Cutter seemed to be quite cooperative with the police after his capture and arrest. He even gave them the address of the basement office that he and Klaw had rented for their hideout. While the police had managed to raid the place, recovering much of the stolen loot in the process, they were disappointed in their attempts to capture Klaw, who had cleared out of the place.
“Anything, Josie?” Her Uncle Gordon asked as Josie Gray bustled around the office, measuring, dusting and photographing everything in sight. “Anything at all?”
The redheaded lass sighed. “Plenty, Uncle Gordon. Just not much that’s useful at all! There are a few partial prints that don’t belong to either Latner or Mendelson, but they were only here for a week and a half or so. These could belong to just about anyone: former tenants, the super, the cleaning lady...” She stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets and wrinkled her nose as she looked around the dusty room. “Well, okay, maybe NOT the cleaning lady. I’ll run them anyway, but don’t hold your breath.”
Greenway’s Chief of Detectives sighed in frustration. “Damn, I hate this! Give me gangsters and muggers any day. These fancy criminals with the code names and costumes really bug the hell out of me!”
Josie felt for the old man, but didn’t know what she could do. There was still a STRONG possibility that Bruno Mendleson, aka “Klaw”, had the diary that revealed her secret identity. Nobody wanted him caught more than she did, but there just wasn’t much to go on. She even wondered if they had heard the last of Klaw. After all, all he wanted was money. He had managed to get away with a fair amount of cash, and he didn’t have Slouch’s knowledge, Nightingale’s audacity or Cutter’s imagination, so the odds of him planning any major crimes on his own seemed remote. She mentioned this fact to Gordon Jameson.
“I know,” he replied. “But that still leaves him out there somewhere, with stolen goods. And I hate to lose!” The Chief looked around the office slowly, his dark eyes narrowed, as if he could force the very walls to give up what they knew. Finally, he turned to his niece. “I’m going back to the station, do you want a ride?” When she nodded, he put his arm around her shoulders. “Good. Then get to that lab of yours and give me some answers!”
Back at the lab, Josie fed everything into the computer. She developed the film and studied the measurements. She gave special attention to this last task, hoping that she would find a secret hiding place where Slouch’s diary might be. Sadly, everything seemed to be in proper proportion. Then she studied the photos she had taken. Again, nothing. Finally, the computer had finished working on the fingerprint information she had input. One partial was a 47% match for a fence in town. Josie doubted that it would prove to be a useful lead, but she phoned up to her uncle anyway.
There was one print that Josie found a bit confusing. It was from Klaw, but what confused her is that it was visible BEFORE she dusted for prints. Klaw had obviously gotten something on his finger that rubbed off while he was in the office. The confusing part was WHAT he had gotten on his finger. It seemed to be some kind of make-up, with a grease-paint base. Josie began to dig through the file of information that the department had collected on Bruno Mendleson ever since he had been identified.
“Okay,” she muttered. “What the heck is the connection between Mendleson and the theatre? Because if that’s not theatrical make-up, I’ll eat my Scarab Sting!”
Then she found it. True, it was a tenuous connection at best, but it was something. Bruno Mendleson had worked for a short time at the Bateson Theatre; he had even dated Corinne Williams, one of the actresses in the Theater Company. That was BEFORE he left town for a while and eventually hooked up with Slouch. Klaw didn’t seem to be the type to handle rejection well. It seemed highly likely that he might try to restart the failed relationship. Josie reached for the phone and dialed the number of the Bateson Theatre.
“Hello, this is Officer Josie Gray,” she told the boy who answered the phone. “Can I speak with Corinne Williams, please?”
“Um, no ma’am,” the boy said. “I mean, Corinne’s not here. She had to leave town a day or two ago. Her mom had to go into the hospital. Is she in some kind of trouble?”
Josie’s ears perked up. A day or two ago? That would be the day after Cutter was caught. “No,” she assured him, “no trouble. We just thought she might be able to help us find someone. Did she leave any idea when she’d be back? Or a number where she could be reached.?”
