The Crimson Avenger: Ghost of the Past (Part Seven)
- The meeting was unenlightening. For the benefit of Lee, Barlowe gave
a quick rundown of all the mysterious "accidents" that had occurred;
which, of course, Forrest had done the night before.
"It's obvious there's a human agency behind these things," Lee
said. "Now, do we know of anyone who would have any reason to want
this movie stopped?"
"Apart from Jack, you mean?" Bedford asked, very politely.
"What's that supposed to mean?" the red-haired actor demanded,
"Come, come, Jack," Bedford said, smiling widely. "It's no secret
that you didn't want to do this picture. You're doing it out of
contractual obligation. You haven't exactly been silent about what
you think of the material."
Lee's glance flicked to Trigger, but the elderly man showed no sign
of any personal affront.
"All right, so I think it's a dumb movie," Bagney said. "I've made my
share of them before! We all have! To imply that I'd try to halt
production, doing stupid stunts that could get people hurt or worse--
! That's libelous!"
"I implied nothing, Jack," Bedford said, placatingly. "Mr. Travis
asked a question, and I answered. That's all."
"Well, while we're on the subject," Bagney sneered, "what about you?"
"Me?" Bedford asked, raising an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe you've been a bit less vocal about it than I have," Bagney
said, "but it's no secret that you didn't want to do this picture,
either! GMG wanted you to direct their new epic, the film version of
that best-selling novel about the Civil War! You had to turn them
down because you're under contract to do this picture! But if it
suddenly folded, you'd become available!"
"Gentlemen, please!" Barlowe said, raising his hands for
silence. "We're not going to get anywhere fighting among ourselves!
"Well, well, another country heard from!" Bagney snapped. "And
another one who wouldn't mind seeing The Trigger Twins close up shop!"
"Jack has a point, Barlowe," Bedford said. "As long as we're listing
the people who could benefit from this movie closing down, let's not
Barlowe was stunned, too shocked to do more than sputter incoherently.
"And why is that, Mr. Barlowe?" Lee asked, calmly.
When Barlowe didn't answer, Bagney piped up. "Your clever business
manager has an affection for playing the ponies. Trouble is, he's no
good at it."
"And he's insured the picture for a hundred thousand dollars,"
Bedford added, "payable if the film ceases production."
"Th-that's standard procedure!" Barlowe stammered. "All the pictures
get insured like that; so we can pay the studio personnel if the film
halts production! I-it ensures that the hard-working crew members
don't get short-changed!"
"Oh, sure," Bagney said. "And if a little of that dough found its way
into your pocket, or should I say your bookie's pocket, who'd notice?"
"Gentlemen!" Lee said, slamming his palm down on the tabletop for
emphasis. "I see there's no easy answer to my question. Whatever's
happening here has you all so nervous, you're pointing fingers at
each other. I do intend to investigate every angle, but--"
Suddenly, an explosion sounded from out in the studio. All heads
snapped in the direction of the sound. Lee was first to move,
sprinting from his chair and out the door. He was halfway down the
hallway when he was met head-long by an ashen-faced young production
"Mr. Barlowe! Mr. Bedford!" the young man cried. Lee grabbed him by
the shoulders, spun him around.
"I'm Travis, I own this studio," he snapped. "What happened?"
"Th-the developing room!" the young man said. "An explosion! The
developing tank blew up! All the film we shot yesterday is ruined!"
Travis' eyes narrowed coldly.
- "It was some kind of chemical that explodes on contact with water,"
Travis said, examining the ruined developing tank. "Wiped out most of
the film that was in the tank at the time."
"That should throw suspicion off us, anyway," Bagney said. "We were
all in the conference room when it happened."
"Not at all," Travis said, peering into the upper part of the
tank. "Somebody rigged this to explode at a later time."
"What?" Bedford gasped. "How is that possible?"
Travis wiped his finger across the top of the inside of the tank,
then drew it out to show the others the sticky residue on his
finger. "Somebody glued a chemical packet to the inside of the top of
the tank, with a small amount of glue, insufficient to support the
weight of the packet indefinitely," he explained. "They knew it would
fall when they were far away. It could have been anyone, gentlemen."
Three sets of eyes flicked from one person to the other, but no words
were spoken. Wayne Trigger, seated in his wheelchair, remained silent
* * * * *
"Mr. Travis, could I have a word?" Bagney asked, cornering Lee in the
hallway after the meeting.
"Certainly, Mr. Bagney," Travis said. "What's on you--"
"Jack," Bagney corrected with a smile.
