Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2003 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
Milwaukee, the 1920's: The nightmare that descended on Abraham Lincoln High School was an attack of horror without equal. Starting out with a series of sinister incidents, events eventually escalated into a siege of terror. The case made national news for weeks, in the fall of 192-. It helped that one of the students in the case, Olga Petrovsky, was an amateur photographer, who documented every aspect of the horrors with a series of excellent photographs. Her pictures of the final confrontation at the school won a Pulitzer Prize for the young high school journalist. But it was her photo of the blood-splattered wall in the cavernous cellars of the old Milwaukee, Wisconsin high school building that was the tabloid press' favorite.
The man most responsible for ending the reign of terror was Jacob Black. Black was a former math teacher at Abraham Lincoln. He had gone on to be a best selling adventure story novelist and Hollywood scriptwriter, with a successful Hollywood career at Mammoth-Art Studio. He had also worked with the Los Angeles police as an unofficial consultant on many murder cases. His gifts as a solver of mysteries had made him a valued collaborator with the LA Homicide Squad. Jake, as his friends called him, started received alarming letters from old colleagues at school. They described strange events at night in the deserted school building, with lights seen in the cellars of the school. They also said that the school administrators were doing nothing to investigate the events. Finally, Jake's old friend, the school's veteran Biology teacher Anita Wilson, told him she thought something was really wrong. Jake believed it was time to intervene.
Jake thought big.
Jake's studio awarded Abraham Lincoln's principal, Dr. Theodore Keating, the Mammoth-Art Studio Prize for Educators. The prize consisted of a three week trip to New York City, where Dr. Keating could study at the Museum of Natural History. Dr. Keating was a fine educator, and a good human being. He had done much to raise the level of education and teaching at Lincoln, ensuring that its largely working class students got good training in science, math and engineering. Jake personally owed Dr. Keating a lot. Jake had started out as a high school student at Lincoln, and Keating saw to it that the penniless orphan Jake had managed to get a college scholarship. Jake went back to Lincoln as a teacher after his graduation. But Jake also knew that Keating understood nothing about school administration except education. All of this he had delegated to subordinates. The Vice Principal, Benson Chalmers, really ran most aspects of the school. Dr. Keating was completely helpless in balancing the school's books, coming up with a financial statement, hiring non-teaching staff, or making any decisions about school property. All that he left to Chalmers, and Chalmers' staff. Jake remembered Chalmers as a sneak and as a sadistic bully, who tormented the junior members of the teaching staff. Chalmers had made Jake miserable during Chalmers' first year and Jake's last year at Lincoln, through his constant taunting of Jake as a "sissy". Jake had hated this, but had been unable to do anything about it.
The award was given Dr. Keating in Lincoln's auditorium, an old, badly lit, creaky structure full of odd echoes and shadowy corners. It was presented by William Hanniford, the distinguished middle-aged Shakespearean actor who was now a Mammoth-Art character player. His sonorous tones and distinguished appearance suggested that the Prize Dr. Keating was receiving was one step below the Nobel Peace Prize. Hanniford had come up from Chicago by train for the day, where he was appearing on stage in King Lear.
The beaming Dr. Keating gave a heart-felt acceptance speech. Principals of schools in near slum districts rarely got much recognition for their work. Olga Petrovsky snapped several pictures of Dr. Keating for the school's student newspaper.
Most of Lincoln's faculty and student body were present. Chalmers, a short, wiry man, sat next to Keating, as always. He always strongly supported Keating in public, whatever he really thought about his boss in private. The diminutive Anita Wilson sat there, petite in a navy blue dress. She was in her early thirties, and had been Biology teacher at Lincoln for ten years. Near her was Biff Carver, the school's gigantic, 6 foot three football coach. He was a newer employee, hired within the last two years, and Jake did not remember him from his period of teaching at Lincoln. Pete Sanders, the chemistry teacher, was also present, a man in his mid thirties. Like all the other men present, he was dressed in a suit and tie.
"Next, we want to introduce Dr. Keating's replacement as Principal for the next three weeks," William Hanniford continued in his pearl-shaped tones. "Part of the key idea of the Mammoth-Art Prize for Educators is to allow for the educational exchange between institutions of learning, and those of the humanities. It is my great pleasure to introduce the celebrated author who will be Lincoln's visiting Principal: Mr. Jacob Black. Mr. Black is the author of many famous novels, set in the far corners of our globe. He is also one of the most distinguished alumni of this fair institution, Abraham Lincoln High School."
Jake stood up, and made a few friendly remarks. Jake was a tall, slim man of around thirty, dressed in his most glamorous Hollywood suit. "It is a great honor to be back at Lincoln, a school at which I have so many happy memories. It is an especial honor to be following in the footsteps, even for a brief time, of Dr. Keating. I hope Dr. Keating can tell us a bit about how he will spend his time in New York City."
"My research interest have always been in the Lepidoptera: butterflies," Dr. Keating said . "In my youth I did much research on them. I have asked some of our students to bring some of my collection up here, out of storage in the school's basement."
