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The Press Asks A Question

Full fan fiction stories

Moderator: Rik


Post Thu May 12, 2005 3:20 pm
c.syphrett

The Press Asks A Question 1
Gabriel Rosario had once been a powerful man. His network of employees had stretched across the country. Something he could not control changed all that with a simple exertion of movement.

That tiny thing was called a blood clot.

Rosario had been rushed to Lucas General in the back of an ambulance. The stroke had been major and left the elderly man comatose and expected to survive without the help of life support.

His heirs gathered to wait for a decision by Rosario's wife, Carmen. Only she could tell the doctors to pull the plug. When she did, if the old man died, they would begin to divide up the estate left to his heirs.

Then the battle would really commence to see who would run things with the old man in the ground.

Crown City waited peacefully as Carmen consulted with Doctor Lucas. He reluctantly turned off the respirator and monitors. They watched as Rosario's breathing slowed, gasping at the end as it finally stopped.

Doctor Lucas pulled the sheet over the corpse's head as Carmen turned to tell the family the news.

The Press Asks A Question 2
Gabriel Rosario had made his start in Big City during the War. He had risen through the ranks until he had gathered his own crew and began to take other territories run by his competitors. Constant violence followed any goal he set.

Then he attracted the attention of the Express, the city's biggest newspaper and conscience. That's when things started going bad for Rosario. He should have realized that the Rocket would spotlight his activities as they had others trying to earn a buck by any means.

He didn't think it was important enough to worry about until they began plastering his face and name on the front page every day. Reporters began digging into his jobs, into his personal life, following him around.

That was when Rosario gathered his troops together and declared war on the Express. He would put an end to their interference, and get back to the business of making money.

He decided to have a word with the publisher, Chase. He knew that the man's son worked on the society's pages. One threat should be enough.

Rosario arrived at the paper's offices in the back of a black Cadillac. He walked past the receptionist with a wave of his hand, bodyguards at his side.

He was Gabe Rosario, the city's next biggest crime boss now that Big Jim and his rival was gone to the pen. No penny ante newsman was going to tell him to vacate the premises unless he wanted to go.

The Press Asks A Question 3
"What do you want, Rosario?," Chase asked. He owned and edited the paper, a conscience for the city. "Talk fast before I throw you out."

"You listen to me, you two bit hack," Rosario said. "Your paper needs to quit printing these lies about me."

"The Express prints the truth," said Chase. "I make sure of that, so beat it."

Chase stood up, hands flat on his desk. Fury painted his face crimson as his blood pressure went up.

"Who do you think you are?," Rosario roared. "I'm the boss of this city, you gimp. The next time my name is in your rag, I'll fix you for good."

One of his bodyguards was clipped from behind. The other guard turned at the unexpected threat. A punch lifted him across the room. He crashed against a file cabinet and slumped to the floor.

Rosario turned, a fist coming up. He was unprepared for Perry Chase's fist helping him to keep spinning, and then knocking him down.

"I think you should get out of here before we call the police on you," said Perry, aiming a pistol taken from one of the bodyguards. "I am watching you, waiting for you to get the chair."

"You punk," said Rosario. "I'll make you guys pay for this."

"Not if we help you to prison first," said Perry.

"You heard him," said the elder Chase. "Get moving. The Express will be dogging you until you go to jail."

The Press Asks A Question 4
Gabe Rosario fumed as he rode away from the newspaper offices in the back of a Packard. His bodyguards rode in the front, avoiding looking at their boss in case he decided to take offense.

His hands kept straying to the violin case on the seat beside him.

"Why am I so sore?," Rosario asked himself as the streets went by the windows. "Those scribblers don't have a thing on me. I should just keep my eye on my own stuff and let them write what they want. Maybe we can get those guys to help us out. Where is Mugs Burke holding his gambling show tonight, Sal?"

"It's supposed to be in one of the vacant warehouses by the airport," Sal said, hunched in the passenger seat. "One of our guys has it spotted for sure."

"Get the address and call the Express's news room," said Rosario. "Give it to them. They'll go nuts over it. Tell our guys to cool down and put everything on hold. Let's see what the Express does with what we give them."

"I'll get right on it," Sal said.

He motioned for the driver to pull over to let him get out. He vanished into the crowd on the corner, waving at a passing taxi. The driver urged the Packard back into traffic, taking the opposite direction from Sal.

Rosario pulled a cigar out of a box on the back of the front seat. He chopped the end off, and lit it with a stainless steel lighter. He puffed on the thing, inhaling the smell from the tobacco.

Everyone knew he had a bad temper. Few knew he could channel that anger into a scratch plan, and follow it through to the end. He would see how much trouble he could give Burke using the paper and its newshounds. He wished he could see Burke's face when he started to make the front page.

Maybe he couldn't stop the Express short of violence, but he could send it after his rivals. All he would have to do is keep a low profile and stay out of the spotlight.

The Press Asks A Question 5
Perry Chase stood across the street from a hidden gambling den. The tip said it was supposed to be hidden in this building. The reason Perry was standing there was his father had discounted the tip until one of his reporters could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Express only printed the truth and it was up to Perry to see what the truth was.

So he kept the building under watch for the moment, trying to figure what kind of defenses the place would have to keep the police from arresting the players other than their personal wealth.

Money could get you out of a lot of trouble if no one knew what happened in the first place.

Perry crossed the street, pulling his coat collar up to hide his face. He walked around the warehouse, examining it as closely as he could while trying to remain unnoticed by any lookouts. He didn't want whomever was inside to jump the gun and run out.

That would ruin any kind of exclusive.

It would also ruin any chance to hurt one of Mugs Burke's illegal plays.

Perry finished his walk, returning to his vantage point to wait for an opening.

The Press Asks a Question 6
Vic Sage, broadcaster for WWB, stood outside the graveyard watching Gabe Rosario's funeral. He had dug into the station's files and the local papers. The cream of Crown City's underworld was in attendance at the funeral.

Vic wondered how long they would keep the peace before fighting over Rosario's former territory. Three days, maybe.

Vic walked inside the gate. He had already picked out a spot to watch the proceedings without disturbing the bodyguards in attendance. Passing cars momentarily disturbed the quiet as Vic made his way to his place.

Vic settled in as the priest took his place at the head of the steel casket. He noticed a couple of guys in suits walking across the distance.

Late mourners?

Vic decided to move closer and find out what was going on. He opened his belt buckle, and pulled out a roll of featureless synthetic flesh. He applied the flesh to his face, releasing a cloud of yellow smoke to change his appearance and seal the mask in place.

Vic stealthily jogged across the cemetery, using the tombstones as protective cover. He hoped he was overreacting. After all the police and feds were known to attend the funerals of criminal figures to identify anyone else in the business.

Maybe those guys were the law.

As Vic closed on the newcomers, he noticed that they were reaching under their coats as they approached the funeral party. He frowned under his featureless mask. He hurried forward. He hoped he wasn't about to embarrass himself with a huge mistake.

The two men pulled sub machine guns from shoulder holsters. The funeral party was caught unprepared for the sudden onslaught. No one did a hit at a funeral.

Vic used a tombstone as a platform to leap on the backs of the two men. He released some more of his gas as a cover as the three of them went to the short grass in a pile. He ground his victims' face into the turf as he got to his feet. He pulled away as the bodyguards rushed over to take charge.

Vic faded back under the cloud of his gas. He didn't have a problem with criminals killing each other, but innocent children would have been caught in the crossover.

Vic wanted to give them the chance to grow up and try to live a respectable life.

Vic left the cemetery, changing his appearance as he walked. The mask went back into his belt buckle while the light blue and yellow of his clothes faded to green and black.

He hoped he hadn't seen the start of a power struggle to fill Rosario's shoes. A lot of innocent people could be caught in the cross fire as the gangs struggled to see which man would seize the reins.

Vic made sure he wasn't being followed as he turned left at the exit and walked to where he had left his car. If those men were turned over to the police, they might be able to give him some kind of lead to their boss.

A shallow grave after some rough questioning was more likely.

The Press Asks A Question 7
Vic Sage went over news from the crime beat. As an anchorman and commentator, he was supposed to look good in front of the camera and leave the real news to the reporters in the field.

Vic took an interest in a lot of things dealing with corruption in the city. Some called him the conscience of the city.

His rigid views was not always shared by the big boys upstairs, but Vic brought things to light. That more than made up for his disagreeable outlook.

Vic just considered it a part of his job, and his other identity as a means to get what he wanted without a great deal of publicity on his own life. He wanted to report on things he knew were wrong. He definitely didn't want any of his colleagues prying into his own life.

The mask also allowed him to ask things that people wanted to keep quiet without having to bother with the right to privacy.

Vic smiled when he saw when he saw that the two men had been taken in. The Crown City Police Department had them in cells awaiting trials for attempted murder. Their arraignment was at the court house the next day.

Vic thought he should be there to see who put up their bail, or represented them. He didn't think that their supposed boss, Mike Giacoma, would be in the court room to wish them a good start on their state enforced vacation. Someone lower down would be there to tell them to keep their mouths shut.

Vic would be there to talk to that someone to see how far a war would be taken against the remains of Rosario's organization. He wouldn't give them a chance to refuse.

The Press Asks A Question 8
Perry Chase paused as he looked for another entrance into Mugs Burke's gambling den. He had gotten around the look out easily enough. A fire escape hung above the alley, but the ladder was far above his reach.

A wooden door with a grate on it let people into the basement of the building. Chase noticed the simple padlock holding the gate closed. He pulled out a set of picks in a pouch from his breast pocket. He inserted two of the thin wires into the padlock's mechanism. A few seconds later the lock clicked open. Gloved hands pulled the grate to one side as quietly as possible. The sound seemed to call out, "Intruder here!," but no one appeared to check on the noise.

Perry checked the door, not surprised that it was locked also. He applied his picks, pushing the door open gently as he stepped inside. A short foyer led to what looked like a large kitchen. Luckily the kitchen crew had not reported for work yet, or had just left.

Perry crept through the kitchen, listening for anyone else as he crossed over to the swinging doors that separated the cooking area from the rest of the building.

The Press Asks a Question 9
The Press Guardian listened before he stepped through the swinging doors. The room seemed empty. He cautiously pushed one door open with a finger. He didn't see anyone as he peeked around the door frame.

Where was everyone?

Perry pushed into the room, deciding to check the only exit he could see. He was rewarded for his caution by the outline of a guard against the small decorative windows on either side of the dining room door.

Perry quietly pulled on the door, hoping it wasn't locked. The portal swung inward on oiled hinges. The Press Guardian smiled as the guard glanced over his shoulder. The guard reached under his jacket at the sight of the green suit and red mask. Red gloved hands pulled him into the dining room before he could finish his move. Perry flung the man to the floor, punching him as hard as he could.

He was rewarded by the man collapsing.

The Press Asks A Question 10
Perry moved on after tying the guard up with his own tie and belt. The man's pistol had gone in a laundry chute inside the kitchen. Chase's search of the bottom floor turned up nothing. He went to the stairs, and started up. An open elevator rested in its iron framework next to the open staircase heading up.

Perry winced at the creaking wood as he crept up to the next floor. He paused to listen for anyone else in the building. One lookout seemed wrong in his experience.

"What was that noise?," a gravel voice answered Perry's unspoken question. "What's going on down there, Rocko?"

"Just a rat," Perry said, muffling his voice with his hand.

"Must be a big rat," said the speaker, walking closer.

Perry tensed, ready to spring up the last few steps in case of trouble. The steps creaked away. The reporter relaxed, easing up the stairs. He paused to look around. Gaming equipment of every stripe cluttered the floor. Inner walls had been taken down to make room. A long bar surrounded three sides of a dance floor next to the tables and slot machines.

The Press Guardian smiled as he saw the other look out standing at the bar, sipping on a tall glass of something. He walked across the room, trying to be silent. Unfortunately the man saw him in a wide mirror behind the bar. He turned, one hand dipping into his jacket. Perry grabbed a croupier's stick from a roulette table and threw the slim wand. The mobster tried to duck and block the flying tool. It rapped him on the head, blinding him with pain. He blinked to clear his eyes, and was suddenly flying through the air. He crashed against the booze behind the bar, spraying glass and liquor with the impact.

Perry made sure he was out before turning his attention to the illegal equipment in the room. The house would not be able to rake in the chips tonight after he was done.

The Press Asks A Question 11
Vic Sage waited across the street from the Crown City Courthouse. He chewed a hot dog he held in his hand as he watched the main doors. He had smiled when he saw Leon Guardi walk up the steps earlier.

Guardi was the lawyer on record for Mike Giacoma's business. The Feds had been after him for years, trying to disbar and grab him for racketeering. So far he had been too smooth for them.

Sage wondered if he would be too smooth for the Question.

The reporter waited, watching the crowd of pedestrians go by as Guardi used whatever persuasive powers he had to free the killers from the cemetery. The DA would ask for a bond in the hundreds of thousands, if not the millions.

The question was would Giacoma spring for bail, or tell them to rot.

