Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"The Gray Ghost and the Lightouse Murders" by: Bill Craig


"The Gray Ghost and the
Lightouse Murders"
by: Bill Craig
as published in
PRO SE PRESENTS Masked Gun Mystery #2 
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Excerpt:       

          Under cover of darkness, Evil grows, festering like an infected wound on the underbelly of the city. From the shadows comes an instrument of Justice, a weapon forged in the crucible of his own execution at the hands of the mob. Now he returns to stalk the night as an avenger of Justice... THE GRAY GHOST!
      
       A foghorn called mournfully in the distance, a low plaintive sound that carried across the bay. John Stover heard the distinctive warning song as he exited his coupe and with it, the tempestuous percussion of the Atlantic surf crashing against the rocks far below. It was his third night on the job at the Biscayne Lighthouse—the graveyard shift, maintaining the beacon and listening to the chatter between ships over the shortwave radio— and he still found it exciting. But tonight, the fog rolling in off the sea was already so thick it had made the drive out from town almost as perilous as piloting a freighter along the treacherous coast. 
       Glancing up, he could see the bright beam cutting through the fog and darkness to alert ships that they were getting close to the shore, a welcomed and comforting sight. He grabbed his lunch pail and copy of the local newspaper from the seat beside him.
       Stover had only recently moved to the area, so the ocean was an awe-inspiring sight to the former Iowa farm boy. Tending a lighthouse was lonely work, but growing up in the cornfields, insulated from the outside world, had been lonely in its own way and certainly prepared him for this sort of life. Of course it didn’t hurt that since arriving in Biscayne Bay, he had met a girl that caught his eye in a big way. He smiled at the thought of her, and started to whistle a cheerful tune to counterpoint the foghorn’s dirge as he headed for the door of the lighthouse.

 
       Nora Kendrick worked at the diner and was about the sweetest gal he had ever met in his life. Her father, Rudolf Kendrick, was the head keeper at the lighthouse. John took it as a good omen that Nora introduced him to her father shortly after he had become a regular at the roadside eatery and helped him get the job. It seemed the last night shift operator had just vanished one night, leaving the lighthouse unattended during a bad storm. Two ships ran aground that night and the casualties aboard had been pretty bad.  But that wasn’t the only strange occurrence in the area. Just a few nights later, there had been an explosion—some said sabotage—at the local shipyards where some Navy vessels were being overhauled.
       John approached the door of the lighthouse and noticed that it was slightly ajar. That was odd, because he was relieving Rudolf Kendrick tonight. Frowning, he nudged the door open and stepped inside out of the fog. The long winding metal staircase that led to the top of the lighthouse greeted him and he cautiously started up.
       He could hear voices drifting down the stairwell, a guttural language that he didn’t recognize. John had been reading about how Germany was girding up for war. Could it be that spies had slipped ashore from a submarine in the Atlantic? Moving as quietly as he could, John Stover worked his way up the stairs. Of one thing, he was certain. Rudolf Kendrick was in trouble with a capital “T”.
       A current of air moved past him and a faint sound came from below. It had sounded almost like someone had closed the outside door of the lighthouse. That was impossible though. He had locked it behind himself after entering! Chalking it up to imagination, John Stover continued to climb.
       His fist was tight around the plastic handle of his metal lunch pail. If nothing else, the lunchbox could be used as a weapon, especially since aside from his lunch, it also contained a full thermos of coffee. The weight alone would make it effective if he needed to hit someone on the head.
       The stairs were dark except for the occasional flash of light from the turning torch above. The voices were louder and he could hear the old man growling back defiantly. The exchange was English, but with Stover’s anxiety burning at a fever pitch, he barely understood the words. Then the loudest of the foreigner voices yelled at Kendrick, a threat of bloody murder, and it was more than Stover could take. He ran up the stairs and heaved his lunchbox into the face of the nearest man.
He had imagined that he might find a roomful of men in gray uniforms and armbands of red with white circles and black swastikas, but instead the half- dozen strangers wore dark trench coats and snap-brim fedoras. Uniformed or not, there was no mistaking their intentions.
       Stover’s rolled up newspaper also became a weapon. Gripped tightly enough it was almost as stiff as a club, he jammed the end of it into more than one eye as he fought the intruders.
       “Rudolf! Run!” He slammed his fist into the jaw of another of the dark clad men and teeth flew through the air.
       Then the old man catapulted into action, slamming his shoulder into one of the men and knocking him through the window in a shower of razor sharp glass shards. Thick white fog immediately filled the room, seeming to drifting in from outside and below.
       A strong hand caught Stover’s shoulder and propelled him across the room, and then twin bursts of flame and thunder roared through the mist. Men screamed and fell as heavy bullets, fired quickly and decisively, slammed into their bodies.
       Other, lighter guns fired in response, but the bullets from those found no targets and whizzed through glass out into the night. The profound booming of the paired .45 automatic pistols eclipsed the other guns and ultimately silenced them.
       The heavy fog that had invaded the lighthouse was disorienting, but somehow Stover managed to reach Rudolf Kendrick and steer him to shelter. Grim laughter echoed through the sudden quiet and then there was silence.
       John Stover surveyed the room and saw that all of Kendrick’s tormentors were dead. Most shot full of holes by the big .45s. Whoever had wielded those weapons with such lethal efficiency had not remained to survey his handiwork. The only sound of his passing was a soft laughter that echoed up the stairwell.
       Their savior was gone, like a gray ghost in the fog.
       “Rudy, who were those guys?” John asked.
       “Never saw them before, Johnny. They somehow managed to get inside and caught me by surprise. I think they might be some of those Nazis that the newsreels have been talking about,” Rudolf Kendrick replied gruffly.
       “Yeah, that’s what it looks like to me too. Any ideas about the guy that saved our bacon in the fog?”
       “Not a one. He was like some sort of ghost,” Kendrick replied.
       “Yeah,” Stover replied. “A ghost.”
       In the fog outside, a shape moved through the darkness. Cloaked in the grim gray mist, he was searching for the rest of those who had slipped ashore from the German submarine. He had learned of their arrival from sources in New York City and for several nights had been doing his best to thwart their plans. Tonight he had scored his greatest victory, but there was still more work to be done.
       Evil men often performed their dire deeds under the cover of night, but now the shadows were the ally of their enemy. His dark gray clothing and cloak helped him blend with the heavy fog and darkness. He used both to his advantage in tracking the men as they arrived on shore from a U-boat that had surfaced out beyond the bay. The submarine had managed to conceal its presence in the heavy mist, so few were aware of its arrival.
       Men who did not have America’s best interests at heart were trying to sabotage her future. Some were foreign invaders—like the villains he had battled at the lighthouse—but some were indistinguishable from the good citizens of the United States, emerging only in the darkness to carry out their machinations.
       That was why the man the newspapers had taken to calling ‘The Gray Ghost’ walked the night, and all the more so now that the battle against evil had reached a new level of peril. The war in Europe was growing in scope with each passing day and it was only a matter of time before the United States was drawn into it, despite the isolationist policies of most of her elected officials. The Nazi scourge knew this as well, and knew also that the best way to keep America out of the fight was to act preemptively to undermine her homeland defenses.
       Their plans had been carefully laid and executed at an opportune moment, but there was one thing they hadn’t figured on when hatching their foul schemes: The Gray Ghost.

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