Two teenage boys brought a huge black closed cabinet up to the stage. One of them opened up the front door of the cabinet.
A huge ax, covered with blood, fell out upon the stage.
Jake installed himself in Dr. Keating's office. He was accompanied by a secretary he'd brought from Hollywood, Isaac Silverberg. Silverberg was a quiet, inconspicuously dressed man of around forty. He mainly stayed in the background, and only rarely left the Principal's offices during the day.
Chalmers had refused to shake Silverberg's hand, and seemed disgusted by his presence.
Chalmers was eating lunch with a group of men, mainly new teachers and staff members he had hired during his tenure. He was lecturing them about what he called "race suicide".
"The white race is being swamped by inferior races in this country," he declared. "This country was founded by people from Northern Europe, Englishmen and Scotsmen. But we are being overwhelmed by insect hordes from Eastern and Southern Europe." Most of the men at the table seemed to agree with him. "More and more Africans are moving here from the South, too. Soon we will be entirely surrounded by racially inferior stocks."
Jake had never been a hater, and it pained him to hear such talk. Jake strongly believed in the complete equality of the races. Jake himself was an orphan, and had no idea to which ethnic group he belonged. He'd been abandoned as a small baby at a Methodist run orphanage in Milwaukee, and "Jacob Black" was a name he'd been given by a settlement worker there. Jake's best guess, based purely on his physical appearance, was that he was Polish, or maybe Lithuanian. But he could easily be a mixture of other groups, too.
Jake was quietly pumping everyone he felt he could trust on the school's staff. He was also quizzing many of the school's students. He got plenty of gossip, but little that added materially to the case.
Pete Sanders was especially antagonistic to Jake. He was hostile, and downright rude. He also clammed up at every attempt by Jake to open a conversation. Jake wondered if Sanders might be involved in some illicit activity, and was worried that the new Visiting Principal might learn about it. As a chemistry teacher, Sanders could be involved with making illegal drugs. Several times, Jake also found Sanders staring at Anita Wilson. Since Anita was the faculty member most suspicious of the goings on at Lincoln, this made Jake very uneasy.
Jake visited the far more affable football coach Biff Carver, in his office off the football locker room. Biff sat at his huge, fancy new desk, surrounded by photographs of the football team and pennants. A giant cabinet along one wall contained many athletic trophies on its wide, tall shelves. This was the fanciest office anyone had at Lincoln, including the Principal and Vice Principal. Biff Carver was kingpin of football at Lincoln, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Jake was wandering down a school corridor, when he heard a familiar voice from a classroom. He entered, and there was Greg. Greg was a talented actor in his early twenties, who mainly starred in swashbuckling adventure films; he was Jake's best friend back at the Studio. He was standing up in front of the class as their teacher. The class was Introductory German, and Greg's real last name, Mr. Karzag, was written on the blackboard, in Greg's familiar scrawl. Jake was floored. He'd thought Greg was back in California, off on a fishing trip. Greg did not lose his aplomb. He went right up to Jake, shook his hand, and said respectfully, "Principal Black, I'm the new German substitute teacher, Greg Karzag. It's an honor to be teaching at Lincoln." Greg smiled shyly. He sounded very convincing and sincere. Jake tried not to show the surprise he felt. Greg was neatly groomed, but was wearing a very cheap suit and tie. He was dressed just like any other young teacher, most of whom were poverty stricken - Jake remembered his own negligible salary from his days as a math teacher at Lincoln. Greg had also let the brush cut he wore for the movies grow out, revealing a head of wavy black hair. Greg was certainly qualified to teach German - he was fluent in German, Hungarian, Italian and Russian - and Jake realized it was a logical choice for Greg if he wanted to come to Lincoln undercover as a teacher. No one at Lincoln knew that Greg was also the movie star Gregor von Hoffmansthal, however.
Later, in the Principal's office, Greg told Jake, that if Jake were off on an adventure at Lincoln, that Greg wanted to be part of it too.
The first big break in the case came the next morning after Jake arrived, with the school's janitor. Andrew Newton was a black man of about fifty. Jake had known him for over fifteen years, since Jake had entered Lincoln as a freshman.
Jake had not seen Andrew for a long time. With a big smile, he rose and went over and shook hands with him. Andrew was glad to see Jake, too, but he soon made it clear there was something troubling him.
"There are strange things going on around here, Jake," Andrew told him, "and I'm worried. There are all these reports of lights being seen at the school at night. You know I'm not here after six o'clock, most days." Andrew usually went home then, to take care of his three children. He had been a widower for several years, since his wife Cora died. "There's not supposed to be anyone in the school, after I lock up."
"Do you have any idea what is happening?" Jake asked.
"No I don't," Andrew replied, "but I went to see the preacher about it two nights ago. Dr. Washington is the preacher at the First Baptist Church, where I go." Andrew helped out with the services every Sunday, singing in the choir. "He told me he'd look into it."
