Blog: Writing about all things pulplish

TMM #6: The Phantom Killer

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, June 2, 2017 in Pulp, The Shadow, Two-Minute Mystery
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

TMM #6: The Phantom Killer
A series of puzzlers starring a classic pulp figure

A series of puzzlers starring a classic pulp figure

It’s time for another in my rotating series of The Shadow two-minute mysteries. Two minutes? Really. Yeah, well, give-or-take. That’s approximately how much time you’ll invest in reading it. Solving the mystery along with The Shadow may, however, take more than two minutes. Examine the clues; test your sleuthing skills.

This mini-mystery originally appeared on my “Shadow in Review” website a dozen years ago. The one presented here today was one of those. Perhaps you’ll remember it, and remember the solution, as well. And perhaps not…

This mystery is based upon the original 1930s pulp character, The Shadow. Not the radio version. No clouding men’s minds, here. Just a black cloak and slouch hat.

The solution, not necessarily the only solution, but the one the author had in mind, will appear (below) next Friday. That gives you time to mull over the crime.

Feel free to leave your solution in the comments section below. It may be better than mine! Some of you are mighty clever.

Finally, there are some background notes at the end of the story. They’ll explain a bit more about Jericho Druke, one of the characters in this mini-mystery, and his part in the larger universe of the pulp Shadow.

You are about to enter the pulp world of the 1930s. Join The Shadow as he dons his black cloak, slouch hat, and gloves, and prepares to battle crime. It’s time for action and mystery. The Shadow knows!

■ ■ ■

The Phantom Killer

Dusk was settling about the Trappingham estate. A hawkish-featured gentleman in evening wear stepped from his limousine and ascended the front steps. The wide front door was opened by a giant African in a spotless tuxedo. His large frame filled the doorway.

“Yes, sir?” he inquired.

Lamont Cranston

Lamont Cranston

“Lamont Cranston,” announced the man, calmly. A sharp look passed between the two men.

Cranston was shown into an ornate entry hall. In low voices, the two exchanged a hurried conversation.

“Report.” The low hissed command came from the lips of Lamont Cranston.

Jericho Druke, agent for The Shadow, spoke in a soft rumble. “I left the study at 4:30 PM; old Trappingham was alive. Young Willis entered about a half hour later and discovered his father dead.”

“No one else entered?”

“As instructed, I never let that door out of my sight.” A grim look crossed his dark visage. “No one entered.”

Druke showed Cranston into a small study. In the center of the room lay the body of Jerrison Trappingham, dressed in pajamas and dressing gown. Standing beside the body were young Willis Trappingham and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. The commissioner looked up and spied his friend.

“Hello, Cranston. Old Trappingham was killed about an hour ago. Struck down by a phantom killer with this large metal paperweight.” He gestured to a heavy, eagle-shaped object laying beside the body.

Cranston’s sharp gaze took in the entire scene. Old Trappingham was barefoot, his slippers still beneath the desk. A gold ring glinted from the third finger of the outflung right hand. Wire-rimmed glasses lay unbroken beside the body.

The eagle paperweight was the death weapon.

The eagle paperweight was the death weapon.

“We found a clear fingerprint on the paperweight,” Weston continued.

Willis Trappingham stood quietly by as Cranston asked, “Have you identified it?”

“No. It’s neither Mr. Trappingham’s, his son’s, nor the butler’s,” came the brusque reply.

“Then someone else entered the room?”

“Impossible. The windows are barred, and the butler, Druke here, swears no one entered by the only door.”

“Perhaps the fingerprint was left from a previous visitor?”

Jericho inserted, “As part of my cleaning duties, sir, I wiped and polished that paperweight. It was spotless at 4:30 p.m. when I left the room.”

“I tell you, Cranston, it’s impossible,” fumed Weston. “Only Trappingham and his son were in that room, yet the fingerprint belongs to neither of them!”

“I think I know what happened,” Cranston spoke slowly, glancing at the body.

WHAT DOES CRANSTON SUSPECT?

■ ■ ■

Click here for the solution.

Cranston suspects that Willis Trappingham killed his father with the paperweight, then wiped it clean of fingerprints. The unknown “fingerprint” later found there was actually old Jerrison Trappingham’s toe-print, placed there by young Willis. Willis figured once the body was buried, all evidence would be buried with it. The Shadow knows!

■ ■ ■

Background notes

 Jericho Druke, agent of The Shadow, as he appeared in "Isle of Gold."

Jericho Druke, agent of The Shadow, as he appeared in “Isle of Gold.”

Jericho Druke was The Shadow’s only African-American agent, and he was treated with more respect than ethnic characters were generally treated in other pulp novels of that era. He spoke without dialect and was given meaningful roles to play. He was more of a second-stringer, as agents go. But still, he appeared in some 32 pulp novels beginning with 1934’s “The Chinese Disks.”

Originally, he owned an employment service in Harlem, but after being saved by The Shadow, he offered his services to the black-garbed scourge of crime.

Druke was a huge African with massive hands. His favorite method of subduing his foes was to grab two of them by the neck and crack their skulls together. He saw plenty of action right up through his final appearance in the 1946 mystery “Crime Out Of Mind.”

What do you think?