Vic wolfed the rest of the hot dog as the object of his thoughts passed through the glass exit. He crossed the street as a car rolled to the sidewalk in front of the attorney. The driver's window was down as Vic triggered the smoke cloud to cover his transformation. The driver looked up into a closed fist as Guardi got in the back of the car. One pull of the door handle dumped the chauffeur out.

The Question smiled under his faceless mask as he got behind the wheel before Guardi could look up to see what had happened to his handler. The attorney gave an address as he looked over court documents, oblivious to his new circumstances.

The Press Asks A Question 12
Perry Chase smiled at the picture the Express carried the next day. The police had found the hidden casino due to a tip off. The reporter had made sure to call a detective he trusted. There was no telling which cop was on the pad, but things had gone the way he expected.

The cops confiscated everything in sight, and the paper had an exclusive scoop on the story.

The old man had crowed over the news.

Perry wondered who had leaked the casino to the paper in the first place. He was used to having to pry information from people. That's part of the reason he had adopted his alter ego. It helped to have someone who could use questionable tactics without involving the paper.

His father would not approve of his methods in the slightest.

The phone on his desk rang. Perry wondered who could be calling him. He looked at the clock on the wall, noting that it was nine at night. He didn't think there were any mixers that he needed to be at for his job as a society reporter.

"Hello?," Perry said into the mouthpiece as he grabbed a pad and pencil.

"This Perry Chase?," said an unfamiliar voice. "I have a tip for him."

"Go ahead," said the reporter, holding the pencil ready.

"There is a place that Mugs Burke uses to hide the money from his gambling and narcotics business," said the voice. He rattled off an address near the river front. "Check it out, if you want."

"Who is this?," Perry asked, as he wrote.

"A concerned citizen that wants to help clean up the city," said the voice before it hung up.

The Press Asks A Question 13
The Question glanced in the rearview mirror. Guardi had papers spread across his lap. He hadn't seemed to have taken notice of his surroundings, much less his new driver.

That would change as soon as they reached their destination, if not sooner.

The faceless crusader drove until he reached a quiet section of the waterfront. He parked beside an old warehouse and waited. It took a few minutes, but Guardi did finally look up from his work.

"What's going on," the attorney said. "I thought I said go to the office."

"I have some questions first," Vic Sage said, looking over his head rest. "I want to know if your boss is going to start a war against the other gangs now that Rosario is gone."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Guardi. "I represent certain reputed crime figures, but I assure you that have no involvement in anything illegal."

"I suppose the gunfight at the cemetery was a display of unknown burial rite," said Sage.

"I assure you my clients acted in self defense," said Guardi.

"I assure you that I am looking into things and I am not going to stop until I get answers," said the Question as he got out of the car. He took the keys and threw them into the nearby river before walking off.

The Press Asks A Question 14
Perry Chase drove pass the address he had been given over the phone. He took in what he could while trying not to look interested. He didn't want to cause any suspicion before he actually looked inside the place.

He had a feeling he was being used by his informant. Someone wanted this place raided. Who? Why call the paper at all? There had to be one dependable cop on the force to lead such an attack. The Express couldn't prosecute anyone except in the court of public opinion.

Perry parked in a lot a few blocks away from the building, still questioning what he was going to do. Should he go in and look around, or wait for some kind of development? Should he just pass this on to the police to look into? The Express was riding the department hard over corruption and graft.

He couldn't expect any cooperation from that front. The only detective he thought he could count on would be hard pressed to get any help if the Express was thought to be involved. Plus any cop on the pad would pass the word a raid was going to go on.

Perry picked up his binoculars as he thought about his next few steps. Something would come to him.

The Press Asks A Question 15
Vic Sage only had to wait for a few minutes before Guardi called a cab to pick him up. He had already discarded his faceless disguise so that he could follow unnoticed from a distance. The attorney went straight to his number one client from the waterfront with the reporter in tow. It had been so easy for Sage to park his car nearby so that he could tag along.

Easier than planting a bug on Guardi while he was intent on the Question's physical threat, rather than the reason for the private talk.

Sage watched Giacoma's mansion with binoculars. He waited for Guardi to undergo the screening process before turning on the miniature microphone to listen to the two men's conversation. Hopefully no one would think to examine the room again while they were talking.

"We need to pull back a little, Mike," the attorney said. "The Question is involved, and looking to get a handle on you."

"Let that faceless freak ask around all he wants," said Giacoma. "I haven't done anything illegal."

"He wanted to know if you were going to make move against the other bosses," said Guardi. "Frankly, I'm worried he might put things together and give whatever he uncovers to the cops."

"Counselor, I have retained you to defend my interests, not tell me what my interest are," said the gray haired mobster. "Just do your job, and I'll take care of the rest."

"The Question?," said Guardi.

"He won't ask many if he gets in my way while I'm looking to expand my business," said Big Mike, with a smile. He gestured to the wooden door, ushering the attorney to the portal with that wave of his hand.

Sage cut off the microphone to avoid any detection as Guardi quietly crossed to the oak door. A button man escorted the lawyer to his cab, before walking the open grounds of the estate. The reporter followed the attorney for the next few hours as he looked for a way to seize the situation and turn it on the gang.

Giacoma could not be allowed to revitalize his organization from the rotting corpse of Gabe Rosario's operations. He definitely could not be allowed to murder anyone innocent who happened to get in his way.

Sage thought about the situation as he turned toward downtown. He had a broadcast to get ready for, and had to leave his judas goat to his own devices while he was delivering his commentary. Hopefully Guardi would not commit any crime before Sage could get back to following him.

Sage listened to the short conversation on his way to do his public job.

Post Thu May 12, 2005 3:29 pm
Guest

The Press Asks A Question 16
Vic Sage waited patiently for his cue for his commentary at the end of the 5 O'clock broadcast. He held a simple tape recorder in one hand as he stood off stage. Hopefully none of the Starrs, especially the kids, were in the building. He wanted to do this and then get back on the trail.

A mob war would put too many innocent bystanders at risk as the gangs tried to divide up Rosario's domain amongst themselves. Vic was not willing to wait for things to sort out on their own, whether the police tried to quell the violence or sat on their duffs until things settled down.

Finally Vic was waved to the broadcast desk for his commentary. He sat down, making sure his mike was in place. He wanted the whole world to hear what he said tonight.

"Good evening, Crown City," Vic said, when the director gave the word to broadcast again. "This tape was delivered to me by an unidentified messenger. It purports to be of a conversation between Michael Giacoma and Leon Guardi, his lawyer.

"Please listen carefully."

Vic pressed the play button with his thumb, holding the tape player up for his microphone to pick up what the cassette said. The few minutes of private talk sliced over the air waves. Sage could feel the imaginary buzz of a press feeding frenzy as the tape ended.

"As everyone knows, there was a shoot out at reputed mob boss Gabriel Rosario's funeral today," said Vic. "The men arrested for the crime were represented by the second voice on this tape, Leon Guardi. These men are known associates of Mike Giacoma, also represented by Guardi. The obvious conclusion is that Giacoma tried to wipe out his competition before they could consolidate their own places in the wake of Rosario's stroke. I'm sure that conclusion is wrong, or is it?

"Thank you for your attention, Crown City," Vic said putting the tape recorder away. "This is Vic Sage, signing off until tomorrow."

Vic stood as soon as the cameras rolled back to Harley Crim, the anchorman. He headed for the stage's exit before he could be buttonholed about where he had got that tape. Sam Star would probably bust a gut, but his kids didn't like to rock the boat. Vic wanted to avoid that, and get back to watching Giacoma.

Maybe what he had done would slow things down long enough for the Question to maintain the status quo. Otherwise reporters would be covering more funerals before things settled back to the daily routine.

Vic made it to the hall. He stepped into the elevator, ignoring an intern calling his name. He pressed the bottom floor button as the assistant tried to reach before the cab's doors shut. The reporter checked his watch as he waited for the carriage to let him out to get back to what he had to get done. The doors slid open, and Vic headed across the lobby, already planning his next move.

The Press Asks A Question 17
Perry Chase sat back, stretching the kinks in his back. His stakeout had given him nothing he could use. No one went in the building under surveillance, no one came out. If nothing happened before sunset, he would have to go in to make sure his tip was a wild goose.

Perry checked his watch before turning his gaze back on his impassive subject. He told himself to be patient. If the tip turned out to be a waste of time, he would check in at the society dinner he was supposed to cover for his column. Then he could go back to his desk and turn out the copy in time for the morning edition. On the other hand, if the tip was real, he would have a story for the front page.

Perry waited for the sun to go down before he started looking for the answer to his question.

The reporter pulled on his red mask as he got out of his Packard. He stretched again to loosen up in case he ran into trouble. He pulled his fedora down to shade his face as he pretended to be a casual pedestrian on the empty street. He didn't see any look outs or protection as he wandered by his target.

He found a door concealed from the street by a pile of trash. A set of skeleton keys opened the door after a few moments of stealthy searching. The Press Guardian slid inside the dark edifice, a thumb clipping on the beam of a flash light.

Perry found at the results of his search. He had discovered a wealth of equipment, but it was packed away under sheets as if unused, or getting ready to be stored away for a season, or two. Dust covered everything in gray.

Perry shut off the flashlight as he thought about his find. Even though gambling was illegal, even possession of the equipment was a crime, there was no way to connect what lay in that building to any person. On the other hand, if something were to happen to those tables and wheels, then nobody could file a charge against the offending party unless they claimed the illegal things.

Not many were going to do that.

Perry headed back to his car, making sure to disturb nothing. He would leave the disturbing to one of his colleagues, and a photographer. That should shake things up a little.

The Press Asks a Question 18
Perry found a pay phone in a tobacco store after doffing his mask and gloves. He kept one eye on the building, while he called the news desk editor. He passed on his tip, asking for someone to come down and get pictures of everything before someone got wise. The editor agreed, knowing that the elder Chase was big on stamping out corruption and crime wherever the paper could expose it.

Perry hung up, content to wait for witnesses to expose the illegal gambling equipment. He bought a 5 cent Coca-Cola before he stepped out on the sidewalk. He headed for his car. Hopefully the building would stay empty until Harry, any reporter from the paper, could arrive. He wanted to turn everything over to the police to hopefully be destroyed.

Perry had no illusions about the honesty of the police department as a whole. There were always going to be a few bad apples anywhere, and that was certainly true of the police. The Express had already sent more than a few to jail under his father's uncompromising quest for the truth, and upholding the public good. That was the same things that had led the younger man to assume the guise of the Press Guardian.

Perry smiled when he saw Harry Lightner and Pierre arrive in a cab. The two men got out, the French immigrant asking for a receipt for the office. The hack looked at him a twisted face. The part time photographer gestured "Come on, come on," with his hands. The driver used a pencil to write down the cost of the trip on a piece of paper. He handed it over, grumbling about weird foreigners.

Harry laughed as he led the way to where Perry waited. He pulled out the pad and pen he habitually carried in his jacket pocket. He paused by the open driver's side window, poised to take notes in the crabbed shorthand he used.

"What's up, Perry?," Lightner asked cheerfully.

"I have found a bunch of gambling equipment inside that building," said Perry. "As far as I know, it's still in there. I want you to get pictures and get a group of honest cops down here to destroy it. Then write it up under your byline if you want to. I have some other things I have to get done."

"Got it, Chief," said Lightner.

The Press Asks A Question 19
Gabe Rosario smiled as he sipped his drink. The morning edition of the Express sat on his desk in front of him. Chase's go-getters were doing exactly what he thought they would do. Still it was a double-edged sword.

Eventually someone would notice that only his rivals were suffering losses. Then that someone would try to find out the reason why, possibly even link him to the supply of information. Maybe he should consider taking a small loss. Maybe even use that to win the trust of those he was quietly selling out.

What could he bear to lose publicly?

Rosario sipped his drink, going over the mental list of properties he owned he was certain couldn't be used to tie him down. He smiled when he realized he had the perfect place not more than a mile from the last place he had informed on.

How long would it take for the Express to turn that in?

"Hey, Tony," he called.

One of his guards opened the door, hiding whatever question behind a bland moon face.

"I want you to take this and give it to Mills," said Rosario, writing the address down and placing it in an envelope. "Standard deal."

Tony placed the sealed envelope in his breast pocket. He had this down cold. He would give some guy a fiver to hand the envelope to Mills to call to the Express's offices. Mills never saw him, and he never used the same guy twice. As soon as the call was made, a cash deposit would be dropped in Mills's savings account from another guy picked off the street.

Nothing to tie Mills to Tony, which meant nothing to tie the stool pigeon to Rosario. That made everyone happy.

The Press Asks A Question 20
Perry Chase sat at his desk. Harry Lightner, Pierre, and Joan Blondell sat in chairs they had confiscated from other parts of the paper. The society reporter regarded his inner circle as he tried to get his own thoughts in order.

"What do you guys make of this?," Perry asked. "Who could be turning in these gambling operations to us and the police?"

"It has to be someone on the inside," said Lightner. "Probably someone high up by the looks of this."

"Why would that kind of someone do that?," asked Joan. "What would be the gain here?"