"What did he find out?" Jake asked.
"I don't know," Andrew replied. "Dr. Washington has disappeared. No one has seen him since he put on his coat and left the church that night."
Jake felt a cold chill.
"What did the police say about this?" Jake asked.
Andrew looked angry.
"They don't say anything!" he exploded. "They say Dr. Washington must be off drunk somewhere. Drunk!" Andrew said in a rage, "Dr. Washington has never touched a drop in his life. The police here wouldn't help out an African man if the Lord appeared and told them to do it!"
Jake knew this about the police, too.
"The deacons at the church have everyone out looking for Dr. Washington. He could have gone to see a sick parishioner that night, but there's no sign of that happening. He's not in any of the hospitals either." Andrew looked mournful. "We think Dr. Washington is dead."
Jake, Andrew and Greg were exploring the cellars of Abraham Lincoln High. The bloody ax had been found in a cabinet stored in the cellars, and Jake felt that there might be important clues to be found there.
The rooms were large, with high ceilings and dirt floors. They extended in a maze like pattern under the entire, gigantic high school. Andrew said that most of the rooms had not been used for school business for many years. But everywhere they went, there were footprints in the dirt floors. They looked recent. The shoes were of many different patterns and sizes. This suggested to Jake that meetings had been held in the cellars, involving fairly large groups of people, maybe fifteen or twenty at a time.
The cellars were dimly lit. Large spiders were everywhere, and had woven huge cobwebs in the corners of many of the rooms. Once, when Jake entered a dark room, movement rose up in the room with a large rattle. Something started brushing against Jake's head. Jake brought his lantern up, and discovered that the room was home to a large bat colony, roosting on the ceiling. The bats began fluttering around the visitors, grabbing at their heads. Jake explored the room anyway, but saw nothing in it but the bat colony.
It was Andrew who made the discovery, in another room. He flashed his powerful lantern up against a wall that otherwise was always in darkness, from the dim electric illumination that filtered in from the next room. The wall sprang into vivid life. It was splattered with blood stains. They had dripped down the wall, and dried, but otherwise, they looked fairly recent.
A killing had obviously taken place here, and fairly recently. Jake reasoned that the wall had been in darkness during and after the killing, and that the killers had not seen or known about the blood stains. That was why they had not cleaned them up.
Jake sent Greg up to the first floor of the school, to get some equipment. After a few minutes, Jake and Andrew could hear Greg returning. But they could also hear that Greg was not alone. Someone was following him, sneaking up behind him at a distance. The two men were unarmed. Andrew seized a heavy lantern, while Jake picked up a flashlight they were carrying. Greg reappeared in the room, suspecting nothing. Jake hastily put a hand around Greg's mouth, and pulled him to one side of the room's doorway, while Andrew stood behind the other side of the door. The trio could hear the footsteps getting nearer. A long shadow appeared through the door.
A familiar voice pealed out: "Hey! Mr. Karzag! What's going on down here?" It was Olga Petrovsky with her camera. She had followed Greg down the stairs. The three men breathed a sigh of relief. But before they knew what was happening, Olga had seen the wall of bloodstains revealed by Andrew's powerful lantern. Olga did what she always did when she saw something unusual. She picked up her camera, and made a flash-bulb picture of the wall. The flash was blinding in the darkened room. It revealed the blood stains as a brilliantly colored network of red. It gave everyone a lightning like look at the room.
Jake began to explain to Olga. He said that they had just discovered the room, and were about to call in the police. He swore Olga to secrecy. He also warned Olga that she could be in danger from the killers, if she talked about the events in the cellar. An awestruck Olga promised Jake that she would say nothing.
Jake suddenly remembered something. He asked Andrew, "Isn't there an old well, now boarded up, somewhere in the basement here? I remember it from long ago, before the city water supply was connected."
Andrew understood what Jake was driving at, and hurriedly took them to the well. It was now sealed up, with a heavy metal cover. Andrew got a crowbar, and Greg strained mightily to move the cover. Greg was a young athlete in full training - he was famous for the stunts and sword fights he did in his movies. With a final flex of his mighty muscles, Greg pushed the well cover aside. Andrew shined his powerful torch down the dry well. Twenty feet down was the body of Dr. Hiram Washington.
Greg lowered Jake down on a rope. Jake bent down and examined the figure of Dr. Washington. Unexpectedly he called out "He's still alive!" He fastened the rope under the preacher's arms. With a mighty heave, Greg slowly brought the minister out of the well. The minister had been attacked by an axe, and was horribly wounded. He was just barely alive. Greg rushed to phone an ambulance. Soon the barely living preacher was taken to a hospital. The doctors said he would be unconscious for many days, at least, and it was uncertain whether he would ever recover.
Olga took pictures of everything.
The police arrived speedily, in response to the Visiting Principal's summons. Lt. Kelly was forty years old, in a faded suit and bowler hat. He treated Jake with respect, and got the complete story of what Jake and his friends had found in the cellar.
