Josie Gray had been working overtime on the Fearsome Four case lately. Her uncle had expressed some concern about the girl becoming so obsessed over any case, even one as high-profile as this. And he didn’t know the half of the effort Josie was putting into it, because he didn’t know about her work as the Blue Scarab!
Ever since Nightingale’s unfortunate death, Blue Scarab had redoubled her efforts to find Cutter and Klaw. Nightingale had discovered that Josie Gray and Blue Scarab were the same person from the diary of Slouch, aka Allen Carther. She had no way of knowing if the other pair of criminals that had made up this local crimewave had access to that diary, but she intended to take no chances.
She had tracked Nightingale’s hideout quickly, but the place had been cleaned out by the time she gotthere. She wasn’t sure if Klaw and Cutter had been there, or if Nightingale herself had emptied the place, figuring never to return after she had killed Blue Scarab. In either case, if the diary had been here, it wasn’tnow! What was worse, the remaining two criminals had resumed their felonious activities. Nightingale had been so focussed on her revenge that nothing else had mattered. Cutter and Klaw, however, apparently wanted money, and they were willing to pick up where Slouch had left off.
Not that the duo was as effective as the original Fearsome Four had been. Their series of crimes had been much more far-reaching than just breaking into the home of Greeway’s elite, and they also were not quite as full of finesse. Josie reasoned that the rich had originally been targeted due to Carther’s personal prejudiceand first-hand knowledge of their homes, neither of which were involved with the two remaining members of the gang. However, their acts also showed a bit of desperation that had been missing from Carther’s crimes, which worried Josie. Desperate criminals were, in her experience, the most dangerous.
Speaking of dangerous, given her experience with Nightingale and Slouch, Josie had been quick to do a thorough evaluation of the two remaining members of the gang. In her estimation, Cutter, aka Jacob Latner, was the more dangerous of the pair. Klaw, Bruno Mendleson, was big, powerful and seemed willing to do just about anything for a thrill. However, everything Josie had read about the man indicated a lack of imagination. Klaw was a follower, albeit a dangerous one.
Cutter, on the other hand, was brilliant. While certainly not as quick as Slouch, he had a wild imagination and a technical expertise that was almost impossible to rival. The one aspect of the break-ins that HADN’T changed was the skill with which the visible alarm systems had been circumvented. This had led Josie to conclude that Cutter was responsible for bypassing the electronics. He was also an ex-gymnast, so he was probably doing most of the “second-story” work. Josie’s research over the past few weeks had given her a great deal of information about the two criminals. All that was missing was the one piece of information that she desperately wanted: their current location!
Josie sat in her living room sipping herbal tea as she went through the files from Cutter and Klaw’s crimes. Several jewelry stores, a bank, a platinum shipment at the local Sci-Tech lab affiliate... what was the common denominator? Then it hit her: they were all big bucks and all publicly known.
“Okay,” she said to herself as she got up and started to pace the length of the room. “Cutter, at least doesn’t seem like a career criminal. If he’s calling the shots, then it looks like he’s just after money, maybe a ‘nest egg’ he can retire on! But, without Carther to tell him who has what and where it is, he’s had to go for the more obvious targets. With that in mind, what’s the most obvious, big-money target in Greenway?”
Josie dug through the Greenway Gazette and found two possibilities. The first was the Charity Emerald, the largest single emerald known to exist, which was on loan to the Greenway museum. Sold as a single piece, it would be hard to unload. But, even if it were cut into five or six smaller gems, it would fetch a price of millions. It would be very appealing to someone looking to make a great deal of money fast!
Of course, the same could be said of the painting at the auction gallery. It was a previously unknown work of the German painter Hans Latner. Again, it would fetch millions from an unscrupulous collector. And the fact that Cutter had the same last name as the painter might be enough to tempt his vanity. The gallery also had a little bit less security than the museum. Josie decided to check that out first.
She quickly stuffed the papers back into their file and was carrying her drained mug back into the kitchen when her phone rang. She ignored it, letting the machine pick it up. After the beep, she was a bit surprised to hear Vince DeRocco leaving her a message.
“Josie, hi. Listen, I know we haven’t had a chance to do much with that...special project your uncle gave us, but I’ve been really busy with these robberies. I really hope to have things wrapped up here soon, so we can concentrate on the other thing. Actually, I was hoping to get your take on a hunch I had, but never mind. I’ll talk to you soon! Bye!”
