table of contents Contributors and Credits
Editorial Ramblings John Donald Carlucci
Tales of the Red Panda: The Adventure of the Crime Cabal -ExcerptGregg Taylor
Too Much Monkey Business Kristopher R. Madden
Tit For Tat Cormac Brown
Review of Baltimore: Or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire Katherine Tomlinson
How “THE SHADOW” Movie Went Wrong Or Alec Baldwin Stole My Comic Books Timothy D. Gallagher
The Package (Part one) Greg Stephens
Tokyo Rubble Redux - a Love Story Thierry Gaulligiere
The Fair Folk Alex Epstein
Joe Lansdale: The Interview Timothy D. Gallagher
He Married a Yeti Lloyd Hudson Frye
table of contents
The 3rd Option Geoffrey Thorne
Michael Wm. Kaluta: The Interview John Donald Carlucci
Night of the Devil Pig: A True Life Adventure Timothy D. Gallagher
The Electron Jockey Mark Caldwell
Doug Klauba: The Interview Timothy D. Gallagher
Dames, Dolls and Femmes Fatale: The Women of Pulp Fiction Blue Johnson
The Hundred Dollar Baby Roger Alford
The Eldritch Horror From Beyond The Nether Void D.A. Madigan
Invaders From Under the Sea Timothy D. Gallagher
Formula for Fatality Michael Patrick Sullivan
The Rude Tin Star Brad Reed
I Want To Sleep With Steve McQueen
Contributors and Credits
All of the artists and writers in AAM are available for work and can be contacted as noted below. Serious business inquiries only.
John Donald Carlucci EditorJDC@Gmail.com A Renaissance man (not to mean that he is a man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences – but in that he suffers from a mild case of the Black Death and believes the world rides on the back of a turtle through space) who would like to outlive his rejection letters. JDC’s various ramblings can be found at his blog The Wildwoods (www.wildwoods.blog-city.com/). Timothy D. Gallagher EditorTimGallagher@Gmail.com Who he is, and how he got that way... Tim Gallagher, the unofﬁcial mayor of LA’s Chinatown, has been many things in his life: soldier, intelligence analyst, deputy mayor, private eye, town drunk, bookseller, production assistant, a manny (that’s a MAN-nanny, doofus), porn star, general contractor, security guard and monkey wrangler. The legends are unclear as to where he really came from. Some say he was left on the doorstep of a kindly couple on Long Island, who then locked him away in a dresser drawer. Others state that he resulted from the unholy union of man and beast, and was found wandering the wilderness and frightening the livestock. Still more tell of a creature spawned from toxic waste dumped in a Long Island landﬁll. None of these are correct, and yet they all are. It is true that Tim now dwells in a sanctum hidden somewhere in LA, his only companions the hundreds of action ﬁgures that line his shelves and prepare his meals. It is also true that once, while swimming in a pool somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, Tim was mistaken for a bear and shot with a tranquilizer dart by LA Animal Control; he awoke cold and wet and stinking of grizzly love in a zoo cage. Tim has a recurring dream: he is on the side of the road. Having a picnic. With Bigfoot. Two of them. And one of the Bigfeet is wearing a dress. And the one wearing the dress is not a lady Bigfoot. And Tim wakes up screaming every time. Bon vivant? Perhaps. Missing link? Very likely. Life-long comic book reader? Sadly true. Godzilla fan? Lord help him, yes. All this and more can be said about Tim. And often is. With many bad words mixed in. Katherine Tomerline AMMDragonLady@gmail.com Katherine Tomlinson is an Army brat, an orphan, a former KGB operative code-name Katya), and a world traveler. (Only three of these statements are true.) D.A. Madigan email@example.com D.A. Madigan is currently husband and stepfather to (respectively) the most wonderful woman and the three most wonderful girls in the entire universe, which is all that matters, really. When he isn’t sitting around boggling with slack-jawed awe at just how unbelievably lucky he is, he writes deeply weird and even outright deranged stuff, much of which eventually gets published somewhere on the Internet. He blogs exten-
sively at Miserable Annals of the Earth (www.miserableannalsoftheearth.blogspot.com) and A Brown Eyed Handsome Man (www.abehm.blogspot.com). He has written seven sci-ﬁ fantasy novels and one military memoir and someday he hopes to be paid for at least some of that foolishness, too. Roger Alford roger@lightningbugﬁlms.com Roger Alford is a writer and ﬁlmmaker. His produced plays include two staged “radio dramas,” The City Burns at Night and The Sheik of Hollywood. He created the popular Internet mash-up video, Twilight Zone: Planet of the Apes, which Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone Companion) said was “great fun” and “genuinely plays like [an] episode” (evidenced by the number of YouTubers who think it’s real). His screenplay Blood in the Water (aka Storm Tide) is recommended by Script PIMP and was named a 2nd-round ﬁnalist in a Script Magazine Open Door Contest. Additional screenplays were named as quarter-ﬁnalists in the Screenwriting Expo Competition, and he’s hoping for great things with his latest “opus,” Gangland Hollywood (shameless plug). His work has been discussed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, The Dennis Miller Show (radio) and Inside Edition. Websites: hollywoodnoir. blogspot.com and Lightning Bug Films (www.lightningbugﬁlms.com). Gregg Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org Gregg Taylor created the full-cast audio series The Red Panda Adventures for the Decoder Ring Theatre podcast. Decoder Ring Theatre presents new audio adventures and mysteries in the style of the great programs of Radio’s Golden Age. This excerpt from “The Crime Cabal” is the ﬁrst in a series of pulp novels featuring Taylor’s heroes. The Decoder Ring Theatre (www.decoderringtheatre.com) shows may be found for free download at Decoder Ring Theatre. Thierry Gaulligiere Tpg369@mac.com Thierry Gaulligiere is a name that can be translated two ways: in English, it is Terry Gallagher; in ancient Lemurian it is a medical term describing a particularly nasty bowel disorder. This mystery man allegedly resides in the storied metropolis of Burbank, CA, with a wife and two cats, but none of this could be conﬁrmed. Gaulligiere claims that he is a distant relative of Editor Tim Gallagher, a claim Gallagher vehemently denies. “Plenty of people say they’re my relatives or my children, but I ain’t buying it,” states Gallagher. “A lot of con artists are trying to get their mitts on the Gallagher fortune. For the record, I’m the only child of orphan circus freaks, so this Gaulligiere character is a fraud. And as for me having children, well, that means you gotta, y’know....with girls. And girls have cooties! Nuff said.” Greg Stephens email@example.com Greg Stephens is an assistant prosecuting attorney in Butler County, Ohio. Greg is a freelance writer who writes sports related articles on numerous sites, and is working on developing a series of Harlan Escobar mysteries. He is married with two children. Please email Greg with any comments. Brad Reed firstname.lastname@example.org Brad Reed was born in Brockport, New York in 1973 and graduated from the College of William and Mary. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and daughter. “The Rude Tin Star” is his ﬁrst published story. Treachery robbed Reed of his rightful place as the Monarch of the Hobo Empire. Someday he will reclaim his battered crown and wreak a mighty vengeance. Someday.
Alex Epstein Alex Epstein is a screenwriter and author. He co-created the comic drama series NAKED JOSH, which ran three years, and co-wrote the hit comedy BON COP / BAD COP, which broke the Canadian box ofﬁce record for a Canadian ﬁlm, and won the Genie (Canadian Oscar) for Best Picture of 2006. He is currently developing a dark urban fantasy series for The Movie Network. He has written two screenwriting books, CRAFTY SCREENWRITING and CRAFTY TV WRITING, and blogs about screenwriting at Complications Ensue (complicationsensue.blogspot.com). Epstein lives in the Old Port of Montréal with his wife, two kids, and a big shaggy dog. If you liked “The Fair Folk,” he has also perpetrated a novel about the childhood of Morgan le Fay, THE CIRCLE CAST. It’s available from Lulu.com. Michael Patrick Sullivan email@example.com When evil is afoot Michael Patrick Sullivan is a fuzzy slipper. At other times, he’s an award-winning writer of stuff in which someone invariably gets shot. He embarked on a career as a writer after learning at an early age that being The Riddler was not a viable career choice. He’s starting to feel he may have been misled about that. Cormac Brown firstname.lastname@example.org “Cormac Brown” is my pen name. I’m an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I’m following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I’ve stapled and stitched together can be found at Cormac Writes (cormacwrites.blogspot.com). Lloyd Hudson Frye email@example.com He was always a little strange, kinda mean and tender hearted at the same time. Although an artist by nature, he ended up with a degree in accounting he never used and worked in electronics as a shipment expeditor and buyer. After being laid off at 55 during the NAFTA frenzy, he’s spent the last four years unsuccessfully interviewing for work and writing short stories and books. His work can be read by Googling Lloyd Hudson Frye. Geoffrey Thorne firstname.lastname@example.org Geoffrey Thorne is the prize-winning author of multiple short stories including the critically acclaimed THE SOFT ROOM (Simon & Schuster). He has written sci-ﬁ shorts and novellas for Simon & Schuster and Phobos Books and was a ﬁnalist in the prestigious WRITERS OF THE FUTURE contest. He has written comics for Bench Press Comics, Hometown Ink, NE Graﬁx and is currently publishing THE RED LINE through Ludovico Technique. His short story ESHU & THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE was included in the TRIANGULATION: END OF TIME anthology (Parsec Inc.) and his novel TITAN: SWORD OF DAMOCLES, is to debut in bookstores in December 07. He is the lead writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed, original Web-based TV series, GEOFFREY THORNE’S THE DARK (thedarklines.blogspot.com). He lives in Los Angeles but is hoping for a pardon any day now.
Mark Caldwell email@example.com Born in the 1970s Mark grew up in Nottingham and Warwickshire. He studied building engineering at the University of Liverpool and then a postgraduate course in software technology. He was Head Projectionist of the Guild of Students technical committee. A job taking the Internet around libraries and making virtual reality models followed. Ten years on he has worked on a variety of websites. He has written and illustrated articles for Valkyrie Quarterly and Ragnarok. He is happy to be published somewhere without a name drawn from Norse legend. He is a member of the SFSFW. One day he may ﬁnish a novel. He is looking for a short anecdote for his biography. It should be witty, self-deprecating, thirty-four words and make him sound less like a professional geek. Including a beautiful woman would be a bonus. Mark is also really uncomfortable writing about himself in the Third Person like this. Kristopher Madden firstname.lastname@example.org Kristopher Madden lives in Fresno, California with his wife Karen in a swank two bedroom, one bath apartment. Kristopher won a school writing contest in the ﬁfth grade, but soon gave up the pen for an electric guitar for the next eight years. It wasn’t until college that he penned his ﬁrst novel, which is still being shopped around, and began the long road toward publication. He works for the Fresno Uniﬁed School District and assists students in ﬁnding jobs with local employers. He is currently working toward a bachelor’s in English and writes in his spare time. This is his ﬁrst published short story. You can view Kristopher Madden’s ofﬁcial MySpace Site (www.myspace.com/krismadden789), or read Kristopher Madden’s ofﬁcial Blog (krismadden.blogspot.com).
Artists John Donald Carlucci - Cover EditorJDC@Gmail.com You already read his info above. Keep moving. Nothing more to see. Kris Madden - Too Much Monkey Business email@example.com He is up top too! Mary Tomlinson - Tit for Tat She has a degree in fashion illustration from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She is currently at work on her ﬁrst children’s book, which she is illustrating and co-writing.