If the police were discovering anything more, over the next few days, they did not tell Jake anything about it. Jake pressed on with his own investigations. Jake and Andrew visited a local locksmith that afternoon, and had copies made of all of Andrew's school pass keys for Jake.
Greg had never taught before, and he was amazed at how much hard work it was. He began to have a renewed appreciation for all his old teachers.
Greg was teaching his German class, with Jake quietly observing from the last row, when one of the more smart alecky students spoke up.
"Say, Mr. Karzag," Tommy said, "Did anyone ever tell you you look like that silent movie actor Gregor von Hoffmansthal?"
"I've heard that once or twice, Tommy, but I really don't think there's much resemblance," Greg said after a pause.
"He does look like you," the movie-struck Marsha said, "only Gregor's nose is smaller and cuter." Greg knew all about his big nose, so this was no surprise to him. In his film close-ups, his lighting cameraman always used a special bright white light aimed at his nose, which made it look flatter and less conspicuous.
"It's quite a honker, isn't it," Greg said, lightly pinching the top of his nose. This got a big laugh from his students. "I always thought Gregor von Hoffmansthal was a really good actor, though," he added. Jake rolled his eyes to heaven.
"I'd rather see a Western than one of those foreign adventure pictures Hoffmansthal is always making," Brian said. "Give me Tom Mix any day."
"Plus there's never any comedy in them," Alice said. Greg had pleaded unsuccessfully with the studio bosses to let him do some comedy scenes in his pictures, so this wasn't news to him either. His movies were always so serious. They were close to Rudolph Valentino's romantic films, although they had a lot more swashbuckling action, while Greg wanted to try a comedy-adventure like Douglas Fairbanks.
A quiet, shy student who hardly ever said anything spoke up. "I like the sword fight scenes in his pictures. I'd love to able to fence myself."
"Why don't you try out for the fencing team, Paul?" Greg suggested friendlily.
"Aw, this school hasn't had a fencing team since old Schnitzler retired last year," Tommy said. "They can't find anyone to coach a team."
"But fencing was the best sport in school," Greg said enthusiastically. "I loved fencing when I was a student."
"You're living in the past, Mr. Karzag," Tommy said. "My Mom says that's a sign you're growing old." Greg was 23.
Later, Tommy told Greg that the new football coach, Biff Carver, had forced Schnitzler into retirement. Tommy thought that Carver was jealous of the elderly fencing expert. Carver was a good fencer himself, but had disbanded the fencing team, saying that football was more important.
After class Greg told Paul, "I'm only substituting here for a couple of weeks, but I could give you some fencing tips in the gym after school." Paul lit up, and agreed at once. The school's old fencing equipment was still locked up in the cabinet where it always was, in the school's the second floor gymnastics room. Soon, Greg was starting out with basic safety tips, and working on basic moves for fencers. Paul Rozier was an enthusiastic student. He proved to be a real natural as a fencer, and caught on rapidly to everything Greg taught him.
All was going well, till a few days later. Greg was showing Paul some of his fanciest moves. Paul was picking up everything like a blotter. Paul's confidence seemed to be growing, not just in fencing, but in life. Greg had also been urging Paul to try out for the drama club, and Paul was all set for an audition next week.
Greg was showing Paul a particularly intricate move. "I've seen that," Paul said excitedly. "It's just like the big sword fight in Cavalry on the Danube," he said, mentioning one of Greg's first pictures. "I've always wanted to be able to do that."
"Well, here's how," Greg said, carefully coaching Paul through all the technicalities.
When they were finishing up, Paul said, "Say, Mr. Karzag, how did you learn all that? That was just like in the movies!" There was a dead silence. Greg hemmed and hawed something about his old high school coach. Greg could see the wheels suddenly turning in Paul's head. Greg had a feeling his cover was blown.
"You're Gregor von Hoffmansthal, aren't you," Paul asked, wide-eyed.
"Of course not, Paul," Greg said. "Don't be ridiculous."
Paul looked straight at him. "That's okay, Mr. Karzag," Paul said loyally. "Your secret is safe with me."
Greg said "Thanks, Paul" and let it go at that.
Fittingly, the climax of the events came on Halloween.
There was a long tradition at Lincoln High, in which everyone, faculty and students, would wear a costume on Halloween. Jake wore his air pilot's uniform, a souvenir of a previous case, a one piece set of flying togs in shiny, head to toe black leather. Shiny black metal buttons rose in a V array up the suit's double-breasted front leather flap, and then up the suit's erect collar. Greg brought the spectacular 19th Century Lancer's uniform he had worn in his first big movie hit, Cavalry on the Danube. Jake was bit worried it would make Greg recognizable as Hoffmansthal, but the bright blue uniform with large gold epaulettes and curved sword did look quite different in real life than in a black and white film. Only Paul recognized it from the movie, but Greg gave him a big "Sh!" and he said no more about it.