“’Fraid not. Actually, she didn’t call. Her brother did. I guess he just didn’t think of it, what with his mom being sick and all.”
Josie thanked the boy and hung up. Corrine’s mother really COULD have gotten sick, and she really COULD have had her brother call, and it all COULD have happened the day after Cutter was caught. It COULD all be a coincidence that had NOTHING to do with Klaw. But Josie had learned to trust her instincts, and her instincts were telling her that this was not a coincidence. She looked up Corrine Williams’ address in the phone book and grabbed her coat.
The building super was a nice old man who had a great deal of respect for the law. When Josie showed him her badge and explained that she was worried about Corrine, he was happy to open the door to the apartment for her. Josie took a quick tour of the apartment and confirmed her suspicions. Wherever Corinne Williams was, she hadn’t gone voluntarily for a period of time. Her clothes were untouched, her make-up and toiletries were all still in the bathroom, and her suitcase still sat atop the shelf in the closet. This was not the sign of a woman who had packed up to go home to care for a sick mother!
Josie thanked the man and left the apartment. When she got outside, she sat in her car and closed her eyes, trying to think. It looked more and more like Klaw was with Corrine Williams. Or, to be more accurate, she was with him. If they weren’t at his old hideout, and they weren’t at her apartment, then where could they be? There was only one obvious answer: the only place they shared with each other, the theatre! It was a lead that needed to be followed. But her instincts kicked in again, telling her that this was a lead more suited to the Blue Scarab than to Josie Gray. She drove towards the theatre, glad that she had a spare costume hidden in the trunk of her car. It would be dark soon, and this way she didn’t have to drive all the way home to change!
The Blue Scarab almost wished Josie had gone home. At least with the Scarabmobile’s computer, she could have pulled up the floor plans for the theatre. Without that advantage, she had to break into the theatre manager’s office and borrow his floor plans from the filing cabinet. She scanned the plans quickly. There weren’t many places in the theatre that could be used to hide. Most of backstage would be fine to keep the public from seeing a person, but the cast and crew were all over the place during a production. She suddenly noticed a smallish room on the lower level. According to the plans, it housed various pieces of stage machinery and served as auxiliary storage. Provided the machinery worked properly, there would be no need for anyone to go there! And Klaw knew enough to keep the equipment running properly! The heroine put the plans back in the drawer and slipped out of the office, headed for the machinery room.
The red-headed wonder moved quickly and silently through the theatre, sticking to the catwalks and back-stage areas, easily able to avoid the theatre people who were arriving and preparing for that night’s performance. There was only one spot where she had to wait for clearance; it seemed that this particular hallway was the busiest in the whole backstage area! Finally, Blue Scarab got her chance and practically dove across the passage and down the steps to the sub-basement.
This area below the stage was cold and dark, and obviously well soundproofed, because Josie could now hear noises from the furnace that hadn’t been apparent before. She nodded to herself; such things would be known to theatre regulars, and would make this the PERFECT place to hold an unwilling captive. The heroine paused for a moment to get her bearings, then began down the hallway to the room in question. When she got there, the door was locked, but her Scarab-sting made short work of the bolt. She opened the door and peered inside.
While Blue Scarab would have been hard pressed to say WHAT she had expected to find in the room, she knew that it wasn’t what she actually did find. The room had decorated with what had to be props from previous play productions. Golden-gilt furniture was placed around the room, which was draped in rich tapestries and false walls. One wall in particular struck her attention, for it had a huge bay window that showed a seascape through it. Blue Scarab noted all these details in the first second after she opened the door. Then, all of her attention focussed on the room’s single occupant: an attractive blonde woman, clad in red bra and panties, tightly tied to a straight-backed chair, and gagged with a thick white silk scarf. Josie Gray had seen this woman perform at the theatre several times. It was Corrine Williams.