The ofﬁcial sites Astonishing Adventures Magazine! astonishingadventuresmagazine.com
EDITORIAL ramblings Well, here it is my pulpster friends. A massive collection of twisted tales of adventure and swift justice for the measly price of the air you breath. What a deal! I want a great thank you to go out to Editor Tim. It is truly his vision that shaped the taste of this giant tome and he is the heart of this venture. Thank you to the Dragonlady Katherine Tomlinson and her continuing effort to sleep with hunky dead men. Thank you to the fantastic artists and writers who contributed their work and their “babies” to this endeavor. May your sentinels of justice continue their adventures for many years to come. Enjoy these pages my friends. Editor–in-Chief JDC
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. All right belong to the original artists and writers for their contributed works. August 31st, 2007
Tales of the Red Panda:
The Adventure of the Crime Cabal -Excerptby
Gregg Taylor the last sliver of the moon hung above
the great, teeming city and its million souls like the ďŹ‚ickering remnants of a guttering candle. Its few, feeble rays reached into the thousand dark places the gaslight could never penetrate; the alleyways, the long-quiet industrial ruins, the waterfront. Silver
ďŹ ngertips bruised themselves against the creeping darkness of the badlands and found themselves buried in its lifeless chill. The moon retired and was seen no more. Those of the city that could do so made their way to warmth and safety behind locked doors. Those that could not whispered a prayer to the morning and let the waves of darkness wash over
them. Night came to the city. Mitch Reynard stared out into the blackness and blinked hard. Four hours of this. It was too much. He shook his head a little to persuade his eyes to stay focused and stamped his feet to ﬁght the chill of the damp spring air. He felt inside his coat for a cigarette. As he fumbled with the lining of his torn pocket, his ﬁngers brushed against the cold steel of the .38 revolver he wore on his shoulder. For a moment he remembered that he had a job to do. Like a truant schoolboy his eyes turned back to the weary blackness that surrounded him. He pressed the cigarette between thin, dry lips and felt for his matches. Nothing. He was sure he’d had half a book. His eyes turned again to the void. He took six steps forward and looked over the edge of the roof he stood upon. He could barely see the walls of the warehouse below him, but he could hear the soft scuff of the men at the front door and they struggled to keep their watch. He could see the orange glow of their cigarettes as they paced. Reynard almost called to them, but six stories below they wouldn’t be of much use to him, and they could no more leave their posts than he could his. He turned back in towards the rooftop. To his left, he thought he could almost make out Jake on the corner of the roof with his Thompson. Or maybe he just thought he could. It didn’t matter, he’d be there all right, and he’d have a light. Reynard turned out to face the night. Nothing. He decided that this was pointless. Night after night, watching for something that didn’t come. Tonight he wouldn’t have even been able to see it if he’d known what he was looking for. “No sense being a hero.” he thought, and smiled at the irony. He turned and made his way carefully across the rooftop to the corner where he knew Jake stood waiting. Waiting and watching. He’d gone ﬁfteen feet before he was sure he could just make out the shape of Jake’s light colored raincoat. Another twenty feet and Reynard could see him, outlined in black and white like a picture show. He began to wonder at what distance it would be safe to call out the waiting gunman. Didn’t want to surprise him. Jake didn’t much like surprises. Reynard heard a sudden noise behind him. His blood froze in his veins, and for just a moment he had no idea what to do. He heard another footfall gently brush against the stones
that covered the roof, closer this time. Reynard’s instincts took over. His right arm reached across his body as he turned and then straightened, .38 in hand. He heard a familiar voice hiss; “Reynard! Reynard, what in blazes do you think you’re playing at?” Reynard sighed. It was Malcolm, the boss’ right-hand. He could just see him striding forward through the darkness. Malcolm was afraid of nothing. “Reynard! You’re not at your post!” hissed Malcolm. “Geeze, Mister Malcolm, I was just gonna get a match off Jake.” Malcolm was close enough to be seen clearly now. Reynard could see the bigger man’s immaculately pressed grey suit, the scowl of contempt he always seemed to wear. He could smell Malcolm’s expensive cigar and more expensive hair tonic. Yes, sir. Malcolm was doing all right, that was for sure. He’d been old man Sclareli’s toughest soldier before he was put away, and his nephew’s loyal lieutenant since that dark day. Young Vic Sclareli was the boss, but Malcolm knew where all the bodies were buried, and how to dispose of another one if need be. “Mister Sclareli doesn’t pay you to make social calls, Reynard.” There was menace in the gravel of that voice. “Honest, Mister Malcom.” Reynard was sweating now, in spite of the cold “Lookit.” he said, pointing toward the unlit cigarette still stuck to his dry lips. Malcolm held his eyes for a moment as best he could in the blackness. Finally Reynard was sure he saw him smile. Reynard swallowed hard to persuade his heart to go back down his throat. A light sparked as Malcolm struck a match and lit Reynard’s cigarette. The smoke burned Reynard’s lungs and watered his eyes, but he smiled in relief. “Thanks. Thanks Mister Malcolm.” “Keep the book, Mitch.” Malcolm said, pressing it into Reynard’s hand “We can’t afford any slip-ups.” “Geeze, Mister Malcolm, I don’t mean anything by it, but how much longer are we supposed to keep this up? It’s two weeks now, holed up like rats in a cage.” Malclom’s eyebrow arched. “A very tastefully appointed cage, Reynard.”
“Inside, sure it is,” chirped Reynard, feeling bolder now “but from out here it’s just a big old warehouse. We don’t even know what we’re watching for.” “Let’s hope you know it when you see it, Mitch.” said Malcolm, turning away “For your sake.” Malcolm turned and stalked back towards the door that led in from the roof to the Sclareli Mob’s headquarters; a hideout that had become a fortress. The half-open door cast a red glow against the blackness, thirty, maybe forty feet away. Reynard slipped the book of matches into his pocket. He’d need most of these before dawn. He didn’t understand this. He didn’t understand why they were hiding. They were hunters, not prey. They should be ﬁghting back. He started to move back to his post. He turned and glanced back to Jake on the corner. Good old Jake; never asked questions, never left his post. Except... Jake was gone. Reynard froze and looked around. It was still too pitch black to see far, but the black and white outline of the man with the Thompson was nowhere to be found. He took two quick steps in that direction, then stopped hard, like a dog yanked by a leash. If Malcolm was watching... “Mister Malcolm!” hissed Reynard, as loud as he dared “Mister Malcolm, its Jake.” The red glow of the half-open door still hung in the air, but there wasn’t a sound. “Mister Malcolm!” Nothing. Like most men that pursued his line of work, Mitch Reynard was a coward. Able enough in a group, or when told what to do; but when the chips were down the equation always came down to fear. After another moment, he realized what Sclareli would do to him if he let an unwelcome visitor slip past him. That tore it. He was more afraid of the boss than Malcolm. Reynard pulled his .38 again and raced across the rooftop, stumbling in the darkness. As he picked himself up, he turned. The glow of the open door seemed very far away now. It actually seemed to be getting darker. Cautiously, he felt his way forward until he found the low wall that surrounded the edge of the roof. He groped further into the darkness, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth as
he called in a hoarse whisper; “Jake! Jake? Where are you?” Reynard’s right hand found the point where the north and east walls met. He turned in towards the roof, feeling with his outstretched hand as he instinctively lowered himself down to the surface of the roof. His eyes could just make out something... Jake’s battered pork-pie hat, lying on the ground beside a still-smoldering cigar. But no Jake. Reynard scrambled to his feet and heard the clatter of something metallic. He bent forward again and came up with Jake’s Thompson. Reynard’s heart sank. At that moment, a faint sound carried through the blackness. The beginnings of triumphant laughter, like a far-off song in a haunting minor key, taunting him. Reynard felt the chill of doom grip his heart. He had heard that sound before. At that moment, there was a clatter from across the roof, and the red glow abruptly disappeared. The door was shut. That laugher was inside the Sclareli headquarters. Reynard raced towards the door, shouting; “He’s inside! He’s inside! Everybody-” Reynard was cut off as he tripped over something laying in the darkness and fell, hard. He turned in a rage. It was Malcolm, dead or out cold, Reynard couldn’t tell. No one was responding to his cries. There was no movement nor no sound on the rooftop. Reynard knew he was alone. The others had been taken, one by one. He’d only been spared because he wasn’t at his post. He gripped the Thompson hard and raced towards the door. He found it by the sounds of a struggle from within. And then gunshots, a dozen or more. That gave the alarm. Reynard could hear his confederates on the ground converging on the front door. Reynard waited. Perhaps it was all over. But then he heard the laugh again. Louder now, and with a crueler, mocking tone. Reynard stood with his hand on the doorknob, his whole body shaking. Few had heard that sound so close for so long. It was more than just laughter, it was a battle cry. There was mirth in the laugh, a kind of reckless joy. “Oh, God.” Reynard whispered to himself, forgetting that he had long ago forsaken the right to any aid from that corner. He gripped the doorknob harder, unable to force his body forward. Unable
to ﬁnd the strength of will. Alone on that roof, the sounds of titanic struggle beyond the door. And always that laughter. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but to Mitch Reynard it was an eternity. From within there was a sound like an explosion. He could feel the rush of air shaking the old wooden door. He waited a moment. No laughter. Maybe... just maybe. Reynard turned the knob and raced through the door. He fell forward onto the high catwalk that ran around the top level of the warehouse Sclareli had converted for his headquarters. Reynard had known the place for a year. Neither he nor any other member of the gang had left it for the past two weeks. He would never have recognized it. The great open chamber that was Vic Slareli’s pride and joy was in ruins. The only light was from a ﬁre burning near the main doors, evidently the explosive blast Reynard had heard had backﬁred. The lights ﬂickered and sparked, but from the damage done to a power relay near the door, Reynard could tell there would be no help there. There was scattered gunﬁre from the lower levels as the remaining members of the Sclareli mob tried to organize their counterstrike. And everywhere there were bodies. They hadn’t been shot, Reynard couldn’t see any blood at all. He was taking them apart with his bare hands. Suddenly Reynard looked up, across the open expanse to the other side of the catwalk. There he was. Just a man. A man like any other. Reynard struggled to collect himself. If he could get a shot from here, he might have aReynard’s thoughts came to a crashing halt as the frozen form sixty feet away sprang into motion. Reynard could see six of his confederates rush the man. The casual ease with which he brushed them aside. The heads, arms, legs... all broken and bent as they were never meant to. Six men. In a moment. In spite of himself, Reynard gasped. The dark shape froze, like a wolf with the scent of blood in its nose and turned in his direction. No. It was impossible. The man couldn’t have heard that sound. Not over the screams, the growing ﬂames, the gunﬁre. And then the laughter began again. The man raced towards the edge of the catwalk and threw himself over into oblivion. Red gauntlets reached forward, ﬁngertips extended to
their furthest reach. Something seemed to propel him forward. Push him away from the solid walls with such force that he barely fell an inch as he jumped. Impossible. It couldn’t be... no man could make that leap. Half the distance between the site of the last battle and the catwalk where Reynard now stood there was a cross-beam, almost a full six stories in the air. The man reached it as if it had been easy. He gripped the beam with crimson gloved hands and propelled himself around it, seemingly oblivious to the blaze of gunﬁre from below. He spun himself around the beam with terrible speed and hurled himself into the air, feet ﬁrst towards the frozen form of Mitch Reynard. It was easily the most incredible thing that Reynard had ever seen. The man stretched his arms behind his head, his hands reaching as if they worked invisible controls. Some force of great power seemed now to be pulling him by the feet. Pulling him an impossible distance through the air. He actually overshot his mark, hitting that wall above the catwalk feet ﬁrst and, with another sudden movement of his hands staying there. He turned and looked right into Reynard’s soul with eyes that were blank white and seemed to glow with an unearthly fury. And then he smiled. Mitch felt weak in the knees as the man walked toward him, striding along the wall as smoothly as if he were walking ﬂat upon the ground. Several stray bullets from the ground got his attention enough that he dropped to the catwalk. Reynard felt the cold steel of the Thompson in his clammy hands, but he couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t cry out to the world the terror that gripped him by the heart. At last, there he stood, not three feet away, towering above Reynard. The long gray coat, the immaculate suit beneath and the gray fedora impossibly still perched on his head. The bright red gauntlets and domino mask. And those terrible eyes. It was him. The man that ﬁfty gunmen had watched for and guarded against, and all in vain. It was The Red Panda. The right gauntlet thrust forward at unbelievable speed, gripping Reynard by the throat. The left hand lashed out in a crimson blur and sent the Thompson clattering to the ﬂoor. Reynard stared in disbelief at the cold, white eyes hovering behind the
colorful mask. This... this, thing; it couldn’t be human, could it? No one could do what he did. No living man could have eyes like that. He could feel his entire body shaking, but was powerless to make it stop. Beneath the mask, Reynard could see the smile playing about his tormentor’s face. “You’re afraid, aren’t you, Mitch Reynard?” the masked man said quietly, in a voice like a far-off roll of thunder. Reynard started. It knew his name. Mitch Reynard; career criminal, multiple murderer, proud parasite upon the living city, soldier in the Sclareli mob. Despite himself, Mitch Reynard began to quietly sob. The creature of the night that suspended him above the ﬂoor in a vice-like grip made no effort to conceal his amusement. “You fear The Red Panda, do you not?” came the voice again. Mitch could only sputter and nod. “And well you might. For you have much to answer for, Mitch Reynard.” The weeping gangster became quieter, calmer as the voice became smooth and even-toned. Reynard could feel something... a coldness... “All who cause the innocent to suffer in the name of greed will be made to answer, Reynard.” The voice seemed so far away now. ... No, not cold... a... numbness... creeping tendrils of another mind in his... “The Red Panda is coming to make you pay, Mitch Reynard.” There were cries from below. The remnants of the Sclareli mob were getting organized for a last offensive. A ﬁnal push up the stairs to ﬁnish off the masked intruder in their midst who had suddenly vanished. “But I am not The Red Panda.” Mitch could not bring himself to question this. Of course this was not The Red Panda. “I am your trusted associate. Don’t you recognize me?” Mitch smiled in warm relief. It was good to see a friendly face. “But he is here. Dozens of him. Coming this way.” The gangster’s brows furrowed in confusion for just a moment. “He’s not just one man. He’s a small army. Can’t you hear them coming?” Mitch could hear them. Hear them creep-
ing up towards the catwalk. Of course – it all made sense now. No one man could have fought such a war on crime and the gangs of men who controlled it. No one man. An army. And they were here! “They will take you, if you let them, Mitch Reynard. And they will make you pay. Pay for every wrong thing you have ever done, even the ones you think no one knows about. If you let them.” The voice felt closer now. Like a warm whisper in Reynard’s ear that fanned the almost extinguished ﬁres of his courage. Reynard felt strong. Stronger than he had in years. The great gloved hand set him back upon his feet and patted him on the shoulder. “You won’t let them, will you Mitch?” Reynard shook his head slowly, as if it took all of his concentration. He moved as one in a daze to his right and picked up the Thompson. At last he had the strength to use it. At last. He crept to the edge of the catwalk. There... just past the shadows... there was the Red Panda. Two of them. And there were more, coming from the left. And another, on the ground with a riﬂe. One of them suddenly looked up. “Mitch!” called the masked man. As Mitch Reynard opened ﬁre, the roar of the submachine gun almost drowned out the ringing peals of laughter from somewhere far above. Minutes later, as the sounds of furious battle continued, a small, lithe shape moved quietly through Vic Slareli’s inner sanctum. The Red Panda watched from the shadows as it paddled, almost silently towards an oversized portrait of Vic’s uncle Tony, the founder of the Sclareli criminal empire who currently resided in a maximum security penitentiary for his trouble. Grey-gloved hands lifted the portrait down to reveal a wall safe behind. The hands set the painting on the ﬂoor, against the wall. For a moment, the garish colors served to highlight the silhouette of the catburglar. It was a pleasant sort of a shape; female, athletic and yet softly curved. If the masked man took note of any of that, he gave no outward sign. Her gloved hands began to work the safe. The roar of gunﬁre in the outer chambers continued, muted though it was by the cork-lined walls of Sclareli’s ofﬁce. The Red Panda stepped forward from the shadows, moving silently towards the intruder. With both stealth and speed he moved towards the girl. Again the smile played upon his face.
