Nebraksa Maple Lamentes and the Jungle Tower of Death, Part I


By Emma Redmer

Disclaimer: Maple LaMarsh and the WENN other WENN characters (under any names) belong to Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer productions, and a certain cable channel I will NOT mention here. Any original characters and the story are mine.

Italics denotes thoughts and memories

"Hiya, Betty!" Maple LaMarsh, the perky red-haired actress who worked for radio station WENN, greeted. "Got 'Amazon Andy' ready for me?" Betty Roberts, WENN's head (and only) writer, sighed and handed her the requested script. Maple leaned over to take a sneak peek at Betty's newest masterpiece of radio scriptwriting. "What's this show about? It doesn't look like one of our usual ones."

"Dutch Uncle Cocoa, the sponsor who picked up Amazon Andy, requested a companion action program. I thought I'd do something different and make the hero of the new show a heroine," Betty explained.

"Hey, that's a great idea," Maple exclaimed. "A lady Amazon Andy!"

"The problem is," Betty admitted, "I'm having a hard time coming up with a lead character that doesn't come off as a carbon copy of Captain Amazon. I want her to sound less like 'Superman' and more like 'Nyoka of the Tigermen'."

Maple pulled the unfinished paper out of the typewriter. "Hey," she said, "I could help you. I've done so much traveling that sometimes I feel like Amazon Andrea of the Urban Jungle. I've handled stage door Johnnies that make the thugs in Sam Dane, Private Detective look like Clark Kent before he hits the phone booths in Metropolis. You'd have to get a cute guy and a scientist and a gal reporter involved, too, and some really ugly spy who wants to take over the planet. The scientist has this really swell idea that he's workin' on..."

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The office of Dr. Victor Comwell, Sometime in Late 1941

"I've got it!" Brilliant scientist Dr. Victor Comwell stood in his laboratory and office. Test tubes and one lone radio surrounded him. He switched on the radio and listened intently to the program it was broadcasting. He laughed. The United States government will be delighted with this, he thought. He'd spent much of his academic career working on it and researching it. It has twice the power of a normal radio wave. It is powerful enough to broadcast anything to the entire world! I just need one last object. I'll be going to Venezuela tomorrow to find it. He frowned at the readers. "You were expecting a death ray or an atom defuser? I'm not a nuclear physicist. My science is the science of how and why certain types of people communicate the way that they do."

"Oh, darn, now what," he grumbled when he heard a knock on the door. He didn't even bother opening the door. He figured it was just that lady reporter from the Pittsburgh Daily News. Miss Betty Robertsfield visited him the day before and requested to see his new invention. He told the pretty young writer that he wasn't quite finished with it yet, but she could come by tomorrow to interview him. "You can let yourself in, Miss Robertsfield."

Whoever was on the other side of the door let him or herself in with such great force that the door was left hanging on its hinges. Victor felt something cold and hard press against his back. "Ok, Comwell, you're comin' with us," a tough voice ordered, "and so's your new invention. I'm holding a gun to your back, so don't try anything funny."

Victor raised his hands. "I can tell that you're pressing a pistol against my back, sir. Weapons are not hard to miss. A knife would have a very sharp point on the end, and a piece of fruit or vegetable would be much softer."

The man pushed Victor forward. "Enough chatter, Comwell! Move!"

Victor clenched his teeth. "I don't appreciate it when people are rude to me or anyone," he snapped. He turned on his captor and landed a solid punch right between the man's eyes. Dr. Comwell went after the two men who were wheeling away his new invention, but he failed to notice the man with the rippling muscles who swatted the back of his head and knocked him unconscious to the floor.

The man shoved Dr. Comwell into a burlap sack and hauled him onto a wagon with his invention. Several other men started throwing around office supplies and eating the lunch Dr. Comwell kept in a small icebox. They left with the invention and the professor when they were unable to find what their boss wanted.