"Jack," Travis agreed. "What can I do for you?"
"I didn't want to say anything in that room," Bagney said, in a voice
barely above a whisper. "But, as long as we were all accusing each
other, I figured somebody should say what was on everybody's mind."
"And that is?" Travis asked, interested.
"Trigger," Bagney said simply.
Travis did a double take. "Trigger? The old man? Are you serious?"
"As serious as armed robbery," Bagney swore.
"Why would Wayne Trigger want to sabotage his own movie?" Travis
"For the publicity!" Bagney said emphatically. "His book didn't do so
hot, you know? The only reason this movie's getting made is because
the guy who owned the studio before you was one of the four people
who loved the book!"
"My grandfather," Travis said simply.
"Oh!" Bagney said, embarrassed. "I didn't--that is--oh, you know!"
Travis nodded. "Anyway, I figure the old guy wants to stir up
interest in his book, get a few more printings out of it and a few
more royalty checks, maybe write a sequel. So he came up with this
bogus ghost idea!"
"You really believe that?" Travis asked.
"Mr. Travis, the guy is sound as a dollar, or as sound as a dollar
used to be. Except where these so-called `accidents' are concerned;
then he starts talking ghosts and vengeance from beyond the grave!
Nobody could be that clear-headed about everything else and that koo-
koo about just one thing. It's all an act, and brother, I know acting
when I see it! I think you should at least look into it."
"Well, thanks, Mr. Ba--Jack," Travis said. "I think I'll do just
that." Or rather, the Crimson Avenger will, Lee thought to himself.
- Late that night, the elderly Wayne Trigger slept in the luxurious
hotel suite the film studio had provided for him while he was in
California. It was a fitful sleep, troubled by dreams of the past.
His snowy-white head thrashed from side to side on the pillow, his
wrinkled brow furrowed with care.
"Wayne Trigger," a sepulchral voice intoned in the room. The old
lawman awoke with a start.
"Who's there?" he demanded. He peered into the darkness, his old eyes
searching the shadows. He found a pair of human eyes, peering out of
the darkness. Eyes atop a column of shadow, hidden beneath a crown of
darkness. The cloak and slouch hat of the Crimson Avenger.
"I would speak with you, Wayne Trigger," the Avenger said. "I am the
Avenger of justice, and I seek answers regarding the occurrences at
"Wh-who are you?" Trigger stammered, trying to maintain his
"Those who speak of me call me....the Crimson Avenger," the Avenger
said in a sibilant whisper.
"The Crimson Avenger?" Trigger repeated, his fear gone. "I've heard
of you. Some sort of masked vigilante, taking the law into your own
hands. I met a man like that once, a long time ago. Called himself
Nighthawk." Trigger's tone spoke of disapproval, of contempt for such
vigilantes; but the Crimson Avenger heard a note of grudging respect,
"Let's just say I am not hampered by the law in my quest for
justice," the Avenger said. "Now, what can you tell me about the
"Accidents! Bah!" Trigger spat. "There are no `accidents'! It's all
the work of my brother!"
"Your late brother, Walt Trigger?"
"You've read my book, I suppose," Trigger said. "Yes, my brother's
"And why would your brother's restless spirit seek to halt production
of this film?"
"Revenge," Wayne said simply. "Revenge for his death. A death that
was caused by me!"
- The Crimson Avenger did a small double take. "You caused your
"I didn't intentionally kill him," Wayne said. "But I as good as did!
Had it not been for me, my brother would have lived, might even be
alive today! But he's been dead in his grave these fifty years, while
I go on, and on." The grief cracking the old man's voice was enough
to move the coldest heart to tears.
"How did it happen?" the Crimson Avenger asked.
Trigger hesitated, then sighed. "I never wrote it in my book. I was
too ashamed. You read how my brother impersonated me and helped me
out of jams too big for me to handle, right?" The Avenger
nodded. "Well, that went on for ten years. We got quite a reputation
out there in the Arizona Territory, or rather, I did. I took all the
credit, while Walt did at least as much actual fighting as I did,
probably more. By 1889 I was the most famous lawman west of the
Rockies. Well, it was a toss-up between me and Johnny Thunder, over
in Mesa City. Anyway, back in `89, three former crooks that Walt and
I had put out of business combined resources to hire a killer to
bring me down. We hadn't left `em with much, but what they had they
put together, and hired the best gun they could afford between `em. A
killer name of Gold-Fang Gibson. They called him that on account of
this huge gold tooth he had, right in the front of his mouth where
everybody could see it. He was one of the most feared guns in the
territory. He sent word ahead of him that he'd be in town in three
days, and he was callin' me out."