She could have no idea he was here. “How am I supposed to crack this safe with you making that racket?” came a voice that was equal parts sass and laughter. “Or is that you being quiet?” The Red Panda smiled ruefully. His partner either had remarkable hearing or that was a very lucky guess. He decided to presume the former. “How are we doing?” he asked coldly. “Not bad. Most of what we need is in a pile on the desk.” Said The Flying Squirrel with a glance back and a smile “I thought you were keeping them busy.” “Don’t they sound busy?” came the reply as he pulled a folding satchel from the depths of his coat. “Who’s the shooter?” the masked young woman at the safe asked casually. “Mitch Reynard.” replied The Red Panda, as he quickly scanned the ﬁles his partner had selected before placing them into the satchel. “Mitch Reynard? You big softie.” the Flying Squirrel’s voice was amused, but not disappointed. “He’s the worst shot in gangland. He’d be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn at ten paces.” “It’s still safer in here.” he said, as he completed his task. “And here I thought you just missed me.” she sighed as she turned the latch and opened the safe. “Are we interested in any cash or negotiables today?” “I think we’re covered. Grab the ledger and burn the rest.” “You rich boys don’t know the value of a dollar, do you?” there was a note of genuine disdain in her voice. He tried to think where he’d gone wrong. She turned her head in his direction, her steel gray cowl that blended perfectly into her catsuit turned slightly to the side, waiting. He tried not to smile at the false ears on her cowl as they waggled at him, slightly. “All right, grab the ledger, burn the bonds and we’ll drop the cash off at St. Michael’s.” He was fairly sure she was after the Robin Hood play. “That’s my boss. He gets there in the end. Your ledger, sahib.” she handed him a thick black tome that, together with the other documents in the bag, spelled doom for Sclareli’s rackets. “Good work, Squirrel. This should be the end
of the Sclareli crime family once and for all.” “Nothin’ personal, boss. But we’ve said that before. Of course, if ‘dead shot’ Reynard has his way...” as if on cue the roar of the machine gun stopped, leaving only an echo in it’s wake. They exchanged a look. Without a word, she grabbed the last stack of bills and thrust it into her own satchel, and he produced a small, round device from the folds of his coat. He depressed a button and the ball began to whir. “Down!” ordered The Red Panda calmly and he threw the incendiary into the safe. The remainder of Sclareli’s nest egg went up in ﬂames. As the roar of police sirens descended on the place, two almost-invisible shapes leaped from the rooftop and were swallowed up into the night. If the arriving policemen heard the far-off peals of laughter as they stormed the broken fortress, they gave no outward sign. ---End
TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS by
Kristopher R. Madden night time in the city; two men sat in a car
across the street and watched a family gather for a late dinner in their home. The family had taken out the nice china and the mother brought out a large turkey to the middle of the table. The two men sat quietly waiting, watching, hoping to see a four foot chimpanzee.
“How do you know the monkey’s going to be here?” Bruce asked. “Call it a hunch,” Dr. Stein replied, “And the monkey’s name is George okay?” “Well, how did George get out?” Bruce adjusted himself in the driver seat. The car felt cramped with two people inside it.
“Why so curious?” Dr. Stein replied. “When there’s money involved, I’m always curious,” Bruce crossed his arms. He expected some sort of an answer, “How’d he get out, Doc?” “I let him out of the facility to get some air. It was a mistake and he clubbed me in the head with a rock,” The doctor turned his head to the side to show the dried blood on the back of his neck. “Looks like it hurt.” “Yes, more than I expected it to,” Dr. Stein returned to awkward silence. “So can you tell me what’s so important about this monkey that we’re chasing after?” Bruce asked “Do you always ask this many questions?” “Figured we could chat while we wait for this thing to show up,” Bruce shrugged his shoulders. Dr. Stein pulled at the graying hair on the side of his head, “MutiVac specializes in animal intelligence research. Our mission as scientists is to gain a better understanding of how animals communicate with each other.” Bruce nodded and cracked his knuckles. Dr. Stein felt like he was explaining his job to a kindergarten class, “Well, MutiVac was the ﬁrst company to successfully complete a brain transplant from one chimpanzee to another. Then the idea came about of switching a chimp’s brain with a human brain so that the ape might be able to communicate with humans,” Dr. Stein could tell that Bruce did not understand the importance of what he was saying, “Okay, have you ever wanted to tell a dog to do something once and he’d do it? Or understand simple commands such as sit or stay?” “Yeah,” Bruce nodded. “Okay, well imagine being able to tell a dog to watch over your house or call 911 or use the toilet. If we are successful in transferring a human brain to another animal and that animal is able to communicate with not only other animals, but also humans it could mean a whole new way life,” Dr. Stein had lost interest in the house and was pouring his ideas onto Bruce, “Think of a world where all animals and humans live together in an organized fashion, where everyone works together to make life easier.” “That’s some idea Doc,” Bruce was unenthused.
“Doesn’t that appeal to you at all?” Dr. Stein threw up his hands. “Listen Doc, don’t get me wrong, you scientist with your big ideas and everything is great and all and it probably is for the better. But in real life I know that as humans we more or less speak each other’s language and it only gives us more reason to go to war with one another. That’s what I see when you tell me about a bunch of animals being able to speak for themselves. The animals would probably go to war with us because of how badly they’ve been treated. And they’d win because they outnumber us, big time,” Bruce lowered the seat back and rolled his shoulders, “And if things are supposed to work out so well, why’d the monkey escape?” “I didn’t think that it would come to this,” Dr. Stein rubbed the palm of his hand over his face, “At the beginning of the experiment he exempliﬁed many human traits. He could write out messages using a pencil or keyboard. He could solve mathematical equations. But as time passed he became violent and refused to work with the doctors. He broke things constantly and it has been,” Dr. Stein paused rubbed the back of his neck, “It’s been tough for a long time. Until recently,” The doctor smiled, “He’s been obedient and working with us and then when he asked if he could go outside I ﬁgure it was a good reward for his change in behavior. Turns out, it was only a ploy to escape. I just can’t believe he’d do it to me.” “Why not?” Bruce asked. “Well, I don’t know,” Dr. Stein replied. “He’s just a monkey and you’re just its doctor,” Bruce replied. “Agree to disagree,” The doctor responded and folded his arms. He sat silently drumming his ﬁngers on his dirtied khakis. Blood had spilt on them when the monkey had hit him on the head with a rock. He decided not to think too much of it and focus on the task at hand. “Remember, only use the tranquilizer gun that I gave you. You’ve got two shots with it and that’s it, so make them count. No live ammo.” Dr. Stein could see the bulge in Bruce’s black blazer, “In fact why don’t you just give me the gun.” “I’m not giving you my gun,” Bruce replied. His hand rested ﬁrmly on the gun’s hilt. “Do you want your money?” Dr. Stein knew that would end the discussion.
Bruce unclipped the gun from his side holster and handed it to the doctor. He replaced it with the tranquilizer gun the doctor had handed him. He left out the fact that he had a snub-nose magnum attached to his ankle. “Have you ever killed anyone? You know, for the job or anything?” Dr. Stein asked. “Of course,” Bruce lied. The closest he had come to kill anything was torturing the neighborhood cat with his older brother’s ﬁreworks. But he didn’t need to kill anybody for this job, it was just a furry little chimp; an escaped science experiment at that. “So is anyone going to notice you’re not at post tonight?” Dr. Stein felt more anxious with each passing minute on the car’s LCD clock. “Don’t worry ‘bout it Doc, I put in a call before we got together in the car. They got somebody covering my shift. No big deal.” “That’s good, good to hear,” Dr. Stein returned to his upright position peering over the dashboard and staring at the house. “Do you know these people Doc?” Bruce asked. “No,” Dr. Stein lied. He had been a guest at this house many times. There was Sarah the mother and their two daughters Linda and Ashley. He visited them less these days, but he did know them and there was no other way to dodge Bruce’s question than lying. There was a light sprinkle on the windshield of the car. It looked more like a mist than actual rain. Bruce let the water build up and then let the windshield wipers roll across the window. Dr. Stein leaned back in passenger seat and let out a long sigh of disappointment. Maybe he wouldn’t show up. This would be the end of his career. He’d have to go to the directors and let them know what happened. He’d have to come clean about the all the experiments. He’d have to shank the biggest guy in prison. They would burn him at the stake. He was going to be made an example of. There was nothing left for him. “There he is,” Bruce leaned over the dashboard. “Where?” Dr. Stein leaped up in his seat. “There,” Bruce pointed to the alley next to the house. There was a furry hand sticking out around the corner. Bruce looked at his surroundings.
