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Countdown to Death (The Silencer) by Cora Buhlert - Short Stories
Once upon a time, Richard Blakemore led a double life. Hardworking pulp writer by day and the masked vigilante only known as the Silencer by night. But those days are over, for Richard Blakemore, in the guise of the Silencer, was found guilty of murdering mafia boss Antonio Tortelli and sentenced to death. But now, with Richard Blakemore on death row in Sing Sing and the date of the execution drawing closer, the Silencer has reappeared to stalk anybody involved in the case, insisting that Blakemore is innocent. So did Richard Blakemore really murder Antonio Tortelli. And is he really the Silencer?
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“SILENCER TO FACE HANGMAN” the headline screamed. Blood red letters, two inch high, running through a rotary press at a rate of five hundred pages per minute.
Jake Levonsky grabbed a paper from the press and scanned the opening paragraph:
Appeal denied — Vigilante to be executed on Tuesday
Today, the governor revoked the final appeal of Richard Blakemore, which means that Blakemore will die in the electric chair on Tuesday.
The local writer and playboy brought many a criminal to justice in the guise of the masked vigilante known as the Silencer, a pulp character of his own creation. Earlier this year, Blakemore was found guilty of murdering the mobster Antonio Tortelli…
“Bullshit,” Levonsky exclaimed and flung the paper into a corner. The fresh ink came off on his fingers and he rubbed them carelessly in his pants.
“Jake, I realize that you’re biased.” Randall Whitman bent down to rescue the paper Levonsky had so casually tossed. Even at a print run of five hundred thousand, he still hated to see even a single paper go to waste. “After all, the man used to work for you.”
“Richard Blakemore didn’t just work for me.” Levonsky puffed his omnipresent cigar. “He is my star author, damn it! The mainstay of my magazine line.”
“And a convicted murderer.”
“Bullshit,” Levonsky roared, loud enough to momentarily drown out the printing press, “I know Richard Blakemore and I know that he didn’t murder anybody.”
“But he was found guilty…”
“A gross miscarriage of justice.”
“There were witnesses…”
“Criminals. Mobsters. Liars, one and all.”
“There was also evidence. Even you can’t deny that, Jake.”
“False. Fabricated.” Puffs of cigar smoke punctuated every single word.
Randall Whitman drew on his pipe “They found Blakemore’s fingerprints all over Tortelli’s mansion,” he said, “They found Blakemore himself, unconscious, in Tortelli’s garden.”
“He was framed.” A perfectly formed smoke ring escaped from Levonsky’s mouth. “Richard Blakemore would never have been so stupid.”
“And what about the full Silencer costume found in Blakemore’s house. Coat, hat, mask, bulletproof steel vest, twin .45 automatics. Just as described in the magazines, to the last detail. What was Blakemore doing with that stuff?”
Levonsky shrugged. “He had all that stuff to try out how it would feel to be in the Silencer’s shoes, to wear that costume and all that equipment. Richard always researched his stories very thoroughly.”
“Come on, Jake. He had the costume and all that, because he was the Silencer. Maybe he really wanted to try out how it felt at first, but then something snapped and he started to believe that he was his own character.” Whitman took another draw of his pipe. “I mean, most of those pulp authors are more or less crazy. That’s probably what happens when you crank out a full-length novel per month. Blakemore just went too far and now he’s paying the price…”
Levonsky jabbed his cigar at Whitman, sprinkling ashes all over the floor. “And there we have it, Randall! Now you’re going to tell me how inferior my magazine line is to your newspaper. And next you’re going to blame me for all this, because I published the damn Silencer magazine in this first place.”
Whitman put a calming hand on the shoulder of his enraged colleague. “Jake, nobody’s blaming you. Hell, I’m not even blaming Blakemore. He did the right thing, if you ask me. Put away a lot of criminals that needed putting away. Plus, the Silencer sightings were always good for a story. But the law is the law, and the law says Blakemore is a murderer. There’s nothing you or I can do about it.”
Levonsky sighed. “I know. It’s just that I know the man. He’s been working for me for three years now. He’s been to my house, met my family. And I just cannot believe that he’s a murderer.”
Whitman gave him a sympathetic nod. “You look like you could use a drink, Jake,” he said, “Let’s go up to my office. I have a good bottle of Bourbon stashed away in my desk.”
It was late at night and so the usually busy offices of the New York Star were largely deserted. Whitman and Levonsky made their way through empty desks and abandoned typewriters towards Whitman’s corner office.
Randall Whitman pushed the door open and flipped the light switch on. But the office remained dark. There was a movement in a corner. Then suddenly, a figure stepped from the shadows into the dim light falling in from the bullpen. A sinister figure, dressed in a long black coat with gleaming silver buttons and a black wide-brimmed hat. The face was entirely covered by a mask of polished steel.
Levonsky gulped. He knew who the mysterious figure was. He knew only too well. After all, that very same figure appeared every month on the cover of Levonsky’s best-selling pulp magazine.
Whitman knew who the visitor was as well. “The Silencer,” he whispered, “the real one.”
Countdown to DeathBy: Cora Buhlert