"What happened then?" the Avenger, enthralled, asked.
"Walt tried to talk me out of meetin' him," Trigger said. "Said
Gibson'd kill me stone dead for sure. I knew he was right, but I also
knew that I couldn't back down from the challenge; I'd be called a
coward, and my reputation, and the peace it brought to Rocky City,
would be lost. Walt tried to talk me into lettin' him take my place,
but my stubborn pride wouldn't let me. I had to meet Gibson myself."
"And did you?"
"No," Trigger said. "The day Gibson arrived, Walt slugged me from
behind, left me in the back room of his store, and took my place. He
met Gold-Fang Gibson in the center of town, pretendin' to be me."
"And Gibson killed him," the Avenger said.
"Hell no!" Trigger snapped. "That owlhoot was no match for Walt
Trigger! They shot it out man to man, and Walt shot the gun clean out
of his hand! Disarmed him quickern' a howdy-do!" Trigger shook his
head ruefully. "But the crooks that'd hired him, left nothin' to
chance. They also hired snipers, to set up in the clock tower and gun
my brother--that is, me, they thought--down, if'n Gold-Fang failed.
Which they did. Shot him right through the heart, the skulkin'
"And you blame yourself for this?" the Crimson Avenger asked.
"Danged right!" Trigger spat. "If I hadn't been so hard-headed, if
I'd of let Walt talk me into takin' my place, I'd of been watchin'
his back and I'd of got those sneak-killers afore they got him! As it
was, I was sleepin' off a lump on the head while my brother died in
"What happened then?" the Avenger asked.
"Nothin' much," Trigger said. "The townsfolk cornered the snipers in
the clock tower; they told who had hired `em, and the lot of `em
hung. Ceptin' Gibson; he snuck away in the confusion. I looked for
him for a few years; never did find him. Wouldn't of brought Walt
"And you think your brother's spirit haunts the production of the
film?" the Avenger asked. "Why?"
"Because I've seen him, that's why!" Trigger exploded. "He comes to
me in the night, starin' at me with those accusin' eyes of his! Never
says a word, mind; just stares at me. Waitin' for me to join him on
the other side, so he can have his revenge!"
"You've actually seen his ghost?" the Avenger said. "Mr. Trigger,
don't you think--"
"LOOK!" Trigger shrieked, pointing with a trembling finger. "It's
The Avenger turned his head, and gasped. There, standing in the
middle of the room, was a red-haired young man in a buckskin outfit
and sheriff's badge, staring straight ahead with a malevolent
expression on his face.
The ghost of Walt Trigger!
- The Crimson Avenger stared at the apparition in shock for a split-
second. Then he charged into action, drawing his gun and firing. The
elderly Trigger shrieked in surprise and terror; but, with a sound of
shattering glass, the ghostly figure faded away.
"W-what did you do?" Trigger stammered. "You can't--I mean, a ghost--
you can't possibly--"
"Can't kill a ghost with a bullet?" the Crimson Avenger asked
grimly. "No, you can't. But you can shoot out a film projector."
"A what?!?" Trigger demanded, all fear gone from his voice, replaced
with cold rage.
The Crimson Avenger strode swiftly across the room, took down the
framed painting his bullet had destroyed, revealing the shattered
lens of a film projector behind it. "No ghost, Mr. Trigger," he
said. "Just a human mind trying to make you think there was a ghost."
"Blazes!" Trigger swore, throwing off the bedcovers. "Get me my guns!
Help me find this owlhoot who's profaning my brother's memory in this
way! I'll string him up like a deer! I'll--"
"Take it easy, sir," the Avenger said. "I'll find this man. Don't
over exert yourself."
"You're not my nursemaid, Avenger!" Trigger spat. "Anyway, I can
walk; that wheelchair over there is just for conserving my energy.
Just you give me a few minutes--"
"We may not have that," the Avenger said, striding to the window. The
projector was operated by a control wire; it couldn't be very long,
so the operator had to be close by, probably in the next room. The
Avenger hadn't heard anybody in the hallway, so he went to the
window. Sure enough, he saw a dark, shadowy form hurrying down the
"Hold it!" the Avenger cried, aiming his gun. "Stop right there!"
The dark form hesitated for a moment, then drew his own gun. The
Avenger fired first; the dark figure was hurled backward into the
guard rail of the fire escape, then slumped down onto the metal steps.
