The Black Stiletto returns to stalk the night
It's 1959, and Judy Cooper, the Black Stiletto, sets out to confront a dangerous gangster known as the heroin king of Harlem when the teenage daughter of her beloved martial arts instructor ends up a prisoner in an uptown narcotics den. The Stiletto has troubles of her own: a shady filmmaker is threatening to reveal her identity to the world; a close friend of her landlord and substitute father may be in cahoots with the Harlem criminals; she's fighting for racial equality; and she has fallen in love againthis time with an FBI agent who has standing orders to arrest her. Meanwhile the Stiletto's son faces his own blackmail crisis when he finds out that there is a second copy of an 8 mm film he found in his mother's strongboxshowing the Black Stiletto unmasked in a film studio dressing room. As he tries to stop the filmmaker's son's extortion plot, he learns that his daughter, Gina, has been brutally assaulted in New York City. The past and the present meet as two shattering climaxes converge.
About the Author
Best-selling author Raymond Benson is the author of 31 published books. He is most well-known for being the official James Bond 007 continuation author between 1996 and 2002 and for his Black Stiletto novels. Benson lives in the Chicago area.
Read an Excerpt
The Black Stiletto Black & White
The Second Diary â" 1959 A Novel
By Raymond Benson
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2012 Raymond Benson
All rights reserved.
The vintage 8mm projector whirred, the reels rotated, and the brand-new bulb cast a flickering image on the bare wall. The film was over fifty years old, so the quality wasn't great. It was in black-and-white, of course.
The scene was a room, something like a photographer's studio, for artificial lighting bounced off a backdrop that hung down the far wall. A tall woman in a black costume stepped into the frame. The camera was far enough away so you could see her full body and the width of the room. A male mannequin dressed in street clothes stood across from her. She assumed a position, prepared herself, and then leapt into the air, kicked her right boot forward, and struck the mannequin square in the chest. The "opponent" toppled backward and crashed to the floor. The woman landed lightly on both feet and looked at the camera. The mask covered the top half of her head and face. The filmmaker zoomed in for a close-up. The woman's dark eyes sparkled through the holes in the black leather, and her lipstick-covered mouth formed a sweet smile. She said something to the man behind the camera; but as this was a silent film, I didn't understand it.
There she was. The Black Stiletto. Unbelievable.
After a cut, the woman had repositioned herself on the studio floor and the mannequin was back in place. This time, she drew the knife from the sheath strapped to her right thigh — a stiletto, of course — and performed a lightning-fast maneuver to switch her grasp from the hilt to the blade. She then threw the weapon across the room. The knife penetrated the middle of the mannequin's throat. Once again, she looked at the camera, smirked, and then laughed at something the unseen filmmaker said.
It was simply amazing. Despite the bizarre getup — the snug, black leather jacket and belt, tight leather pants, knee-high boots, small backpack, and half-hood mask — she was really cute! Her bubbly personality simply radiated from behind the disguise. She had charisma in spades.
And she was my mother.
And I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not the only one who knows.
The old small reel of 8mm film was one of several trinkets my mother had kept in a strongbox along with a letter to me that revealed her identity as the Black Stiletto. The film can was marked "March 1959," so I have to assume that's when the footage was shot. There's no indication of who was behind the camera.
Fascinated, I continued to watch the approximately five minutes of footage. It's really difficult finding an 8mm projector in this age of digital photography, but I managed to get one at a thrift shop in Palatine. I set it up in the privacy of my house in Buffalo Grove.
While there existed a few vintage candid films of the Black Stiletto, most of them were shot by amateurs on the street — fleeting glimpses of her running or climbing. This was the first real, close-up, somewhat professionally staged footage of the famous crime fighter that I'd ever seen. Maybe it was the only footage.
It was just a few months ago when I received the surprise of my life. My mother's attorney, Uncle Thomas — he isn't really my uncle, but I've always called him that; I've known him since I was a kid — had held the strongbox in safekeeping until which time she became incapacitated. And that she definitely is. My mom has Alzheimer's and currently resides in Woodlands North, a nursing home in Riverwoods, Illinois. She doesn't really know who I am anymore, although she recognizes me as someone she loves. She's seventy-three now. I'm almost forty-nine.
My name is Martin Talbot. My mother's name is Judy Talbot, née Cooper. Unbeknownst to anyone but me — that I know of — she was the legendary and notorious costumed vigilante known as the Black Stiletto, who operated in New York City and Los Angeles between 1958 and 1963 or so. After she seemingly vanished, the Stiletto became the stuff of myths and pop-culture mystique. No one knew her true identity or what happened to her, despite the deluge of Black Stiletto "products" that appeared in the eighties and since — comic books, action figures, Halloween costumes, and even a movie in the nineties starring a young Angelina Jolie.