Josie sighed as she went to change into her colorful alter ego. The special project her uncle had assigned her and Vince to work on was discovering the real name of the Blue Scarab. Actually, she was glad that the Fearsome Four had come up when they did, preventing them from really dealing with the issue. Vince was a damn good cop. He might be able to come up with at least a clue as to who Blue Scarab really was, and that was something Josie just couldn’t have!
Within minutes, Josie Gray had disappeared the Blue Scarab was racing through the streets of the city. Her problem with Vince would have to wait. For now, Blue Scarab’s mind had room only to deal with the more immediate threat to her identity, Cutter and Klaw. They had to be stopped, and she had to be the one to stop them. If they had the diary, even if they hadn’t read it yet, they could still be a menace. If the police caught them first, and confiscated the diary, someone would eventually be assigned to read it. And Josie would never be able to convince anyone that Carther had lied or been so completely in the dark as to what he was saying. There were too many pictures that could be compared digitally.
The auction house was dark, of course. It was well past business hours. Josie hated these late nights, but it was when her prey tended to work. Besides, the less exposure Blue Scarab had, the better! She ignored these thoughts as she used the scanners on the Scarabmobile to search for an easy way in. Picking the lock would be easy, but motion detectors in the outer corridors were her biggest problem. They worked by a mild electric current that passed through the floor, and would set off an alarm when an object that wasn’t charged (like a person) interrupted the current. Josie had an idea that was a bit risky, but it seemed like it might work. She adjusted her Scarab Sting to a low setting and altered the current of the electric shock feature to match that in the floor. Next, she set it to a wide dispersal pattern and activated it. She was instantly bathed in a soft electric glow and she felt a slight buzzing throughout her entire body. It was uncomfortable, but it gave her the same charge as the security zone. It should enable her to pass the alarms undetected.
Josie picked the lock quickly and then slipped inside the door, locking it after her. She moved quickly to where the high-security vault was located. She had an idea on how she could protect the painting, but she had to move quickly if it was to work!
For an hour, Josie crouched in the darkness, hiding behind a desk that was used by security guards during the day. Recent budget cutbacks at the gallery had eliminated night guards; the owners also argued that the new high-tech security system would watch the building more effectively. Blue Scarab shook her head at that foolishness as she glanced at the clock.
Suddenly, she heard a small noise. She froze, straining her ears. The sound was so slight that she could have just imagined it. Had she? Was this a wild goose chase? Maybe she should have gone to the museum to protect the emerald! But, no, there it was again! Blue Scarab was sure that she was no longer alone. The sound resolved into a rubbing noise that seemed to be coming from the ventilation shaft. It would be a very effective way to gain access to the gallery. In fact, Josie had considered it herself, but the alarms there were heavier than the rest of the building. As she thought this, the grate popped open and Cutter’s head swung into view, wearing the strange goggles that protected his identity. He was obviously very good at what he did, but she wasn’t about to let that stop her from stopping him!
Blue Scarab kept her head low behind the desk. Klaw was too big to fit in that ventilation shaft, so Cutter was alone. She figured that Cutter worked his way into the building and, once safe inside, opened the door for his partner. This had been the way he originally operated with the group, and she doubted that he would change now.
Of course, that made things easier for her. Cutter would be easier to take than Klaw, and she had the element of surprise on her side. All she had to do was wait until he entered the room, and she could take him. Then, when he was out of the way, she could concentrate on taking down Klaw. She watched as his head slid back into the hole; Blue Scarab thought that he must be planning to turn around in the shaft and drop feet first into the room. She was surprised when, instead, a small canister came sailing in the room from the vent. It landed on the floor next to the desk that concealed the hidden heroine and burst into a plume of thick white smoke. Before Blue Scarab could react, the smoke filled her lungs with a cloying sweetness. Her vision began to blur and the azure adventuress struggled to remain conscious, but it was no use. In moments she had passed out on the floor.
Blue Scarab’s arms ached when she woke up. She soon learned that she was on auction house stage. Or, to be more accurate, she was suspended above the auction house stage. A long rope had been looped over one of the light fixtures and was connected to the ropes that bound her tightly-tied wrists. Her feet were about six inches off the floor, which accounted for the ache in her shoulders. “Okay,” she sighed, “lets see if I can get out of this.” “I doubt it,” said a nasally voice behind her. When she couldn’t crane her neck around far enough to see who it was, the person grabbed her waist and spun her around. She wasn’t surprised to see Cutter before her. “Hi, Cutter,” she said casually. “I see you and Klaw are still in business, huh? Of course, you don’t have the finesse you had when Slouch was running things!”