"It's hurting some of these guys's pocket books," said Lightner. "Word is everyone has taken a hit, even Rosario, the big boss."

"I hadn't heard that," said Perry.

"It's not generally known," said Lightner. "The last raid was led by a cop supposed to be on Rosario's payroll. Either he didn't know who he was raiding, or he did know and was there to minimize damage."

"That's interesting," said Perry. "If he was on the payroll, why didn't he give Rosario a warning of what's going on? That's the usual thing, right?"

"Maybe he did," said Lightner. "Rosario might have thought he was kidding. Who knows? I doubt Rosario is going to answer any questions from us, especially after what happened with your old man."

"Harry is right about that," Pierre put in. "He would rather strangle a reporter than give us the time of day."

"I want you two to dig in to who owns the places that were raided," Perry said. "Anything that might point to someone wanting them for something. Joan, go through our morgue. I want everything you can get on these gangsters. Check with who filed the stories and see if they have any notes we can use to get a grip on this. I am not comfortable on how we are getting these tips, and I want know why before something happens to hurt the paper."

The three left the office to carry out their errands.

The Press Asks A Question 21
Vic Sage had stopped by his apartment after his public announcement. He wanted to change clothes and get some dinner before trying to grab another handle on Giacoma's operations. He wondered how long it would take before another of the bosses decided that it would be easier to kill the opposition than deal.

He paused at his door, key in the lock. He thought he had heard someone moving around inside his place. He listened for a long moment, but didn't hear any other movement. He stepped to one side and turned the key.

Maybe he was being paranoid, maybe not.

Holes appeared in the wood of Vic's door where he should have been standing. He pushed the door open as he stepped back from the flying splinters. He waited quietly for the button men to check their handiwork.

They would want to make sure he was dead. That was part of the job.

Vic heard rushing feet heading for his door. He tensed, holding himself ready. He would only have one chance to take both of these guys down. When the first man's face appeared in his door frame, the reporter stepped forward. His right hand, a fist, swung in a short arc. A cracking sound told Sage that he had scored a direct hit before the man could react. He jumped into the dark apartment as the man fell backward.

Vic had enough light to see that he had fouled the two men together with his surprise move. That made them easy prey as he grabbed the one he had hit by the neck and flung him across the room in a scattering of furniture and other things.

The second man had time to look up as Vic's foot smashed against the side of his head. Vic kicked him again as hard as he could, smashing his face to make sure he wouldn't get up any time soon.

The first man had made it to his feet as Vic jumped over a chair that had been knocked askew. He swung at the reporter instead of pulling his gun which he knew he didn't have time to do. Two hands wrapped around his wrist and he was slung the other way into the floor. Something smashing against his face put out the lights until police men were putting cuffs on his wrists.

Vic stood to one side, answering questions from the officer who had arrived to answer his complaint. He stared at his unwelcome visitors as they were led away.

Giacoma was going to be an unhappy man in the morning.

The Press Asks A Question 22
Vic Sage wanted to visit Mike Giacoma at his house, wanted to express his displeasure at someone trying to kill him in his own apartment. Instead he called the station, and reported the crime to the news desk.

WWB would have found out anyway, but at least he had done his job to scoop the other news organizations in Crown City. A first hand account would help turn up the heat on the mob bosses in town.

Vic called a service to repair his door while he inspected his apartment. Everything seemed in place, except for milk in a half empty glass. He shook his head, as he dumped the glass out.

Guess one of them got thirsty while they were waiting to kill me.

Vic paced the small place as he waited. On a night he had a million things to do, naturally something would happen to keep him at home. He went to the window and looked out on the street. The police were finally clearing out down there. People watched the authorities go about their business.

All except one.

He was quietly staring up at Vic's apartment window, hands in his jacket's pockets. He watched the window for a few more minutes before turning to walk away.

Vic hurriedly wrote down instructions for the handyman on a notepad, and pinned it on the wall next to the holed door. He headed up to the roof, pulling the faceless mask from his belt buckle. He slipped it on as he ran up the stairs to the fire exit. He pushed open the roof door, orange gas changing his hair and the color of his clothes.

The Question ran across the roof, leaping across the alley to the next building. He ran to the fire escape. He had to get to the street before he lost his lead. He wanted to lay his hands on the man, and find out what he knew about the gun men waiting in his apartment.

The disguised Sage slid along the rails of the metal fire escape, riding the ladder on the last platform to the alley floor. He dropped off the last rung, moving to the mouth of the alley. The police were still clustered around the entrance to his building. The Question pulled his hat low as he stepped into street.

He didn't want anyone to see that he didn't have a face while he was trailing what could be a lookout for his attackers.

The Press Asks A Question 23
The Question followed his quarry at a safe distance. He didn't want the man to glance around and spot a guy in light blue suit and coat walking behind him within arm's reach. Vic didn't want to chase this guy down a busy street, and then have to ask his questions in front of an audience.

A quiet, private place would do a lot better for that kind of thing, not the sidewalk.

The guy led Vic across town, coming to a stop in a small brick house that looked the same as the other five that it shared the block. Lights in the windows showed the man's progress through his place while Vic waited in the shadows across the street. Vic smiled under his featureless mask when the lights started going back out.

The Question walked across the street, on the look out for snoopy neighbors. He picked the lock in a few seconds to let himself in the house. He silently shut the door, listening to the place. Everything seemed to be waiting for his next move.

Vic's penlight showed him through the house as he searched for where his prey had bedded down for the night. A profusion of used wrappers, empty cans, pizza boxes, and dirty clothes waited to trip him up in the dark. He carefully avoided any entanglements as he took his search to a second story at the head of a wooden flight of stairs. He found his man asleep on a mattress thrown on the floor.

Vic took one of his treated cards out of his pocket as he turned on a lamp. He tossed the card on the man's face and waited. Orange smoke drifted from the blank face of the card in a question mark. It covered the sleeping man's face within a few seconds. The man snapped awake, jumping to his feet in a panic. He probably thought his house was on fire. That didn't mattered.

A faceless man had him by the throat in his bedroom in the middle of the night and was squeezing. That is what mattered.

The Press Asks A Question 24
Perry Chase, wearing the mask and suit of the Press Guardian, waited for the owner of the apartment he had broken into. He had some questions he wanted answered about that last raid the police had conducted.

So he waited for the one man who could satisfy that want.

Finally a key squeaked in the front door's lock. Perry tensed as the door opened, light from the hall rippling in the dark room. The vigilante held himself in a shadow as the apartment's owner stepped into the room. A foot gently kicked the door closed as a wide hand reached for the light switch on the wall beside him.

Perry crossed the room on cat's feet before the overhead light came on. One hand grabbed his subject by the neck while the other pulled the man's service revolver out of a waist holster. The detective was sat down in his easy chair before he could think to stop the move.

"Detective Garland, I presume," Perry said, holding the pistol point down at the floor. "I am hoping you will help me with an inquiry I am conducting."

"Screw yourself," Garland said. His bushy brows descended over his beady eyes in anger. "I got nothing to say to a masked creep."

"I know you moonlight for Gabe Rosario," the Press Guardian said. "I also know you led a raid on one of his gambling joints earlier. I am interested in why you did that. Isn't Rosario paying you enough?"

"You got all the answers," Garland said, big hands gripping the arms of his chair. "You tell me what the deal is."

Perry stared at the big cop, thinking about the last few moments of talk they had exchanged. He dumped the cylinder of the revolver out before tossing the empty pistol to the detective.

"Thank you for your time," Perry said, going to the door. "I'll let myself out."

The society reporter opened the door and vanished into the hall beyond. He heard Garland scramble to load his pistol as he ran away. Perry had fled the floor of the building before the detective made his appearance in the hall, pistol in hand.

The Press Asks A Question 25
"I am going to ask you some questions," the Question said. "Give me some straight answers, and I'll let you walk away from this. Lie to me, and you won't be walking for a long while. Am I understood?"

The choking informant nodded desperately. Hands dug at orange gloves to try and ease the grip around his neck.

"Who told you to put the hit on Vic Sage?," the faceless man asked.

"Open contract," said the lookout, gasping for air. "Someone is offering 25 K to anyone who can knock him off the air."

"Who put up the money?," Vic asked.

"Don't know," said the informant.

"Try again," said the Question, squeezing his fingers a little.

"No one knows," insisted the informant. "If you get the job done, you're supposed to put an ad in the paper, and have something to prove you did the job."

"So you and your friends decided to cash in?," Vic asked.

"It's open season. Everybody with a gun will be gunning for that guy now," said the lookout, relieved that some of the pressure around his neck had lessened as he talked. "Rumor has it some big guns like the Weapon are coming to town to collect the bounty."

"I heard he was in jail," said Vic, considering what he had been told silently. It would be hard to maintain a dual personality with someone looking for his more public face. He would have to be on his guard until he neutralized whomever put the bounty out. At least he knew where to start asking about that.

"So did I," said the informant. "Some of those big guys have a get out of jail free card. He supposed to be in town in a couple days. That's why we decided to try tonight instead of waiting for someone else to try and maybe get the reward."

"If I were you," the Question said, looming closer, tightening his grip. "I would leave town before something happened to my kneecaps. Understood?"

The Press Asks A Question 26
Perry Chase stood in an alcove across from one of the night clubs that Gabe Rosario ran. It was one of his few legitimate businesses. Garland had said nothing useful, but he wasn't afraid of repercussions from leading a raid on his other employer's illegal sideline.

That said something without having to use words.

Crossing Gabe Rosario was like putting your hand in the mouth of a shark. No one did it lightly, not without some fear of being an armless man in the bottom of the ocean.

But not Garland. He had no fear of reprisals from that quarter.

Perry waited in the shadows, watching the door of the club. He knew there was a back door to the place, but felt that the mobster only used it for quick escapes. He wasn't under suspicion of any wrongdoing. Why shouldn't he use the front door?

Finally a dark sedan pulled to the curb in front of the place. Rosario appeared, clutching his coat over his shoulders as he strolled to the front door, bodyguards at his heels. The doorman opened the glass gate for him and his entourage to pass unchallenged. The car pulled away, slowly rolling to the corner to make a turn.

Perry smiled as he trailed after the slow moving car. Maybe it would park near Rosario's emergency exit. The driver might even be able to give the Press Guardian a better reading of the situation.

It might even give Perry enough evidence to expose Rosario as the man who gave his colleagues' gambling halls to the police and Express reporters. There wasn't much honor among thieves, but no one liked a stoolie.

That could hurt the mobster more than anything else Perry could do. It would certainly plunge things into disarray if Perry could get the evidence to prove his theory.

The Press Asks A Question 27
Vic visited several known hangouts for mobsters. The story was the same everywhere he asked. Someone had said they would pay to see him dead, but could only be contacted through an ad in the papers.

None of the professionals that Vic talked to as the Question were going for it, preferring to mind their own businesses. The general thought was that such a deal was a police trap. This was especially true after the one attempt that did occur.

Amateurs trying to make a quick name for themselves went for that kind of thing, not guys working on sure things with a good payoff.

Vic was forced to agree.

He exchanged his faceless mask and bright blue clothes for his regular serious mien, and dark suit as he headed back to the station. It was a sure thing he couldn't return to his place for the next few days until this contract had been canceled by the person throwing it out.

If only he could turn it against the contractor in some way. He needed a name, a trace of identity for that unless he could fake his own death and claim it was a hit. Vic considered the idea as he crossed town to the WWB building, as he rode the elevator to his office. It sounded crazy at first glance, but more reasonable as he thought about it.

It offered a quick means to reach the center of the plot, instead of waiting for attacks from every angle. It also appealed to Vic's proactive nature, and his preference of cutting through a complicated scheme with a simple solution.

Vic checked his office by listening at the door before placing his key in the lock. It looked like it would be his refuge until he could make his scheme work. He had an idea the Starr kids would back it if it meant he would be off the air for his acid comments on Crown City society. Vic went to his desk, pulled out a pad, making notes on what he would have to get to carry out his idea.

The Press Asks A Question 28
The Press Guardian circled the club, looking for another entrance. It seemed he spent a lot of time breaking into places these days to protect the public trust. Perry smiled slightly, as he spotted a back door to the club for the cooks to take out the garbage. He waited in the dark, looking for some kind of security.

The back door opened a couple of times for cooks to empty garbage in the cans against the wall near the door. They didn't seem to see Perry using the building to camouflage his presence. He waited for another cook to appear. Maybe this was his ticket inside if he was careful.

Eventually a cook did appear. As he dropped the trash, and walked back to the door, he didn't seem to notice he had acquired a shadow. He stepped inside the kitchen, heading back toward the ovens to make sure several steaks weren't burning up. Other cooks were busy with deserts, side orders, salads. None remarked on the green suited man walking around their turf with a box on his shoulder.

Perry put his cover down by the door to the dining room, as he passed through into the smokey den of iniquity beyond. He didn't see Rosario on the floor as he looked around. He made his way around the floor area, hand to his face to ward off any wait staff who might spot his mask under the brim of his green hat. Perhaps the office was upstairs out of the way of this hubbub.