They were in the middle of the city and the street was sparse with trafﬁc. Dr. Stein felt exposed as if everyone was watching them. Maybe George could see them; he hoped George couldn’t. The monkey crept out from the corner and went up to the window of the house. It seemed to lose its anxiousness and looked quietly through the window. The family didn’t realize he was there. It put his hand to the window and ran his ﬁngers over the glass. The chimp wrote something on the window with his ﬁngers and dropped his ﬁsts to the concrete ﬂoor. Clouds closed up the sky and spit on the windshield of the car. Bruce turned on the windshield wipers to see the monkey clearer. The chimp turned around and spotted them sitting in the car. “RREEE!” The monkey screeched and took off down the street using his hands and feet pounding the sidewalk propelling him forward. “Shit!” Bruce slipped out of the car and ran after the monkey. Dr. Stein was slow getting out of car and jogged after Bruce. Bruce felt good running after something. He didn’t feel like he was chasing a monkey, but a bag of money with a pair of legs. He could ﬁnally get out this job. Bruce ran across the street to where the monkey was and continued to chase after it. Bruce could feel the wind and rain continue to pelt him in the face. The chimp looked over his shoulder to see Bruce closing in on him fast. It leaped out into trafﬁc, darting from side to side, dodging the oncoming trafﬁc. HOOOONKK! HOOOONK! Cars swerved to the side of the road dodging the furry creature. The monkey maneuvered gaining distance quickly in the middle of the street. A yellow taxi swerved out of the way narrowly missing the animal. Bruce ran into trafﬁc attempting to snatch up the chimpanzee. He pulled out the tranquilizer gun from the holster and straightened his arm trying to ﬁre a shot. The sooner he could close the deal the sooner he could get his money. He eyed the shot again and again. The monkey jumped in between cars, each time making it more difﬁcult for Bruce to take ﬁre without missing. The monkey’s eyes grew wide. He was unable to dodge the oncoming car and leaped up onto the hood as it screeched to a stop. Bruce paused
and tried to get in a shot. The monkey resumed his speed leaping from moving car to moving car. Bruce chased after the monkey, his legs pumping ﬁre with each lift. He had to end this soon. He was losing fuel. They come to an intersection. A kid played with a baseball on the sidewalk, throwing it into the air and catching it in his plastic mitt. He fumbled ball into the street. Bruce watched as the kid ran into the center of the street reaching toward the ground for his ball. The monkey ran towards the child and pushed him out of the street, just missing colliding with a pickup truck. Bruce follows the chimp’s lead closing in after him. A little two-seater makes a quick turn onto the street. Bruce jumps, unable to evade the car, and crashes into the car’s windshield. His right arm is busted. He’s going to have to ﬁre with his left. Bruce shook off the pain and watched the monkey run into Gino’s fancy Italian restaurant. He looked behind to see the doctor steadily jogging after him. The doctor motioned with his hand to keep going after the monkey. Bruce bursts into the front of the restaurant. He had always thought about eating at this place. He had heard that they had a great red sauce. He ﬁgured that it would be hard to get a table after this. His cheek was cut from the glass of the windshield. It was bleeding down the front of his face, creating a hefty dry cleaning bill. He looked into the restaurant and there was no sign of the monkey. The waiter came over to Bruce, “Excuse me sir, but do you have a reservation?” Bruce looked down into the man’s eyes. The waiter cowered and slowly took a step back. Everyone’s eyes focused on the blood pulsing from Bruce’s cheek. Bruce remained silent. He raised the tranquilizer gun and pointed it into the crowd. The people ducked down beneath their table. AAAGGHGAGH! Bruce looked to where the woman was screaming. He could see a furry head bobbing up and down running along the ﬂoor of the restaurant. Bruce steadied his left hand and when the head popped up again; he ﬁred the tranquilizer. It broke a wine glass and hit a man in the chest. He fell ﬂat into soup on his table. “Shit!” Bruce ran after the monkey again. He reloaded the gun with another tranquilizer shot. This was the last shot. It needed to count. His legs had be-
come numb. He felt as if he was running on stumps. He pushed tables and chairs aside and chased the monkey into the kitchen. Bruce burst through the kitchen doors. The cooks pointed toward the back door heading out to the alley. Bruce ran out into the alley and spun around looking for the hairy little creature. A clang resounded from the ﬁre escape above him. Bruce looked up to see the monkey scurrying up the ladders to the rooftop. Bruce jumped up and grabbed for the ladder; it was out of his reach. He holstered the tranquilizer gun. The monkey continued to gain distance. He pushed an empty dumpster underneath the ladder and climbed up using his left arm. He could still see the monkey and had time to reach him before he got to the roof. He climbed and climbed. Of all buildings to pick, it was the ten-story building that the monkey picked. Bruce was losing his edge. He was getting slower. He could feel it in his arms and in his legs and in his feet. He could hear his heart pumping in his ears. His senses had dulled. He was a machine pumping and pushing forward. He was closing in. He was one ladder rung away from the monkey. The monkey leaped over the edge of the roof. Bruce followed and climbed up over the lip of the building to the roof. The rain came in sideways and washed the blood from Bruce’s face. It was hard to see. He looked around the rooftop and could not see any trace of the monkey. The rain had covered up any footprints that might have been left. It was dark and there were no lights on top of the roof, but he knew that the monkey was around. He could feel it in his skin. He remembered the doctor and peered over the edge of the building. Dr. Stein was slowly climbing up the ladders and making his way to the roof. Bruce took the tranquilizer gun from the holster and held it out in front of him with his left arm. The rain began to sting his face. He pushed the pain down. He focused on the money. He was going to get the money. He just needed to catch that damn dirty ape. He walked across the roof of building looking to his left and then to his right. He kept his eye peering down the sight of the gun. He came to other side of the building and there was still no sign of the monkey. He turned round keeping the gun held out in front of him. EEEEEAHGHG!
The beast leaped out and buried its teeth deep into Bruce’s left arm. Bruce screamed and ﬁred off the last shot of the tranquilizer gun. The gun fell to the ground, useless and broken. Bruce pounded on the animal with his busted right arm. He could feel his bones grinding against each other with every hit. He used his arm like medieval club beating down on the skull of the furry creep. The monkey swung around Bruce’s arm onto his back. The chimp wrapped it’s arms around Bruce’s neck. Bruce could feel the creature’s breath close to his hear. Then he could feel a warm wetness wrap itself around his entire ear. The monkey wrapped its jaw around Bruce’s ear and slowly tore the muscle and cartilage from the side of Bruce’s face. The monkey spit the ear from its mouth. Blood poured out from the Bruce’s ear. He could hear blood pumping from his open wound. He grabbed the monkey by the back of the neck and threw it off him onto the ground. The rain stung the wound with each drop sending a searing pain down Bruce’s spine. The monkey had been thrown down hard and was dizzy from the impact. Bruce reached down to his ankle pulled out the revolver from its holster. Dr. Stein climbed over the lip of the building, “NOOO!” Bruce unloaded into the animal. Each shot burying itself into the trunk of the beast. It died after the ﬁrst two shots had been ﬁred. The remaining four made the body of animal spasm and blood spurt form the gaping wounds. Blood dripped from the creature’s mouth signifying it’s passing on. Dr. Stein ran over to the monkey and knelt beside it. “No, no, no,” The doctor repeated the words over and over as it were a mantra. As if repeating the phrase would bring the animal back. “I told you no live ammo!” Dr. Stein yelled at the Bruce. “Well, you didn’t tell me it was going to tear my fucking ear off!” Bruce shouted back at the doctor. He looked around the ground for the ear. The rain had built up on the roof of the building and it seemed as if they were standing in a shallow pond. He found it and stuck his ear in his jacket pocket. Everything sounded weird to him now. It seemed hollow and airy without any volume. He would never hear anything the same any more. Dr. Stein wrapped his arms around the mon-
key and cradled it as if it were a child. He kissed the monkey’s forehead and weeped. His tears fell down his cheeks and onto the monkey’s body. The rain blended with the tears creating large drops of salty pain. The thoughts of getting caught for his experiments were no longer his worry. He didn’t care about his job any more. He sobbed and held the monkey’s head close to his chest. Bruce sat down and looked at the scene in front of him. A scientist cradling a deranged escaped science experiment, “It’s just a monkey, I’m sure there’s others.” Dr. Stein had stopped crying for the moment, “You don’t understand.” The doctor was right about that and then the doctor smiled. He brushed the hair out of the monkey’s face and rubbed the animal’s arms. “You see,” the doctor began, “this was my brother. It was his brain that I put in the monkey’s head. He was my brother, my real brother.” Bruce could feel his body shiver from the cold. He slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together, “Who were those people eating dinner?” Bruce asked. The doctor continued to smile looking at the animal in his arms, “I lied. I did know who they were. They were his wife and two daughters. It’s been three years since they last saw them. In fact it’s been three years today, I guess that’s why he wanted to escape. I don’t blame him. I hope he’s in a better place now.” Bruce looked at the animal’s face it seemed sad. It looked more human than beast and that made all the difference. Bruce wept. ---End
TIT FOR TAT by
Cormac Brown it’s one of those rare days in San Francisco
when it is actually hot. I came into the bar, not to get away from the stiﬂing heat; though I’m a native San Franciscan, somehow I am used to that. No, I came in here to get away from what? Only the Lord and Devil know. There was something that was bothering me, that I thought was gone from my mind like that formula you learn in school. The one you used to know that tells you where two trains traveling from the opposite ends of the country will meet up with each other. What’s the difference, anyway? If they are traveling in my head, they’re bound to crash. Ah, regardless, whatever it was that was simmering in the recesses of my brain, it was starting to stink my soul up. So, bartender? A little “amnesia juice” with a “selective memory chaser.” I pretty
much ignore the few people here and there, though one in particular catches my eye. He’s on the phone and he’s wearing a natty wool sport coat, even in this heat...vainglorious moron. “Did you know that stuff you drank was made in a dry county?” Now, I’ve been to this hole in the wall before, and I believe one of the reasons that I speciﬁcally picked it out, was because everyone in here keeps to themselves. There is a jukebox, but all it does is collect dust because no one comes in here to dance or get happy. They come in here to be ignored and to forget. So if a guy was dumb enough to ruin that implied code of silence, I would at best tell him to take a hike. Or at worse, lecture him about the code of silence around here and sucker punch him to make
sure that he got the point. Yet, I don’t get all sore, because the voice doesn’t belong to a guy, but a woman...what a woman. I mean a tomato, the tomato to end all tomatoes. She has my head spinning, or maybe it isn’t all her, because this isn’t the ﬁrst bar that I had been to today. But I digress. If she were in a beauty contest with Myrna Loy and Ella Raines, Myrna and Ella would come in a distant second and third place, in that order. She was a punch bowl full of pulchritude and I wanted to drink her in. “I said, did you know that whiskey was made in a dry county?” Am I going mental? All of my thoughts are playing musical chairs and it seems like nothing can lift the needle off the record. Here is the kind of brunette to make you forget blondes altogether, and somehow I can’t understand a word that she’s saying. Is it the booze? It is her looks? Is someone after me? Is there something I need to get done? This thing that keeps eating away at me, it’s bigger than a monkey on my back. It’s weighing me down more like King Kong, and on top of everything he’s holding Fay Wray and an airplane, too. The bartender winks at me and chimes in “he’s had about four too many.” He gives me a quick scowl, and then he goes back to washing his glasses. Something about this bottle jockey seems oddly familiar and I know it isn’t because I’ve seen him work here before. She looks down at my right forearm with a smile so warm that it could melt a glacier, as she sees the tattoo that is almost completely covered by my shirt. She lightly tugs on my short sleeve with her left pinkie nail and causes all kinds of problems, the most important one being that it is that my arm is the only thing keeping me from falling on my face. She purrs, “You want to show it to me.” It wasn’t a question. That gets mine and the rest of the bar’s attention. I’m speechless, though I’m fairly sure that she is talking about my tattoo. She leans into me and whispers into my ear. The whisper sends a shiver that bounces up and down my spine, like a kid playing paddleball. She whispers again and I shake my head. I gulp, “No. That’s not what that means. It comes
from an old English saying, meaning ‘blow for blow.’ This...for...that.” She looks me in the eyes, dips her left...then her right shoulder, and her dress slips. Wow. I go to a bar for a drink and a burlesque show breaks out. She catches the dress before it can fall below her navel, then she takes her time putting it back on. Fair is fair, but before I can respond in kind and show my tattoo, a bear gets up at the end of the bar. Did I say a “bear?” That’s the liquor talking. It’s a goon that looks like he’s half-Kodiak, halfman. As he lumbers towards me, someone or something lifts the needle and all the thoughts in my head sit down. The game of musical chairs for my thoughts is suddenly over and I’m more sober than I’ve been in quite awhile. That goon works for Briggs Colcannon and Briggs is what, or should I say who, has been eating at me. I see Briggs is the one in the sport coat as he glowers at me from his table, just before his goon is upon me. I calmly reach behind the bar for a bottle and crack it over the goon’s head. Everybody in the bar can tell you who got the worst of that exchange: the goon has a tiny cut on his forehead and a smile on his face, and my hand is cut open by the glass. The goon reaches for me and I duck under his grasp. By the time he turns around, I’ve caught him square in the nose with a barstool. The goon stiffens, then he leans forward for some more, which I dish to him with more panic than passion. I jab the barstool twice at his face, the ﬁrst blow connecting, and he snatches the stool out of my hands, on the second. He is a little woozy, but his anger seems to bring him to and I hit his legs with another bar stool. He drops to one knee and I’m swinging at him like Joe DiMaggio did two months ago, trying to keep his ﬁfty-six game hitting streak alive. The goon ﬁnally ﬂops to the ﬂoor. I could hit him again, but I have no beef with him as I’m here for Briggs Colcannon. Hell, I have no beef with Briggs either, and even though we’ve crossed paths over a dozen times, I never put it together as to just who he was. Briggs has double-crossed every mob, from the Italians, the Jews, the Basques, and even the Chinese. He has even cheated the politicians in Sacramento, and they
never forget. Miss Tit-for-Tat’s gorgeous eyes widen for a second and my head instinctively follows what startled her. The bartender is pulling a double-barreled shotgun and I panic, and hit him with a bottle. He winces and I yank the shotgun from his hands. Somehow, my dumb luck manages to hold up and the thing doesn’t go off. Yes, everybody who is anybody that makes a dollar the wrong way off of someone wants Briggs dead; nonetheless, he is impossible to get to. He is cousin to both the mayor and the police chief, though I doubt family loyalty is the reason they protect him as fervently they do. As Briggs’s meaty paw reaches into his natty sport coat, I realize the double-barreled shotgun is in my hands and he thinks I’m there to kill him, though I’m starting to have my doubts. I do know that I am a gambler with too many debts to forgive, and if the U.S. Government had to make good on them, it would bring back the Recession of 1937. So someone has sent me, a man with no common sense and nothing to lose, to take care of one of the most powerful men in California. Yet that someone is not a man who has lost money, political pride or had a man or friend killed by Briggs. No, Briggs took away the most important thing in the world to that man and here she is, standing right behind me. As Briggs and I simultaneously pull our triggers and I close my eyes, I think to myself that I don’t blame either man that has put me in this shootout. If ever there was a woman worth dying for... ...I open my eyes to Briggs looking right back at me. We both exhale, though his breath is his last. His natty sport coat is far from natty now, and though my shirt is a little wet from perspiration, it doesn’t have any holes in it. The little peashooter that Briggs had is on the ﬂoor, then I realize that someone could’ve been shot, so I turn around. At ﬁrst glance, everyone seems okay, then my eyes meet those of Miss Tit-for-Tat’s. Her eyes are unsure of what to make of me, and I’m not sure what to make of myself. I’m no killer and I can’t tell if she’s scared of me, or feels sorrow for the loss of Briggs. My eyes drift over to the bartender and through his scowl, he winks at me. I thought taking that shotgun was entirely too easy and that he looked too familiar. I look all the way around and wherever the
bullet that Briggs squeezed off went, it didn’t hit anybody. She looks at Briggs, then she looks away from me as I turn to go. Had we met under a different set of circumstances, I would’ve been Briggs right now, with my guts seeping to the ﬂoor. Because women like that are what brings out the Briggs Colcannon in the meekest of men, and we will never know what it is like to enjoy the company of, or keep a woman like that, for long. The sun blinds me as I walk out of the door and helps me get my bearings. I hop aboard a streetcar for Downtown, where I’ll take another streetcar across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland. The San Francisco waterfront is out, so hopefully the cops will be looking for me there, just as I’ll be sailing past Alcatraz. I have to pray that the former husband of Miss Tit-for-Tat made good and struck all of my gambling debts from the books, for a good accountant can do what no magician can do in real life, make something actually disappear. Either way, I’ll never come back to San Francisco. A friend of mine told me about Hong Kong and said they treat American men there like kings, and that you can’t beat the food. Things with the Japanese are getting hairy on that end of the Paciﬁc, so the ship I’m sailing out on is bound for Hawaii, where it’s nice and quiet. The ship is taking a drawn-out and convoluted path, so we won’t get there until right around the ﬁrst week of December. ---End
Or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Michael Mignola and Christopher Golden Reviewed by Katherine Tomlinson
this illustrated novel is collaboration between the man who created Hellboy and Bram Stoker Award-winning novelist Golden. The result is a stylish dark fantasy with enough literary trappings to entice readers who wouldnâ€™t ordinarily be caught dead (undead?) reading a graphic novel. Itâ€™s a character study featuring four distinctly different men with experience in the paranormal, all of whom have very different stories to tell. We are in an unnamed European city, sometime during the years of Great War. The battles still rage, but a plague born of vampire blood breath is abroad and inside the City, everything is dead. In fact, the plague has reduced the war to a mere sideshow, fought only by those who cannot admit that it no longer matters.