Uncle Thomas didn't know the contents of the strongbox he handed over tome just a short while ago. You can imagine the shock when I learned my mom was the Black Stiletto. At first I didn't believe it. It was completely crazy. But then I started exploring our old house in Arlington Heights — which is still up for sale — and found her costume and a series of diaries in a secret closet in the basement. I've managed to read the first diary, marked "1958," and learned how fourteen-year-old Judy Cooper ran away from her mother, brothers, and an abusive stepfather in Odessa, Texas, back in 1953. She ended up in New York alone and penniless. There, she was befriended by Freddie Barnes, the owner of a gym in East Greenwich Village, and moved into a room above the facility. She worked as the gym's cleaning woman, but after hours Freddie taught her how to box. A Japanese trainer named Soichiro instructed her in martial arts before stuff like judo and karate were in the public consciousness. It was her first serious boyfriend, a Mafia soldier named Fiorello, who taught her how to use a knife. After Fiorello's murder, she became the Black Stiletto and took it upon herself to fight crime in the city. Law enforcement didn't like it. Soon she was wanted by the police and the FBI. Nevertheless, throughout 1958, the Stiletto fought petty criminals, the Mafia, and Communist spies. Late in the year she managed to take a trip back to Odessa, find her abusive stepfather — a man named Douglas Bates — and exact her revenge.
My mother's activities even reached across the span of decades to bite us in the here and now. Roberto Ranelli, a Mafia hit man, was released from prison; somehow he knew my mother was the Black Stiletto, and he tracked her to the Chicago suburbs. Luckily, he was old and unwell. Although he murdered my real estate agent and attempted to kill my mom, some latent memory in my Alzheimer's stricken mother kicked in — literally — and she miraculously disabled the killer right there in the nursing home. But it was his heart that killed him.
I'm still discovering my mother's story, but I've been terribly busy. I'm currently jobless and I've had to spend time over the summer looking for employment. I also had to deal with my daughter Gina's move to New York to attend Juilliard. I'm a divorced dad. Gina's mother, Carol, still lives in the area and I suppose you can say we get along all right. I wasn't terribly happy about Gina going to New York to study acting and dance, but she finally convinced me that she had to follow her own heart and not mine.
Anyway, I haven't had a spare moment to delve into my mother's remaining diaries. I just now finally got the 8mm projector to view that mysterious film.
Back to the images on the wall. The Black Stiletto "sparred" with the mannequin, showing off her fighting ability. That poor mannequin took quite a beating. At one point she chopped the guy's shoulder with a flat spear-hand, karate-style, and the arm fell right off. She put a hand to her lips and giggled, turned to the camera and mouthed, "I'm sorry." There was a cut and the arm was back on the mannequin. My mother kept laughing. She was obviously having a good time, but you could also tell she found the experience silly. She rolled her eyes whenever the cameraman gave her direction. I assume they were the only two people in the studio.
After a couple more setups in which the Stiletto punched and kicked and stabbed the mannequin, there was a cut and suddenly we were outside on a Manhattan street corner. It was nighttime, the only illumination provided by a streetlight and some kind of spotlight the filmmaker had aimed at the side of a building and its fire escape. Due to the poor lighting, the picture was grainier than before. The Black Stiletto entered the frame, threw a rope and some kind of grappling hook to the bottom of the fire escape ladder. The hook caught, and she pulled the ladder down to street level. She then swiftly coiled the rope, attached it to her belt, and climbed the ladder to the second-floor landing. The filmmaker stayed on the ground and tilted the camera to follow her. She glided up the steps to the third floor and then the fourth. Her speed was uncanny. She moved like a cat, graceful and lithe. After reaching the fifth floor, she climbed the extra few feet to the roof, swung a leg over, and hopped up. Now she was a tiny black figure against the even darker sky. You could barely see her; nevertheless, it was obvious that she waved at the camera before darting out of view.
The film ended. The rest of the roll appeared to be blank feeder.
I was stunned. I was in possession of a goldmine. Who wouldn't pay big bucks for this footage? But then, of course, I'd have to reveal how I got the film. I'm not sure I can do that while Mom's still alive.
I was about to stop the projector, rewind the film, and watch it again — but suddenly there was another scene at the very end of the roll. This time, the Stiletto sat in a small room in front of a mirror surrounded by bright lightbulbs. Make up supplies sat on the counter. A dressing room. She stared into the mirror, applied more lipstick, and adjusted her mask. Unlike in the previous footage, she didn't acknowledge the camera. In fact, she ignored it. I was certain she didn't know she was being filmed at this particular moment. She leaned forward, dissatisfied with something, and then she pulled off the hood/mask. Judy Cooper revealed herself to the mirror.