After a second quick once-over of the room showed Blue Scarab that Corrine was alone, she moved quickly into the room and studied the girl. Corrine’s arms had been tied to the slats on the back of the chair. Her ankles had been bound together and tied to the one of the legs of the chair, with her legs placed on an angle so that her knees could be lashed to the opposite chair leg. Ropes surrounded her to hold her torso flush against the padded back of the chair, and her thighs were similarly tied to the chair’s seat. The silk scarf had been wound around her head, first between her lips and then over them. Blue Scarab was willing to bet that the gag held some sort of packing in the girl’s mouth. She untied the gag as quickly as she could, and unwound it from Corrine’s head. The blonde actress forced a soggy cloth from her mouth with her tongue.
“Oh, thank GOD someone found me!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been trapped here for two days!”
Blue Scarab nodded as she slipped a thin knife from the top of her boot. She had recently decided that such a thing would be useful to carry. She started to cut Corrine loose. “By Bruno Mendelson, right?”
“Yes,” Corrine said. “But he’s acting so strange! He calls himself Klaw, and he keeps wearing this black costume...” While Blue Scarab continued to slash at her bonds, Corrine explained how Klaw had contacted her and asked for help two days ago. When she refused, he kidnapped her from her bed and carried her down here, like some latter-day Phantom Of The Opera. As her bonds dropped away, she began to rub the freed body parts, trying to restore circulation.
“Can you walk?” Blue Scarab asked.
“If it will get me out of here, I think I can fly!” Corrine responded. It turned out that she did need a little support from the blue-clad heroine until the “needles and pins” feeling left her legs. Still, the two women moved quickly down the hallway towards the exit.
The pair was just rounding a corner when Klaw popped out from a doorway and grabbed Corrine around the waist. He placed the blades of one of his clawed gloves lightly against the girl’s neck. “One wrong move, Blue Scarab, and I’ll slit her throat.”
Blue Scarab weighed her options. She wanted to blast Klaw with her Scarab Sting, but she couldn’t hit him with Corrine in the way. He was just out of range for her to strike or kick him, and he could easily kill the blonde actress before she closed the distance. The heroine sighed. “Okay, you win. What do you want?”
Klaw nodded back the way they came. “Back to the room.”
Within fifteen minutes, Klaw was inspecting his captives. He had bound and gagged both Blue Scarab and Corrine, and left them in a narrow shaft that had originally been hidden behind on of the false panels that make up his hideaway. “This is the counter weight,” he explained. “Whenever something has to be raised or lowered through the stage, this weight works the elevator that does it. In the third act of tonight’s play, a ghost rises from the grave. When that happens, the weight will come down and crush the two of you.”
Blue Scarab narrowed her eyes in fury, while Corrine squealed in terror through her gag. Klaw sighed as he stroked the blonde’s hair. “I’m sorry, babe. I really didn’t want it to come to this. If only you’d been nicer to me!” Then he turned and left.
Since she could do nothing to comfort Corrine, the maid of mystery ignored her soft sobbing and studied the trap carefully, looking for a way out. At least she had time before the third act! Now she just had to use that time effectively.
Basically, Blue Scarab and Corrine made an “X” at the bottom of the weight shaft. Blue Scarab had been placed on her back, her hands tied to one of the tracks that guide the weight down. Her ankles had been stretched diagonally across the space and tied to that track. Corrine was on top of the Blue Scarab, face down so that her belly crossed Blue Scarab’s, and she had been tied to the remaining two tracks. Both had been gagged with heavy scarves cleaved between their teeth. Klaw had tried to remove Blue Scarab’s Sting, but the safety lock she’d installed meant that only she could remove it. So, she still had that available, but she didn’t see what good it would do. She also still had the knife hidden in her boot, but there was no way she could reach that!
“Maybe I should start carrying something longer,” she thought ruefully. “Like a sword!”
That thought suddenly clicked in Blue Scarab’s mind. There WAS a sword in the room! It was hanging with some other props on the wall just to her right. It was so close, she could touch it...or, at least she would have been able to if she weren’t tied to the floor! Was there any way that she could get it down to where she could reach it? She could try to ricochet her Scarab Sting off one of the other props, knocking the sword down. It was a long shot, but it just might work! She fired the Sting at a small mirror, but the blast went far wide of the mark. Her position made it difficult to aim.
