I'm currently writing a novella for Ron Fortier's Airship27
based on the 1930s pulp magazine character, The Crimson Mask. Here's the opening section of a little something I like to call...
The Crimson Mask and the Medicine Man
first shot at 3:43 a.m. was easily mistaken for a backfiring truck.
Johnny “Potsy” O’Connor happened to be glancing down at his pocket watch when
he heard it. The sound did not alarm him, but it made him stop in his tracks
for a moment and cock an ear. Backfire it well may be, the twenty-two-year
veteran of walking a beat knew, but in Little Italy, the home turf of too many
mobsters and their little fiefdoms and rival “social clubs” it could just as
easily be a gun. The Italians liked nothing better than settling their scores with
bullets and brass knuckles, O’Connor thought. Not like the Irish, who at least
had the courtesy to sit down for a drink before commencing to pummeling one
listened for a full ten seconds and when there was no follow-up shots or
screams or shouts, the officer nodded in satisfaction and resumed his solitary
late night stroll down Mulberry Street. Potsy O’Connor knew he had been put on
the graveyard shift as a punishment for mouthing off to the idiot young shift
sergeant whose father had friends high places, but he had been surprised to
discover he liked the quiet and solitude of the night. Sure, the shift had a
few frantic hours, from midnight until the bars and clubs closed, but mostly it
was a whole lot of nothing besides rattling doorknobs, rousting drunks and bums
out of doorways, and the occasional domestic call. Every once in a while, some
knucklehead burglarized a place, but unless he was caught in the act by the
law, the victim was more likely to go to the neighborhood godfather to whom he
paid regular protection money for help. The bosses would not only find the
thief and recover the stolen goods, but also deliver an apology from the
crook’s own bloodied lips.
course, such vigilantism, along with much else of what went on in the streets
and alleyways of Little Italy being of questionable legality, O’Connor was
often forced to look the other way to insure his continued tranquility. The
bosses showed their appreciation for this courtesy in the form of a five dollar
bill slipped to him every week in the locker room by the precinct bagman.
O’Connor, husband and father to four youngsters still living under his roof,
was in return grateful for the help in feeding his brood.
tunelessly and absently twirling his nightstick by its leather thing, O’Connor
turned onto Grand Street. He glanced into darkened storefronts and stopped to
test the locks on a few doors. Everything was exactly as it should be at the
hour, locked up tight, dark, and quiet.
second shot came more than a minute after the first.
was also closer.
it was no backfire.
O’Connor pulled his revolver from under his blue tunic and dug for the brass
whistle in his breast pocket. More shots followed. Several guns. Handguns from
the sounds of things.
hesitated a fraction of a second. The nearest callbox was down the street to
the east. The gunfire was coming from the west. He ran west, blowing his whistle
in long, shrill blasts to call any other coppers in earshot to come running. As
if the shooting wouldn’t have already attracted their attention.
the time he reached the corner of Baxter Street, the whistle was clenched in
his left fist, his service revolver in the right, and his breath coming in
short, choppy gasps. Shots were still being fired, but less of them. Then they
when the screaming began.
brought Potsy up short. These weren’t the screams of the wounded and pained; he
had heard enough of those on the battlefields of France during the Great War to
know. These were screams of horror. Of gut-wrenching fear. Sounds no sane man
could possibly produce!
heart beating like a drum, O’Connor forced himself forward, hugging the brick
wall of the corner, his .38 thrust before him like a shield in a quivering
Street looked deserted, a stretch of dead of night darkness slashed by the harsh
glare of street lights, deepening the shadows and making them seem to shimmer
and move. The screams were coming from those shadows...
knew he had to do something. It sounded like men were being torn to bits by
some silent creature in the dark. And help, he feared, was still too far away
to make any difference to those poor bastards!
down his fear and offering up a prayer, Potsy O’Connor threw himself around the
corner screaming “Stop! Police! Everybody freeze!” and fired a warning shot
into the street.
ran forward, still shouting commands he was sure couldn’t be heard over the
screams. He wanted to keep firing his gun, to ward off whatever might be hiding
in the shadows, but the rationale part of his brain kept his finger from tightening
on the trigger. He was going to need those shots and there would be no time for
screaming stopped as abruptly as it began. The sudden transition to silence was
of him, an inky swirl of blackness started to pull away from the shadows in the
deep doorway of a Chinese laundry.
officer took aim.
he shouted. He was surprised at how commanding he sounded.
blackness broke off and became a shape, a man in a long dark overcoat. The shape
moved slowly, deliberately, his arms held out from his sides. Something dangled
from his hands, loose and floppy. Not a weapon. Nothing threatening.
it made Johnson’s heart thump uncontrollably and his stomach churn.
said police! Stop right there!”
man paid no attention to the orders. He moved from blackness to the gray
haziness on the fringe of the streetlight’s glow. Details began to resolve
themselves: a bald pate, spotted with age. One shoulder higher than the other.
A limp in the slow, steady gait. A gaunt, wrinkled cheek slashed with scars and
paint. A pale yellow eye that momentarily caught the light.
bleeding hunks of flesh hanging from withered, gnarled fingers!
son, and holy ghost,” gasped Johnson.
old man raised his right hand into the circle of light and pointed a finger at
the trembling police officer. Johnson’s eyes went wide.
your prayers to the earth,” the old man said, his voice surprisingly young and
punched Potsy Johnson hard in the chest.
looked down. A long, slender shaft of wood with a feathered tail stuck straight
out of the middle of the badge pinned to his tunic.
that is to be your next home,” the old man said, and turned to walk away even
as the officer slumped to the pavement. His revolver dropped from numbed
fingers and he thought, not without some surprise, that he was probably the
first New York copper ever to be killed in the line of duty by an Indian
with a bow and arrow.