My mother. Age twenty-one. My God, she was beautiful. Her long black hair, which had been bundled up inside the hood, fell to her shoulders. She applied some mascara to her eyelashes, examined her handiwork, and then swept up her hair with one hand while she slipped the hood over her head with the other. After she tucked her hair inside, the Stiletto positioned the mask properly on her face and stood.
The film truly ended and ran out of the projector.
This was an astonishing artifact of history. The Black Stiletto in action, up close and personal. It was both exhilarating and disturbing. I was excited to have an authentic recording of the woman in action. What bothered me, though, was that last scene. It caught her with the mask off, her full face revealed. She must have known about the footage, since the reel was in her safekeeping; but I'm convinced she was unaware of being filmed in the dressing room when the guy was doing it.
I rethreaded the film and viewed the whole thing again, trying to pick up clues as to where the thing was shot and who the cameraman might have been. There were no indicators to identify the building other than it was a typical five-story New York brownstone that sat on a corner. The street signs were out of the frame, so it could be anywhere in Manhattan.
When it was over, I was left with more questions. Did this mean there were more people who knew the Black Stiletto's true identity? Who was the cameraman? Why was the film shot? There had to be a story behind it.
Obviously I had to read the second diary — the one from 1959 — to find out what it was.CHAPTER 2
January 9, 1959
I'm still a little shaken by what happened last night, dear diary. The Black Stiletto made her first appearance of '59 and it was an eventful one. I didn't sleep at all once I got back to my room.
But before I try to gather my thoughts about it, first let me bring you up to date. I haven't written since New Year's and I'm starting a new diary.
After the big annual party we had on New Year's Eve, I took it easy for a few days; just worked at the gym and stayed out of trouble, ha ha. A lot of stuff is happening in the world. Alaska became a new state this week, so I guess they have to make a whole new American flag with another star on it. Also, Fidel Castro just took control of Cuba. I knew it was coming and I told you so, dear diary. I was hoping my work last year taking out that Cuban spy might have done some good, but I suppose it didn't. There's a lot of talk in the papers speculating where Castro's allegiances are going to lie. America or Russia? Since he's a Socialist, he's probably going to side with the Communists. That worries a lot of people, Cuba being so close to us and all.
Anyway, I suddenly got stir crazy yesterday and decided to go out. I think it was hearing that silly Chipmunks Christmas song on the radio for the millionth time. I thought it was cute a couple of weeks ago, but ever since it got to be number one, they've been playing it to death on the radio. Now I'd like to strangle those chipmunks! Thank goodness the new song by the Platters is climbing the charts — "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and ain't that the truth? It's too bad Elvis is in the army. I miss hearing new songs by him. They keep putting out pieces he recorded a while back, like "One Night" and "I Got Stung." More and more rock-and-roll acts are giving him some competition, and I like a lot of it. Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Ritchie Valens. There're a lot of new popular singers that aren't as wild, too, like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Darin. They're all right, but I think they're a little too "safe" — that's the only way I can describe them. I'm even listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin a lot more than I used to. The other night Freddie put on a record by a jazz musician named Miles Davis. He plays a horn. I liked it all right, it was different. It's interesting how most of the jazz musicians are Negroes. Not too many white men play jazz. Why is that? And that brings me to last night, for the first part of this story has to do with Negroes.
It's been cold and wet outside, being January and all, so I dressed in my warm Stiletto outfit and took to the streets. I guess I went looking for a crime in progress, since that's what I do, but I can't say I was hoping to find one. I mean, I really don't want crime to occur at all. Wouldn't it be nice if people everywhere were always safe from criminals? But I know that's never going to happen in a million years, so there I was, racing across the rooftops and down to the shadows of the street to stalk the night.
It was around 11:30 or so and I was in the West Village. I hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary, so I decided to go home and get out of the cold. I was poised in-between buildings on 7th Avenue, out of the streetlights, waiting for the traffic to ease a bit so I could dart across and head east. Close by there's a jazz club called the Village Vanguard — apparently it's famous, a New York institution. Anyway, a Negro couple came out, a young man and woman. I guess they were in their 20s. Not much older than me. He had his arm around her and they were laughing. They looked cute, obviously out on a date. Must have just heard some music in the club, but nobody else was coming out. I was maybe fifteen or twenty feet away from them, so my acute hearing picked up their voices. He said something like, "If we can get a cab, I'll make sure you're home on time." And she replied, "My daddy'll kill us if I ain't." They must've left the show early 'cause she had a deadline.
So the young man stood at the curb with his arm up, you know, like he was hailing a taxi. Several empty cabs drove by, but none of them stopped. I felt bad for them. Since living in New York I've become much more aware of the prejudice that exists against Negroes.
