the arms of the third. Her head-butt dropped him backward as Scarlet shook the Murder Prophet and ripped off his hood.
“I guess you didn’t see this eventuality!” said Mister Scarlet, grinning. “Guess the cable is out on your crystal ball!”
The Murder Prophet’s angry face contorted with rage. “You and your infernal gadgets!” Twisting away from his captor, he ran directly into the newly arrived Brian Butler, who tripped him and watched as Roz Doyle led him away, cuffed and beaten.
“You two are OK?” he whispered. “It was a setup. We almost fell for it. That new remote device for the van saved the day. Good thinking.”
The crimson crusaders of justice enjoyed the praise of their mentor, and Melanie chirped up, “Wainwright will be pleased. He and I whipped that baby up!”
Mister Scarlet shrugged. “I could have predicted she’d take credit for the win!”
The next morning, Brian received startling news from his assistant commissioner, Roz Doyle. As she shook her head, her auburn locks bobbed back and forth.
“Another dead person has been reported,” she said grimly. “A banker named Jameson McGuire was found in the river.”