The men, who are strangers to one another, have been summoned by Captain (Lord) Henry Baltimore, whose friendship they have in common. They arrive at their destination—a deserted inn—before Baltimore and pass the time by exchanging tales of horror. Merchant sea captain Demetrius Alschros met Baltimore when he ferried him across the English Channel after he was wounded in the forest of Ardennes. Thomas Childress, Jr. is a childhood friend of Baltimore’s; Dr. Lemuel Rose is the surgeon who removed Baltimore’s leg when it was shattered by machine gun ﬁre. Dr. Rose shares a confession Baltimore made after the surgery—a fantastical anecdote of him waking on the battleﬁeld with a vampire standing over him, breathing a crimson mist into his wound. At the time, the doctor dismissed the story as the raving of a fevered mind, but in the wake of the plague that has devastated Europe, he is not so sure. Which leads him to his own tale of horror, an experience that left him open to believing things he would otherwise have dismissed. The other men counter with tales that are just as horriﬁc, and by the time Baltimore ﬁnally arrives, they’re ready for whatever proposal he might have. Or at least they think they are. And as the shadows deepen, the four men (one of whom is no longer mortal) confront the vampire and learn that he is not the ultimate horror they must face. This is an extremely literate fusion of graphic novel and conventional horror tale. The setup somewhat reminds us of Heart of Darkness, where men waiting for the tide share stories of their adventures. It is also reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the legend of Beowulf and any number of Victorian/Gothic horror tales. (The language is deliberately archaic at times, which only adds to this impression.) The authors’ vision of the master vampire and the plague unleashed by his summoning is a rare achievement considering that the genre is so overstuffed with books and movies and comic books and … you name it. The vision of the vampire breathing his pestilential red mist breath into Baltimore’s wound is chilling and disturbing. (It also evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death.” Mignola’s stark illustrations are evocative and moody, a treat for his fans. The characters are a lot richer than the usual graphic novel protagonists, and the plague-ﬁghting, vampire-hunting foursome have their own discrete personalities that emerge through their story-telling. We gradually come to learn why these men have been chosen for the task before them. Of the four men, Dr. Rose probably makes the strongest impression. Addicted to opium, mutilated by his creditors, and cynical to the end, his tale of a demon bear is the best of the tales told at the inn. The book is a bit episodic. On top of the shifting points of view, the story also includes the reveries of an actual Tin Soldier, one that used to belong to Baltimore when he was a child. The Tin Soldier’s fears and memories are used in ironic counterpoint to the ﬂesh and blood (and undead) characters and creatures that populate the story. These dreamlike interludes are strange and compelling. The story’s spell is complete and of a piece with its period setting, which makes the mystery more compelling. (Somehow it’s easier to believe in demons on a WWI battleﬁeld than in a modern, civilian setting.) War is hell, and Lord Baltimore and his friends bear witness to that statement. At the end of the tale the authors have set up a sequel and readers will ﬁnd themselves wishing they could read the next adventure of these intrepid monster-hunters right now. Available August 28, 2007 ---End
HOW “THE SHADOW” MOVIE WENT WRONG or
Alec Baldwin Stole My Comic Books by
“Movie poster for THE SHADOW.”
the super-hero movie phase, at one point considered dead after the release of the dismal SUPER-
MAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE in 1987 , was back in swing in the summer of 1993. Warner Brothers’ success with BATMAN in 1989 and its sequel, BATMAN RETURNS in 1992, had lead other studios to jump on the bandwagon, and try to create their own super-hero franchises. Not just any super-heroes , though; they had to be dark avengers in the Batman mold. Universal Studios made what, at least on paper, was a wise decision: make a movie about a character who pre-existed - and in fact was a major inﬂuence on - Batman. That character was Walter Gibson’s The Shadow. They cast as the lead a young actor who had gotten critical acclaim for his performances (even getting a full-page write-up in TIME MAGAZINE), and was coming into his own as a leading man: Alec Baldwin. It sure seemed like a winning combination. Flash forward a year, to July, 1994. THE SHADOW opens to, at best, tepid reviews. I ignored the reviews, ﬁgured I’ll judge the ﬁlm for its own merits, and have it fail or succeed based on my own opin-
Well, my opinion ended up in agreement with pretty much everyone else: THE SHADOW was pretty bad. And the bad reviews, coupled with a domestic gross that barely matched the ﬁlm’s budget - meaning it lost money for the studio - put an immediate end to any hope of a sequel or possible franchise. How could it have gone so wrong? I asked myself. Didn’t I send them research material so they could see how to do it right? Yes, I did, and therein lies part of our tale. In the ﬁrst half of the 1990s I was deputy mayor of East Hampton, a town on the east end of Long Island. For nine months of the year it was a typical, quiet small town,. During the three months of summer, however, the population increased ﬁve or six times - more on the weekends - as vacationers from New York City and elsewhere descended on our little piece of heaven. Many of those summer visitors were celebrities: actors and actresses, famous directors, authors, debutantes, and spoiled trust fund babies. Some of them actually liked our town so much that they made it their year-round home. One of these celebrities was Alec Baldwin. It wasn’t much of move for Mr. Baldwin, relatively speaking. Sure, he was an up-and-comer in Hollywood, but he was also a Long Island boy, born and raised in Massapequa. Of course, Massapequa was a suburb of New York City, while East Hampton remained quite and rural, and about as far as you could get from the city without driving into the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, Alec Baldwin was a new resident of the town. He and Kim Bassinger (they were not married yet) bought a house just down the road from Lorne Michaels and Billy Joel (in a few years some guy named Jerry Seinfeld would move into the neighborhood). It was an older house, in need of some repair and renovation, which is what Mr. Baldwin started doing. And that’s when the trouble started. Mr. Baldwin had applied for a variance to restore a chimney on his house. His nearest neighbors, who were the people who sold him the house, immediately objected to the variance. They claimed that the chimney would (and I’m not making this up) block their light and air. (Which brings to mind THE SIMPSONS episode where Mr. Burns builds a device that blocks the sun for the entire town.) Now, I’m going from memory here, so I probably don’t have the sequence right: Mr. Baldwin’s variance was approved; the neighbors sued the Town for granting the variance; a letter-writing war ensued in the local weekly paper (the particularly nasty type of war you can only see in small town papers); and in the end the Baldwin chimney triumphed. My ofﬁce got involved in the ﬁght because we, along with the building inspector and the majority of the appeals board, agreed with Mr. Baldwin. The long and short of it is that Mr. Baldwin and my boss, the mayor, became close friends. Mr. Baldwin also became quite involved in local issues, and constantly expressed an interest in running for local ofﬁce. I was never heavily involved in this relationship. My function was running the day-to-day administrative functions of the ofﬁce; my boss handled the glad-handing, and the politics, and hobnobbed with the celebrities. This was a great arrangement, as I hated the political aspect of the job. However, there were times when Mr. Baldwin would call the ofﬁce and my boss was out, so then he and I would talk.
