From the files of Joseph Thompson:
Agent Carter joins the “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd to save the day!
I couldn’t believe it.
The whole building was gone. Burnt to a cinder.
When I found Mr. Kent, the building’s superintendent, pacing back and forth on the sidewalk across the street, he let me know that everyone had gotten out alright, even Mrs. Carmichael’s six cats. But the building and anything that hadn’t been carried out, including every worldly possession I had (except what was at the office), had gone up in flames while I’d been “shopping” at the liquor store on the way back from my office. Well, at least I had THAT on me . . . and the two newsreels that dame had dropped off earlier in the evening.
Suddenly, I had a powerful hunch and asked Kent if he’d seen anyone out of place before the fire.
“Sure! They wuz two fellas fixing to knock your door down they wuz hittin’ it so hard!” he yelled past his own hearing aid at me. If Kent had heard it, they must have been pounding loud. But why?
“Must’ve figured I’d be here with the newsreels. Wanted to take ‘em off my hands . . .” I mumbled, starting to be a bit more cautious about who might be listening now. They hadn’t figured I’d have a projector set up both here and at the office. Which meant they could be on their way there now.
“Nothing but an empty projector and an empty bottle inside an otherwise empty desk drawer, “ I reminded myself. “That and the foldout cot it looks like I’ll be sleeping on for the foreseeable future.” And with that, I headed back to my temporary refuge from the horrors of the city in darkest night (and brightest day, for that matter) until that joker called Life would finally take pity on me and cut me a break.
By the time I’d gotten back it was nearly midnight and I was exhausted, but the clock was still ticking and I needed to know what happened to next to Agent Carter. So once I’d made sure the office was secure and free of intruders with arson in their hearts and murder on their mind, I looped the second reel into the projector and cracked the bottle of Scudders bourbon open. It was gonna be a long night.
Starting with some documentary footage for the Captain America Adventure Hour, I suddenly wondered about the relevance of the radio-show’s “heroine,” Betty Carver after seeing SSR Agent Peggy Carter in action. It was ironic how Betty’s inane product-pushing pap seemed to strike a perfect counterpoint to the grim reality of Carter’s adventures. Peg and Angie didn’t seem too impressed, though. But then Peg’s just like me, living on the edge after losing it all. Funny how that worked out, huh? She’s got Angie the Angel lookin’ out for her, though, AND Stark’s snooty butler, too. Jerwin? Jerky. Jar-VIS. That was it. He offers to put her up for the night in one of the boss’s Manhattan apartments and Peg even finds some duds to help her investigate the Daisy Clover dairy farm undercover.
The Silent killer’s got his little red book out in the seedy hotel room he keeps having typewriter conversations with. Pretty ingenious little setup, really. But you gotta figure it couldn’t be too much more complicated than morse code and those telegraph machines. In fact, from a user’s angle it looks pretty friendly to me. Some real Buck Rogers meets Dick Tracy stuff that could really catch on. The wave of the future!
His Royal typewriter-ness wants Leet Brannis, the other mute who’d stolen the nitramene, and then makes the Shifty Silent killer nervous by proclaiming: “Leviathan grows impatient.” I’m no Sunday School scholar, but I’m pretty sure Leviathan was the big fish that swallowed Jonah in the Bible. But there’s all kindsa animal stories in the old books. Aesop’s Fables were some of the first funny animal yarns ever written. Norse and Native American myths had all sorts of animals runnin’ around, too. Hell, in Greek mythology, Achilles was the lord of the Myrmidons, a race of “Ant-Men.” Can you believe that? And to be honest, these Leviathan fellas runnin’ around chasing after little glowing eggs that implode kinda reminded me of ants, too. Little ants scurrying back and forth with their voice boxes yanked out. Mute ants, that’s all they were. But still very effective, for all that. This here creep pays a visit to some schlub and uses flashcards to ask his questions while twisting a knife into his hand. The schlub fingers (well, not with his actual fingers, they’re still pinned to the table, but you get my drift) a guy named Gino DeLucia out in Bensonhurst, but only earns one lead bullet for the tip . . . and he won’t be spending it anytime soon.
Next morning, “Ruth Barton” shows up at Daisy Clover and tosses the while joint until she’s satisfied she hasn’t found what she’s looking for. But it looks like the reason for that is ‘cause there’s a truck missing from the lot. She gets the name of the driver, Sheldon McFee, and then she’s in the wind. I had to rewind the reel and watch it again before I realized “Ruth” was actually Peggy. That gal can stand out in a crowd and then disappear into it completely. That’s magic, I tell ya.
At the SSR’s impound lot, Dooley, Thompson and Krzeminski circle the crushed cube that was Roxxon’s refinery like dogs around a chop. Dooley gives Krzeminski the honor of prying the mass apart to look for evidence while him and pretty-boy Thompson pay Roxxon a visit.
