Press Guardian: The Press Ask a Question (finished 5/12/5)

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C. Syphrett
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Press Guardian: The Press Ask a Question (finished 5/12/5)

Post by C. Syphrett » Mon Jan 24, 2005 2:13 am

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.

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.

"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 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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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' 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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

"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?"

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Post by C. Syphrett » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:13 am

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."

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Post by Press Guardian » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:17 am

Who wouldn't love a story featuring the Press Guardian?

Much more dialog then Keeping the Peace.

A lot of fun so far.

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Post by C. Syphrett » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:18 am

Press Guardian wrote:Who wouldn't love a story featuring the Press Guardian?

Much more dialog then Keeping the Peace.

A lot of fun so far.
Thank you very much.

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Post by Rik » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:25 am

Sorry of the interution here but, C. Syphrett ran out of space for the story in the first post. I had to add a second post and move the responces to the bottom. Hopefully the double posting doesn't confuse anyone.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Mighty Crusaders, from the Golden Age to today.

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The Press Asks A Question 53

Post by C. Syphrett » Sat Mar 05, 2005 11:06 pm

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.

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The Press Asks A Question 54

Post by C. Syphrett » Thu Mar 24, 2005 2:15 pm

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.

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The Press Asks A Question 55

Post by C. Syphrett » Fri Apr 15, 2005 8:59 am

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."

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The Press Asks A Question 56

Post by C. Syphrett » Sun Apr 24, 2005 9:46 pm

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.

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The Press Asks A Question 57

Post by C. Syphrett » Thu May 12, 2005 3:56 pm

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.

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The Press Asks A Question Epilogue

Post by C. Syphrett » Thu May 12, 2005 3:58 pm

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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Re: Press Guardian: The Press Ask a Question (finished 5/12/

Post by Brad » Sun Jun 14, 2015 12:43 pm

Always enjoyed your stories. Thanks for writing them.

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