At one point in early summer 1993, Mr. Baldwin called the ofﬁce from Los Angeles, but both my boss and I were out. I got the message when I returned, so I called the number listed. The person who answered the phone said, “Cranston Productions.” A light bulb went off in my head and a smile ﬂashed on my face. When Mr. Baldwin came on the line, our conversation went kind of like this: ME: So, you’re making a movie about The Shadow? BALDWIN: Who told you? [like it’s supposed to be a state secret] ME: The ofﬁce said “Cranston Productions.” Lamont Cranston is The Shadow’s alter-ego. BALDWIN: And how do you know that? I explained that I was life-long comic fan, and while I would never consider myself an expert on The Shadow, I was enjoying the excellent comic series THE SHADOW STRIKES that DC Comics was publishing at the time. I suggested he check it out. The conversation then moved on to whatever subject it was that he had called about originally. This was well before the Internet became a part of everyday life. Heck, at the time I didn’t even have a computer. Hollywood news was not the major facet of American life like it is now. The only way to get information was through ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, which I never watched, or the major trades - VARIETY or THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER - and most people outside of the “business” didn’t read them. So I felt rather clever to have deduced that a movie about The Shadow was being made. I felt even better that I knew, even as a passing acquaintance, the lead actor. Then I had an idea: perhaps I could make sure that the movie would be better than most other comic/pulp hero ﬁlms (i.e. SUPERMAN 3 and 4; MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE; SUPERGIRL; and the icing on this terrible cake, DOC SAVAGE). I boxed-up my thirty-odd issues of THE SHADOW STRIKES comic. I included a long letter to Mr. Baldwin, ex“Alec Baldwin as The Shadow.” plaining that by reading the comics he would see how The Shadow should be portrayed, and what sort of tone the movie should take. I addressed it to him care of Cranston Productions and sent it off, conﬁdent that I had done my part to create a ﬁlm masterpiece. Naive? You bet. I had no inkling about production schedules, or the lead time that goes into a Hollywood feature, or even the legalities of production companies accepting unsolicited material. High school kids today seem to know ten times more about ﬁlm production than I did then. Still, the box was in the mail, and I went back to running the town. The Shadow movie was shoved in the back of my puny little mind. Only when the movie neared release did I start to wonder how much of the comic books I had sent would be incorporated in the ﬁnal product. Zero to none, as it tuned out. While THE SHADOW STRIKES writer Gerard Jones and artist Eduardo Barretto had produced a near-perfect blending of 1930s pulps with a modern storytelling twist, the movie had decided to go the camp route, ala the BATMAN TV series of the 1960s. The plot of the ﬁlm is fairly standard: Shiwan Khan, the last descendant of Genghis Khan, and allaround no-goodnik, smuggles himself to New York. By using his great mental powers, he has learned that Dr. Reinhardt Lane is constructing an atomic bomb in the middle of New York City. Khan intends to use the bomb to hold the city for ransom, the ﬁrst step in conquering the world and establishing a new Mongol Empire. The Shadow learns of this mainly from Shiwan Khan, who pays him a social visit and spills the
beans. Khan feels an afﬁnity for The Shadow because they learned their mystical powers from the same teacher. It would seem, though, that Shiwan Khan was the better student because his powers are more developed than The Shadow’s. There is a showdown between the two, with The Shadow ﬁnally unlocking the full potential of his powers in order to defeat Khan. The atomic bomb is defused, the city is saved, and The Shadow continues to ﬁght crime. First things ﬁrst: the ﬁlm couldn’t make up its mind which version of The Shadow it wanted to portray. While it’s true that the vast majority of Americans during the 1930s and 1940s were more familiar with the radio show version, it is the pulp version that has remained popular since then, and is the version that has been depicted in other media (books and comics). The Shadow on the radio used mystical powers to cloud mens’ minds to make himself invisible. The Shadow in the pulps had no mystical powers, dressed in black literally hid and travelled in shadows. On the radio, The Shadow is really Lamont Cranston, New York playboy, whose girlfriend, Margo Lane, knows his double identity. In the pulp version, The Shadow is really Kent Allard, who takes on the identity of Lamont Cranston (as well as others). He doesn’t encounter Margo Lane until pretty late in the game (after the radio series introduced her); she doesn’t know The Shadow’s identity and isn’t his girlfriend. In neither version is she a psychic, as she’s portrayed in the ﬁlm. The ﬁlm tried to combine the two versions of The Shadow, and it actually works. I liked how the ﬁlmmakers incorporated the mystical power of The Shadow making himself invisible. I also liked how Cranston’s handsome features became The Shadow’s familiar hawk-like visage (it was his dark side given form). This prevented Mr. Baldwin from spending the entire ﬁlm wearing a nose prosthesis (which made him look so much like his brother, Billy Baldwin, that I wondered why they didn’t cast him). But then the ﬁlmmakers went too far. Not only can The Shadow become invisible, but now he’s telepathic, and by the end of the ﬁlm telekinetic as well. His powers are also treated inconsistently: in one scene he is actually trapped by a ﬂashlight beam while invisible, yet later on a ﬂashlight does not affect him. Another time, The Shadow is invisible to Tim Curry’s character, Claymore, yet Claymore claims to be immune to The Shadow’s ability to inﬂuence his mind (Margo also has this immunity). This made no sense: shouldn’t The Shadow be visible to Claymore, then? Our ﬁrst glimpse of The Shadow is actually kind of impressive. He looks like he appeared on the old pulp covers, except something’s missing. Oh, that’s right, his long cloak. Don’t worry, it’s mysteriously in place in the next shot, although it has a tendency to disappear randomly through the rest of the ﬁlm. It’s best not to look too close at The Shadow’s make-up, either. In medium and long shots, it’s ﬁne, but I was reminded how bad it was when I saw the ﬁlm on TV recently. There is a ﬁnal close-up of The Shadow, which then morphs into a stylized drawing . Here you can see the tape for fake eyebrows and the putty where the fake nose is attached to the face. It’s really amateurish, and extremely noticeable on a TV screen. Imagine how it looked on a movie screen. Alec Baldwin looks the part of a typical New York playboy. The problem is, his Cranston is a lightweight who talks like a street tough half the time (“You know I’m gonna stop you.” “Hey, that’s the U S of A yer talkin’ about, pal.”). There is none of the sophistication demonstrated by either the radio or pulp version of Cranston. As The Shadow, Mr. Baldwin has the right voice for the character, but his laugh is a
little too high, a little too strident. It doesn’t carry the menace that it should. And, of course, The Shadow is given stupid one-liners like most movie action heroes (i.e. “Next time, you get to be on top.”), which are completely out of character. Besides Alec Baldwin, the cast includes Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane, John Lone as the villainous Shiwan Khan, Sir Ian McKellen as Dr. Reinhardt Lane, Tim Curry as Claymore, Peter Boyle as Shreevy, and Jonathan Winters as Commissioner Wainwright Barth. Mr. Lone and Mr. Boyle are well-cast and fare the best in their roles. Mr. Lone has a grand time playing the over-the-top bad guy. He’s completely believable as a barbarian in one scene, dressed impeccably in a Brooks Brothers suit, yet eating with gusto with his hands. Mr. Boyle is perfect as Shreevy the cab driver, and provides a good comic relief. Unfortunately, everyone else thinks they’re the comedy relief as well. Ms. Miller is a poor Margo Lane. Getting past the psychic abilities that the ﬁlmmakers give her character, her Margo has none of the moxie displayed in the radio show or the pulps. This Margo is a ditz, more of a hindrance than the partner she was in the radio show. There also never seems to be any chemistry between her and Mr. Baldwin. The Nick and Nora Charles-like byplay that the characters shared on the radio show is, in the ﬁlm, destroyed by lame dialogue and poor timing (i.e. Cranston: “Psychically, I’m very well endowed”. Margo: “I bet you are.”)
“Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane.” Sir Ian McKellen, while a great actor, plays his part of the absent-minded scientist too broadly. We’re supposed to believe that a man who can build an atomic bomb by himself can’t tell the difference between red and green? His Dr. Lane seems feeble and in need of round-the-clock supervision; not the type of man I want working alone on an atomic bomb. Tim Curry as Claymore does his very best to ruin the movie all by himself. The man does not know the meaning of the word “subtle”. In every scene he is as over-the-top as humanly possible, as cartoonish a performance as can be imagined. Cruel as it may sound, I cheered when his character met his doom. Finally, Jonathan Winters is an excellent comedian. However, casting him in the role of Commissioner Barth is a subtle signal to the audience to not take anything seriously. Mr. Winters doesn’t have a great deal of screen time, and he keeps his mugging to a bare minimum, but you can almost hear the ﬁlm
crew laughing off-camera every time he appears. Besides the campiness of the ﬁlm, it looks cheap as well. Early on, there is a scene that takes place on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s obviously a set, and a bad one at that, more in line with what one might expect for a lower-budgeted TV series, not a feature ﬁlm. That speaks for the rest of the movie. Although the ﬁlm is set in New York City, it always looks like a backlot. In most scenes, the streets are too empty of cars and pedestrians. The background matte paintings are obvious and badly integrated with the rest of the scene. The New York skyline looks like a bad model. During a scene at the observation deck of the Empire State Building, a model plane on a string is passed through the background. Everything is too brightly lit, even the night scenes. THE SHADOW should have been ﬁlmed darkly, like a ﬁlm noir. As it is, I’m surprised that they didn’t ﬁlm day-for-night (when nighttime scenes are shot during the day, but with a ﬁlter over the lenses to make it appear darker; used a lot in the old days of Hollywood). The ﬁlm is littered with sequences and plot points that defy logic, physics, or just plain common sense. A few examples, in no particular order: - Shiwan Khan is powerful enough to hypnotize an entire city (including The Shadow) into thinking that the Hotel Monolith is invisible; but instead of using that power to have banks turn over all their money to him, he goes through the elaborate scheme with the atomic bomb. - Shiwan Khan favors a one-shot pistol. Real handy when going up against a hero armed with twin automatics. - All of The Shadow’s agents are outﬁtted with red jeweled rings which blink when he summons them. While that’s a great visual cue for the movie (one not used in the radio show or the pulps), it must be hard to explain. Imagine Shreevy sitting down to dinner with the wife, and his ring starts glowing. MRS. SHREVNITZ: So I was saying to Marge, “Marge,” I said, “You can’t trust a man who--” Holy sheep dip, Moe! Why is your ring blinking? - Dr. Lane constructs his top secret atomic bomb in a room in the Federal Building, guarded by only two guards. And, despite being a brilliant nuclear physicist, his lab looks like a huge chemistry set. - There is a long sequence, which seems like it takes three minutes, where Cranston goes across town to The Shadow’s sanctum to receive a ten second message. - The Shadow confronts Claymore inside a large water tank. Why Claymore goes into the water tank, or why The Shadow is waiting there for him is never explained. Claymore shoots The Shadow, then traps the hero inside the rapidly-ﬁlling tank. The Shadow never thinks to shoot out the glass in the tank door. And somehow, physics in this universe works in a way so that air bubbles come into the tank through bullet holes, despite the enormous water pressure. - There is too much Lamont Cranston, and very little of The Shadow. In fact, most of the ﬁnal battle with Shiwan Khan is fought by Cranston, not The Shadow. - Shiwan Khan orders that the timer on the atomic bomb be set for two hours, but the digital timer on the bomb reads 160 minutes. - Cranston is followed by one of Khan’s Mongol warriors. Despite the fact that the warrior is in full armor, no one sharing the sidewalk with him seems to notice. I could go on and on, but why belabor the point. Watch the movie and see for yourself. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. In the meantime, I wonder what happened to my comics, since the ﬁlmmakers didn’t use them. I never had any chance to speak with Mr. Baldwin after the movie came out, so I never asked him. I left East Hampton and politics in 1996, and never looked back (although not, despite the rumors, run out of town on a rail). Perhaps my package never made it to Hollywood. Maybe Mr. Baldwin got it and thought it was a wedding present (he got married shortly after ﬁlming THE SHADOW; and Lordy, there’s a tale there). Maybe it was placed in a ﬁle for boxes from psychotic fans. Maybe it’s in a warehouse, stored next to the
Ark of the Covenant. Or maybe he’s got the comics at his house, pulls them out once in awhile to read, thinking about what might have been. All I know for sure is, THE SHADOW STRIKES was one heck of a comic series, and one of the best Shadow series ever. It was certainly better than DC’s previous Shadow series. That comic book set in the 1980s, mercifully ended after The Shadow’s head was cut off and stuck on a robot body. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed THE SHADOW STRIKES until recently, when I was able to luck onto the entire run during a sale at my favorite comics shop (shout out to “The House of Secrets!”). I was even able to get an issue I had missed originally, the last issue of the series, with a gorgeous cover by Mike Mignola. In this series we get a Shadow that is mysterious; a grim avenger ﬁghting crime and dispensing justice with twin .45 automatics. We have a Margo Lane who is smart, feisty, reliable and a valuable resource for The Shadow. We have Harry Vincent, The Shadow’s main agent, and the one with the most appearances in the pulps. We have other agents of The Shadow involved in the stories, including Burbank, Shreevy, Jericho Drum, and Hawkeye. And, what was perhaps the most fun for me, we have a great four-part crossover between The Shadow and Doc Savage, whose comic book adventures DC was also publishing at the time. Now there’s talk of Sam Raimi, director of the SPIDER-MAN and EVIL DEAD ﬁlms, producing a new Shadow movie. Given Mr. Raimi’s track record, and reputed love of The Shadow, I feel pretty conﬁdent about this ﬁlm. This might be the time when Hollywood actually gets it right. This time, however, they’ll have to do it without any help from me. I’m not sending my comics books to anyone. --- End
The Package (part one) by