Peggy, meanwhile, actually uses the phone company cover at SSR HQ to nail down an address for Sheldon McFee and then gives Sousa, who’s nose deep in his racing form, a nickel’s worth of free advice about who to bet on, “Whitby’s Prospect” in the 3rd instead of “Uncle Bob” and asks Sousa to cover for her as she steps out, but when he gets the photos from Spider’s last night at the club, she suddenly ditches her plans and offers to help muck through the pix. Krzeminski blunders in and saves the day in his own way and the photos go in Sousa’s locked drawer. Peg rings up Jarvis and tells him to ditch the now Vita-Ray rich sedan they’d used at the Roxxon refinery the night before and then tips Jarvy off to set up a fresh sled. They’d be headed to the savage nation of New Jersey before the night was out.
Up on 42nd street at the Roxxon corporate HQ, President Hugh Jones toasts a drink to Dooley and Thompson. Pretty boy even takes a cursory sip to get things rolling . . . with social habits like those, maybe he was family, after all. Then they cut down to brass tacks. Jones and Howard Stark were pals until Stark got between Jones and his wife. Now they’re bitter rivals and Jones? Well, he thinks the whole vault crack and stolen goods is purely Howard’s doing. And the why of it all? Because he’s either petulant over something, just plain bored or worse: both. I’ve heard that power corrupts, I mean, the whole blasted world had just got finished dealing with a bunch of yahoos who’d grabbed too much of it, but this . . . this was something else entirely. Then Jones pretty much hands the SSR the key to finding the nitramene when he tells them it gives off Vita-radiation.
Carter meanwhile, is focusing the full force of her feminine wiles on cracking a desk drawer three feet from where she works everyday. The drama here feels a little forced for something so mundane, though. I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a clear shot of her in the bunch, but Peg’ll have to stick a pin in it because she gets called into the Roxxon job to drop off the Vita-Ray detector and frisk the female workforce at the factory. She gets the memorable pleasure of making President Jones’ acquaintance and then later, during the V-ray exam, she spots the joker from the refinery that she’d flashbombed. Name of Miles Van Ert, according to his jumpsuit, but when it comes to Vita-Rays, he’s inert. Nothing happening. But since Peg knows he was there she gets an idea that the Vita-radiation might detectable on ant guilty staffs belongings in their lockers. Suddenly Van Ert remembers that he left the lights on somewhere else and makes tracks as the SSR’s finest follow in hot pursuit. Carter casually takes the stairs and heads ’em off at the pass to give Van Ert the business end of a hastily borrowed briefcase to the shins as Thompson bowls ‘im over and Dooley huffs and puffs tryin’ to catch up.
Once he does though, it’s straight to the SSR’s interrogation cell where Dooley offers Van Ert either a carrot or a stick. Not hard to figure where this is headin’. He gives Van Ert a big fish story (gotta figure there’s lotsa big fish in the land of Leviathans), but I guess he’s allergic to carrots or something because he ends up taking the stick right in the mouth . . . to bite down on Thompson tunes up and gives him, uh . . . “singing lessons.” Dooley gives Carter the rest of the night off and she heads to the L&L to meet Jarvy for that ride to NJ. The new one, “Deep in the Night” by Lori Lynner is playing on the radio as Peg waits pacing and Angie house hunts for her in the hotsheets. She offers up the room next to her’s in the all girl’s boarding house she’s set up at, but after what happened to poor sweet Colleen, I ain’t surprised when Peg shys away. She dashes out front as Jarvy pulls up and you can tell Angie’s wheels are spinning, too . . .
Carter and Jarvis discuss the pros and cons of the Captain America Adventure Hour and she makes good and sure the car dosed with V-rays is out of the picture. Thompson’s not the sort to give up easy when he gets a lead . . . or giving a perp like Van Ert the stick, it seems. And all they get out of him is the name Leet Brannis, but the person the name belongs to is still a cypher to them, no info at all. Dooley, Sousa and Krzeminski bounce jabs and then a lead on the milk truck driver comes through and they’re off to New Jersey right behind Carter and not even knowing it, as per usual already. Dooley’s onto something, though. Stark, or anyone for that matter, could have go-betweens going between his go-betweens. But it makes for a pretty crowded dance floor, you ask me.
Silent Sam, or the “Mute Ant” as I’m taking a shine to thinking of him, punches Gino Delucia’s clock for the last time and gives the typewriter the latest. Then he heads out to snatch Sheldon McFee’s milk truck loaded up with nitramene.
Peggy and Jarvis show up at McFee’s first though and she checks the truck – still packed to the gills – and then gives McFee the old Humpty Dumpty with a whack to the skull and then it looks like not even the king’s horses or king’s men could bring him around again as Peg ties him tight to a chair. Before she can much more, though, Leet Brannis shows up and tries to boost the milk truck. Nothing doing, though, Carter’s got him dead to rights and besides, Jarvis’d jerked the juice right outta that jalopy. He plugs the distributor cap back in while Peggy uses Brannis’ little whispering whatsis he’s got in his pocket to get some answers about Howard’s bad babies and whoever Leviathan is. He’s not singing without protection, but Peggy’s not gonna care until she hears something to make him worth protecting.
