The Red Menace is a throwback to both the hugely popular men’s adventure series of the ’70s and even older pulp fiction heroes like the Shadow and Doc Savage. Part spy, part masked vigilante, the Menace spent the 1950s battling the rising Communist threat around the world, retiring in 1960. The series is primarily set in the 1970s and in the first book, Red and Buried, Patrick “Podge” Becket is forced to dust off his old Red Menace alter ego and come out of his self-imposed thirteen year retirement in order to deal with an old nemesis who has resurfaced in 1972. But in this excerpt from The Red Menace #1: Red and Buried, we get a flashback to the younger Red Menace at the height of his commie-battling days in the Eisenhower era.
CHAPTER 4: September, 1956
The explosion launched a brilliant orange fireball into the Las Vegas night sky and rattled windows in casinos on the Arrowhead Highway two miles away. The blast took off the roof of the guard building, launching bodies onto the driveway and lawn and firing knife-blade fragments of glass and Spanish tile through the air.
The quartet of Mafia guards charging from the main building caught the worst of the blast. Slivers of tile ripped through soft flesh. Guns flew from dead hands and the bodies skidded to a bloody stop on the sprawling front lawn.
The Red Menace slipped from the safety of the pool house, hopped the small wall next to the driveway and darted up the drive.
Zhadanov must have been alerted to the assault. Not only were the grounds crawling with armed Russians but all the estate lights had been turned on. The black cloak and mask worked best in shadow, and the Menace was clearly visible as he ran.
He heard the zing of a bullet as it whizzed by his head, heard the soft thwack as it struck the grass. From the angle of that one shot, the Red Menace knew instinctively where the sniper would be, and he found the man crouching behind a fat chimney on the uppermost roof, a rifle with silencer peeking out around the brick.
The Menace narrowly avoided a second bullet and slipped his gun from his holster as he ran. With a gloved thumb, he flipped the dial above the butt a single notch, aimed up at the roof and squeezed off a single shot.
The gun popped and the gas-propelled miniature grenade soared up past the floodlights to the roof. The ensuing explosion pulverized brick and ripped a Cadillac-size chunk off the third floor roof. The gunman fell amid the raining remnants of the chimney, flopping in a lifeless heap on the patio. The hail of heavy debris scattered lawn chairs and tables and shattered the French doors.
The Red Menace ran past the body, boots crunching glass underfoot, and ducked through the shattered doors.
A hail of bullets heralded his arrival inside and he barely avoided being cut to ribbons, diving for protection behind a gaudy silver sofa and scampering on hands and knees to the safety of the marble wet bar.
Bullets chewed the sofa behind him, sending puffs of nylon and stuffing dancing crazily throughout the living room. Two people were already hiding behind the bar.
Jeb Wilson was hunched with his back against the small fridge, automatic in hand.
Beside the MIC agent crouched Olga Cherblonya.
The beautiful Motherland agent pressed her hands to her ears to muffle the sounds of gunshots but seemed otherwise unfazed by the chaos around her.
“Fashionably late,” Jeb said. “We had to start the party without you.”
“I missed the bus,” the Menace said with a grin. “You okay, Wilson?”
“Still in one piece.” Wilson pulled a deep breath into his barrel chest and jumped out from cover. Bracing his gun on the bar he squeezed out three shots in rapid succession, then dropped down to safety once more.
From the shouts across the room it was clear he’d hit one of the gunmen.
The words were in Russian and Jeb growled in disgust as he slapped in a new clip. “Russian Mafia. Now I’ve seen it all.”
Thanks to the Red Menace, MIC had learned of Zhadanov, the high level Russian agent planted in Las Vegas. He was supposed to infiltrate the Mob and await further orders, which would be issued once the great Soviet takeover of the U.S. came. But Jimmy “the Weasel” Zito from Portland, nee Anatoly Zhadanov from Minsk, had gone rogue. The brutal Russian had murdered his way up the chain of command to become one of the greatest Mob kingpins in the western United States. In his lust for power, Zhadanov had started a bloody Mafia war that had spread to several major American cities. It had gotten so bad that the Russians had decided to pull his plug and had sent Olga Cherblonya to stop him. For now, the Russian beauty was an arms-length ally.
“Zhadanov is upstairs,” Olga said in a smoky voice and exotic accent that had been a mesmerizing siren song to many a foreign agent. She sat on her right hip, long legs tucked up beneath her backside. She had kicked off her high heels and was now barefoot, and her sequined silver gown sparkled in the bright light cast by gaudy chandeliers. “Main stairway is through those doors.”
“Piece of cake, darlin’,” the Red Menace said with a wink. His gun was in his gauntlet once more and he repositioned the tiny dial with a practiced flick of his thumb. With a soft pop of compressed gas propellant, a fat pellet launched across the room and struck with a loud plop the wall above the archway that led into the foyer. The tacky wallpaper instantly erupted in flames. The combustible liquid landed on the silk curtains that framed the door and splashed down on the two remaining thugs. Fire immediately burst out on curtains, clothing and hair. The men screamed and dropped their guns as they attempted to slap out the flames.
Jeb popped up from behind the bar and sent both men to eternity with two quick, clean shots to the forehead.
