[Although my ongoing campaign is archived at rpol.net, I find it increasingly hard to find anything in their archives, since the site has no search feature that searches across multiple pages. Hence, my decision to "clean up" the story a bit and publish it here in installments.]
Prologue: Dice Morgan
Eu Claire, Wisconsin was his own personal purgatory. Rural life was such a drag compared to the hustle and bustle of Chicago. But, for the last six months, it meant staying out of Malone's reach and staying alive. It wasn't all boring. Dice took a job washing dishes at the local diner just to keep busy and had been romancing one of the waitresses, Cassie. Unfortunately, because he never knew when to keep his trap shut, he started bragging to Cassie about his criminal past to hold her attention. That, and Cassie was married. The night he talked Cassie into staying late at the diner and kissed her, she went home and confessed everything to her husband. Of course, Dice didn't know that at the time. He only found out days later when the guys in suits came into the diner asking about him.
Dice was smart enough to attempt to escape out the back, but they had expected it and had a man waiting back there for him. If they had been Malone's boys, Dice would have been fitting for a pine overcoat, but this was almost as bad because the guy out back flashed him a badge and said he was FBI.
The other two from out front joined them and, once the three of them had Dice’s complete attention, the oldest and the tallest one said, “Dice Morgan? You don't have to answer; we know that's you. We know about Chicago and the Romanian too. Got a hot tip that you were hiding out here and chasing people's wives. Your rap sheet is about as long as my arm and I've got long arms. But we're here to talk to you about a deal. We need a criminal for a sort-of inside job. Something that's going down up by Duluth, Minnesota. It's gonna get you even farther away from Chicago and, if you do right by us, we can make your record disappear. You interested?”
Duluth, Minnesota meant more rural life, but since all three of them were packing heat, it made no sense to say no. The man who did the talking, Agent Schultze, said he would rendezvous with Dice in Proctor, Minnesota. Agents Outcalt and McCay were to “stick to him like glue” until Dice got there. They drove him back to the motel Dice had been staying at and let him pack. Dice considered making a break for it, but that offer about a record was too tempting. With the heat off from the law, Dice would only have Malone to worry about for the rest of his days. Maybe the FBI could even help with Malone too, he considered.
On the ride up to Proctor, Agent Outcalt opened up to Dice a little. He said Dice might be holed up in Proctor for a week before they needed him. He wouldn't be handcuffed at all unless he misbehaved. They had a room waiting for him there at the Comeback Motel. It sounded like Eu Claire all over again, except without Cassie and the dish washing. As to the job they needed him for, all Outcalt would say was that it involved some vigilantes. And he didn't sound too happy about that.
Prologue II: Cliff Shale, the Mountain Man
Life in the wilds of Northern Michigan had changed since his exciting adventure at the mine last month. The Mountain Man was already becoming a local legend. No one had yet realized that the legend vaguely resembled him. That might have been a good thing too, as the Mountain Man was not a popular legend at the moment. The mine had been closed all month while under investigation, which meant a lot of temporarily unemployed miners. The owners were promising to reopen soon and his father, Thomas, was confident he'd soon have his old job back. Cliff wasn't as confident and, though he was happy with being a lumberjack, he began checking the classified ads in the paper to see if something that paid even better was available. That was when he saw the strange personal ad. It read:
“MM, you're needed in Minn. Take U.S. Rt. 2 to Duluth tomorrow and stop for the night after you pass it. Stop to buy some apples. Will pay you back generously.”
He could not shake the thought afterward that “MM” referred to the Mountain Man and that some mysterious benefactor was trying to offer him a clandestine mission! Of course, his father had always accused him of being a romantic dreamer and perhaps he had read too many pulp novels and superhero comic books since realizing what the gorget could do. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check it out. A glance at a map revealed that he could follow Rt. 2 almost the whole way from Michigan. At worst, he'd be gone for a day or two.
The Comeback Motel
May 2, 1940. Thursday, early evening.
Cliff Shale was slow to decide things but once he did he was like an avalanche tumbling down a mountain. He made excellent time and was pulling into Ashland, Wisconsin where he pulled off at a park overlooking Chequamegon Bay and ate the lunch he had packed.
He drove on through the afternoon and the low skyline of Duluth was well in view as the sun was beginning to set behind it and Cliff drove his Ford across the bridge from Superior and over the estuary of the St. Louis River.
The destination along Rt. 2 closest to Duluth turned out to be Proctor Township. At the top of a hill, overlooking the highway, sat a lonely motel with an unattached diner next door. The neon sign proclaimed this to be the Comeback Motel. Some cars, mostly Chevrolet and Plymouth sedans, sat out front, but one was a Ford roadster with a bucket of apples sitting on the hood. A man in a suit and hat was sitting behind the wheel, reading the newspaper, while another man sat next to him looking bored. The bored man was Dice Morgan.
Cliff Shale was the first to arrive, pulling up to the motel and going inside to rent a room for the night. He quickly decided that the roadster outside with the two occupants must contain his mysterious contacts and changed into his Mountain Man outfit.
From Detroit, Michigan, teenaged Tommy Russel arrived in his car. Tommy was rather excited. I can't believe I got hired to do something. I can't wait to find out, he thought to himself. He drove an old Buick, a junker he had to fix himself. Used to the city, he had little driving experience, and the rental shop had banned him because of the smell he always left after his adventures as Sewer Rat. Still, Tommy tried to be as comfortable above ground as he was below ground.
The Mountain Man walked purposefully up to the car with the apples from a half-block up the street while everyone assumed that the Cliff Shale, the man who had arrived in the old Ford pickup, was entertaining himself in the room he had rented. The Mountain Man was a built like mountainside. He was just over 5 1/2 feet tall and seemed to be almost 4 feet wide. He had a barrel chest and stocky legs. He sported a red plaid shirt and heavy work-worn blue jeans. His heavy work boots bore the dirt, dust, and scuffs of many a wilderness trail. All that just made him seem like any other hard-working man from around Lake Superior. What made him look unusual was the black domino mask he wore and the even stranger heavy gold gorget that was clasped to his neck. The gold shined with the wealth of a lost civilization and the craftsmanship looked ancient.
Black and White Wednesday: Ring-a-Ding Original Art
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