Perry passed the hat check girl, as he started up a staircase marked private. He knew that she might call ahead to let Rosario know he was coming, but he wanted to move while he had some surprise. Stopping to knock out an employee in the middle of a busy place wouldn't help him keep that.

The Press Asks A Question 29
Vic Sage prepared for his nightly broadcast grimly. He had thought about the sting he wanted to do all day while he was checking reports of activities that could be tied to the local gang war. One form of relief was the fact that the Weapon had been recaptured while trying to kill a witness against a crime boss in New York.

He was still in Brightwell, waiting for his trial according to the local guys on the scene, as well as national news feeds.

"Five minutes, Vic," said the studio gofer.

Vic nodded as he read the statements for his commentary. He hoped that the next few minutes would go off without a hitch. Deception wasn't his strong suit, and what he planned would probably result in an inquest on his behavior by Sam Starr's kids. They were major players at the station, unlike when Star had first started with the dream of a fourth network. Cable had made his various communications enterprises blossom over the years.

Vic stood at his podium, waiting for his cue from the production assistant. As soon as he saw the signal, he started his three minute speech that would end the daily broadcast. Halfway through his commentary, the front of his jacket exploded with what looked like blood. The reporter went down under the silent shots, as part of the podium exploded.

The city saw news staff reacting to the sudden situation as professionally as could be expected, and everyone knew that Vic Sage had been shot by someone with a silenced weapon.

The Press Asks A Question 30
Perry Chase, the Press Guardian, paused when he reached the top of the private staircase leading to the owner's office. He decided to check the rest of the floor out before he tried to talk to Rosario. He didn't want to be blindsided by someone in hiding.

He discovered a set of dressing rooms for the floor show the club put on. Women were getting into costumes so that they could form a chorus line. A set of stairs must lead to the stage from that floor in the back of the building.

No goons stood guard.

Perry walked to the office, watching out for anyone who might show an interest in him. He paused to listen at the door. Voices murmured behind the thick wood. He twisted the knob, throwing the door open as hard as he could.

Perry saw that Rosario had two of his henchmen with him in the office. They stared at the open door slamming against the wall for the precious seconds for Perry to step inside the room, hand in his jacket pocket.

"Everybody freeze," Perry commanded. "You're covered. Weapons on the floor right now."

The goons shot a look at their boss. He nodded, keeping his hands on the top of the desk. They pulled out their pistols and dropped them on the floor. The heavy carpet muffled the thuds of metal on wood.

"I want to know why you have been setting up police raids against your competition," Perry stated. "It doesn't seem to be your usual style playing a snitch."

"First off, I don't know what you're talking about," said Rosario. "If I wanted to wipe out my competition, I would. I don't need the police to do my dirty work for me. Secondly, its none of your business what I do. Thirdly, one of my own places was hit and I have to deal with that."

"I questioned your lap dog," Perry said. "He admitted that you staged the raid on your place. I just want you to know that I have my eye on you. Sooner or later, I am going to put you in the can where you belong."

"You talk a good game," said Rosario, smiling. "When you're ready to do more than talk, let me know."

"I will," said the Press Guardian. "I'll even bring my own bracelets for you to wear downtown to your booking."

Perry slowly backed out of the room. He didn't have any evidence to back up his threat. His bluff hadn't quite worked. So he retreated until he could think of some other attack. He ducked in the dressing rooms, endured yells from the enraged dancers as he ducked down the back stairs to the stage.

Time to get out while he could.

The Press Asks A Question 31
An ad in the Crown City Times-Journal appeared the morning after Vic Sage was assassinated. It calmly asked for a delivery time of the money for services rendered. A name was mentioned as a suspicion of identity, as well as an unstated promise of consequences if the demand was not met.

An answer appeared in the next day's edition. That ad stated place and time for a meeting.

Crown City was bathed in darkness as the time for the meeting arrived.

The designated place was a restaurant used as a neutral ground by the various criminal organizations that operated despite what the police and the Question did to disrupt things. Leon Guardi arrived first with a briefcase he placed under his table as he sat down. He was supposed to pay for services rendered without asking what the service was. He ordered and ate quietly as he waited for his contact to appear.

It didn't take a genius to realize what he was paying for.

A dark haired man appeared in a dark suit and coat. He looked around the room, before heading for the bar. A flower marked the black coat like a splash of blood as he crossed the space to the wooden counter.

Guardi waved down his waitress and asked her to tell the new arrival to come sit at his table. They would exchange a password to make sure they were the right people. Then Guardi could leave.

The Press Asks A Question 32
Perry Chase, the Press Guardian, swung a right at a goon who tried to keep him away from the stage area. The lackey fell on his butt. Perry grabbed the heavy curtain that would rise when the chorus line and band took their places. He pulled it open, hoping that no one would shoot in front of the swells in the audience waiting for the show to start.

Two more of Rosario's boys got in front of Perry at the other end of the stage. He grabbed the curtain and used that to swing into them. All three men went down, but Perry was on his feet with a couple of stomps to make sure that the mobsters had more to think about than him.

Perry reached the stage exit to an alley behind the club. He put his shoulder to the bar, shoving it out of the way. Fresh air played on his masked face as he ran.

He had probably showed too much of his hand, breaking in like that on Rosario. The way the gang boss had reacted had answered Perry's chief question. He was definitely behind the recent string of raids on his competitors.

Maybe the both of them had overplayed what they were holding.

Perry headed for the street. He had something he could turn into a story for the paper if he lived to turn it in. He turned, heading for his car's hiding place. He knew that the Rosario mob would be boiling out of the club in a moment. He had to get away before that happened.

The Press Asks A Question 33
Leon Guardi hated this, but it was the only way he could protect himself and Mike Giacoma. He had been the mob boss's attorney for a very long time, and it was lucrative. It was also nerve wracking. He needed to retire and knew that was out of the question. Giacoma would never let him leave the city with what he knew.

He would wind up like Jimmy Hoffa.

The man in black nodded at the waitress, picked up his drink, and walked back to the where Guardi waited. He settled in the chair across from the attorney, placing his glass on a napkin.

"So Mike Giacoma was the one who wanted Vic Sage killed," the newcomer said. "Should have known that. Where's the money?"

"I can't speak for that," said Guardi, shielding his client from guilt. "What's the password?"

"The right question needs the right answer," said the stranger. "I know you, counselor. You represent Mike Giacoma's interests. I just shot Vic Sage on television, and I am getting paid for that by you, so you're an accessory whether you like it, or not. So don't give me any attitude."

"I don't know what the money is for," said Guardi. "I just know I am supposed to hand it over to the man with the right password. That's all."

"So you really don't know what the money is for?," said the hit man. "If I get fingered, I am fingering you for the contract, counselor. Understood?"

"Here's what I am supposed to pay you," said Guardi, placing the case on the table. "Our business is done."

"Not yet," said the stranger. He turned the case around to open it. He inspected the locks, not liking what he saw. He turned the case back around. "You open it."

"I don't understand," said Guardi, reaching for the locks. "Your money is in here."

"I think there's a bomb in the case," said the stranger. "I am going to step over to the door. I'll be watching from there."

"You can't be serious," said Guardi.

"Open it and find out."

The stranger got up and went to the door to watch the lawyer open the case. He stood watching as Guardi examined the locks for himself. He could see the man blanch at the thought there was a bomb in the case.

It was a perfect retirement plan for Mike Giacoma.

The Press Asks A Question 34
Perry Chase, the Press Guardian, paused in a shadow of a small office building. His sharp eyes looked down his trail as he listened. He had caused some embarrassment to Rosario in his own place of business. Every mook with an attitude would be looking for his masked face now.

Rosario couldn't allow a slight like that to go unchallenged.

It would be bad for business, especially his business where it was a dog eat dog world and all of his competitors were ready to deal in bullets.

Perry quietly slipped deeper into the shadow, looking for an open door, or fire escape to use to get off the street. Maybe they wouldn't keep looking for him if it appeared that he had gotten away clean. Then he could flee the neighborhood at his leisure.

Perry found a rusted metal ladder hanging below a fire escape after a few moments. A few moments of stacking boxes got him a short step stool to grab the bottom rung. He yanked himself up until he got get a foothold, then he climbed the creaking thing as silently as he was allowed. It took a few moments to get to the roof. He pulled himself over the edge and paused to listen for anyone who might have been alarmed by his assent.

Everything seemed quiet.

Perry made his way across the roof tops, pausing to look around as he went. Sooner or later, he expected to run into a goon who wanted his head for the mobster. He wanted to see that guy and clobber him first before a gun was pulled and pointed.

Perry smiled when he finally circled back to where he had left his car parked in the alley near the club. Hopefully none of Rosario's men had found it. He kept a different plate and registration for it so that his double identity would not be compromised if something was to connect the car to the Press Guardian.

His dad would go through the roof like a rocket. Mystery men were a problem to him as any criminal enterprise. The rule of the law was to be respected, not flaunted by mask wearing vigilantes.

He would rather his son go to jail than be someone who took the law into his own hands, no matter the circumstances.

Perry climbed down to the street near his car. He checked it out before getting behind the wheel. He drove out of the alley, and headed away from the area. He smiled when he spotted searchers but none of them paid any attention to him.

The Press Asks A Question 35
Leon Guardi looked around the small room. He had been here many times representing the interests of Mike Giacoma. This time he was the one on the spot, and it didn't look good no matter how he sliced it.

"Mr. Guardi," said Detective Harris. A pinkie ring glittered on one hand as he brushed imaginary lint off his suit. It seemed to good a quality for a policemen. "Why were you paying the man off in the bar? Let's stay with that for the moment. Why did you have a case full of explosives to hand over?"

"I can't answer that," said Guardi, sweating slightly. "I didn't know what was in the case, and I don't know why my client asked for it to be transferred to the man I met tonight."

"So you don't know that guy you were going to blow up?," said Detective Soto, brushing hair over the bald spot at the back of his head. "You do know you might have been killed if it had gone off in the restaurant?"

"I can't really tell you anything else without permission from my client," Guardi said. "I can't violate that privilege."

The two detectives stood up. Harris straightened his tie and jacket as he stared down on the attorney.

"Mr. Guardi, the DA will file charges," he said. "You are going to jail, even if it is just for possession of explosive materials without a license. You will lose your license and be disbarred. That is almost a certainty. We'll let you think about it. You can help us, or you can go down the drain."

The detectives left the room quietly. Guardi stared after them as he thought of losing his life because Giacoma had wanted someone dead. He was bound by client privilege unless they somehow proved he was a coconspirator. Then anything said would turn into elements for conspiracy and racketeering with him as the centerpiece and an accomplice.

No jury would buy privilege communication as an excuse if enough evidence could be directed at him. He had to get out of jail and vanish before he was looked on as a liability and Giacoma decided to get rid of him.

Guardi's gaze fell on the mirror next to the door. He knew it was one way from earlier visits. People could look in but you couldn't look out. He didn't like the panicked look on his face when he looked at the glass. It made him look like a trapped animal.

Guardi closed his eyes, straightened his jacket and tie. He would have to wait until his arraignment, and try to make bail. Then he needed to get out of Crown City as fast as he could before something happened to him. Then he could start over with another name.

Guardi nodded at the decision. He couldn't be killed or used by the prosecutor if he vanished.

Giacoma could hire someone else to do his dirty work.

The Press Asks A Question 36
Perry Chase took the long way home after his escape from the night club. He kept his eye on his mirror, in case one of Rosario's men decided to follow any car he saw fleeing the scene of the fight. He didn't want his two identities connected together. The Express, and his father, would be destroyed by any such revelation.

Perry pulled his car in its spot in the garage near his apartment building. He made sure his mask, gloves, and bulletproof vest was well hidden in its spot under the car's front seat. He had devised a secret compartment under the springs so that the seat would have to be torn apart to find the disguise. A casual observer shouldn't be able to find it at all.

Perry locked his car, and walked to his apartment building. His mind turned over how he was going to stop Rosario from picking off the competition, and becoming the kingpin of every racket in town. He needed proof that couldn't be refuted by the man. Accusations by himself, or by any reporter at the Express, would be shrugged off as envy without something to at least point to the man. If only there was some way to force a leak somehow.

Perry still hadn't made up his mind as he started up the stairs to his apartment building. Usually he rode the elevator, but he wanted more time to think about what he could do to turn the situation into a bag for Rosario. He climbed the stairs with his habitual quietness. Maybe he should sleep on it.

He wasn't exactly as fresh as he needed to be. He had driven himself for the last few days trying to figure out what was going on with the sudden tips to the police, and now he had gone on longer than he should have trying to intimidate Rosario into a confession. A few hours sleep would refresh him enough to sharpen his thinking.

Perry paused when he stepped out into the hall leading to his apartment. The hall light seemed to be out. That was an extremely rare thing to happen. He had seen the superintendent check his entry hall only a few days ago. The lights had been working fine then.

Perry looked around silently before taking another step toward his apartment. The potted plants next to the elevator seemed wrong too. They were too far to the right. Something seemed to be behind them, but he couldn't tell what it was from where he was standing.