"It's over, Mr. Trigger," the Crimson Avenger said, walking over to
the bed. Wayne Trigger now stood beside the bed, a bathrobe hastily
pulled over his pajamas. "I got him."
"Let me see," Trigger said, walking shakily to the window. "Let me
see the ranny who tried to make me think my brother had come back
from the grave to get me! I want to see his body!"
"Right out there on the fire escape," the Avenger said, pointing.
Trigger hobbled over to the window to look. "I don't know who it is
yet, but that will--"
"Where?" Trigger asked, peering out the window. "I don't see any
"He's right down--" The Avenger looked out the window, and gasped in
There was no body on the fire escape! The man was gone!
"Maybe there's a ghost in this thing after all," Trigger said
- "I still don't know how I let you talk me into this," the Crimson
Avenger said in a hushed whisper as he pushed Wayne Trigger's
wheelchair down the darkened halls of Pyramid Studios.
"Don't give me any sass, youngster," Trigger hissed back. "I was
runnin' down killers an' crooks like this `n when your grandpa was
rollin' hoops! You need my help, an' you know it!"
The Crimson Avenger allowed himself a slight little smile. Perhaps
the old man's knowledge of the case and its genesis, as well as his
experience, could be useful.
"Hold it!" Trigger hissed, holding up a hand. The Avenger
halted. "There's someone in that room," Trigger said, pointing.
The Avenger listened intently, then nodded. He, too, heard someone
moving around behind the closed door. He held a finger up to his lips
for silence; Trigger nodded, acknowledging the command. Silently, the
Avenger crept up to the door, wrapped his fingers around the knob,
and suddenly jerked the door open, thrusting his gun into the room.
"YAAAAAH!!" a scream came from inside the room. The Crimson Avenger
involuntarily flinched, then relaxed.
"Bedford!" the Avenger snapped. "What are you doing here at this
"W-who are you?" the terrified director asked. "That mask--that gun!
Y-you're the one who's been--"
"Don't be a consarned fool, Bedford!" Trigger snapped. "He's the
"Mr. Trigger!" Bedford gasped, not having seen the old man
before. "The Crimson Avenger? The masked vigilante from New York?
What's he--what are you doing here?"
"I'm trying to help Mr. Trigger find the man who's trying to sabotage
your movie, and trying to drive Mr. Trigger insane," the Avenger said.
"Insane?" Bedford asked. "What are you talking about?"
"Some ranny's been usin' movie trickery to make me think my brother's
ghost has been hauntin' me!" Trigger snapped. "The same sidewinder
who's tryin' to wreck the movie, we think."
"Incredible!" Bedford gasped. "But what are you doing here?"
"The most likely place the phantom got the equipment to create the
phony ghost, would be here," the Avenger explained. "We thought
examining the equipment might offer up a clue as to who has been
"Good idea!" Bedford said. "All the stuff someone would need, is in
that room I just came out of. Can I help you?"
"Well, we don't really know what we're looking for," the Avenger
said. "We'll know it when we find it. But another pair of eyes
couldn't hurt." The Avenger holstered his gun and pushed the
wheelchair into the room, as Bedford held the door. The small room
was filled with motion picture equipment; the Avenger's eyes scanned
the room quickly, taking it all in.
Suddenly, he stiffened, his muscles tense. "Say, Bedford," he
said, "you never told us what you're doing h--"
The Avenger heard the click of a door closing. He turned to see the
white-haired director grinning maliciously, rows of perfect white
teeth glinting in the light of the single bare bulb of the equipment
room, a revolver aimed right at the Crimson Avenger's heart.
- "The newspapers call you a brilliant man, a genius working outside
the law," Bedford taunted. "I'll have to see that the stories are
The Crimson Avenger said nothing, standing there with fists clenched,
face burning with rage. He had walked into a trap like a rank
amateur. Well, he had only been a professional crime-fighter for
three months. Now he wondered if he would make it to four.
"You!" Trigger snapped. "You're the one! You've been sabotagin' the
movie, an' made that phony ghost! It's been you all along!"
"Guilty as charged, Sheriff," Bedford taunted. "You going to take me
"It was you on the fire escape?" the Avenger asked. When Bedford
silently nodded, he went on. "I shot you; I know I did, I saw you go
down. How did you survive that shot?"