Jeb, Olga and the Red Menace ran across the living room. Jeb was first through the burning archway. He took it at a leap, landing on his shoulder and rolling to safety behind a carved granite statue of Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility.
When he glanced around the statue, something blocked his view.
“God, I hate these commie perverts,” Jeb muttered, and with a single .45 slug made Dionysus a whole lot less fertile. “Clear!” he shouted.
[The good guys split up once they make it upstairs, with the Red Menace and Russian agent Olga heading off together.]
“If I was a tacky turncoat Russkie, where would I hide?” the Red Menace asked.
“Zhadanov was loyal communist until your decadence transformed him,” Olga insisted. “It is capitalist system to blame for what he has become.”
“Whatever floats your Battleship Potemkin, Comrade Knockers.”
They had reached the last door. The Menace held a gloved finger to his lips and motioned for Olga to stand back against the wall. Once she was safely out of harm’s way, he stepped in front of the door, gave a vicious kick with his heel, and dove out of the way of the sudden explosive hail of bullets that launched from within the room.
The barrage chewed apart a garish tapestry on which an embroidered Zhadanov frolicked unclothed amongst a bevy of B-girl wood nymphs.
In the hall, Olga winced as the gunfire continued and the Red Menace shielded her with his body. “If he hadn’t shot that thing to shreds, I would have,” the Menace said, nodding to the tattered remnants of the X-rated tapestry.
“Is not time for the joking,” Olga snapped, fingers plugging her ears. The gunfire from the bedroom was petering out.
“Is time for you to stay put,” the Red Menace suggested firmly.
The gunfire stopped and the Red Menace heard the distinctive click of a magazine snapping in place as the gunman reloaded. The Menace took advantage of the brief pause, diving into the room and sliding on his belly behind a paisley fainting couch.
Zhadanov was standing by the bed wearing a purple silk robe open wide over a pair of striped silk pajama bottoms. The Russian’s hairy belly hung over the waistband, his fat fingers were covered in rings that looked like diamond-encrusted ashtrays, and his jet black and usually perfectly Brylcreemed pompadour was a wild mess.
“I ain’t comin’ quietly!” the Russian screamed in the flawless American Mobster accent he had learned from imported Edward G. Robinson movies at Moscow University spy school.
Zhadanov trailed the Red Menace with a hail of bullets that tore wallpaper to shreds, ripped pictures from the wall, blasted tonics and powders on the bureau, and shattered the huge, gilded wall mirror that stretched from bureau to closet.
The Menace ducked from cover and fired a single shot.
The bullet caught Zhadanov in the shoulder, the Tommy gun sprang from fat hands and the Russian Mobster tumbled back and disappeared between bed and armoire. The gun bounced across the unmade bed and fell to the floor with a clatter, and suddenly the entire Vegas mansion was smothered in unnatural silence.
The Menace glanced back and saw Olga peeking around the doorframe, long blond hair spilling down one bare shoulder. In his head he heard a sonorous voice repeat a warning for the hundredth time: “Never trust a red, Patrick.”
But the voice in his head was wrong. Olga Cherblonya had been vitally important in finishing off Zhadanov. In this one case, Russian interests had aligned with those of America. And what was possible now was possible again in the future.
Zhadanov stirred. The Menace heard a grunt and the soft rustling of silk.
“On your feet, Zhadanov!” the Menace snapped as he crept over to the bed. “I count to five and I don’t see both hands, I’m blowing the floor out from under you.”
On the bedside table was a small picture of a woman who could only be Anatoly Zhadanov’s mother. The woman was the spitting image of the Russian spy but for the Babushka and darker facial hair. Mama Zhadanov’s face had more Russian moles than the British Secret Service.
The frame was solid silver and highly polished, and had the Red Menace not glanced at the picture he would not have seen the reflection of Olga Cherblonya, a snub-nosed .38 in one delicate hand, creeping in behind him.
The Menace dropped and spun. Too late.
Olga’s first shot only grazed his chest. He had twisted sideways so the bullet that was meant for his heart only tore away a chunk of meat beneath his shirt and scraped a painful path along his side, exiting the back of his cape.
But something was wrong. A flesh wound should not have caused such excruciating pain in his chest. His heart. The bullet must have struck between beats. It felt like it would burst out of his chest. The gun dropped from his hand and he fell flat on his back to the carpet. Gasping for breath, clutching one hand to his chest.
Olga advanced, a wicked grin of triumph on a face once beautiful, now the victorious visage of a some hell-sent demon. From the corner of his eye the Menace saw Zhadanov pulling himself up on the other side of the bed, a pistol in hand, palm pressed to his bleeding shoulder.
“You let the mook shoot me,” he groused to Olga.
“Drop ridiculous accent,” she commanded. “You need this cover no longer. We have succeeded in mission. You leave this hateful land tonight and return with me to Russia in triumph as hero of the people.” Olga cast a murderous shadow of the Menace’s prone body. The smile was gone as she raised her revolver and took careful aim at his forehead. “Goodbye, Red Menace.”
The Red Menace #1: Red And Buried is now available for purchase through Amazon’s Kindle service.