When I was growing up in Odessa, I didn't really think about it. Down in the south, we called them "colored." I've been training myself to say "Negroes" because that's more polite. The Negroes in Odessa all lived south of the tracks, not that far from where we lived, so I was used to seeing them. I knew a lot of white people in Texas didn't care for colored people and I sometimes heard my brothers saying "nigger this" and "nigger that" but I never used that word. I knew it wasn't nice. I've heard white people use that word here in New York and talk about Negroes as if they were less than human.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Black Stiletto: Black & White by Raymond Benson 5 STARS Black & White is the second novel of the the Black Stiletto. I really enjoyed it. I keep rooting for Judy Cooper and want things to go her way. Martin is reading the second diary of his mother as she explains what is going on in her life as the Black Stiletto. Martin had no idea that his mom was the Black Stiletto till she was in a care center with altimers. The story jumps from what is happening in Judy's life back in 1959 in New York City. Then comes to what is happening to Judy and her family now through the eyes of her son Martin. They are both exciting and keep you interested and not wanting to put the book down. Judy turns out she is starting to fall for FBI Agent John in her disguise as the Black Stiletto. John is told to gain her trust so they can bring her in. The FBI and Police want her brought in. Judy gets involved trying to figure out what is troubling her teacher in martial arts. She learns more about being black in 1950's is really like. She also is being black mailed, finds a child porn dealer, raids a brothel, stops drug deals. Martin finds old film of his mother than around same time its shown on the news. The man who finds the film is trying to blackmail him too. Thier is plenty of action,drama,strong characters, deciet,some romance. A touch of what life was like back in the 50's what movies,songs that people liked. Really made you be in the 1950s. I know taking the law into your own hands is wrong but I was rooting for the Black Stiletto. I decided what I said next would be letting too much of the cat out of the bag. Soon I will be starting to read the third novel of the Black Stiletto that is coming out soon. I was given this ebook to read in exchange of honest review from Netgalley. Publisher: Oceanview Publishing (May 30, 2012) 328 pages ISBN-10: 1608090418
Judy Cooper is one tough young woman. Disguised as the "Black Stiletto," Judy travels through the boroughs of New York, taking on crime bosses, fighting for women sold into prostitution, and yes, still finding time for romance with an FBI agent. The second novel by author Raymond Benson to feature the Black Stiletto, the story switches between two time periods; 1959 where we follow Judy's crime fighting capers, and "the present," where Judy's son, Martin, is taking care of his now elderly mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s. For those who have not read the first in this series, Judy has been taught to fight by Freddie Barnes, the owner of a local gym. Soichiro Tachikawa, a martial arts teacher, has also instructed Judy in karate and judo. When Judy discovers that Soichiro is being forced to pay $5,000 a month to Carl Purdy, a Harlem drug lord who also has his hands in prostitution and extortion, she promises to help. Judy needs to get money, and get it fast to help Soichiro. Earlier, Hollywood had come calling, looking to feature the Black Stiletto in some films. While at first reluctant, Judy now decides to take the offer to help her instructor. But the studio needs proof that she is in fact the crime fighter, and that's where Jerry Munroe, a man who says he can make a short film of her in action, comes into the story. But there are serious repercussions to trusting Jerry, a man with a shady background. Alas, the above issues are not the only things Judy has to contend with in this story. Adding to the tension, Soichiro's daughter Isuzu winds up in one of Purdy's whorehouses and Judy wants to save her. Also, like many self-proclaimed crime fighters, the Black Stiletto is never given the credit due her for fighting crime. In fact, the newspapers paint her as part of the problem and FBI agent John Richardson has been charged with discovering the Black Stiletto's true identity and bringing the woman to justice. But John is charming, handsome and...can Judy trust him? She's not sure but it looks like she is falling in love. Meanwhile, in present-day Chicago, Judy's son Martin has discovered a copy of the 8mm film that Judy made with Munroe, the shady camera buff. Most of the short film features Judy with her mask on but there is a short clip at the end that shows Judy sans mask. Martin is determined to hide his mother's true identity from the public but when Monroe's son produces a second copy, things get messy. The story is told in the first person, through the eyes of three narrators: Judy, via her diary entries, John Richardson, who makes numerous home dictaphone recordings, and Martin, who is simply telling his story to the reader. While this jumping around between narrators, and time periods, is at first a bit disorienting, it soon starts to comfortably flow together, particularly as the two timelines begin to merge. While Judy's crime fighting capabilities at times stretch believability as she races across rooftops and takes on the big guys and comes out with only minor scrapes and bruises, the story is a lot of fun. Readers who want to see a smart, sassy woman crime fighter will enjoy this second book in the Black Stiletto series. Quill says: If you're willing to suspend a bit of believability, then you'll surely enjoy this novel about one tough young woman who takes on all the bad guys she encounters, while still finding time for a little romance.