Perry finished his examination of the hall before walking over to the plants. He bent down to get a closer look at a black bag shoved behind the large pots. He looked the lock over before opening the bag. He didn't see any tripwires, or anything that looked like a booby trap. The reporter didn't like what he found in the bag.

Six sticks of dynamite had been taped together. An alarm clock had been wired to the detonator caps at the ends of the red sticks. The alarm hand was set for three in the morning.

‘I guess they want to make sure I am dead," Perry said to himself.

He looked around to make sure he was alone. Then he pulled the wires out of the detonator caps. He made sure the alarm was off, before heading to his place. He made two phone calls, then returned to guard the bag.

The first call was to the Express. One of the night beat reporters was on the way to get the exclusive. It would make the morning edition. Everyone knew that his father had made a lot of enemies with his crusade, so his receiving a bomb at his apartment building wasn't much of a surprise.

The second call was to a police detective that Perry had dealt with in the past. The bomb had to be turned over to the police department even if Perry thought corruption made things harder for the honest policeman to do his job. At least the bomb would be out of the building when everything was said and done.

The Press Asks A Question 37
Mike Giacoma drove west out of Crown City. It didn't take a genius to realize that he was going to be picked up by the police department. He was certainly going to prison if he was caught. Others had survived imprisonment, but Giacoma knew he would be a sitting duck in a cell.

The best plan was to get out of town, maybe flee the country, then try to rebuild. Some of his men would still be loyal to him. He had made them rich, gave them prestige in the underworld. They would help him through this problem patch.

Giacoma hadn't drove himself in a few years, preferring to rely on a chauffeur. He was concentrating on the road ahead, not on the Dodge Charger creeping up on his tail. It first came to his notice when it roared up beside him. The mob boss glanced over at the sudden arrival. His eyes widened at the shotgun pointing at his head. He dropped down as a solid slug punched a hole through his bulletproof driver's window. Plastic fell on top of him as he swerved on the shoulder of the highway. His foot stamped down on the gas pedal. The armored limo quietly leaped ahead.

The Charger roared ahead, shotgun turning to point at the front windshield. The gunner couldn't see Giacoma, so he aimed at the front of the limo. Stopping the car would limit what the fugitive could do. One trigger pull blew out the front tire, dropping the rim on the asphalt in a shower of sparks. The limo swerved and went into the grass on the side of the highway. Then it hit a tree.

The Charger skidded to a stop a few yards away. The gunner stepped out of the car, jogged over to where the limo rested against the tree it had hit. Two blasts through the driver's side window finished the job. The gunner wiped the gun clean, picked up the casings, and jogged back to the waiting Dodge. He dropped the gun in the back as he climbed into the passenger seat. The car roared away from the scene.

A few hours later, a family taking a driving vacation saw the wreck on the side of the road. The father pulled to the side of the road, turning his emergency blinkers on. He got out of the RV, his family watching from inside. He carefully inspected the car, calling to see if anyone could hear him. He looked inside, hoping that he would find someone not too seriously hurt.

He wasn't prepared for what he did find. He stumbled away to vomit behind the car where his family couldn't see him. He had never seen anything like that corpse laying against the floorboard, without its head.

The father went back to the RV, ushering his family away from the door. He used a cell phone to call the Highway Patrol, and tell them what he had come across as clearly as he could. He didn't like the way his voice cracked as he talked. He put it down to fear, and continued with the report.

The family had to wait for minutes before a patrolman reached the scene. Then they had to wait some more as other members of authority roared in with lights blazing. The father had to make numerous statements to the different branches of law enforcement he encountered. When he finally was able to get back on the road six hours later, he regretted even stopping to take a look at the ruined limo.

He should have kept driving with his family. Let someone else find the thing.

No one told him that what he had found was the first step in increased hostilities in Crown City, and a gang war might heat up by the death of his find. No one wanted to voice the suspicion that Giacoma had been trapped into the situation so he could be killed that much easier.

Law enforcement went about collecting what it could to try and find the men who did the crime. They didn't have much hope with what they could see on the surface.

The Press Asks A Question 38
Perry Chase shuffled papers on his desk. Announcements of several large scale parties had been put aside for the police report about the bomb he had discovered outside his apartment. The story was page four at best. At least his dad hadn't been told where the bomb had been found. That would have angered him to do something reckless.

Joan Blondell arrived next, checking the in box on what needed to be filed. She was an invaluable aide for both sides of his life. The only reason he rated a secretary at all is the number of social occasions that the Express covered, and he was the only society reporter/gossip columnist the paper had. It was the only concession to celebrity his father allowed.

Harry Lightner and Pierre arrived next. They seemed to be comparing notes as they crossed the newsroom to his small office. Harry had been a good crime reporter before Perry met him, and his ability to dig had helped cracked some tough nuts for the paper. Pierre was a typesetter down in the basement. His aid in these private investigations had caused some ire, but Perry smoothed things out as best he could. Eventually his father would put a stop to his requests for Pierre's assistance, but until then Perry would use whatever he could to do what he wanted.

The three stepped in the office, Joan closing the door to insure some privacy.

"Who wants to go first?," Perry said.

"I will," said Lightner, digging out his notebook. "All the places raided were owned by different guys connected to different mobs. The places were closed, and condemned by the city as far as I can find out. No one has came forward with offers to buy, so maybe the gangs feel they can reopen when the heat has died down. Several sources have noted other illegal places doing fine nearby. I haven't been able to find out who owns these new places yet."

"Also some of these raids have led to arrests in all the gangs except Rosario's," said Pierre. "I checked the reports as best I could. These raids have weakened the other players without hurting Rosario's mob at all."

"That's interesting," said Perry.

"Most of the mob guys we have covered have long records," said Joan. "Our reporters have pinned crimes to most of these fellows, but we have only been able to net some of the medium fish. Most of the big ones slip away due to the loss of evidence and witnesses. Everybody in the bullpen would love to hang Jerry Cotton's disappearance on Rudy Geir, but nobody can get enough to even touch him."

Perry nodded. He didn't have to tell anyone he wanted to put Geir in the electric chair as much as anyone. Jerry Cotton was a reporter for another paper that had gone after Geir with everything he had. He had secured evidence of a murder and presented it to the DA's office. Then he had vanished, with the only link to Geir. Everyone thought that Geir had killed Cotton to shut him up, but no one had been able to prove it.

The Press Asks A Question 39
In the aftermath of Mike Giacoma's death, warfare wracked Crown City. The police couldn't keep up with the amount of damage being done as every gang member who was able went after rivals with a passion. It was like the whole criminal underworld had been waiting for a sign. The governor had issued a warning that he was going to use the national guard to quell the uprising if things weren't brought under control.

That didn't bother the faceless crusader roaming the city.

The Question went after anyone he thought might give him some clue as to who killed Giacoma. His calling cards littered every hangout he visited. No one admitted to knowing anything. There was no rumor of credit, no suspicion except for a minority who thought the remains of Rosario's old mob had done the deed as payback for the attempted hit in the cemetery. No one could tell him for sure.

That was bad. When something major went down, someone always talked about doing it. That's how you built your reputation so you could continue. Silence meant the murder was a move to something bigger. Credit would be gained after whatever objective was finally seized.

What was that goal?

The Question returned to his normal identity after his fruitless efforts. At least the people he talked to wouldn't be hurting anyone for a while. He couldn't expect to do any better than that unless he could discover who had killed Giacoma. He thought about the connection between the murder and the gang violence. The eruption couldn't have happened better if it was planned.

Maybe it had been planned.

Rosario's old gang seemed to still be in mourning for their leader. So far none of their numbers had been involved in any shoot outs the police had responded to in the last few hours. Maybe the rumors were true.

Vic would have to look into it after he got some shuteye. Helping the police nail Guardi had removed one problem for a bigger one and he had to fix it when he could think straight. Then his alter ego could demand the answers he needed.

The Press Asks A Question 40
Perry assigned tasks after the conference, warning his assistants to be careful in their digging. He didn't want to explain why he had co-opted staff from other parts of the paper to help him with the society pages. He especially didn't want to do that if one of them was killed.

Perry decided to keep watch on the new gambling dens that had opened after the police raids. He picked one to watch for a few hours, then he moved to another on his list. After two days, the reporter saw someone that made him smile.

While Perry was on watch at the second place, one of the men from Rosario's club arrived. The goon went inside, stayed for an hour, then came out and got into a car being driven by another lackey. The car pulled out into traffic, drove off.

Perry pulled out, and followed. No one would answer any questions at the illegal places if he busted in, but he had a tangible link to Rosario if he could use this clue he had found with his surveillance. The two cars paraded from place to place until two in the morning. They visited every new gambling den on Lightner's list.

Perry decided he needed pictures of Rosario's man at the places and with the big man himself. Then that might give him something to use on the big man himself. Maybe it would turn this informing scheme into a trap for the mobster.

Perry went home and got some sleep. The next day he secured cameras for himself, Lightner, and Pierre. They would set up posts where they could safely take pictures of the man entering the places. They were not to get close to the man if they could help it. These pictures were going to be evidence to prove that the man knew Rosario, and that he visited all the new illicit casinos.

The pictures could be important, but they weren't worth getting killed over.

Perry waited at the final destination of the tour. It was obvious that the man was picking up money from the night spots, and turning it in to his boss. It would be great to catch that transaction on film, but that was also more danger than he was willing to risk for the small amount of return he expected to get.

One story informing the city of Gabe Rosario's links, and explaining how he set up the other crime bosses might be just enough to do the Express's job with very little risk to the paper.

Perry waited for his chance for hours. He was going to give up for the night when he saw his target appear on the street. He took aim with the camera, hoping the flash would be unnoticed since the marquee lights would be in the bag man's eyes. He pressed the button when he was sure the picture would capture everything for the morning edition. The camera went on the seat beside him as he drove away.

If things had gone according to plan, someone would be choking on his breakfast in the morning.

Perry met his aides at the Express building, smiling as the pictures came out clear in the darkroom kept for the staff photographers to process their pictures. Lightner turned out a story with lurid facts in record time. Perry took the whole package to the night editor. One look was enough for the man to reset the front page with the scoop. It was close, but the Express's morning edition hit the streets right on time. Newsboys all over the city proclaimed Rosario's guilt to anyone who listened.

Perry had slept in his office after the evening's work. That was where his father found him when he came in to start the day's work. Joan tried to dissuade him to no avail as the elder Chase shut the door in her face.

"Simonson told me that you gave him the story he ran on the front page," Chase said. "I thought you preferred the society page to real news."

"I was just passing the thing along for Harry," Perry said. "I thought it would be something good for the early edition."

"I see," said Chase. "Next time, I want to see something like this first. I don't want you trying to run the paper again."

"I understand, Dad," Perry said.

"Good."

The Press Asks A Question 41
Crown City, like most cities, had places where crooks got together to do business, party a little, sometimes lay traps for people who should know better. The night after the city had broken out, things had quieted enough to allow for business as usual.

Vic Sage smiled as released the gas to change his looks in an alley near The Old Reliable, a bar frequented by Rosario's trigger men. The orange gas changed his dark clothing to light blue, red hair to black, and face to featureless blob. He pulled his hat low as he walked around to the entrance.

Someone had the answers to the questions on his mind, and it was time to find that person and squeeze him, or her, until they coughed up something he could use.

Vic knew he should try to grab someone he could talk to in private, but felt that he could scare someone to run to the mastermind. That way was the quickest way to whomever killed Giacoma.

"Listen up," Vic said, looking around the open room. Everyone was there had seen the inside of the state prison, some more than once. "I'm looking for the man who killed Mike Giacoma. I know he's here. I just don't know which one of you losers he is."

"Beat it, you faceless freak," said one of the men, sitting at a table close to the door. "We ain't telling you nothing."

Vic grabbed the man's collar and flung him over the bar. Shattering glass and spilt alcohol flew over the men throwing themselves away from the wooden counter.

"I guess I didn't make myself clear," the Question said. "Which one of you gunned down Mike Giacoma?"

Some of the men twitched, indicating a man sitting toward the back of the place. He stood up, hand under his coat. Then he went for a short hall leading to the public restrooms. A red sign pointed out there was an exit to get out of the place beyond the two doors.

Vic charged forward, pulled up as men stood to get in his way. He blocked a punch, and used the puncher as a battering ram. Four men in the front row went down, allowing the Question to step in that cleared area. Another man swung and found himself flying through the air, until he smashed a wooden table to pieces. A kick sent more men sprawling. That was enough for Vic to get through. Orange gas erupted from its holder to help him clear the way.

The faceless avenger raced to the back entrance, pushing the door open with his foot. A shotgun roared, pellets pocking the steel at head level. A ratchet worked, then another spray peppered the entrance with pellets. Another ratchet told Vic the gunman was waiting for him with his last round of shot ready.

The Press Asks A Question 42
The Question waited quietly as he considered his options. A crowd of people wanting to break his featureless face were getting themselves together behind. A killer waited on the other side of the door with a shotgun.

Surprise had got him to this spot, but there was no way he could fight his way back out to the front of the building. There were too many goons waiting for him to try that.