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A beautiful young woman in a chic suit walked into the office. Her name was Miss Betty Robertsfield, the gal reporter Maple mentioned was necessary to every adventure serial. The young woman, of course, had no idea of what was to come at that time, or she might not have even gone to Dr. Comwell's office and done stories on Hitler and the war in Europe instead. It certainly would have been safer than the exciting but dangerous expedition she would soon embark on.

"Hello? Dr. Comwell, are you here," she asked. She tripped over something on the floor and cursed a bit at herself and whatever blocked her way. I know he's an absent-minded professor, but really! You'd think he'd have at least enough sense to pick up after himself! She groped along the wall for a minute looking for a light and found something that felt like some kind of lever.

The room flooded with white lights. It was also flooded with chemicals, radio parts, papers, overturned furniture, and the remains of a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard. Betty gasped in shock. Someone ransacked this place! They must have been after Dr. Comwell's big invention! But where's Dr. Comwell? She called his name several time with no results. "Here, Doctor, doctor, doctor!" The thieves stole Dr. Comwell's creation AND Dr. Comwell!

It occurred to Betty that she should probably call the police before whomever destroyed the lab/office came back to finish the job. She started out of the wrecked room when she noticed a photo in a black steel frame under a dismembered chair. The glass was broken and lay scattered on the floor. She gingerly pulled out the rest of the glass and removed the picture. Dr. Comwell sat at a table in a nightclub with a beautiful woman in a tight gown and diamond necklace. The only inscription on the back read, Maple Lamentes, the Buttery Club, with all my love. They gazed into each other's eyes and looked as if they were leaning over to kiss.

Betty tucked the photo into her purse. She must be his sweetheart. She's not his wife. His bachelorhood is well known to the general public. They seem to be very much in love. She heard sirens in the distance. Maybe my friend Scotty Sherman heard of her. He has contacts all over the globe from his travels. He might be able to shed some light on her existence.

Betty was so busy talking to the Pittsburgh police about her discovery that neither she nor they noticed the group of men in ill fitting lab coats carrying a radio and a long and heavy burlap sack sneaking out of the building.

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The Buttery Club, Two Days Later

The Buttery Club was a steamy night spot in the heart of the urban jungle known as Pittsburgh. It was said that some of the top city bureaucrats came here to talk business and swap bad jokes and photos of their favorite pin-ups without anyone noticing that the mayor had the hots for Veronica Lake. Betty coughed as she walked into the haze of smoke and bad beer breath. This was not her favorite place in the universe. It wasn't even on her list of favorite places, but she needed to find Miss Lamentes and her old teammate from the Daily News, Scotty.

She avoided the men who would undress her with more than their eyes if she gave them the chance and ordered a root beer at the bar. A sweet, plump blonde and a little man with a mustache were playing a song from a Broadway musical that hadn't made it. She sighed as the drums rolled and someone sat down beside her. She looked up and into the wide brown eyes of her former partner, Scotty Sherman. He held a bottle of brandy and was swaying a little, and not in time to the music, either. "Hi there, Bettybettybetty," he slurred.

She grabbed the drink out of his hands. "How much of this did you have?"

"Just enough, Betty, just enough."

"Just enough to make you drunk as a lord," Betty hissed.

"Shhhhh," whispered Scotty, "the show's starting! I wanna hear it!"

A beautiful redhead walked out onto the stage. She looked exactly like the woman in Dr. Victor Comwell's photograph, form-fitting gown and everything. "Hiya, there, folks, and welcome one and all to the Buttery Club, home of the most famous meat loaf sandwiches in all of Pittsburgh, and some of best lookin' politicalticians, too. But, seriously folks, hasn't the house band been great tonight? Let's give a big hand for Miss Eugie Bredner and Mr. Foley!" The two musicians stood up and bowed. Mr. Foley leaned over his microphone to speak, but he couldn't be heard over the roar of the crowd.