Cutter shook his head. “Trying to get me angry so I’ll do something stupid, Blue Scarab? I thought you were better than that. But I agree with you. Allen Carther had the connections to make this operation really work. Me, I’m just an electronics genius with some talent in gymnastics and too many bills that need to be paid. Sure, I’m smart enough to plan some crimes, but I don’t know who to hit. That was Allen’s territory.” Blue Scarab was a bit surprised at Cutter’s simple, unemotional description of the situation. She had always thought that he was the smartest of the Fearsome Foursome, and this confirmed her suspicion. In a way, she’d rather deal with a fanatic like Slouch or Nightingale than someone who could be calm while facing trouble. People like Cutter made far fewer mistakes.
“Where’s your partner?” Blue Scarab asked.
Cutter shrugged his shoulders. “Klaw’s probably on his way home by now. He took the painting by Latner. I told him to be careful with it while I took care of you.”
“Took care of me how?”
Cutter said, “I’m sure you’re tired of all the ‘death trap’ things, so I’m just going to leave you here.”
“How kind of you,” Blue Scarab said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“You might not think so,” Cutter added, “when I tell you the rest of my plan. See, we didn’t want the theft to be discovered, so we decided to just burn the whole auction house down. But, since we don’t want to risk having you around, I’m afraid that means that you’ll go up in smoke, too.”
Blue Scarab gasped. “Cutter, Jacob, you can’t do this. Do whatever you want with me, but there are priceless treasures in this building! You can’t destroy all that, just to cover up the theft of one painting!”
Cutter nodded sadly. “You’re right. And I HATE having to do this. But if the police are looking for an arsonist, not a thief, Klaw and I can get out of town. This one score will be enough for us to retire in comfort, which is all we want.” As he said this, he pulled a long scarf from his pocket. “Sorry about this,” he said. “But it’s got to be done!” He stuffed the scarf in Josie’s mouth and then taped over it, sealing the cloth inside and silencing her.
Blue Scarab watched in silent fury as Cutter walked over to a pile of rags that he had placed under one of the long curtains. In the center of the pile was a candle that he lit. The candle would burn down to ignite the rags, which would in turn spread the flames to the curtains. It was effective, and would give Cutter a chance to get out and away before any alarms went off...assuming, she realized, that he hadn’t disconnected the FIRE alarms, as well as the BURGLAR alarms!
Cutter looked at Blue Scarab and sighed. “You know, I’m not really a bad guy. But, sometimes circumstances force us to do things we don’t like. I’m just sorry that you have to pay the price for it.”
“HMmmmmmffff!” Blue Scarab yelled into her gag as he turned and left the room. Then she focussed on her situation, because it was obvious that he wasn’t coming back.
All things considered, Cutter hadn’t done an overly effective job of binding the heroine. Sure, her weight tightened the knots on her wrists and made sure they held fast, and the gag reduced her attempts at speech to almost useless “mewings”, but he hadn’t bound her feet or legs in any way. If fact, the only thing holding her was that single point of rope around her wrists. If she could just free herself from that, she’d be able to stop the fire before it spread. She glanced at the candle and grimaced at how much it had already burned down. She had to think of something fast.
Blue Scarab began to swing her legs back and forth, until her body began to swing as well. Then she increased the strength of the swings, using the momentum to get her swinging further and higher. Finally, when she had enough momentum, the redhead pulled with her arms and swung her body all the way, until she was actually upside down. Before she fell back, she wrapped her legs around the rope and held herself there. Now came the hard part.
Using pressure from her legs to take some of the pressure off her wrists, Blue Scarab was able to grab the rope a little bit above the spot where she was secured to it. Then she wrapped one ankle in the rope and pressed the instep of her opposite foot against the rope, locking her leg and the rope in place. Then she was able to have her hands free so that she could pull the tape from her lips and spit out the scarf from her mouth. Finally, she used her teeth to attack the knots, and soon her hands were free. She dropped to the ground, well aware of the growing light in the room, due to a bright glow behind her.
A quick glance told her that the candle had burned down, and the pile of rags was on fire, with the curtains just starting to catch. Blue Scarab raced across the room and grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher. Then she battled the blaze, until nothing was left but some charred curtains and a pile of burnt rags. She sighed as she put down the extinguisher and put one of her small Scarab figures on top of it. Then, she left the building.
The following night, Blue Scarab was waiting in the museum for Klaw and Cutter to strike again. She was sure they would, since they still needed on final score before they could retire. Cutter probably would have realized this by now on his own, but Joise Gray had made sure that the newspapers covering the break-in at the museum mentioned that the Latner painting had been found hidden in the manager’s office. Surely, Cutter must know now that he had been duped, with a phony painting. Josie had counted on his haste making him careless, and she had guessed correctly. But, now he HAD to come after the emerald, and she would be ready for him.