Vic looked around, spotting something that could help him out of his predicament. Gloved hands grabbed a stack of red Coca-Cola trays and tossed that out the back door. A roar erupted, ripping the plastic rectangles apart with the shot. A clatter and a quiet curse was lost in the slap of retreating footsteps.

Vic rushed into the alley after his quarry. The empty rifle lay next to a dumpster. A foot sweep knocked it under the metal bin as the sentinel chased the running shooter down the brick corridor to the street.

This one man could produce an answer to end the war fomenting between the rival gangs. Everyone wanted to fill Giacoma's shoes. A bloody fight for that position would spill over on civilians before the police could bring it under control.

The Question quickly closed the gap, reaching out for anything he could grab. His fingers slipped against the other man's collar, prodding him to a faster pace. The shooter cleared the alley, veering left to aim for the next corner. A train station was a few blocks away if he could outlast his chaser.

The shotgunner reached the corner a few steps ahead of the Question. He kept straight, heading for the steps leading to the train platform. A car turned on the street. It sped up as it approached the foot pursuit. Vic threw himself to one side as the automobile struck the other man. The hitman flipped through the air, bouncing off the roof of the car, and landed in the street as his attacker kept going.

Vic got to his feet, rushed to the gun man. He winced as he checked the man out, knowing the man had broken his neck from the impact. Thready breathing was the only sign the man was still alive. Traffic slowed as he searched the shotgunner's clothes for a clue. Then he waved a car down, ordering the driver to stay with the victim while he went to a phone booth and called 911.

The crowd from the bar had started to pour out in the street. They gathered around their comrade in anger. Sirens marked the approach of help, but Vic didn't stay to see if the hitman survived.

The Press Asks A Question 43
Gabe Rosario crumpled the morning paper in his hands as he glared at his lackey. The man had the good sense to stand out of his reach.

"So what are we going to do about this?," Rosario asked, straightening the paper out as he tried to get his temper under control. "Things are quiet now but sooner or later one of the other bosses will express his displeasure. Then we will have a shooting war. No one can afford that."

"I wasn't followed, boss," said Tony. "I don't know where those pictures came from, but I know when I am being trailed."

Rosario took a magnifier from a desk job, and examined them. One look told him his underling was right. He hadn't been followed. The photographers had set up somewhere and waited for him to cross their path while he was visiting the new casinos. The reporters had found out about his places and waited for any one of his men to arrive so they could have some minimal proof.

It was just Tony's bad luck that his face and name graced the early edition in black and white.

"I want you to spread the word we are shutting down everything," said Rosario. "Everything. If the police haven't raided the casinos and brothels, tell everyone to get off the street."

Tony nodded.

Property tended to be bullet riddled and burned down in a war.

"Then get all of our soldiers, get them armed with everything we got, tell Garland to try and redirect the cops from wherever there's any noise. You understand?"

"We're going to hit some of the other bosses to show them we can," said Tony.

"Not some, Tony," said Rosario. "We are just going to hit one. We'll need one of the other's button men. Someone recognizable. Got me?"

"I'll put the word out," said Tony. "You'll have someone sitting down at the warehouse in a couple of hours depending on who we can grab."

"Don't fail on this, Tony," said Rosario, gesturing his subordinate out of his office with a big hand.

Tony left, knowing he could wind up in a segment of the highway if things go wrong. He was the only link to the boss, and he knew that being that dangerous to the top man sometimes dropped you in an unmarked grave.

The Press Asks A Question 44
Vic Sage waited off stage for his cue. Giacoma's network had been thrown in a state of shock by the events of the past few days. News coverage from the other stations as well as the papers had turned the heat up on every crime group in Crown City.

The Question's arrest of the two killers had helped keep that at a slow boil. The police had acquired enough forensic evidence to link them to the crime. Every hood was blaming every other one at the moment. Rosario's old mob

Post Thu May 12, 2005 3:33 pm
Guest

The Question's arrest of the two killers had helped keep that at a slow boil. The police had acquired enough forensic evidence to link them to the crime. Every hood was blaming every other one at the moment. Rosario's old mob, leaderless since his funeral, had hunkered down and was surprisingly quiet.

That was totally unlike them.

Vic heard his cue and stepped out in his commentator's spot. He went over his involvement in trapping Guardi for putting the bounty on him, as well as implicating Giacoma as the mastermind of the scheme. He outlined the events of the next few days after his supposed death on camera, and what they meant to the city's war on crime.

Vic saved his speculation that the one gang that was inactive at the moment was the real brains behind the current unrest. He hoped to gain some interviews with the Rosario gang to find out what they knew about things.

Vic waited for his theme music to play before stepping out of the spot. He stripped off his mic as he headed for his office. He still had work to do if he wanted to finally get to the bottom of the mess his city was in.

He saw the Starr kids trying to cut him off as he strode to the elevator, notes in hand. He knew the executives didn't like him, or his digging into things outside of polite society. He didn't blame them for their dislike. His commentary generated tons of mail, most of it filled with suggestions on what the reporter could do to himself. He made the elevator before his nemesis could reach him and stop him.

Now Vic had to rush to his office before he was cornered. Sam Starr allowed him to operate with autonomy, but the owner of the network was old and frail. It wouldn't be long before the CEO had joined Rosario and Giacoma on the other side. Then Vic would be out on his ear.

There was no doubt of that.

Vic switched his broadcast notes for his case journal, pulling on his coat over his suit. He made his way to the stairs, confident of slipping out of the station without problems. Then he could get back on the trail.

The reporter walked down the stairs until he had cleared the station, and was in the rented portion of the office building. He kept going until he had reached the street. One hailed cab got him moving through traffic so he wouldn't have to struggle to get where he needed to go.

The Press Asks A Question 45
Perry Chase knew he had been outmaneuvered when he heard the news. Rudy Geir's house had been riddled by bullets. According to the reporters covering the attack, a thug for the Malone Brothers had been found with three bullets in his chest next to the smashed front windows of the wrecked mansion.

Everyone assumed that Malone had taken advantage of the exposed casino plot, and decided to even an old score while the police were busy elsewhere. Malone and Geir had clashed before over territory, resulting in a small bloodletting. Malone had taken the loss quietly as far as anyone knew.

That had been a couple years ago, before the war claimed the attention of the world. Malone would have tried to even the score long before this, but Perry knew the other bosses wouldn't want to believe that Malone was innocent. They would meet to decide his fate, and assign someone to carry that murder out as quickly as possible.

Perry needed some kind of evidence to point them in the right direction. He needed someone to confess to the trickery. He needed someone from Rosario's crew to tell all to the other gang leaders in town. This might be the only handle he could use to change things around.

Perry cruised the streets until he found the thug that Rosario used as a bag man for his illegal casinos. The mobster wouldn't trust just anyone to take in his graft and return with it. This had to be the weak link between the attack on Geir and the body of Malone's man being found on the scene.

Perry parked his car and watched the night crowd swirl around until his man headed back to Rosario's latest club. The reporter followed at a distance. He had a plan, now he needed an opportunity to carry out his plan. Then they would have a nice conversation about Rosario's frame.

The Axle Arms proved to be Tony's home. At least that was where he stopped after his rounds was over. Perry examined the squat hotel, looking for lights to snap on after the goon went inside. He didn't want to break into the wrong room, and surprise some guy not involved with the gangs and the problems they were causing for the city.

Perry got out of his car, making sure his disguise was in place as he circled the building. He had tried to be circumspect, but there was always a chance that Tony had seen him and was actually waiting for him to show up to ask some questions. That was also something he didn't want to find out until it was too late.

The Press Guardian found an alley leading to the back and sides of the hotel. The back door was there, as well as a fire escape leading up the side of the building. One light burned down on the alley, visible through a weak shade pulled down over the window.

That was where he would begin his search.

Perry memorized where the room was in relation to where he stood. He went over to the back door and shone his light on the lock. He tried the door first before he pulled out his skeleton keys and tried each one in the slot. Halfway through the ring, the door opened for him.

Perry slipped inside, glad to find a back stairway that would lead him to where he wanted to go. He started up the stairs, trying to project he belonged there so no one would call the front desk and ask what was going on. When he reached the correct floor, he searched for the room that faced on the alley.

When he thought he had found the right room, he listened at the door. Footsteps paced back and forth. A big shadow blocked out the light pouring from underneath the door. Perry needed to wait for this goon to go to sleep so he could break into the room. Then they could have their talk.

The Press Asks A Question 46
It took a couple of hours but no one even stepped on the floor as Perry waited silently for his quarry to go to sleep. The light streaming from under the crack snapped off. The Press Guardian waited for some more minutes to slip by before he stuck the blade of his penknife in the edge between the door and frame. He worked the lock's tongue as quietly as he could. He didn't want Tony catching him trying to jimmy the lock. The hotel door slipped open.

Perry slipped inside, hand on his flashlight. He cupped his hand over the lens to block the light as he looked around. Tony snored on the single bed, neon light blinking in the shadeless window on the other side of the room. A bottle of cheap whiskey stood on the lonely end table next to a lamp with a holey shade over the light bulb.

Perry pulled out a pair of handcuffs. He placed one of the bracelets around the railed headboard. He snapped the other one around Tony's wrist. The thug woke up, blinking in the flashlight's light as the Press Guardian moved to the lamp and snapped it on. The mobster grimaced at the green mask and suit that eclipsed the shallow light the lamp filled the room with.

"Hello, Tony," said Chase. "I want to know why Rosario killed Geir and left that dead body on the scene."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony protested. "Mr. Rosario is a legitimate businessman."

"We both know the truth, Tony," said Perry. "Tomorrow the papers will tell the city the whole truth about the frame. This will be your only chance to get ahead of things before the other bosses wipe Rosario out."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony declared, straining on the handcuff. "Mr. Rosario is a peaceful man, just trying to make a living."

"I know you did it, Tony," Perry said, hoping to bluff the other man out of position. "It's no skin off my nose if you kill your rivals as long as you stay away from bystanders. What do you think is going to happen if everyone thinks that Malone is making a move? A lot of people not involved are going to get hurt."

"No skin off my nose," Tony said, pulling on the cuff again.

"It will be, Tony," the Press Guardian said. "Especially after I tell everyone that you confessed to it, and told me where you hid the gun involved."

"Fat chance," said Tony. "I got rid of anything that might even look like it was going to lead back to me. No proof, nothing that can hurt me, or Mr. Rosario. So beat it."

"There's always proof, Tony," said the Press Guardian. "You just have to know where to look. Sometimes all it takes is squeezing the right idiot until they talk."

"Go squeeze someone else," said Tony. "I have to get my sleep."

Perry picked up the pistol that Tony had placed on the end table. It had been fired recently, the smell from the barrel and cylinder told him that. Maybe Tony had left the weapon that had killed Geir in the hands of his patsy, but what would his own revolver tell anyone who wanted a story.

"I'll see you around, Tony," the Press Guardian said as he retreated from the circle of light cast by the table lamp. The front door of the apartment opened and closed as the masked intruder seemed to retreat.

Tony rushed to the door, checking the hall in anger.

That masked man had to die.

The Press Asks A Question 47
Vic Sage's return to the air presaged a spat of violence all over Crown City. Mike Giacoma's death had paralyzed his group, so his rivals struck at them without warning, forcing many underground to get organized. His operations were swallowed as the other factions expanded their territory.

Vic, in both of his identities, searched for anything he could use to quell the violence. A common rumor struck him as strange as he toured his informants. Someone new had hit a couple of the big boys in the turf war. Everyone blamed everyone else, but some on the bottom thought that everything was being steered so the gangs wiped each other out without the ones responsible getting their own hands dirty.

They pointed to Rosario's mob as the ones responsible for a number of reasons.

Vic considered the information after he got back to his office. The Rosario mob had not fractured after the death of their leader. Usually a new boss appeared within days of the old one's passing. That hadn't happened with that gang, and according to his sources, they were still doing their business as usual. Even he found that unusual.

Rosario's wife still lived in the mansion. Could she be running things since her husband had died? She had shunned interviews by his colleagues.

Maybe this was something that could give him a handle on the situation he was facing.

Vic took a cab cross town, paying the driver off a few blocks away from the Rosario mansion. He spent the last few minutes of the day looking the place over. He frowned at the guards roaming the grounds with dogs. They all looked armed to him, even if they didn't carry anything openly.

Vic found a place to wait as the shadows lengthened into a usable cover. The dogs were taken to a kennel that took up a space near the back fence. The reporter heard the guards talking about changing shifts, which meant placing the dogs in their kennel until the new guys took over. Then the first shift would break and leave for the night.

Vic thought he saw a hole he could use to get inside. All he needed was to scale the wall, cross the yard, get in a second floor window, and avoid all the guards doing it. Then he had to snoop around until he found some kind of clue.

It all sounded easy when he thought it, easier than what it would be when he actually did it.

Vic waited until the night shift had time to settle in, start getting sleeping, then he made his move.

He covered his face with the special mask, triggering the orange gas in his belt buckle. He looked both ways before crossing the street, angling for a tree next to the wall. He used the wall to help him get into the tree so he could inspect the property for an easier way in than the window he had actually targeted.