Anita Wilson was dressed as a ballet dancer, in a snug pink leotard and ballet slippers. She had several pink ribbons woven through a complex hairdo. Biff Carver came as a scarecrow. The giant coach Carver looked even more hulking than usual, with huge padding further exaggerating his shoulders, back and arms. His face was just a slit for his eyes, nose and mouth behind a white cloth scarecrow mask. Andrew Newton got in the spirit of things, too, dressed as a pirate, complete with a gold earring and a red head scarf. Chemistry teacher Pete Sanders was dressed as legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, with a plaid shirt and overalls. He carried Bunyan's traditional huge axe. The axe looked real; it turned out to be Sanders' own axe, used for chopping firewood.
Vice Principal Chalmers was dressed in the uniform of a Milwaukee policeman.
The students came in costumes, too. Marcia appeared as Irma Vep, the fascinating female crook of the French mystery movie serial, Les Vampires. Her eyes were heavily stained with the dark cosmetic, kohl, just like the actress Musidora, who played Irma Vep in the movies. Les Vampires had been shown as a serial at the school during movie days; each week, students could pay three cents, and see a film program, complete with silent feature and a serial. Jake and Greg had made a movie with the film's director, Louis Feuillade, the year before, an event that also got them involved in a mystery.
Paul dressed as D'Artagnan, from Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers, with a blue Musketeer's tunic hanging down in front and back of his chest. Tommy came as a reporter, with a press card in his hat and a suit. Brian dressed as an Argentine gaucho. He also turned out to be a fabulous dancer, with a dynamic sense of rhythm on the dance floor. His tangos with the girls were a sensation. Olga Petrovsky came as Joan of Arc. Alice was dressed as famed female flyer Amelia Earhart. Jake, who was also dressed as a pilot, joked that they would soon break air speed records.
Just about the only one in school not in costume was Jake's secretary Silverberg, who wore a quiet gray suit, and stuck to the Principal's office.
The big Halloween party was held in the gym on the third floor. Jake took the Principal's traditional seat by the gym's door, in the hall outside the gym, welcoming everyone as they arrived. He said hello to Anita Wilson in her bright pink ballet outfit, as she entered the gym.
Around fifteen minutes later Pete Sanders came out.
"Jake, have you seen Anita?" he asked worriedly. "I can't find her anywhere."
Jake assured Pete that Anita hadn't come out. "This is the gym's only door. I sure would have seen her if she'd left."
"Well, she doesn't seem to be at the dance, either."
Jake began to feel alarmed. He sent in two of Anita's students to search for her. They couldn't find her either. Jake asked Greg to watch the gym's door. He went in to the gym and looked around. The gym's windows were all thirty feet off the floor, up near the high ceiling. They were all closed and latched, against the cold October day. Anita was clearly not there. There was no other way out of the gym. Jake went into the only room opening off the gym, a store room that had no exit. There was little in the empty, windowless room except a screen in one corner. With a sinking heart, Jake looked behind the screen. With a great feeling of relief, Jake discovered that no one was there. Something in the dim light caught Jake's eye, though. He reached down to the floor, and picked up a pink ribbon. It was exactly like one of those that Anita had worn in her hair. So Anita Wilson had been behind the screen in the deserted store room. She could have gone there to adjust something in her costume, Jake reflected. But then what had happened?
Jake left the storeroom, and went back into the gym. Jake took the key from the storeroom door, locked it, and pocketed the key. He did not want anyone interfering with it.
A check with Greg revealed that Anita had not left the gym, or turned up. Jake went up to the platform. where the school's music students were playing dance music. Jake could see there was nothing under the raised platform for the band; so could everyone else in the gym. Wherever Anita was, she was not there. He stepped up onto the platform, and interrupted the festivities, asking everyone in the room if they had seen Anita Wilson. But they had not. Anita had somehow vanished out of the gym, as if she had never existed.
Jake could see from the platform that none of the women in the gym were Anita. Everyone had turned to the front, to face Jake's announcement. None of the women in the party were wearing masks; they were not in fashion during the 1920's, and Jake could see all their faces plainly. For that matter, the only man wearing a mask was the giant scarecrow Biff Carver, sinister looking in the spooky gym. But the petite Anita could hardly be masquerading as Biff. Jake called out a question to Biff, just to make sure, and heard Biff's voice through the mask.
Impossible as it seemed, Anita had vanished. Just like Dr. Washington.
Both had had their suspicions about the strange events going on at Abraham Lincoln.
Jake had a horrible feeling that Anita was in deep trouble.
Jake saw Chalmers, dressed as a policeman. It reminded Jake that it was high time he called in the police himself. Jake suddenly noticed that the handcuffs were missing from Chalmers' uniform. They had been present earlier in the day, when Chalmers had arrived at the party.