“Oh well,” she thought grimly, “if at first you don’t succeed...”
For an hour and a half, Blue Scarab fired, adjusted, and fired again. At this point she was practically biting through her gag in frustration; she seemed to have blasted everything in the room EXCEPT the sword! Every time she thought she had compensated for her previous error, it seemed that she had overcompensated, and hit something on the other side. To make matters worse, the mirror had become distorted from the constant blasting by the Sting, causing her blasts to go wild. Then, she heard something that chilled her heart: the slow grinding of the counter weight descending on the track.
Corrine’s cries took on new urgency as she began to flop around, pulling on her bonds. One of her bounces caused a Scarab Sting to hit the track of the weight. Blue Scarab glanced at the distorted mirror and then at the track above her. At this point, she had nothing to lose! She began a steady barrage of fire at the track, about four feet above her head. The weight came lower and lower. Then, it hit the section of the track that Blue Scarab had been shooting at. The blast had deformed the track enough that the weight ground to a halt, jammed in its tracks. Blue Scarab breathed a sigh of relief and waited. Sure enough, within ten minutes she heard a stagehand open the door to the room.
“What the heck is going on in here?” the man asked. Then he started moving the false-wall panels out of his way. Finally, he moved the one in front of the counter-weight, and saw Blue Scarab and Corrine tied in the track. “Holy geez!”
As soon as they had been freed, Blue Scarab began to pump Corrine for information. She had been Klaw’s captive for three days, she must have SOME idea where he would be headed next!
“No, none,” the blonde sobbed. They were now in her dressing room, and Corrine had put on a green dressing gown over her lingerie. “He just kept saying that he had plenty of money now, and he was going to take me away, as soon as he got a friend!”
Blue Scarab considered this. His only friend, that she knew of, was Cutter. She knew Klaw hated to lose at anything. Could he be planning to free his partner before vanishing into criminal retirement? That seemed like the most likely course for him to take. But, that meant that he was heading towards the city jail! Klaw was gutsy, but would even he be that foolhardy? After realizing that he had spent three days hiding in one of the city’s busiest theaters, she realized he would. Blue Scarab had to stop him!
The black van was parked in an alley behind police headquarters. This late at night, there was only a skeleton crew on duty. Klaw had made sure of that, carefully watching the building from all angles for the past three nights. He sighed as he looked longingly at his standard leather costume. When Slouch had come up with the idea of the costumes and code names, Bruno Mendleson had used his love of slasher movies and his muscular physique to create “KLAW.” He wished he could use his standard outfit tonight, for the way it showed off his rock-hard muscles, but practicality called for other measures.
Klaw’s outfit for tonight resembled the kind of outfit motorcycle riders often referred to as “leathers.” However, the outfit was actually a full suit of body armor. His usual mask was in place, but Klaw had hidden his identity even more by donning a black motorcycle helmet with a smoked visor of bulletproof glass. The only things that remained of his normal outfit were his gloves with the blades. They were his trademark, and his favorite weapons. He refused to give them up. Besides, they would come in handy tonight!
Klaw planned on getting Cutter out of jail, so the two friends could retire to a beach in Mexico, like they had discussed. Klaw was sorry that Corrine wouldn’t be coming with them; he figured that by now his pretty ex-girlfriend was a smudge on the bottom of the counterweight. Still, he didn’t doubt that two good-looking, rich gringos could pick up a few nice senoritas when the time came. He had no doubt that his plan would work. It wasn’t as fancy as something that Slouch, or even Cutter, might come up with, but he liked things simple. He would just sneak into police headquarters and plant a few bombs, followed by some smoke grenades in the ventilation ducts. In the confusion, he’d break out Cutter. His armor would protect him from most small gun fire, and he had no qualms about killing anybody who got in his way.
Klaw waited by the back door, hidden in the shrubs. When a young, rookie cop exited the building, Klaw grabbed the man and slammed his head against the brick wall, knocking him out. The villain then grabbed the security door and slipped inside before it closed. This might be even easier then he thought!