His keen sight spotted two bay doors on the ground floor. A guard lounged by the door, smoking a cigarette. The masked man looked around for any other security before dropping down in the darkness at the base of the wall.

The Press Asks A Question 48
The Question stayed in the shadows as much as possible, aware that the light blue of his clothes would make him a light silhouette against the deeper darkness. He was hoping that the guard was too busy smoking to notice.

Otherwise he could expect some gunplay shortly.

Too bad he didn't have a gun.

Vic stole around the perimeter of the yard, happy that the dogs weren't allowed to run loose. That made his break-in a little easier. He reached a spot a few yards away from the lone guard. It looked like the man hadn't seen his stealthy invasion of the property. The cigarette glowed and dimmed regularly as he watched behind his faceless mask.

Vic crushed the cigarette against the man's face as he slapped his hand over the man's mouth to keep him quiet for the few seconds he needed. The faceless crusader twisted with the grabbing motion. His victim slammed against the wall of the house face first. Another face plant put the guy's lights out for a while.

The Question tried the door before he tried to jimmy the lock. The door opened smoothly under his touch. He slipped inside, looking around for another guard, or cameras, to give him away. Everything looked clear for him to proceed. The crusader started for the stairs leading to the upper floors of the large house.

The Question walked through the house, glad there weren't many guards to get in his way as he looked for the room of Mrs. Rosario. He was still hoping to quietly get his answers and leave without any problems.

The faceless crusader found the room he was looking for after several tries. Luckily everyone seemed asleep as he tried each door. Mrs. Rosario snored daintily, even after he cut her lamp on so he could look her in the eye.

"Hello, Mrs. Rosario," Vic said. "I have some questions I would like to ask you."

Mrs. Rosario awoke with a start, half-blinded by the light in her face. She shaded her eyes with her hand as she regarded her strange visitor. Anger and fear fought in her face as she wondered what was going on.

"You better leave," Mrs. Rosario said. "I have nothing to say to some faceless freak breaking into my house like a pervert."

"Why don't you tell me how you faked your husband's death," Vic said. "I am sure that would be interesting."

"I don't know what makes you think that," said Mrs. Rosario. "My husband was never a criminal."

"The truth is your husband was the biggest criminal around for some years, then semi-retired," said the Question. "I heard that he had dealings with a colleague some years ago. That's why he moved here from his former home. Now his gang is staying semi-solid, while everyone else's is going to war. I hate to think you are the brains behind this."

"Think what you want," said Mrs. Rosario. "Just do it somewhere else. My Gabriel is dead and gone and nothing will change that. Now please leave."

The Question knew he was at an impasse. He doubted beating an old woman would get him answers to his dilemma. He nodded, knowing there wasn't more he could do. He needed to retreat and regroup, find another direction to solve his puzzle.

The faceless crusader left the room in an orange cloud.

The Press Asks A Question 49
Perry Chase walked the halls of the Express, whistling. The paper's reporters were having a field day with the rumor he had started as the Press Guardian. Everywhere Big Tony went, someone from one of the papers was right there to take pictures. Chase knew that Harry Lightner was leading the charge, and he couldn't be happier about it.

He wondered how much time Big Tony had before Rosario gave him a train ride to nowhere. He knew he had taken a big risk, turning everyone's attention on the bag man. The added attention should keep him alive, even if it was under a constant watch.

Rosario, uncharacteristically quiet, had decided to hole up somewhere away from the spotlight. Every reporter in town was looking for him.

Perry settled in his office, reading the morning edition. His own society column was dry to the point of uninteresting. That was just his entrance in a social circle where he had to operate sometimes as the Press Guardian, and a way to gather information on some of the more honest hoodlums in town.

Perry put the paper aside as he went through some of the information gathered by Pierre, Harry, and the others. He thought he had a rough idea where Rosario was. His quick read suggested something to his agile mind. He smiled as he typed up copy for his next column in advance and filed it in his drawer. He made several calls, confirming what he thought.

Perry whistled as he left the office, then the building, after an elevator ride. He got in his car, glad to be driving out of town, even if it was only going to be for a few days, if that long. He wondered it Rosario would be as glad to see his masked face again.

A small town rested north of Big City, along the road toward Crown City. It was a simple bump in the road for most, barely holding a population of four hundred. Rosario supposedly had a lodge away from the nine buildings that made up the center of town.

Perry rolled into town as the sun went down. He knew his sudden appearance would cause problems if anyone thought he was more than a simple traveler moving to the next town. He stopped at the local diner, had a small meal, asked about directions he didn't need after it was done, gassed up his car, and drove out the other side of Lankshire. He would need to hide it soon enough.

The Press Asks A Question 50
It took a few hours for Perry to hide his car, walk back to town in the dark, locate the house where Rosario had supposedly gone to ground, and inspect the place for openings. The guards surrounding the place were a dead giveaway, especially since Perry had given one a black eye when he had broken into Rosario's club.

Someone was in residence at the blacked out lodge. Perry had a thought about who, but required confirmation of his theory. That meant getting past the watchdogs and into the house itself.

Perry watched the guards to learn their routines. He hid his breath in a scarf wrapped around the bottom of his face as he waited in the shadow of a stand of trees. The watchmen seemed to have the kitchen as their base of operations, leaving the rest of the house dark as they walked their rounds, sipped coffee, and smoked cigarettes. Why should they be on guard? No one knew where they were.

No one should know.

Perry circled the house, keeping away from the patrolling sentries as much as possible, and keep the place in sight. If he could get in, and out with Rosario, he might have someone to offer the gangs in Big City to stop things from exploding out of control. He eyed the window he had selected for his break in. It was dark, on the first floor, and looked easy to jimmy with the pocket knife he carried.

Piece of cake.

Perry waited until the guards were out of sight before he rushed the window. He slid his knife into a crack to get at the lock bar. He slipped the lock, then raised the window. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness within before he slipped inside. He closed the window to cover his tracks.

He wouldn't be leaving that way if he could help it.

Perry searched the house as quietly as he could. Luckily he didn't encounter any of the guards away from where they tried to extinguish the chill in their bones. He found the great man snoring in his bed on the second floor of the house. He smiled as he crept forward.

Perry covered Rosario's mouth with his hand, as he snatched up a tie and used that for a gag. The mobster struggled until a gloved fist smashed into a cheek. Ties secured the man's hands in a second. The mystery man slung his burden over a shoulder, and headed for the front door.

Rosario would be his shield until he got away from the place.

Perry paused to listen at the foot of the stairs. He didn't hear anyone moving close to where he stood. The Press Guardian carried his burden out the front door as he tried to avoid any creaking floorboards between the stairs and the wooden barrier.

Perry wanted to run as fast as he could to where he had left his car. Instead he walked across the massive yard, keeping to shadows as much as he could. The guards patrolled without showing any sign they knew their boss was being carried away under their noses.

Perry made his way to his car. He dropped Rosario in the trunk. The mobster thrashed as the lid slammed down on top of him. The captive kicked the lid in anger as his captor got behind the wheel, and headed back to town.

Post Thu May 12, 2005 3:35 pm
Guest

The Press Asks A Question 51
Vic Sage sat in his office, wondering what his next move should be. Crown City was in an uproar, and he didn't have the answer to his problem. It wasn't anything new, but it was frustrating that someone had a secret and was using that to hold the city as a hostage.

The phone's ringer drew his thoughts back to reality with a sharp snap. He reached for it, already thinking of some way to brush the caller off so he could continue his own inquiry into the gang problem.

"Sage," Vic said, selecting his best excuse to utter as soon as he knew who he was talking to.

"It's a pleasure to finally talk to you," said a voice, pleasant but aged. Vic placed him as an older man. "I have some information for you that might be useful in your search."

"What kind of information?," asked Vic. He didn't think it was a real tip, but couldn't afford to brush it off if it was real.

"Gabriel Rosario owns a lodge in a town between Crown City and Big City," said the voice on the other end. "He pretended to sell it to another man, but he never transferred the deed. He hasn't used it in a while, but if he were hiding out, that might be where he would go."

"How do you know this?," Sage asked.

"I was in the press game once myself," said the voice, almost smiling over the line. "Go ahead and check it out if you want. Just be careful. He used to get extremely testy when people barged in on him."

"Anything else I should know?," Vic asked.

"I don't know if this is relevant, but Rosario started a gang war in Big City in the Forties," said the voice. "He used the exact same type of tactics, placing blame on somebody, then feeding him to the sharks."

"Its very relevant," said Sage. "I would almost suspect him of doing that here except everyone thinks he's dead."

"But did anyone make sure he was dead?," asked the voice, hanging up before Sage could reply.

Sage leaned back in his chair. That was an interesting piece of news. That explained everything about Crown City's current troubles, except for the mastermind. He would have to do some more digging to make sure his facts were straight before he went down and looked the place over himself.

Sage stood, already thinking of his next move as he reached for the phone. This could be the easiest solution he had ever come across. Several minutes of conversation put the hounds of the research department digging for him. If the house existed, they would dig it up for him.

Sage didn't have to wait long for his information. Rosario supposedly did sell a house in a small town between the two cities. That little place had grown into a suburb for both, a city in its own right. He remembered that plans were made to form a tri-city planning commission so that the three could make decisions as a whole while retaining their own identities.

Sage had thought it another useless layer of bureaucracy on top of the dead weight that was already there.

This could be the key to everything, unless Vic had scared Mrs. Rosario into moving her husband to somewhere else.

The Press Asks A Question 52
Perry Chase enjoyed the ride back to Big City. He kept a careful eye on the road behind him, but it seemed that Rosario's guards had not realized he had been taken in the middle of the night. He hoped to reach his stomping grounds ahead of the news, so he could play some more tricks now that he had Rosario to take the heat for him.

Perry made sure his disguise was in place as he pulled to a stop beside a phone booth. He made several calls, speaking obliquely as he arranged the most memorable soiree he had ever attended. He hoped it was as surprising to his guests as he planned.

Perry drove around the city, stopping to get a small meal for himself and his captive, as he waited for the time of the meeting to arrive. He didn't need to torture the guy, and he wanted his energy topped up when he had to deal with Rosario's envious foes. The only thing he couldn't do was square things with his father over his long silence when he should be working on the Express's social news.

He would have to come up with a believable lie when this was over.

Perry pulled to a stop at the front of the club where he had got involved with this gang war. He was pleased that he was the first to arrive to the meeting. This could work out better than he hoped.

Perry pulled his sedan to the back of the place, hiding it in an alley. He dragged his captive from the trunk, glad that the gag in Rosario's mouth cut off the expletives he was using. He walked the gang boss to the back entrance, and forced the door. Now to arrange a good welcome for his guests.

Perry tied Rosario to a chair. A quick search gave him some more chairs he could arrange in a semicircle in front of his captive. It was too bad he didn't have anything liquid, or edible to offer. They would just have to bring their own. He knocked out all the overhead lights but the one over the captured mobster before he retreated to a dark corner to wait. Something told him he didn't want to be in plain sight when the rest of the guests arrived.

Perry didn't have to wait long before his guests started to arrive. They shuffled downstairs, talking about the sudden mystery, before making their way upstairs. The disguised reporter knew they would all be armed. There was just no way he could separate them from their pistols. Hopefully they would kill each other if his idea turned bad.

The mob bosses filtered into the room, commenting on the captive tied to the chair. Some were pleased at the chance to pay Rosario back for what he had done in the past.

"Thank you for coming, gentlemen," Perry said from his corner. "Please put your hands in the air. We don't want some of you to be hurt if there is a gun battle."

Perry waited for the criminals to comply, making sure to stay in deep shadow. That was his only hope if they all turned on him at once instead of each other.

"I'm going to tell you a story," the Press Guardian said. "All you have to do is listen for five minutes. Then you can get back to business as usual."

The Press Asks A Question 53
Vic Sage smiled from his parked car. Binoculars hid his face for the moment as he scanned the property in front of him. His informant had been right on the money. A platoon of guards blocked entrance to the old house, staying just inside the wall. He didn't want to have to try and plow through them all.

Stealth was the key he needed to use.

Sage got out of his car after applying the faceless mask and color change to his clothes to hide his identity. He snuck around the perimeter until he saw a hole in the defense that he could exploit. He grabbed a bottom limb of a tree next to the wall as quietly as he could. One quick yank and he was moving up the trunk until he could see over the stone wall. He waited until there was no one in sight before dropping down on the other side.

Sage glided to the house. His face mask hid any concern as he checked the doors and windows for any type of security. He found a window he could open, after he disconnected the alarm on it. A small can of aerosol lit up the infra red beams to let him pass.

Sage drifted down the hall, alert for any guards that might try to stop him. He tested each door, before moving on. A small repetitive tone drew his attention to the end of the house away from his entry point. He knew that sound. It didn't belong in a country mansion.

Sage didn't like being that far from his planned exit. He didn't like what he found in that dimly lit room either. Rosario was still alive, hooked up to a monitor and an IV leading to a bag of saline solution on a metal rack. This was not quite what he expected.