Jake went back to the door, and consulted with Greg. Only three people had been in or out of the gym during the time since Anita had entered it. Andrew had gone out, then in with more refreshments from the first floor kitchen. Pete Sanders had come out, asking Jake to look for Anita. Come to think of it, he was not in the gym now. Greg confirmed that Sanders had left the gym a few minutes previously, still carrying his huge axe. And Biff had gone out, then back in to the gym a few minutes later, before Pete Sanders had first raised his alarm. Jake was sure that it was Biff under the scarecrow mask; Biff had answered Jake's greeting both going and coming. Besides, no one else in the school was as huge as Biff.
Jake was sure there was no time to waste. He dispatched Olga Petrovsky to call the police. Jake then hurried back to the platform, and stopped the dance. Jake's voice boomed out through the hall.
"I'm asking for everyone's help. Miss Wilson has disappeared, and I am organizing the students into teams to search the school for her. She could be injured or ill. It is important to look everywhere for her. She could be in a cabinet, a locker or a storage room, unconscious."
"I do not wish to alarm everyone, but there could be a dangerous person loose in the school. All teams are to stick together in groups. No one is to go off on their own, under any circumstances."
Jake soon had the students in teams. He had Andrew divvy up his pass keys to the students, and also used his own copies. He had one group searching student lockers, another those for the football team. A third team swarmed out into the basement. These were accompanied by Andrew, who knew the basement passages better than any of the students. None of the teams found any results.
A frustrated Jake was discussing the case in the Principal's office with Lt. Kelly.
"I wondered if you were who you said you were - perhaps you were an impostor or a crook," Kelly said. "A routine check with the Los Angeles police revealed surprising results. Not only is Jacob Black an honest person, but he has worked extensively with the LAPD on homicide investigations. You are not here by chance, are you? You are on some sort of investigation."
"I'd heard strange stories about problems here at Lincoln," Jake answered. "So when I got a chance to come back, I decided to investigate."
"There were other surprises, too. There's a real Jacob Black," Kelly said. "We've all your school records - even your picture on your novels in the bookstore - you're the real Jacob Black, not an impostor using his name. But there's no Isaac Silverberg. He doesn't exist. Never born, never went to school or had a job." He glared at Silverberg in the corner. "Who is he, and what is he doing here?"
Silverberg and Jake looked at each other and nodded.
"Lieutenant," Jake said, "this is Benjamin Cohen. He's Mammoth-Art Studio's top accountant. He's here to investigate the school's books."
"Systematic fraud is going on here," Cohen said quietly. "There are people on the payroll in this school who don't exist. Fraudulent identities have been fabricated for them. Money allocated by the Board of Education for lab equipment, school repair and band uniforms has been diverted.
"There are also signs that money is being laundered through this school. Funds are being raised by outside organizations, probably illegal ones with questionable sources of income. Then it is being diverted through this school. It comes out looking like clean money, part of normal, honest financial transactions, such as a paycheck for one of those imaginary employees. There are over two dozen of those phantom school staff here. We are talking about money laundering on a substantial scale. Checks are also being sent to imaginary "contractors" for non-existent school repair projects. The money laundering is bigger and on a larger scale of magnitude than the fraud against the taxpayers, but both exist."
"I have a draft of my report here, Lieutenant, and would be glad to give you a copy," Cohen continued. "The report will become bigger over the next few days; I'm hoping to extend its analysis one year further into the past. We'd planned to give copies to the police, the Governor's office and the Board of Education at the end of the week. We are strongly recommending that one of the national auditing forms be brought in here to do a thorough investigation of the books. Most of them have branch offices here in Milwaukee, or we could bring them in from Chicago. I am sure their work will substantiate all the findings in our report."
"What if the books mysteriously disappear before that happens?" Kelly asked. "Things are really wrong about this place."
"That is not going to happen," Cohen replied. "We have been making photostatic copies every night." Cohen opened a cabinet, and displayed a small camera and stand for photographing documents. "There are now two complete copies of the books. One is in a safety deposit box in a bank here in Milwaukee; the other is in another safety deposit box in Los Angeles. Plus, my team at the Studio in LA is going over a complete printed copy of the photostatic records, doing in-depth financial analysis."
"We kept my real name out of this," Cohen continued, "so that there would be no leaks about my presence here. Plus, I had no desire to be shot down on the streets of Milwaukee." He began to show Kelly his credentials.
"Cohen investigates all the studio's contracts for fraud," Jake said. "Plus he goes over all the investment schemes offered to the studio's stars and other high priced talent. They are a magnet for con men and fraudulent schemers of all types. He's had over twenty five bunko artists sent to prison."
"The next step in this investigation requires subpoena power," Cohen said. "Many organizations that have done business with this school should have their books subpoenaed. I hope the District Attorney can get on this right away."
"Who do you think is behind the money laundering?" Kelly asked.
"I think," said Jake, "that it is the Ku Klux Klan - the KKK."
"The KKK has been growing substantially in power during the last few years, especially here in the Midwest," Jake continued. "Its power center is in Indianapolis, and it has acquired a front of social respectability. It is running candidates in many Midwestern elections, and has become a virtual third party in American politics here, behind the Republicans and the Democrats. Despite all this, many of its activities still involve terror behind closed doors. It has terrorized its way into complete control of many smaller towns, and is extorting large sums of money from people. This school is probably just one of several large centers of money laundering run by the KKK."