"One more thing I owe you for, Avenger," Bedford said, reaching into
his vest pocket with his free hand. "Your bullet ruined a perfectly
good pocket watch. I've had it for a long, long time." The old man
withdrew a huge iron watch, the size of a turnip, trailing a long,
silver chain. The watch had been ruined by a bullet striking it. The
Avenger and Trigger gasped when the end of the chain popped out of
Bedford's pocket; dangling from its end was a single gold tooth,
shining in the light of the naked bulb.
"You--you--" Trigger stammered, unable to form the words.
Bedford grinned, and tapped his perfect teeth with a
fingernail. "False teeth," he explained. "A concession to Father
Time. Had them about twelve years, now."
"You're Gold-Fang Gibson!" the Crimson Avenger spat. "The man who was
hired to kill Walt Trigger!"
"My only failure," Bedford/Gibson sighed. "When the snipers killed
him--I hadn't known about them, believe me, I wouldn't have allowed
such unprofessionalism on one of my jobs--I ran like Hell, because I
knew the townspeople would be after me. And the real Sheriff Wayne,
once I learned the truth. I kept running until I met a traveling
theatre troupe in Dodge City. They were short a stagehand, someone to
build and set up scenery and suchlike, so they took me on. I stayed
with them for a few years, learning the theatre craft. Turned out I
had an affinity for it, a natural talent. I changed my name, and
became a well-respected stage director. When movies got started, I
was in on the ground floor. When Barlowe asked me to direct the
Trigger picture, I couldn't think of a way to refuse without throwing
suspicion on myself. But I knew that, sooner or later, the old fool
would recognize me; unless I kept his mind busy with other things."
"So now what?" Trigger demanded. "You yellow-bellied, dust-eatin',
cowardly fool, now what?"
"Now, this," Bedford/Gibson said casually, and pulled the trigger. In
the small, enclosed room, the gunshot sounded like a thunderclap.
Trigger clutched his chest with his age-gnarled fingers.
"TRIGGER!" the Avenger cried, and made to lunge at the gunman. He
halted in mid-stride, Bedford/Gibson's gun aimed right at his head.
- "I can't thank you enough for meddling in this business, Avenger,"
the evil director grinned.
"Thank me?" the Avenger demanded, through clenched teeth.
"Oh, yes," the killer explained. "I had no ending prepared for this
scene. But now, it practically writes itself. You were the saboteur
all along, and you killed the old man. I happened upon the scene of
the crime, while working late trying to salvage the ruined film, and
I shot you. Perfect ending, no?"
"Why would I want to wreck the movie, and kill the old man?" the
Avenger demanded. "What's my motivation?"
"How should I know?" Bedford/Gibson shrugged. "I'll leave it to the
police to figure that out. I'm sure they'll come up with something,
when they're presented with a handy suspect, and the sabotage stops."
The killer drew back the hammer on his revolver. "And now, Mr.
"GIBSON!" A sepulchral voice intoned; actually two voices, speaking
simultaneously. The gunman whirled around, and shrieked in abject
A ghostly apparition, just like the one in Wayne Trigger's hotel
room, confronted the killer. Only it was two ghostly figures, both
Trigger Twins, staring at the killer with undisguised malice.
"No!" Bedford/Gibson cried out. "No, stay away! Y-you can't!" In
terror, the killer fired his gun at one of the ghostly Trigger Twins.
His bullet passed right through the spectral figure, and struck a
fire extinguisher hanging on the wall beside the closed door. The
cylinder exploded, hurling Bedford/Gibson backwards. The Crimson
Avenger was ready; he followed through with a smashing right cross to
the killer's jaw, which spun him around on his feet, then dropped him
to the floor like a stone.
"Great work, Mr. Trigger!" the Avenger cried out, watching the killer
fall. "I guess you found one of his projectors, used his own trick on
him! But we'd better get you to the hospital before that...wound..."
The Crimson Avenger turned to stare at Wayne Trigger. He lay
motionless in his wheelchair, his head rolled back on his neck, a
bright blossom of blood staining his chest. He was not breathing.
The Avenger whirled around again. The ghostly figures of the Trigger
Twins still stood there. But now they were not staring with cold
malice. They were smiling, slight, satisfied smiles. And then,
slowly, they faded away, leaving the Crimson Avenger alone in the
equipment room with his unconscious prisoner.
* * * * *
"Welcome back, boss!" Wing said, as Lee Travis got into the back of
the limousine at LaGuardia Airport. "How was sunny California?"
"Wing..." Travis began. "I...don't think I want to talk about it."
"Suit yourself, boss," Wing shrugged, as the car pulled away from the