Sage paused in thought as he considered his next few moves. Whatever happened he needed to get the ailing mob boss back to Crown City. The problem was carrying him out through the mansion's defenses, hoisting him over a wall, and driving back as fast as possible. If the old man died on the way, the war would continue with no way to extinguish it.

Sage didn't care if the mobster survived, or not. He wasn't prepared to waste his efforts if there was no hope.

Sage turned the monitor off, pulling the IV out of the socket in the old man's skinny arm. He pushed the whole thing out of the way. Rosario's rheumy eyes started to flicker open. He tied his tie around the man's head as a blindfold. He grabbed some napkins and stuck them in the makeshift patient's mouth. He wrapped the man up in his blanket and threw him over his shoulder.

Now to get out of there.

The Question cautiously made his way back down the route he had used to search the house in the first place. He heard things, but they didn't approach where he was moving along with the bundle on one shoulder. The masked vigilante lowered his victim outside the window he had used for a door, then dropped down beside the gangster.

Sage heaved the light Rosario over one shoulder as gently as he could. Then he ran across the yard to the wall, sticking to the shadows as much as possible. One of his calling cards was in his hand, ready for use as he paused under the tree where he had dropped on the grounds.

No one seemed to have missed the guest of honor yet. He had to be gone before they did.

The Press Asks A Question 54
The Press Guardian watched his audience as he told them how they had been deceived by his prisoner. He could see they didn't want to believe him. He was a vigilante meddling in their affairs. That made him an unreliable source at best. By the time he was finished with his narrative, he knew he had them hooked.

"Let me get this straight," said Squint Logano. "Rosario has been feeding us to the paper, and to the cops so he can take our businesses."

"Pretty much," said the Press Guardian, smiling underneath his mask. "Big Tony has been doing much of the scut work. The question is are you going to believe me, someone who has been trying to shut you down on my own, or are you going to listen to Rosario, who you know will deny everything as a matter of course? That seems to be the sticking point."

The assembled gangsters looked at each other for a long moment before everyone tried to talk at the same time. The volume rose to shouting level as each of them demanded to be heard by their colleagues. Perry was heartened to hear that none of the discussion was about how far they could trust him.

They were more concerned about what they were going to do to Rosario.

Perry waited for the noisy discussion to die down. Everyone had different ideas about what they wanted to do to the kingpin, especially since he was tied to a chair in front of them. Gruesome death headed the list of what should happen.

"Don't get too excited," said Perry. "I want him to go to jail at least for a little bit."

The gangsters regarded the masked vigilante with a mixture of anger and hatred. Part of it came from owing him for their cease fire, and the explanation for recent events. It would be a pleasure to take care of the masked meddler right then. Perry could see it in their eyes.

"What about it, Gabe?," said Logano. "Personally I would rather shoot you down like a dog right now than let you walk away. On the other hand, a confession to the district attorney, and then moving out of town would be good too. Don't come back. Take your time like a man, and don't ever come back."

The other bosses glared at their fallen colleague. They were all united for this one moment, and they would never forget how one of their number sold them to the cops, and wrecked parts of their businesses. No one liked a rat.

"I have the paper here, Rosario," said Perry, smiling slightly. "I don't expect you to fill in all the blanks, but I want you to put down enough to send you away for a while."

Rosario's writing hand was freed from its confinement. He wrote down several things about his gambling operations, and signed it. Everyone noticed he omitted any mention of the hit he had ordered his men to perform to stir up trouble. That would have meant the chair, and everyone knew that was one thing the mobster would not budge on.

The Press Asks A Question 55
It took some effort, but The Question was able to lift his prize over the wall, using the tree as a platform. The old man seemed in bad shape. Moving him might be a problem, but Rosario was the only one who knew what was really going on, and Vic needed that information so he could shut down the violence plaguing Crown City.

He needed answers for the questions that revolved through his head, chasing each other in an endless circle.

The faceless crusader bundled his prize into his car with a small amount of effort. He saw the lights go on in the manor house. Shouts drifted to him as he drove away. A countdown was on now.

Vic drove quietly away from the mansion. Sooner or later someone would think about shutting down the roads. He wanted to be as far away as he could get before that happened. If he was caught on the road, he could expect a bullet in his faceless head.

The investigator sighed slightly as he reached the highway, pointing his car towards Crown City. He still didn't know how he was going to exploit his find. He didn't think WWB would appreciate the sudden break in the regular schedule for an octogenarian mobster.

Vic hoped that someone in the mobster's organization would call a truce if he could reveal and prove some of what he had discovered. Otherwise the war would continue and he would have to try and stop it some other way.

Vic drove with caution, eyes on the mirror, as he pushed to Crown City. He needed a place to call a meeting for the other gangs. Some place where no one would dare cause trouble, and somewhere that was extremely public. The thought plagued him until he saw his home town in the distance. He had the perfect place if he could get the people he needed together.

The only problem he had was how to keep the old man from dying before the show could be put on for the city. He didn't know anything about medicine except for some first aid to patch up some of the scrapes he had picked up through the years. He definitely couldn't rely on anyone at the television station keeping this under wraps. That would be asking too much after the fake death on screen.

His apartment was out of the question. Everyone would be waiting for Vic Sage to show up. Having a supposed dead man along would just be too hard to explain away. Maybe it was time for some assistance from a friend.

Vic drove around until he found a payphone. He made his call, laying everything out for the man on the other end. His friend agreed, double-checking the address they would meet at. Vic smiled under his faceless mask.

Things might finally be going his way.

Vic checked the old man before driving away. Rosario was awake and calm. He could barely move his hands from what the sentinel could observe. At least he wasn't attracting attention that would have some bystander trying to rescue him.

Vic drove across town, obeying the law as much as possible to avoid hassles with the police. He turned into a parking garage and drove to the top deck. This was where his friend would meet him with a way to keep Rosario out of the public eye until he was ready. Vic parked in a space in a corner with plenty of space for the man's vehicle. Hub City was only a few miles away and the other should be there in a few minutes.

An oval shadow appeared overhead, dropping closer to the roof of the parking garage. A giant blue beetle landed lightly on the deck, bouncing slightly on its four support legs. A smiling man in a blue on blue costume dropped from the white underbelly of the spherical cockpit.

"Thanks for helping me out, Beetle," the Question said. "I owe you for this."

"Don't worry about it," said the Blue Beetle. "Anything to get out of the lab for a while."

The Press Asks A Question 56
Perry Chase sat in his office at the Express, reading the morning edition solemnly. He expected Rosario to go back on his word, but the mob boss pled guilty to the gambling charges and took his sentence like a man. Perry's father had expressed a small amount of satisfaction at the verdict before turning his attention back to the running of the paper.

Perry knew that a man like Rosario wouldn't go quietly, no matter what he agreed to on paper. That was why had asked Harry Lightner to keep on it until something other than a false confession turned up. Someone might turn without the pressure of the kingpin on their back, forcing them silent.

Perry knew this would slow down any other mobster wanting to stop the Express's reporters. His alter ego had been identified with the paper, and the underworld knew that he would defend the Express and its reporters from it to the best of his abilities. Some would treat the publication as part of the cost of doing business. Others would try and stop any light shown on them.

As long as his dad was running things, the Express would chase down the truth, and nothing else. He might as well consign himself to being the paper's guardian angel until Big City was cleaned up and every crook was exposed and jailed. He could do that from the society page office as long as he wasn't exposed himself.

Big City was full of these masterminds, trying to extort everything they could from the honest citizens. The police and the city government couldn't touch them without the papers leading the crusade. That meant the Express would lead the charge for reform, which meant the Press Guardian would be in business for a long time to come.

Perry couldn't say he wasn't looking forward to keeping his alter ego active. There was always going to be someone who needed to go to jail. It would be his pleasure to help them to that destination. He doubted his father would understand the need for his vigilantism, but then he didn't plan to tell his old man.

Perry put the paper away. He deserved a break, and he was going to take one for at least a week. Hopefully the paper would run down Rosario's corruption to the end of the line without any more help from him, or his masked identity. It was the least he could do.

The Press Asks A Question 57
Vic Sage looked around the studio, straightening his tie. What he was about to do could cost him his career as a reporter. There was no telling what kind of repercussion would fall on him after he was done. He could only hope his move would blow the lid off the street war, and slow things down.

Otherwise he would have to settle for taking down goons and button men one at a time when he could spare the time to chase after them in either of his identities. That was out of the question as far as he was concerned.

Vic checked his watch, nodding at the stage manager giving him a cue. He would be on air in two minutes. Then he could comment on the state of things. Then he would spring his surprise such as it was.

He hoped Ted was up to this. This was a key to solving everything. If he blew his lines, things would escalate out of control.

Vic made sure his microphone was in place to do his commentary. He was barely started when a white card dropped from the rafters above the broadcast area. Yellow smoke exploded from the card after it hit the floor. The reporter covered his face and ran out of the cloud, coughing. The screen cleared, revealing a man with no face in a light blue suit, holding a man in a bathrobe.

"I would like the viewing audience to meet Gabriel Rosario, live and in the flesh," said the Question. "His supposed death is what triggered the wave of violence that has plagued Crown City. He is behind the deaths of his fellow mobsters while enjoying anonymity in an estate away from it all. How does it feel to be played for fools, mob bosses?"

Another cloud enveloped the pair. When the orange smoke cleared, Rosario lay on the floor. The faceless avenger was gone.

Vic stepped forward as the studio staff reacted to the sudden hijacking of the broadcast. He checked the old man's pulse to make sure he was still alive after that performance. Sage needed him to be alive to help with the repercussions of what had just happened.

He tried to keep his expression as blank as possible to hide his complicity in what could be construed as a glory grabbing stunt. He had enough trouble with the head office. Still it would be worth it if he could stop the mob war in its tracks.

Someone ordered the cameras back on the anchors to keep this surprise under control. No one had the words for this impromptu performance. It would guarantee a few days of coverage by the station, no matter what else came out of this.

Vic helped make Rosario comfortable, then stood back to let Carla Muniz and Fred Willis take over. They were producers for the station. Fred had a first aid certification from the Red Cross. This was probably the first time he had used it.

"What the crap was that?," demanded Saul Starr, rushing on the set. He didn't own the place yet, but it was only a matter of time before Sam Starr, his father, died of old age.

"What did it look like?," asked Vic. "It looked to me like the local vigilante demanding air time for his own agenda."

"That's not funny, Sage!," said Starr. "The station could get sued for this whatever it was."

"Take it up with the Question," said Sage. "I don't have anything to do with what happened. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get to work on tomorrow's commentary."

"This isn't over, Sage," said Starr, bunching his hands into fists. "I'll see you off the air for this."

"Don't waste your time," Vic said as he left the room. "I have an iron tight contract to provide commentary to every broadcast. I have things to do instead of listening to your hot gas."

Vic went to his office to go over notes for future stories. He knew that he was the prime suspect in this move, especially after what had happened with the fake assassination. Still it was the best he could think to do to spread the word quickly across town.

The only thing he could do now was wait out the investigation and see what would happen now that the gangs knew they had been played. There was no way to predict their behavior.

The Press Asks A Question epilogue
Crown City quieted down after the exposure of Gabriel Rosario's survival. He was placed in Crown City General for observation. The station investigation cleared Vic Sage of any wrongdoing in what had happened during the news broadcast. The reporter had received an additional pound of death threats in the mail, but that was to be expected.

Vic Sage and Ted Kord met at the Crown City Press Club a couple of weeks after the Question broadcast as it had become known by the local reporters. The reporter had decided that a steak dinner was the least he could do to thank his friend for the favor he had performed.

"Thanks, Ted," Vic said as they waited for their orders. "It looks like the violence has been quelled for the moment. Things have gone back to their cold war status."

"It was fun seeing how you do things from the inside, so to speak," said Kord, grinning. "Tracy thought it was a gas."

"I bet," said Vic.

"You thought about a vehicle of some kind?," asked Kord. "Something in light blue with wheels?"

"I'll pass on a question mobile," said Vic.

"Victor Sage?," asked an elderly man, limping towards the two friends. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last."

"A fan?, asked Ted, quietly.

"I don't think so," said Vic, standing up. "Yes, I'm Sage. How can I help you?"

"I'm Perry Chase," said the newcomer, extending his hand. "I've been watching the situation here for some time. I'm glad it came to a happy conclusion."

Vic took the hand, considering the events of the last few days. He was glad it had reached a happy conclusion himself. Then a memory clicked together.

"You're the one who called with the tip on where Rosario could be," said Vic.

"I dealt with Rosario before, and did some checking," said Chase, his silver hair glinting under the lights of the dining room. "It was small enough thing to do."

"Why don't you join us for dinner?," Ted asked. "Vic's buying."

"My generous friend is Ted Kord," said Vic. "He's right. You're more than welcome to join us."

"I have to return home to take care of some things for my paper," said Chase. "I just wanted to come by and give my congratulations before I have to catch my plane. We newsmen have to stick together."

Chase waved as he turned, limping slowly to the door. Vic caught the smile he offered to the room but didn't understand what it meant.


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