"The school also serves as an ideal meeting place for the Klan. It is nearly deserted on nights and weekends. There have been many reports of lights seen in the school, and strange activities at night. I suspect these are meetings of the KKK members."
"Several of the leaders of the school administration are proponents of ideas involving race suicide, and anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish propaganda. While this does not prove their involvement, they could easily be giving their support to the KKK. At least some school administrators would be needed to carry out the operations we are seeing here."
Jake stood under the Pandanus tree in a huge container in the lobby of the principal's office. Jake thought long and hard about her disappearance. It was as if she were snatched from their midst at the gym, and taken somewhere. But how?
Suddenly Jake had a mental image of how the crime was done. He ran out into the hall, and called to Andrew for help.
"Where can we get a crowbar?" he shouted down the long corridor.
The resourceful Andrew wasted no time. He took Jake to a storage room, and provided themselves with a huge metal crowbar and chisel. Jake led the two of them out to the football locker rooms. Through there, they used Andrew's pass keys to get into Coach Carver's office. Jake ran over to Carver's large trophy cabinet, whose folding doors were closed and locked. Jake inserted the crowbar under the edge of the door, while Andrew carefully positioned the chisel. After a few moments, the two men had sprung the lock of the cabinet, and opened the doors. There was the tiny Anita Wilson, lying on one of the shelves.
Jake felt for her pulse. She was still alive. Faint breathing sounds came from the unconscious woman. Andrew stood guard, while Jake ran to get medical and police help.
Within fifteen minutes, an ambulance had arrived. The medics carefully stretched out the unconscious woman on a couch, and began to revive her.
Pete Sanders was kneeling down by Anita Wilson's couch, holding her hand as if his life depended on it.
"Anita!" he told her, "I would have died if anything had happened to you."
"Why, Pete," Anita said weakly, but happily.
"I never had the courage to say anything to you," Pete went on emotionally. "But when I saw you lying there, I had to tell you. I love you. I want to marry you. Could you possibly care for me?"
"Of course, Pete," Anita said gently. "I was afraid you'd never ask."
"You were? That's wonderful!" Pete exclaimed, showering Anita's face and hands with kisses.
"Then you don't care anything for that Hollywood lounge lizard Black," Pete said happily. "I thought maybe you were in love with him."
"Of course not, Pete!" Anita said. "I've never loved anyone but you."
Pete kissed her again.
Jake had never heard himself called a lounge lizard before. He had a sudden image of himself, his hair covered with brilliantine, doing the tango with rich women for money. He laughed and groaned. But he at last understood why Pete had been so antagonistic to him, and why Pete kept looking at Anita.
Jake was explaining to the police, and to many of the faculty and students.
"Anita Wilson needed to adjust her costume. She went into the storeroom, and behind the screen, for privacy. While there, two men came in and began what they thought was a private conversation about the events at the school. It revealed their involvement with Dr. Washington's attempted murder. Anita was trapped behind the screen, afraid to move or even breathe. One of the men accidentally bumped the screen over, and her presence was revealed to the two men. They planned to kill her. First she would be slugged, and carried unconscious out of the gym. Then, later that night, an auto accident would be arranged for her. The two men were Chalmers and Carver."
"How did they get her out of the gym?" Greg wanted to know.
"Carver removed most of the padding from his scarecrow costume, especially the padding on his back. He then took off the shirt of the costume. They draped the unconscious Miss Wilson down Carver's back, and put her arms around his neck, fastening them together in front of his neck with the handcuffs from Chalmers' police uniform. Carver then put the costume's shirt back on him, minus the much of the padding. He was a huge guy, and the petite Miss Wilson easily fit into the back of the costume. Her snug leotard would not cause any bulges, either. Carver then simply walked out through the gym, and out into the school, where he locked the still unconscious Anita into his trophy case. He then came back into the gym, went into the store room, closed the door, and put the padding back into his costume's back. He then left the store room, and went into the gym. Chalmers never left the gym at all."
"Anita Wilson heard enough of the men's conversation to learn that Carver was the attacker of Dr. Washington. Chalmers was only his accomplice in trying to cover up the crime. Both men were clearly involved in running this school as a KKK front. Dr. Washington walked in on Carver the night of his disappearance, while Carver was conducting a KKK meeting in the basement. He was captured and nearly killed by Carver with an axe, in the basement room with the bloodstains."
Word began to pass rapidly through the teachers and students at the school, that Chalmers and Carver were the killers behind the school's terrible events. The police had been guarding all doors of the school since they had been summoned after Anita Wilson's disappearance, and were sure that the two killers had not left the school building. But where they were within the huge structure, nobody yet knew.