"I'm gonna let Miss Eugie and Mr. Foley kick things off with their much-antiquidated rendition of Tchoy...Tzcok...some Russian songwriter's 'the Sleeping Beauty Suite'." She walked off the stage. Betty grabbed Scotty and followed her.

"What's the rush?" he asked.

"I have to talk to that woman," Betty said. "She may have been the last person to see Dr. Victor Comwell before he and his invention vanished yesterday." She hurried past the two big bouncers on the side of the stage and into the woman's dressing room. Scotty tried to do the same, but the two men stopped him and gave him the third degree. He figured that he was lucky to get away with his life. He went out to the bar and listened to the snoring coming from Mr. Foley, who'd drawn the "sleeping" part of the "Sleeping Beauty Ballet".

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Nebraska Maple Lamentes had no intention of getting involved in any wild goose chases. She made that very clear to Miss Betty Robertsfield after the woman explained her reason for barging into the dressing room. "Look, honey," she said as she added more mascara to her lower eyelid, "you're a nice kid, but I don't do treasure hunts no more. I bought the Buttery Club with money from my last adventure, the comic book version of which is on sale at the newsstand for a quarter if you wanna read it. This is a real high-class joint, and I don't really want to leave. Besides, I owe Eugie and Foley a month's worth of pay. They don't get their dough if I suddenly varnish, and I wouldn't wanna hurt them, 'cause they're real nice folks. Don't give me all that 'you're country needs you' jazz, either. I'm patriotic. I pay my taxes and support America's helping the Allies in Europe."

That was when Betty produced a slightly ragged black and white photo of Maple sitting with a tall, handsome, balding fellow at a table in the Buttery Club. "If you won't do it for me or for America, would you do it for him?"

Maple grabbed the picture from the girl and sagged into her chair, the mascara forgotten. "Where did you get this," she breathlessly asked.

"I found it in his office after it was ransacked," Betty explained. "The kidnappers must have knocked it over and shattered the glass when they were searching the office."

Maple dropped the photo and looked back up at Betty. "Kidnappers? Someone stole Dr. Victor Comwell? Why the dirty, no-good, rotten..."

Betty cut off the angry performer before her tirade grew ugly. "The people who destroyed the laboratory and office were very likely after his invention and took him as an afterthought."

Maple gulped and tried to smile. "I ain't seen Victor Comwell in years. We used to date every now and then, but I was always on the go, and he was always in Washington DC, working on somethin' for the US government. I thought that we could've gotten serious if it was the right time and the place. He stayed with his research and I stayed with the Buttery Club. This is where I belong." She swallowed hard at the memory of the day that Victor left her forever...

The train station was crowded and rainy, but Maple knew that he would come. Victor never did anything without a reason. He was dependable and sensible. That was one of the reasons she liked him they way she did.

Eugie and Foley were the only people she saw that she recognized, though. Eugie ran up to her carrying her suitcase and an envelope. Foley followed on her heels.

"Didja see him," Maple practically begged. "Where is he?"

"I don't know, Miss Lamentes," Eugie admitted, "he checked out of his hotel and his office is locked up tight as a tick. He left this letter, though."

Maple could guess what it said. She'd been brushed off like this before. She'd thought that Victor was different, but maybe she was wrong. "You read it, Foley. I'm a real bad reader."

Foley ripped open the now sopping wet envelope and mouthed the words while Eugie read over his shoulder. "It says, 'Dear Maple, I love you but I can't go on like this..."

Maple's unhappy recollections were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Open up in there! Now! We have your friend in custody!"

Betty opened the door and three very big and serious-looking men in simple suits entered. Two of them held Scotty, who struggled in their arms. They threw him into a ratty mauve silk upholstered lounging chair. His upper lip was split and his eye was turning a peculiar shade of heliotrope (yes, heliotrope, not red, not blue, not black, not green, not...oh, forget it). Betty immediately took out her handkerchief and began to tend to her friend's wounds. Maple turned on the men with venom in her voice and manner. "I don't know what you want, fellas, but I don't take kindly to barroom brawls. Whaddya mean by coming in and roughing up my customers?"