Once again, Josie was alerted by a small noise. She charged up her Scarab Sting, ready to blast Cutter as soon as he showed his face. She still wasn’t sure how he had found her last night, but she wasn’t about to give him a chance tonight!
Cutter’s slender, black-clad form sipped into the room. Blue Scarab raised the Sting and fired just milliseconds before she was hit from behind by someone big. The attacker drove her to the floor. The heroine spun around and used did her best to ward off her attacker, who had to be Klaw. But he was too strong and seemed almost impervious to nerve blows that Blue Scarab knew would cause agony in most. She prepared to fire her Sting again, but before she could a powerful blow smashed her head into the floor, knocking her out.
Blue Scarab came to and realized she was still in the museum. Horrified, she then realized that she was tied up and locked into the guillotine in the French history display. Off to her left four or five feet away she saw a candle burning next to a cord. Straining, she twisted her head in the headstock clamped around her neck and followed the cord, up the side of the guillotine, to where the gleaming blade hung in its slotted frame nine feet over her slim neck. The other end of the cord was tied to a bolt in the wall. Once the candle melted down enough, the flame would burn through the cord and send the wicked blade hurtling down to chop off her head. She tested her bonds. Cutter had crossed her wrists and tied them high up on her back to a rope harness tied around her shoulders. She was kneeling and each of her knees was pulled to the side and tied to guillotine’s brace. Not that anyone would hear her anyway, but a large rubber ball had been strapped in her mouth, preventing any cries for help.
She yanked at the headstock, but it was locked down tight with no way for her to reach the latches. She began to slide her fingers along the ropes she could reach, testing for slack and trying to find the knots. After a few moments, Cutter came into the room. He looked down at her and shook his head. “I told you at the auction house that I didn’t really WANT to hurt you, didn’t I? Why did you have to make this necessary? That bit with the switched paintings was cute, but you really made me mad. But, at least I’m giving you a classy send-off, just like the French aristocracy! For now, though, I have work to do. The security around that emerald is tight. Besides, I’d really rather not see this!”
What a jerk, Blue Scarab thought as Cutter left. This was a rough position. There was no slack in either the ropes or her body, nothing to work with. Her mind raced with possible escape plans, which she rejected one by one as not possible. If only she were super-strong, or could turn to a mist, or was double-jointed, it would be different. But now all she could do was pull futilely at her bonds while she watched the candle burn slowly down.
Suddenly, she saw a shadow in the doorway, and wondered if Cutter had decided to come back to watch after all, or if Klaw had decided he needed some entertainment. Then the person pulled a gun, and the comely crimefighter recognized the shape as Vince DeRocco! He had mentioned a hunch on Josie’s machine, maybe he’d been watching the museum the past two nights. Whatever the case, he was here and might prove to be her salvation.
As Vince started to ease past the door, Blue Scarab took a deep breath and screamed as loudly as she could into the ball-gag. While her cries were muffled, they were loud enough to cause Vince to turn his head and see her predicament. “Oh, shit!” he said as he ran over and blew out the candle. Then he unlocked the headpiece and eased Blue Scarab out of the death-machine.
“So,” he said as he studied the bound and gagged heroine, “you’re the Blue Scarab. Well, I got news for you, lady, you’re under arrest! While you have the right to remain silent, I’m going to take this gag out and you’d better tell me what’s going on!”
Once the gag was removed, Blue Scarab licked her lips. “Listen, handsome,” she said, “you’ve got bigger problems than me! I didn’t do this to myself. The last two members of the gang responsible for the recent crime wave are here to steal the Charity Emerald. If we move fast, we can catch them!”
Vince had been working on freeing Blue Scarab’s legs from the guillotine. “What do you mean ‘we’? You’re in as much trouble as them! Which is why I’m leaving you here while I stop the thieves!”
Blue Scarab couldn’t believe it when he jumped up and left her there so he could go after the real crooks. He was a good cop, but he didn’t know what he was getting himself in for! He needed help from the Blue Scarab, and he was going to get it no matter what! She looked around desperately, until she spied a suit of armor, with a sword resting in it’s guantleted hands, point down. She wiggled to her feet and ran over to it, and began to saw at the ropes with the edge of the blade.
Cutter hung from one ankle. Klaw held the end of the rope that looped up to the ceiling and allowed him to lower his partner to the case within the cage of electric eye beams. Cutter had easily disabled the case’s alarm and cut open the glass, and now held the Charity Emerald in his hand. He signaled for Klas to raise him back up over the beams, and the big man started to pull on the rope.