Greg Stephens “delores, is that you?” As I sat in my ofﬁce, it didn’t seem my secretary had been gone long enough to get my black with two sugars. I didn’t hear any knocking, however, and I wasn’t expecting any company. “I’m sorry, Mr. Escobar,” she said as she slowly opened my private ofﬁce door. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but there was no one at the desk. Could I speak to you?” She sure could. This lady was tall, classy and full of legs. I didn’t know who she was, or what she wanted, but I intended to ﬁnd out. As I got up to greet my guest, my ﬁrst guess was that she was a typical socialite wife who thought her husband had a squeeze on the side and wanted me to snap a few pictures to impress a divorce judge into giving her more of his dough. As she approached and ﬁrmly shook my hand, I could tell that wasn’t the case. She was too conﬁdent, too sure. Dames that think their husbands are stepping out on them are always nervous and fragile. “Certainly,” I responded. “What can I do for you? My name is Harlan Escobar, by the way, and you are?” “Pennywell. Agnes Pennywell. Thank you for your time. I need to hire you to do something for me,” she said as she sat down at my desk. I sat on the desk corner next to her and pulled my cigarette case from my jacket. “Can I interest you in a cigarette?” I asked, holding the case open for her. “No, thank you.” “Mind if I have one?” I asked. “Please, go ahead.” As I lit up, I liked this lady. She was classy, but not above herself. She was conﬁdent, but not cocky. What could she want with a gumshoe? “So,” I continued. “What exactly can I do for you?” She stood and continued, “I will pay you ﬁve hundred dollars cash to pick up a package for me at
the post ofﬁce.” I chuckled. I knew there was no such thing as easy money. I also knew that if it was too easy, it was too good to be true. “Alright, I’ll bite since you have my attention. Why would you need to give me that much dough to pick up a package at the post ofﬁce? I mean, that’s a lot of cash to get one package. What’s the scam?” “Oh, no scam, Mr. Escobar. I need this package picked up and a mutual friend of ours recommended you,” she stated. “Really? Who might this friend be,” I asked, my curiosity piqued. “Ben Roberts,” she said. Ben Roberts was a friend of mine on the police force. In fact, he wasn’t just on the force. He was a lieutenant. I had known Ben for years. Ben was a good guy. He was one of the few straight guys on the force that didn’t treat us private dicks like dirt. He let me do my job, and I let him do his. If Ben sent this dame, I felt it must be on the up and up. “Alright, Mrs. Pennywell. Tell me why you need me to get this package. What is it?” I asked. “Mr. Escobar. My husband is a very powerful man. Unfortunately, our marriage is about at its end. He won’t let me go without a ﬁght. I’ve had to take some extreme steps to arrange some funds so I can leave town. I’ve sold some of my personal articles and the funds are in that package. The problem is, I know my husband is having me followed pretty closely. If I try to pick that package up, I’m dead.” If she was being followed, why did she come here? I decided to pull back—at least for now. I’d take her money, get her comfortable, then go talk to Ben, try to see what he knew about all this. “Alright, Mrs. Pennywell. Give me the claim ticket, and the cash, and tell me when you need this package.” She opened her handbag and gave me a ticket stub, along with an envelope. I was more interested in the envelope. To my great satisfaction, it con-
tained ten brand-new ﬁfty dollar bills. I walked her out of the ofﬁce just as Delores returned. “Did I miss something?” Delores asked, handing me my coffee. “Yeah, ﬁve hundred big ones. Could you get Ben Roberts on the phone for me?” “Thanks for meeting me, Ben. Can I get you a sandwich?” As Ben sat across from me at Minnie’s Diner, I could tell he was anxious. Maybe his boss wouldn’t be crazy about him meeting up with me during the day. Maybe he knew what this conversation was about. “No thanks, Harlan. I’m supposed to be in a meeting with my chief right now. I told him I had an emergency call. I better be right.” Ben’s chief and I had a few run-ins over the years. He was a young captain who went by the book, even if it meant blowing a case. There were many times Ben called me, asking me to do him a favor because Captain Lotterby had messed something up. The captain certainly never heard that in order to make an omelet, you had to break a few eggs. In my business, the omelet got made, and it didn’t matter how many eggs got broken. “I’ll be quick, Ben. This Pennywell dame you sent me. What’s the story on her? What do you know?” As he took a sip of his coffee, he immediately acknowledged my question with a nod of the head. “I’ll tell you what I know. Agnes Pennywell and my wife know each other. Not real well, but a little. She comes to me with some story about needing a package picked up, but she can’t do it herself on account of her husband. Here’s the problem. I ﬁnd out her husband is out of the country on business, and has been for well over a year. Then, I have some friends of mine do a little snooping around, you know, just keep their ears to the ground, and I think she’s got something illegal in that package.” Even though things were starting to make a little more sense, although not for the good, I interrupted with a question. “Why, then, would she come to a cop about this package? Did she expect the cops would pick whatever this is up for her?” He shook his head. “No. She speciﬁcally asked if I knew a trustworthy private eye that could pick the package up for her. I ﬁgure she is using both of us to get this package and, if on some chance
someone got wise to what was inside, she could be long gone before anyone connected her.” That made a little more sense. Still, something wasn’t quite answered. “Ben, what do you think is in this package, and how would your people know all this?” “My people know her husband is a jeweler. In fact, he’s a big time jewel dealer. Nothing crooked. Everything’s on the up and up. But they did some digging in his records—mail and bank statements—and discovered a shipment of jewels coming to town in his name. The only problem is, he ain’t here to get them. We suspect she’s had them ordered using his accounts and credentials and, when they get here, she’ll take off with them, leaving nobody any the wiser.” That sounded like a more reasonable explanation than the one she gave me. I go pick up the goods, give them to her, she and who knows who else head off far away. By the time the husband ﬁnds out, no one will have a clue where she is. Plus, if something goes wrong, I get nabbed for taking delivery of fraudulently obtained stones, she beats town, and I play the patsy. “So, what should I do?” I asked Ben. “Go get the package. I’ll make sure there are no cops around, so nothing can go wrong. I’ll meet you at your place tonight at ten o’clock. Once I get the package, I’ll have the evidence to put her away.” Later that day, I went to the post ofﬁce and picked up the package, with Ben being good to his word. Everything went off without a hitch. The package was about the size of two pairs of shoes and seemed to weigh forty pounds. If these were jewels like Ben suspected, there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in my hands. I took a cab home, as I didn’t want to walk around the city streets if I had that much money in stones on me. I told the driver to take the long way to the Shadynook Apartments, and I had him take the route twice. I wasn’t going to take any chances of someone tailing me back to my place. Once I got back to my place, I poured myself a scotch and waited. The seconds ticked by as if they were hours. I was nervous—real nervous. If this was Pennywell’s scam, I didn’t know what else she was capable of. Was she having me watched to make sure I didn’t double-cross her? Was she in
cahoots with someone that might try to show up and double-cross her? Would she come and claim the package, while perhaps thinking of erasing the only possible witness—me? Finally, Ben knocked on my door. I left the package on the far table away from the door, unopened. I didn’t even know what was in the package yet, and I didn’t want to until Ben arrived. I let Ben in. He was alone. I could tell he was anxious to be there. “Harlan, did you get the package?” he asked. “Yeah, Ben I did. Won’t you have a seat? Maybe have a scotch with me?” He began pacing, looking for the package. “Really, Harlan, thanks, but I can’t. Just give me the package and let me get going.” I knew the moment it happened. I saw his eyes connect with the package on the table. “Well, Ben, there’s one little problem. I can’t exactly give you the package just yet.” Ben stopped cold and gave me a very distressed glare. “What do you mean you can’t give me the package? This is police business. Hand it over.” “No, you see, I can’t do that. Something bothered me a little from our conversation earlier. I’ve been around the block enough to know that, if this was a fraud involving a lot of money’s worth of jewels, this isn’t the way this would have went down,” I replied. Ben became increasingly agitated. “What do you mean by that?” he demanded. “Well, I know if things were as you said, you guys would have to get the feds involved, seeing how the postal system was used. Not only did you not involve the ‘g’, but you also used me in this operation, which told me Lotterby knows nothing about this arrangement. So, tell me, are you here to collect for Pennywell, or are you here to doublecross her?” With that, Ben pulled his gun from his pocket. He knew the jig was up and, if he had his way, he’d take all the jewels and end this friendship the hard way. “Harlan, I wish you would have just stuck to the plan. There is no way I’m letting you mess all this up now.” “Alright, Ben, take it easy. We can work all this out. Let’s not let this come between our friendship. Tell me. Who was the brain, you or Pennywell?”
He laughed as he pushed me aside and grabbed the package. “Believe me. Agnes wasn’t smart enough to come up with this herself. I put it all together. I just used her resources to make it happen. Once you got on the case, her part was ﬁnished. She became ‘expendable’ at that point.” Expendable? Not only was my buddy a fraud and a thief, was he now also a murderer? And if he killed his partner, was I next? “Ben? You killed Pennywell?” I asked in disbelief. “Yeah, Harlan. Sorry about that. She had to go. She thought we were going to run away together and split the loot. That wasn’t quite in my plans. Unfortunately, neither was what I now have to do.” As he raised his gun and pointed it at my chest, I shouted, “Now!” Three federal agents barreled into my living room from the bedroom. They caught Ben by surprise, throwing his attention off me long enough for me to knock the gun from his hand. All three of the agents tackled him and handcuffed him. “Ben Roberts,” said one of the agents. “You are under arrest for mail fraud and theft for using the United States Postal Service to fraudulently obtain and illegally import jewels. I suspect you will also be arrested by the local boys for the murder of Agnes Pennywell.” And so it came to that. In a brief twelve hour period, I met a beautiful dame, helped stop a jewel heist, and almost died. On top of that, that doll was now somewhere pushing up daises, and my good friend Ben Roberts was on his way to the joint for the rest of his life. The funny thing was, who knew what the next day would bring to top all that. ---End
Tokyo Rubble Redux - a love story by
Thierry Gaulligiere keika pushed and plowed her way through
the mob. Elevator banks opened, vomiting dozens more into the panicked swarm in the building’s atrium. She leapt onto the security desk near the front doors to attempt a better vantage point. Beneath the cacophony of chaos beat the slow, deep rhythmic rumbling of a land masses’ heart with a mufﬂed RUUHM. Low level bureau- and technocrats scurried like ants from a garden hose-induced ﬂooding of a nest. Each ill-ﬁtting shoe skittered to and fro, yearning to return home to their 120 square foot apartment and let the head kiss the kids goodbye once more. A corpulent security guard, at ﬁrst caught up in the confusion and whisked twenty feet into the sea of bodies, regained his composure and noticed a young woman on his desk. “Hey you! Get off that console! That’s nice wood!” he yelled over the noise. Keika turned to the security guard and he recognized the distinctive blue logo on the name badge. Domestic Security Task Force. “My mistake, miss,” he mumbled. “Stay up there all you like.” Keika glowered down at the man. “I’m looking for Major Yoshida. Where is he?” Before he could answer her, the crowd was hushed by the death knell: the steady rumbling was louder and more distinctive - a resonant DOOOM that reverberated through the walls, across the ﬂoor and up the spine of every vertebrate in the city. The spooked crowd also parted at the opening of the emergency elevator on the southern end of the atrium. Out scrambled the security team in full riot gear, unfolding itself against a tall, striding ﬁgure at its center. The leader held up his hand for quiet. News crews moved in, illuminating him with camera lights. The man stopped and turned slightly to show his good side – courage ready for its close-up. A kid in the crowd watched the simulcast from his Watchman©, focusing on the man’s strong, concerned brow. “Please remain calm. This is neither a drill
nor the ﬁrst time this has happened. The safest thing is to stay where you are. We’re doing everything we can.” With that he turned to his aide-de-camp and shot a look. His young lieutenant stepped in front of his superior. “Get these cameras out of here. This is not a press conference. We’re here trying to save lives!” Keika and the commando leader locked gazes. Neither tried to show what they feeling at the moment. The security guard held out a hand to Keiko helping her down off the console. “I think you found him.” The rumbling thumped louder now, rattling the building with a GUNGG. The Major was nodding attentively to the small group of men when Keika reached him. “—just reached land, Sir. Seven clicks away from city center.” “Make sure the fence is hot,” the Major growled, still looking at Keika. “And get a tank battalion at the mouth of the harbor.” With that the Sergeant left and another took his place. Keika studied his face as he was briefed by his intelligence staff. She loved the man that no one ever got to see. Tetsuo Yoshida was on the fast track for General, the son of samurai, but opted instead to head the aptly renamed Deterrence Force. Outwardly, he was the perfect man for the job – tall, muscular frame accentuated by the face and voice of a foreign war correspondent groomed for an anchorman’s position. His was the ﬁrst face, the ﬁrst voice the country showed whenever the panic struck, before PM, or even the Emperor. He was the public salve to the all-too-frequent national anxiety. They loved him, they needed him, but they did not know him, thought Keika. This was the same man, who now ignored the increasingly deafening GUUNG which shook the earth to its molten core, making his team wince and shudder who cooked for her on lazy weekends, feeding her by hand. The same man who once wrote her twenty-six haikus illustrat-
