Tuesday August 15, 1933, at 1:02 am
Manhattan, New York City
The soft ratcheting sounds of the cable break reeling the grapnel line back into his specially designed trick-cane barely registered to Marcus as he thought, “This is a bad idea.”
He clung to the building’s exterior 500 feet above Park Avenue. The compulsion for… a type of justice, as he saw it, was too strong, he was too much the trickster at heart not to see this through.
A couple more feet and he’d reach the ledge that would give him access to the penthouse of notorious gangster and racketeer Louis Amberg. Louis had made the mistake of losing his temper, by all accounts a common occurrence, a few weeks ago in the Vanity Fair Club and accosting a young comedian by the name of Milton Berle while one Mr. Marcus Niger was present. Marcus had been enjoying the show when Louis became upset at some comedic quip at his apparent expense. Marcus had interceded, and suffered several harsh words regarding his skin color and station in life from Louis. Rather than take his pound of flesh then and there for Louis’ affrontery, Marcus had decided to unravel the the dirty little mobster’s world. Besides, he’d gotten bored with pretending to be a wealthy African prince, he needed some more danger and excitement in his life. Allah help him, but he actually missed his time in the war.
In the days and weeks that followed, Marcus had found a new hobby in tracing the extent of Louis’ illegal activities. A hobby made much simpler by the use of aerosolized variants of several old family alchemical recipes learned from his Berber grandmother, among them a truth serum and a memory clouding formula. As he worked his way through the mafioso’s organization he found it amazing what several well placed bribes could get you out of, not to mention the staggering amount of incompetence that a large portion of the New York police department displayed at times. The piles of evidence lost or destroyed was shameful.
But lost evidence could be… recreated. Making use of his forgery skills, skills that had been well used by his commanders in the Rif War, Marcus prepared files that would trace Louis’ rise to power in broad strokes over the last few years, and include the names and details of every victim Louis’ men could be compelled to give up. Now he would plant that evidence and tip off the right people. Justice, of a kind, would be served.
He stepped over the railing onto a lovely, and thankfully empty, balcony. The lock on the door to the interior apartment proved to be little trouble. Slowly cracking the door a hair he let his senses reach out into the quietness beyond. The smell of flowers, the lazy pulse of air handlers, and darkness. He quickly moved into that darkness and closed the door behind him. His eyes, already long adapted to the night, showed him a well furnished living space.
Now to find the right spot to leave his surprise. Marcus made his way through the living room and crept into the hallway. According to the building plans, the second door on the left should be the study.
Marcus eased the door open, as he slipped into the room he felt a presence. Then he heard the gentle snoring of a sleeping man. As he turned he saw Louis Amberg, bathed in amber light from a small table lamp, asleep in his easy chair with a book in his lap. Marcus froze. The rhythm of his sleeping inhalations seemed natural enough. Marcus moved around opposite of Louis, and repositioned his trick-cane. Grabbing the walking stick below the “L” shaped handle he placed his thumb in contact with a hidden button and rotated a dial on the cane’s circumference that would select the memory wipe aerosol and raising it slightly he pointed it toward Louis, just in case.
He moved silently onward to the rolltop desk he’d spotted. The large oaken thing sat against the far wall. The desk’s lid was closed. Marcus made to roll the lid back, and heard a loud snort and sputter from Louis.
He whirled to see Louis’ eyes flicker open. Louis made to rub the sleep from them. He leaned forward, the book in his lap forgotten, it tumbled down onto Louis’ left foot hard. Louis swore. The book finished it’s fall landing face up, GLADIATOR by Philip Wylie.
“An interesting choice,” Marcus thought.
Marcus’ eyes traveled back up just in time to meet Louis’ gaze. Shock began to register on the gangster’s face, but before he could draw breath to scream, Marcus was in motion. He leapt toward Louis, pointing his cane and depressing the trigger button. An alchemical formula older than modern civilization, tweaked with the best science of the time to be more potent and bonded with a gas propellant, struck Louis square in the face.
Louis sputtered and sat back, the wind taken right out of his sails, he stared blankly forward. Marcus knew from experience he had roughly 15 seconds to make his escape before Louis would begin to come back to himself, minus any memories of seeing a tall black man standing in his study at 1:08am in the morning. He’d probably have to reread several chapters of his book again.
15 seconds. Marcus produced a sheaf of papers from his coat, and moved back to the rolltop desk. 13 seconds. He opened the desk’s lid enough to peer in at the almost empty surface, writing supplies and a few random papers, no good. 11 seconds. Gently, but quickly lowering the lid, he slid open the large middle drawer on the right side, it was filled with file folders, perfect. 10 seconds. Marcus slid his package into place behind several folders and closed the drawer. 8 seconds. He spun on his heel and quickly crossed the room to the door, opening it just enough to pass through, and then gently close it behind him. 4 seconds. He caught his breath for a moment, and then silently retraced his steps back to the balcony door. 0 seconds. In the silence of the apartment, Marcus thought he could just make out the sound of a stifled yawn.
Slipping out onto the balcony and relocking the door behind himself, Marcus then moved to the edge, keeping to the shadows. At the railing he raised his cane and sighted down it’s length to the building next door, the one without all the mobster bodyguards. Rotating another hidden dial on the cane, he then pressed a trigger mechanism hidden along the cane’s shaft, and in a puff of high pressure gas the cane’s tip flew across the gap between the buildings, trailing the thinnest and strongest cable Marcus had ever seen. In flight, the cane’s tip extended prongs making it a grapnel now.
A soft tinging sound signified that the cable and grapnel had landed across his intended target, one of the large horizontal flagpoles 2 stories up on the next building over. Marcus took up slack on the cable and then tested the hold of the grapnel. It would hold him. He then placed the head of the cane into a special receiver on his right arm attached to the harness he wore under his “special activities” clothing, as Templeton his butler called them. Once again he tested the line, pulling with his weight, it still held.
“Here we go again,” he thought as he pulled back and vaulted over the railing into open air.
As he swung out over the Manhattan skyline, Marcus hummed to himself, He’d sail through the air with the greatest of ease, That daring young man on the flying trapeze.