Josie Gray’s car slid into a parking spot behind a black van in the alley. Josie stepped from the car, clutching her long coat tight around her body. After a quick look to assure herself that nobody was looking, she melted into the shadows and allowed the coat to slip from her body. Underneath was the form-fitting outfit of the Blue Scarab! She hated taking a chance like this, but it was the quickest way she could think of to cross town. She donned her mask and gloves, snapped her Scarab Stings on her wrists, and dashed across the street. Blue Scarab knew the code to open the security door, and they she had to track Klaw. Whatever he was planning, she planned to stop him!
The following half-hour was a nerve racking on for both Klaw and Blue Scarab, as they both engaged in a cat-and-mouse game both with each other and with any officers that might be headed their way. Klaw preferred to wait until his charges were set before doing anything too violent, or too noisy. Blue Scarab was shocked to find that this place where she worked every day had become a silent maze of torture, for if her identity were discovered it would be the end of both her carrer, and her uncle’s.
With a sigh, Blue Scarab slipped down to the basement. She had checked the area around the holding cages where Cutter was being kept, to no avail. Perhaps, she thought, he was planning to somehow come up from underneath the cell. She slipped silently through this lowest level of the station, which was all but deserted at this time of night. Then she heard movement ahead. All that was there was the boiler room! Nobody would be there at this time of night. Josie had a feeling that she had caught her quarry.
Just as her hand rested on the knob, the door opened. Josie found herself face-to-faceplate with a large man, dressed in black, wearing a motorcycle helmet. Despite the new outfit, his size and bladed gloves made it clear to her that it WAS Klaw. She dropped back and lashed out with a viscious sidekick to the man’s abdomen. She might as well have kicked the door itself. She rebounded from his armored body, having apparently done no damage. She quickly raised her Sting and fired it point blank, but again with no effect. Before she could try again, Klaw grabbed her arms and swept her up over his head. He then dropped the heroine to the floor, stunning her. He followed this with a well-placed kick to her head, sending her into blissful unconsciousness.
Blue Scarab awoke to find herself locked inside a canvas mailbag. She had no idea how long she had been out, but she could tell she had handcuffs locked around her wrists and ankles. Klaw had jammed a rag in her mouth and wound several bands of adhesive tape around her head and over her mouth. Blue Scarab could barely hear the sounds of Klaw moving things around. Little did she know that the sounds she heard were those of Klaw preparing the furnace used to melt down confiscated weapons. She was sure, however, that it wasn’t good for her. She struggled with the cuffs.
One good thing about handcuffs, she quickly realized, was that they gave her a few inches of slack, more than enough for her to reach her Scarab Sting. All she needed was time and she could melt her way free, just like she had done with the track at the theatre. She shifted the bracelet into position and touched the stud, firing the beam into the links that held her wrist.
Klaw had turned the furnace up to full blast. Part of him hated the idea of wasting time like this, but he knew his limitations. One of them was that he did what he felt like when he felt like it. He had seen Blue Scarab escape from too many “death traps” to trust another one. She was bound, gagged and locked in a heavy canvas bag. Now he was going to toss her into those flames and be done with her once and for all! He heard a surprised squeal/grunt of surprise as he hoisted the bag over his shoulder and carried over to the open furnace door.
“Drop the bag, pal!”
Klaw spun around, dropping the bag as he did. He found himself facing that same cop from the museum! The one who had allowed Cutter to be caught in the first place! This was too good to be true. Now he would get his revenge, killing this pig, Blue Scarab and any other cop in his way, as well freeing Cutter. He lunged forward to crush this pretty-boy.
Blue Scarab’s buttocks were sore where she had landed, but the jar had snapped the chain link that her Sting had weakened. She had heard a voice out there, and it sounded like Vince DeRocco! She had to hurry. He was too good a cop to take a chance at letting Klaw escape, but if her Scarab Sting hadn’t stopped him in that body armor, then nothing Vince did would stop him! She pulled so hard on the handcuffs that her wrists hurt, but she didn’t dare let up. As soon as the chain snapped, she had to be ready to go into action!