The tallest of the men, a blonde with a mustache, nodded at the others. "I told you that she was both brave and charming," he reassured them. He took her hand and kissed it. "My name is Kurt Holstrom, and I have a little proposition for you, Miss Lamentes. I'm sorry about Mr. Sherman, but he foolishly believed that you and Miss Robertsfield were in danger. We showed him otherwise."

Maple grabbed her hand from Mr. Holstrom. "Look, buster, I don't know what you want, but men don't kiss my hand unless they have somethin' sneaky up their sleeve. I ain't exactly Princess Margaret. If your preposition has to do with my lookin' for somethin', forget it. I already turned down Miss Robertsfield."

Holstrom was undaunted by her opposition. "I need you to use your amazing skills to find a missing artifact for me. My men have been searching for it for nearly a year now, and while they've unearthed a few clues, they're mostly incompetant fools with no more sense than God gave an earthworm."

Maple picked up her hairbrush and did her best to remain calm and ignore the thugs who were inspecting her scanty costumes. She slapped one of the thug's wrists when he got too close to her wardrobe and sat down in front of her mirror. "I don't care how incomplete your workers are, Mr. Holstrom," she told him, "I'm still not interested."

"You might be interested to know that we're searching for the Lost Treasure of the Mayatec peoples," Holstrom offhandedly asked.

Maple did her best to conceal her surprised gasp. "I thought that the Lost Treasure of the Mayatec was just a legend," she murmured, "an old-wives' tale."

"I've heard of it," Scotty added as he sat up and held the ice pack that Betty offered him to his bruised eye. "The Mayatec were the most powerful people in Venezuela until the Conquistadors came along and conquered them. They hid all the gold that they'd secured over the years in the heart of the jungle and put a curse on it so that itwould never be found. They were big believers in black magic and the occult. There's one gem in the cache that supposedly has magical powers of some sort. I think they called it the Sunstone."

"I believe your uncle MacKinley is a leading authority on the Mayatec as well, Miss Lamentes," Holstrom continued. "We could ask him to accompany you and aid you in your quest. You both would have all expenses paid and accounted for."

Maple briefly stopped stroking her thick tresses. "Why are you so interested in the Lost Treasure, Holstrom? I'd think that an obviously important man like you would rather get involved in all the other big stuff happening around the world. Take what's going on in Europe, for example..."

"The conflict in Europe is the reason I'm seeking the treasure, Miss Lamentes. My organization is very much in need of both the magic of the Sunstone and the magic of the prices that the gold would fetch in the black market," Holstrom told them.

"Nothin' doin," Maple snapped. "Uncle Mackie and I will have nothing to do with the black market or the war. The stuff we find goes to museums."

Holstrom sighed. "If that's how you want it, Miss Lamentes," he said. He nodded at his thugs, who were now dreamily listening to the end of Eugie and Foley's "Sleeping Beauty Ballet". The two man ran behind the stage as Holstrom went on. Maple started after the goons, but the small blonde businessman took her by the neck and squeezed. "This is what happens to people who turn down Kurt Holstrom." Scottty went after him and Betty ran after the goons. Eugie rushed into the dressing room in hysterical tears.

"Maple," she wailed, "someone set the stage on fire! The Buttery Club is going up in smoke!"

Scotty pried Holstrom off of Maple's neck. Holstrom ran out the backstage door and Scotty followed him. Maple led an official night club fire drill and evacutated the Buttery Club. She, Eugie, and Foley watched sadly from across the street as fire engulfed the restauraunt and club that made up their entire world. Scotty and Betty joined them. "I lost Holstrom in the alley," Scotty admitted.

"I lost a home, a stage, and my man all in one day," whispered Maple. She clenched her knuckles so hard that they turned white. "Kurt Holstrom is gonna pay for this in small bills." She turned to the others and said, "Miss Robertsfield, where and when was Victor Comwell last seen?"

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