Paul was cornered in the second floor gymnastics room by Carver and Chalmers. He suddenly snatched up one of the fencing swords. So, after a pause, did the two men. Carver suddenly lunged out at Paul with his sword. Paul parried him, and a fight was joined. Chalmers also tried to attack Paul, but he was not as skillful as the trained fencer Carver. Paul was valiant in trying to duel with the two men. But he was soon retreating down a corridor, the two men battling him all the time. Paul was not worried about the retreat - it was bringing him closer all the time to the front of the school, where he might be able to get help. The fight with the two men was desperate, and was using every ounce of skill that Paul possessed.
There was a noise behind Paul. Running down the corridor at full speed towards the fighting men was Greg. He had his Lancer's curved sword drawn from its scabbard, and with a final leap he thrust himself into the fight. Paul had never felt so glad to see anyone. Greg and Paul were now battling side by side against Carver and Chalmers. Greg was going full tilt after Carver, the more skillful of the two swordsmen, while Paul was concentrating on Chalmers. Carver was a formidable opponent. The fight had now reached the central staircase of the school. The battling duos were on the huge second floor landing, overlooking the school's lobby.
Carver and Greg were fighting so fiercely that one could hardly see the motion of their swords. Greg lunged into Carver, and ripped open his shirt. It was just a surface cut, but red began to ooze out onto the killer's shirt. An icy look of hatred appeared on Carver's face. "You are going to die" he told Greg. Greg tried to remember the counsel of his trainers, and to avoid losing his cool. Greg redoubled his efforts against the killer. Suddenly he saw a momentary opening. With a difficult lunge, Greg stabbed Carver in his side. With a look of surprise and hatred, Carver dropped his sword, and collapsed against the wall of the school.
Greg turned to Paul. With a final effort, Paul parried Chalmers' thrust, and knocked the sword out of Chalmers' hand. Paul rushed in to pin the now weaponless Chalmers against the wall.
By this time, a crowd of students had been watching the fight from below. They rushed up to help Greg and Paul subdue the two men. The police were now on the scene, as well, and they soon had Carver and Chalmers in handcuffs. Carver had a wound on his left side, but it was clear that he would live and recover. He was snarling at the police, Greg and Paul. Greg and Paul stood in the center of a crowd of students and teachers, in the school lobby. Both men were catching their breath, drawing in huge gulps of air.
Olga Petrovsky had captured the entire last part of the fight on film.
There was a big award ceremony, with the Mayor giving thanks to the school members that resisted the criminal elements. Jake, Benjamin Cohen and Greg had stood fast, and insisted that Andrew Newton and Dr. Hiram Washington be honored there. The Mayor had originally not liked this, but since one of the Mayor's main motives was to get his picture in the newspaper with movie star Greg, eventually the Mayor was right there, beaming smiles on Andrew, Dr. Washington, Greg, Jake, Cohen, Anita Wilson, Olga Petrovsky, Paul Rozier and the rest. Jake spoke for all of them when he said, "The time to stand up to hatred is now."
Dr. Washington eventually made a full recovery. He became a noted crusader against the Klan. For his first sermon after his near miraculous recovery, he preached to an overflowing crowd at the First Baptist Church, on the text taken from Job 14,7: "There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branches thereof will not cease".
Greg had his familiar brush cut again, and had started wearing his glamorous Hollywood suits. He now looked like everyone's image of movie star Gregor von Hoffmansthal. He even wore his shoes with the steel plates, so he could make a loud click when he bowed and snapped his heels together.
Greg did every thing he could to cheer up the terrified student body, and restore some sense of normalcy and even joy to the school. Greg kept his promise to sing and play the piano at the school dance, that Friday night. He showed up in full white tie and tails, an outfit in which he looked particularly movie starish and charismatic. Soon he was pounding away, belting out the "Beer Barrel Polka", "Yes! We Have No Bananas", "Funiculi, Funicula" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" while the students danced and the other teachers chaperoned.
For the first time in his life, the shy Paul was a big hit at the dance. After being ignored by everyone through his school days, Paul was now a celebrity after helping to catch the killer. All the girls wanted to dance with him, and all the boys wanted to talk with him, and get the inside story.
Over twenty-five people in Milwaukee were sent to prison over the KKK crimes, including stiff sentences for attempted murder for Chalmers and Carver. Dr. Keating was exonerated from all involvement in the crimes, with Jake's help. But he lost his job as principal for not preventing Chalmers from turning the school into a KKK front. After the scandal died down, Keating was put in charge of a city wide program to improve math and science education in the Milwaukee schools, and he made a major contribution to education in that city.
Jake used some of his Hollywood earnings to set up a scholarship program for Lincoln students. Greg contributed to the fund, too. Jake introduced Olga Petrovsky to newspaper photographer Sophie Chadwick, the hard charging, talented photographer of the Los Angeles Daily Watch. Jake had met Sophie Chadwick during the Peter Ponson murder case that Jake had solved. After graduating high school, Olga Petrovsky got a job with the Daily Watch, working as Sophie Chadwick's associate.