Jarvis checks the house and finds a shotgun, but no Sheldon McFee. Looks like Humpty Dumpty put himself together again and decided to take his chair out for a walk.
They head back to New York with Mr. Whisper manning the wheel to keep his hands busy, but the Silent killer drops in on them from an overpass on the way and starts shooting up the truck.
Jarv fires back with his spiffy new shotgun as Carter whips her pistol out.
Dooley and Thompson, meanwhile, happen upon Sheldon and his chair taking a stroll and pick him up. As Peg and Jarvy knock around on the truck a few miles ahead of them, they start back to Manhattan with McFee themselves.
When one of the nitramene grenades starts to go off, the mute killer ends up riding the whole truck into the Hudson River and blows shy high as Peggy, Jarvis and Brannis, hit the dirt. Peg and Jarvy look a bit rumpled, but whole, but Brannis is saying the hard good-bye and it’s even harder when you can’t talk. As he clocks out, Peggy asks where the rest of Howard’s bad babies had been stowed and since he can’t vocabulate so good, he scratches out a heart with a wavy live through it and croaks.
Peggy swipes the mute’s last missive out of the mud and they bug out before Dooley and Thompson, right behind them, show up. When they do and after Krzeminski and Sousa have been called in, there’s nothing to see but a dead mute, a crater in the river valley and, though they don’t know it yet, Carter’s footprints. I guess Jarvis stuck to the grassy median. Suddenly Sousa spots a key in the brush and when he fishes it out and gets a good gander, it turns out to be the key to room 424 of the Hotel Cosmopole (a real doghouse, I hear).
Peggy gets het gams stitched up by Jarvis once they’re back at Stark’s Manhattan pad and he reminds her that even the strongest folks need someone to lean at times. Peg persists that Cap never needed anyone and J parries and thrusts with the killing stroke to the argument by pointing out that Howard had observed that he had leaned on Peggy for support. She doesn’t yell out in agreement, but she doesn’t look too displeased at the thought, either.
Next morning, after a plush night in Stark’s Manhattan apartment, Peg takes Angie up on the offer to move into the boarding house she’d flopped at. She’s interviewed by a crabby old spinster and dodges the worst of the hurdles thrown at her with fair to middlin’ results. She got the room anyway.
When she makes the scene at the office later in the morning, the good old boys are all huddled around a photo trying to I.D. someone. The blonde? Nope, just a possible sighting of the Yankees’ own Joltin’ Joe. I hear he dunks his donuts, myself. They oughtta post a man at every coffee shop in town. Joe’ll show, eventually. Turns out, there’s no good shots of the blonde at Spider’s last hurrah, though. But Krzeminski happens on Stark’s license plate in the Roxxon wreckage . . .
The reel flapped off the spool and I shut down the projector to cool off for the night. So that’s what the ruckus in Hoboken had been last week.
“Well,” I said to myself. “That’s all I need to worry about for this week.”
“Of that, I would not be so sure . . .” said a voice behind me in the deepest shadows of the night darkened office.
“Gah!” I yelped. “Who the hell are you!? Where’d you crawl out from under?”
“My . . . erm, ASSOCIATE had provided you with two filmstrips. I am here to recover them and deliver your next assignment. The analysis of this third reel, do you feel up to the task?” he asked, handing me my next job and picking up the last two off the side table where I’d put them.
“Funny thing about that that, I’ve run into a bit a . . . housing shortage, you might say, and I’ll be cooling my heels right here for the foreseeable future. But then, I don’t suppose you’d know anything about that, would you?”
“Ah, Mr. Thompson, the future is so much more than the like of you could possibly foresee . . .”
“Don’t call me that!” I snapped, “”I’m just a guy named Joe” After watching those reels, I wanted as little to do with the pretty boy who shared my name as possible.
“Indeed, ‘Joe,’ you are after all just a COMIC detective, are you not? Be sure to keep that new reel safe and I’ll expect your thoughts on it to be delivered before I see you again . . . or our next meeting will be far less pleasant.
“Sure, sure, I guess that knockout dame you sent the first time quit on you, huh? And how’d you get in here, anyway?”
“She hasn’t quit anything and she doesn’t work for me, quite the opposite, really. As for how I’d gained entry, let’s just say there aren’t many doors that are locked to a person of my training and skills. No need to get up, I’ll see myself out.” And with that, he backed into the room’s deepest shadows again and was gone. Completely gone.
The next reel could wait. I looked hard at he half-full bottle of Scudders on the table and got busy emptying it.
Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!