“Okay, you two, freeze!” DeRocco said as he stepped into the room and aimed his gun at Klaw’s head. “Man, I’ve heard caught crooks red handed before, but you two get the prize! Okay, muscles, let your little friend down nice and easy, and you can collect: an all-expense paid trip down to the station!”
Klaw froze, not sure what to do. His first reaction was to charge and crush this little man, but he couldn’t let go of the rope from which his partner was suspended. Cutter, meanwhile, saw and opportunity he could take advantage of. The cop was was concentrating on Klaw, who was closer and in a much better position to create problems. That gave him a chance to hurl the emerald in his hand at Vince, smashing him in the side of the head. He staggered and dropped his pistol from the blow. Cutter slipped his ankle from the loop in the rope and did a flip over the electronic beams. Klaw charged at the interfering detective as his partner scooped up the gem and slipped it into his pouch.
“Not so fast, Cutter!” Blue Scarab ran into the room and kicked the criminal’s hand, causing the emerald to sail through the air. She quickly jumped up and snatched it from the air, kicking Cutter in the stomach as she landed. She glanced over at Klaw, and saw him holding a large marble stand over his head, prepared to smash it into Vince DeRocco. Before he could, she blasted him with the Scarab Sting. Klaw staggered forward before she collapsed, dropping the stand in the process. DeRocco was safe, but still dazed. Blue Scarab spun around again when she heard retreating footsteps. Cutter was trying to escape. She bolted after him.
With her long legs and fabulous physique, Blue Scarab was much faster than her quarry, and should have caught him easily. However, Cutter’s gymnastic training was obvious as he slid under, hopped over and swung around obstacles that the heroine had to avoid. His weaving pattern also made it difficult, if not impossible for her to get a bead on him with her Sting. Still, she was gaining on him, but slowly.
Luck turned to her favor when their course through the museum took them to the main entry hall. Here, there was nothing standing in her way. Cutter would have to depend on pure speed here, and she outmatched him in that category. She surged forward, determined to stop him before he reached the next gallery. A wild dive carried her to his back and drove him to the ground.
Cutter tried to put up some resistance, but in a fair fight Blue Scarab’s skill was much greater than his. In moments, she had him sprawled on the floor at her feet, with one foot resting on his chest, holding him down. “Okay,” she said. “One question. Where is Slouch’s diary?”
“His what?” Cutter seemed confused. “How should I know? Maybe it was with the stuff we got from Nightingale, but I never saw a diary!”
Blue Scarab was sure that he was telling the truth. So, if he hadn’t read the diary, he didn’t know who she really was. Now all she had to do was get it from his hideout and she’d be all set! Before she could ask him where his hideout was, however, she heard a loud crash and a gunshot from the other room.
“Vince!” she said. He might be in trouble. Blue Scarab blasted Cutter with her Sting, rendering him unconscious. Then she raced back to the room where the emerald had been. Vince DeRocco was on his hands and knees, facing a smashed window. His gun was in his hand, and Klaw was gone. When he heard Blue Scarab enter, he pointed the gun at her, still dazed from the blow to the head.
“Well, at least I got you,” he said.
“Sorry, I don’t think so,” Blue Scarab said as she shot him with a low-level blast from the Sting. He collapsed to the floor, the gun dropping from his fingers.
The heroine dragged Cutter back into the room and used DeRocco’s handcuffs to secure the criminal to a railing. Then she propped up Vince so he’d be as comfortable as a person can be while lying on the floor. With nobody around to see her, she leaned over and kissed his lips lightly. Then she ran off into the night.
“So she just left you there?” Josie sat in the visitor’s chair in Vince DeRocco’s room. The blow to his head had been bad enough that the doctor’s had kept him in the hospital over night for observation, but the current prognosis was that he’d be fine.
“Yep,” Vince said, propped up in bed with a bandage around his head. “I don’t know, Josie, maybe she was hoping to buy some good will from the police department. But it won’t work.”
“Or,” Josie said thoughtfully, “maybe she really IS one of the good guys?”
“Even if her motives are good, she’s a vigilante. We can’t have vigilantes in our city! Trust me, Josie, as soon as I’m back on duty, you and I are going to go to work on tracking down Blue Scarab and ending her career of taking the law into her own hands!”
Between his own anger and the painkillers he was on, Vince missed the complete lack of enthusiasm in her “sound’s great” response. She would have to deal with this issue soon, but first she had to find Klaw and get that diary. But she had no idea how to find the criminal!
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