Vince DeRocco watched the huge criminal advance on him. He hated violence, and avoided it at all costs, but saw no option. He aimed his .38 at the man’s chest and pulled the trigger, firing three bullets that slammed into the crook. The man in black went down in a blur of arms and legs. He collapsed on the floor on top of the canvas bag he had been planning to toss in the furnace. Vince wondered what was in the bag. He was sure that this large man had been the one to take out the rookie that Vince had found in the shrubbery outside the back door. What he DIDN’T know was what the crook had hoped to accomplish.
As he stepped forward to see what was in the bag, Vince was shocked to see the large crook slowly get to his feet. The outfit, he realized quickly, must be made of Kevlar, or something similar.
“Finished?” The helmet muffled the criminal’s voice, but the sarcasm was unmistakable. Klaw leaped forward and wrapped his huge hands around Vince’s neck, and began to choke him. One the damned cop was too groggy to move, he would use the blades on his gloves to slash his throat. Then, his body could join Blue Scarab’s in the furnace!
Blue Scarab’s eyes blazed with tears of fury and frustration. The gunshots, the heavy body that smashed into her, and the sounds of a struggle all convinced her that Vince was in trouble. She directed her anger at the handcuffs. Break, damn you, break! And, finally, they did!
The canvas bag was impossible to tear, but the Scarab Sting cut through it like a hot knife through soft butter. With the gag still on, Blue Scarab fought her way from the canvas prison and took quick stock of the situation. Then she sprang into action.
The titian-haired titaness jumped on Klaws’ back, wrapping her legs around his waist and her left arm around his neck. The villain dropped DeRocco to the floor and reached around, trying to shake the heroine. He grabbed her ankles, which she had locked together, and started to pry them apart. Blue Scarab knew she had to work fast. She brought her right hand up, slipping the edge of the Scarab Sting up under the edge of the helmet before she activated it. The electrical blast shocked point-blank into Klaw’s head. His struggled stopped for just a second, then he dropped forward, all vestiges of consciousness gone.
Blue Scarab slowly disentangled herself from her foe, pulling the gag from her mouth as she did. Then she staggered over to Vince, who was starting to regain consciousness. He had saved her life twice now. And she had always thought that he was a handsome man. Before she even realized what she was going, he knelt down and kissed him hard, her tongue probing into his mouth. She was thrilled and surprised when he kissed her back. But, before he was fully recovered, she broke the kiss and ran for the door.
“Thanks, again, handsome,” she called. “If you’d give up trying to stop me, you’d realize what a good team we make!” Then she raced for the door before he could sound an alarm.
“Oh, you’re back,” Gordon Jameson said as he looked into the lab and spotted his niece taking her coat off. She had been at the theatre where Klaw had held Corrine Williams captive.
“Just got in,” Josie replied. “Didn’t find anything worthwhile, though!”
Gordon sighed. “I told you. We caught all the crooks, and recovered all the loot. What else could there be. Still, Mendelson was hidden there for three days, so it had to be checked out.”
“Actually,” Josie said, “I was thinking I’d also like to go over that furnace room, too.”
“We already went over it,” Jameson said. “But if it would make you feel better, be my guest.”
Josie glanced at her large bag, which held Slouch’s diary. She had found it in a box of odds and ends Klaw had tossed in one corner of the room he’d used as a hideout. “Oh, it would make me feel MUCH better! Say, how’s Vince?”
“Feeling fine, and ready for action. But I have a feeling he’s going to be taking a much more personal interest in this Blue Scarab assignment!”
As Josie walked down to the furnace, planning to destroy Slouch’s diary once and for all, she considered this. Blue Scarab wouldn’t mind taking a more personal interest in Vince, as well! But, she had her self-imposed mission of battling crime to think about, and he had his rules to follow, which meant locking her up if he could. It was too confusing a situation to deal with right now. Josie had earned a rest period. Her identity was safe again. As for her personal feelings, she could sort them out in the future. What was that line? “Tomorrow is another day...”