ing his yearning for her and hid it in her knapsack, which she opened and with an embarrassing chuckle in a commission meeting, now concentrated on the reports by his staff, muttering orders and making instant, life-balancing decisions. He was the star student of her father’s, the one who understood better than anyone that this was not an enemy to destroy – it is a force that cannot be destroyed, merely cajoled and diverted. Fixing Keiko with his eyes, Major Tetsuo Yoshida asked her – wait. “How long until at outer rim perimeter?” Lieutenant Nakane peeked at a handheld radar display. A large blip inched through the outermost rings towards the center. “At current rate of speed and assuming that defenses have no effect, ﬁfteen minutes, sir.” “The tension wires should stall for a couple of minutes, at least,” said Keika. The major scratched his squared-jaw and out crept the thinnest of smiles. “Fine. You all know what to do – get to your positions and wait for my command.” Keika’s smile mirrored his own. “Have my vehicle ready. It leaves in ten minutes. I need to look over some more ﬁgures.” Deep inside the reinforced, airtight command bunker a half mile below the city streets, Dr. Kitaru readjusted himself in his chair. Computer charts, graphs, video surveillance and every other possible type of head-up display caught his attention on the bank of monitors. A plateau of lines spiked as the audio feed picked up the sound: KOOHM. A cluster of uniformed generals and policy men hovered behind the slight, balding scientist. “Well?” asked the most commanding of the authoritative looking group. “Strange,” said Dr. Seiji Kitaru, professor emeritus at the national university in Kaiju Studies and foremost authority in Giant Monsters and Cephalapods. “The trajectory and speed indicate that it has a purpose, but there is nothing of substance for it to challenge it.” The same display that tracked the monster’s path had projected a course straight for city center – directly to the government buildings. Dr. Kitaru immediately thought of his daughter, and wished she were down in the bunker, analyzing data for the command post, like her father. She pos-
sessed an understanding of the creature that went beyond any tangible data that could be measured, examined, interpreted. She felt for this creature like no one else did. Perhaps it is the incident with the Advanced Race of Cuttleﬁsh from Planet Xero that induced her gift to the surface. What could she be doing? This might seem routine to her but every instance uncovers a new discovery, he thought. For now, Dr. Kitaru relegated himself to the sobering thought that this would be just another event to gather information for the next time, in the hopes of avoiding such a terrible next time. Whatever was demolished of Tokyo would be built again, waiting for the next visit. Keika leaked out a feline purr as Tetsuo dragged his tongue across her throat. She bit his ear, ran her ﬁngers through his bangs and held on. The information kiosk where they were perched upon shook with each encroaching footstep. BOOHM. They took up the rhythm and devoured each other in the wet ﬁre that engulfed them. Keika felt an object, immense and nebulous ﬂoat in her head, as if it was searching for something in her subconscious. Through sheer will she kept the door closed. There was no language to decipher, except that in her mind’s eye it used a question mark to bang on the door. What are you doing, it seemed to say. The signals from the microchip fused to her skull were attempting to wedge the door open as well. A single bead of sweat played across Tetsuo’s cheekbone as he tensed for the itch’s release. Keika’s womanchild features danced in the ﬂickering lights. She fought of the intruder in her head as they were consumed by the all-encompassing vibration. BOOHM. At that moment, the monster knew. The high tension electrical fence had halted it for a moment, but the pain only fed its rage. Electrical towers were snapped like Erector© sets. The toy looking tanks had no effect, either. It either squashed them underfoot, making a pleasant popping sound like the exploding carapace of a bug, or if in the mood melted their titanium armor with its radioactive halitosis. But Megagojirosaur ( so named by a younger, overeager Dr. Kitaru) , hereby to be referred to as M-G halted for a moment and focused upon the connection it had in its minivan sized brain. There was something out there that understood it, and he
had to ﬁnd the source, as if spurned by pre-cambrian instinct. But the locus of the connection was trying to hide something from it, that there was another. A rival. All it knew was -Straight Ahead. In the outlying suburban villages humans scurried under him, ﬂeeing to nowhere. The giant creature scooped up citizens by the dozens and dropped them into his mouth, gnawing on them like so many pink, porkﬂavored gummy bears. Since it ﬁrst appeared over forty years ago, M-G had been regarded by turns both foe and greatest protector – ﬁghting off the invasions of giant dung beetles, shitake mushrooms, snow monkeys and an alien monster sent from the faraway Planet Xero. All had been reduced to tempura by its radioactive breath. After the last city-destroying battle with Monster Super-X, Megagojirosaur slept, mending his wounds in a cavern under the deep sea. But in the depths it had felt an outside intelligent presence in his mind. Not telling it what to do as much as knowing, understanding. It thought it was another of his kind, hopefully something reproductively compatible. Now strong and awake, the monster focused on the link and headed for the city. It unleashed a roar and set the countryside ablaze. “I think it knows,” said Keika, pulling down her skirt. Tetsuo raised an arched eyebrow. “What? About us?” Keika threw him a withering look. Tetsuo grimmaced as he adjusted his shoulder holster. “Well, I hope so. He won’t have to worry about it for much longer.” “What are you talking about? How are you going to stop –“ Tetsuo put a ﬁnger to her lips, hushing her. “Never mind. Go to your father. You’ll be safe in the bunker.” Keiko smiled and slung the Hello Kitty backpack over her shoulders, pulling her ponytail out in the process. “Be careful honey. I’ll see you later.” Keika planted a peck on Tetsuo’s lips and then turned to leave. Tetsuo grabbed her by the arms and spun her about. He kissed her deep and pushed a slip of paper into her hand. “Goodbye, my love.” Tetsuo turned, grabbed the plasma riﬂe off the desk near him and sprinted to the stairwell.
Tetuso jumped out of the vehicle and went up the service elevator. The chain-link fencing that made up the door to the elevator afforded Tetsuo a clear view of the monster, trudging though warehouses and low lying buildings as if made of styrofoam and balsa wood. The view was obscured periodically by the thundering jolt of each approaching footstep. When Tetsuo reached the top, he checked the status of the technicians working frantically. Seeing the thumbs-up from the team leader, he ordered everyone down the elevator and to their posts. The creature lumbered forward, dragging its tail through the wreckage. It stopped next to the broadcast tower, head level to Tetsuo. Past the tower was the gleaming city, with its destination at the center, the connection getting faint. Tetsuo took up the riﬂe and aimed. A bolt of pure energy hit the creature broadside and it turned with a roar to face the annoyance. Just before it toppled the tower with front legs, it noticed a human standing deﬁantly in its eyesight. It regarded the human for a moment, and then it knew. Tetsuo set his jaw, locked his eyes on the monster and ﬂipped a switch. Megagojirosaur inhaled and spewed forth a blast of radioactive ﬁre upon the tower. Everything was instantly incinerated, but not before the selenium bombs positioned above the observation ﬂoor detonated. The powder hit the monster’s eyes and blinded it with white stinging pain. Keika just entered the bunker and waved to her father when the explosion went off, registering in every measurable fashion on the display board. They watched the tower go up in a shower of sparks and the dust cloud hit the monster, now writing in pain, its stumpy appendages too short to reach the burning eyes. Keika thought now only of Tetsuo the regular man – the cook, the lover, the poet. The tactile feeling came back to her extremities and Keika suddenly remembered the paper in her hand. She unfolded it and read the characters done in small exact calligraphy which would have made Tetsuo’s ancestors proud: I lose myself in you. Later I ﬁnd myself Wanting to get lost again. The rush of grief was too much for Keiko,
who held her fatherâ€™s brittle frame. The performance of the Xerobian microchip became compromised brieďŹ‚y by the massive inďŹ‚ux of emotional, non-logical data. Metallic synapses snapped from the stress of unknown parameters, but would self-repair, with time. The Creature shook its head violently to remove the blinding powder. All it felt was pain and darkness. The connection was severed. The monster turned away from the gleaming city and sloughed back into the sea, to wait for another time, another signal. ---End
The Fair Folk by
Alex Epstein they came on Hallowe’en, of course.
That’s the night the Veil is thinnest, they say; and if you ever walked the hills at dusk near Chipping Norton, on a ﬁeld brown and bare from the harvest, you felt it. If you had glimpsed the ﬁrst ones through, you might have seen only exceptionally well-costumed kids. But they were not children. The nobles were as beautiful as the stories said, in supple bronze armor that showed no seam. The later ones were eerie, grotesque, like a bad joke on nature. They were harder than our tales had remembered them, crueler and ungodly faster. In American movies, the police laugh off the teenager screaming into the ‘phone. But after the third lorry driver called them on his mobile, the police were on it, and soon after, the Army. By luck, an entire armored division was on maneuvers not ﬁve miles away. But there was fog, and twilight lingered impossibly past noon. They marched across ﬁeld and hedgerow, spreading out like water welling up from a spring; and as they spread, the tanks stopped, one by one. Radio and telephones went dumb as stone, and a shroud dropped between us and the world. By the village, three privates armed with M 16’s slaughtered an entire battalion of their ﬁercest warriors. They say the soldiers wept as they scythed down the proud ranks. But then the boys somehow mistook one another for enemies. That must have happened more than once, soldiers failing to see the enemies right in front of them, or walking behind them, or ran off ledges, or shot each other. Then the guns, too, malfunctioned, or seemed to; in that turmoil of glamour, who could say what was failing and what only appeared to fail? By nightfall, any battalion we sent they brushed aside like an unpleasant thought, the survivors staggering back, witless, to join the refugees. Oh, yes, the refugees. The invaders had come to reclaim their land. Generations ago, mundane men, with dour minds that glamour could not swerve, had crossed the bitter sea in shivering boats to seize this green and pleasant land. By cold iron, the wild gentry had been forced into woods and
bracken, and then into sunless darkness. Perhaps thirty centuries they had languished under hill. How, then, could we expect mercy? They set apartment buildings aﬁre with a species of green ﬂame that burned concrete and seemed to laugh as women screamed. They marched ﬁfty miles a day, tirelessly, and the shroud of electronic silence spread with them; and ahead of them, the roads swelled like brooks in April. The thousands ﬂeeing became tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands. The Prime Minister did the only possible thing. He asked the Americans for missile strikes. The missiles blew up in their silos, somewhere in the open prairie. Fortunately, some cherished the old tales. They knew the fair folk could not bear cold iron or the love of God. We had long since sold our pure, abiding faith for machinery, but iron was another matter. They respected even a housewife with a cast iron skillet; but we had a club of history buffs who had forged iron swords in the manner of the Celtic smiths. Against a man wielding one of these, the glamour had no effect, and the merest cut sent the blackest giant howling for the woods. They armed every man who still had his nerve. There was a steel factory near Shefﬁeld that we almost converted in time. But there was no time. The foreigners fell, horribly burned, but they came on, and their vengeance on those who had wielded iron was unspeakable. The witches of Britain summoned themselves together in the biggest convocation since they had gathered in 1940 to bind Hitler from crossing the Channel. There was a huge mob scene at Stonehenge. They whooped and chanted and danced a spiral dance, from dusk till dawn, and cast a fearsome binding spell. Nothing happened. I am told that magic does not come naturally to human beings. It must be coaxed, and still it is a feeble thing. The fair bright legions storming across the motorways, the squat ones who could gnaw one of those atrocious ofﬁce
blocks to sand, the tiny, exquisite winged women whose voice must be obeyed, the bark-skinned ones with twisted arms no thicker than your wrist, who could pile those ugly little delivery vans onto a bonﬁre: well, they were magic. The legends said there was a King Who Sleeps. He was Arthur, the Once and Future King; or Bran the Blessed, or Owein Glyndwr, and he must wake to save the land from its gravest danger. When I was a child and the Blitz was smashing London to rubble, I was perversely reassured the land was safe, because the King had not awakened. He slept in a hill, his men about him. A golden horn hung on the wall. From time to time a shepherd would chase a sheep into a cave and discover the chamber. But they would try to ﬁlch his gold. Or their shufﬂing would half-wake him, and he would mumble “Is it time?” and in their fright they would tell him it was not yet time, and he would sleep on. In those desperate days, more than a few, abandoning all hope in technology, even went searching for the King Who Sleeps. I used to search for magic. I could summon up the magic of an evening with a few paragraphs, and I met a girl who fell in love with me for it. She knew magic in the north doors of old churches, the mossy shadows of country lanes, in bread fresh from the oven, in the dreaming hills at night. Oh, that seems threadbare, sitting there dull on the page. But I was always threadbare. I wrote about magic, but I never knew it. Now magic has returned to the land, but it is no joy to me or the sixty millions shivering in refugee camps across the Channel. There have never been so many people homeless, not even when the Hun swarmed across Europe. And who’s to say that’s the end of it? Germany had its trolls and nixies, elves and dark-elves. The Greeks had their Cyclops and chimaerae. The Great Plains of the United States shimmered with Coyote and Raven and a thousand animal spirits. Why should they not also return? They do not tell me. I am their honored guest, they say, and they are pleased to let me inhabit my humble cottage so long as I live. That may be a long time, for I ﬁnd that when I cut myself, I heal as fast as when I was a boy. My bones do not ache, even when the rain comes, every evening, slow, and honey-scented. In Faerie, the soul ages faster than
the ﬂesh. There are others who live under Faerie’s dominion, the scattered hundreds who kept true to the old ways. To the fair folk, custom is law, and they are obliged to repay gifts. Some left out milk by the front door, and swept the hearth every night. Some young women, self-appointed witches, invoked the old names. Some addled old men lived in country cottages with butterﬂy gardens, praying that the hurtling world would slow before it crashed, and that was enough. We gather, from time to time, in the long summer evenings, when the crops have nothing to do but grow. Travel is difﬁcult, of course, for the others have taken the horses. But we walk the necessary miles. They are strange gatherings. In the warmth of bonﬁres, we play at “supermarket,” putting as many brands as we can into our imaginary basket, and the “clerk” quotes us prices, which we then all argue about. We play at “emergency ward,” remembering when our doctors performed miracles with ﬂeets of machines, or tried. My favorite is when we count down the launch of Apollo 11. One of the gentry tells me she has been to the Moon, riding a sea shell and pulled by sparrows, and she does not lie. But it was somehow grander to ride there in a tiny bucket of steel balanced atop a pillar of ﬁre. It is hard to say the before days were happier. After the specialist told Jane what was coming, each dawn ached. Before I met her, I was a stone. But here there is an eternal melancholy that tints even the sunlight. No matter how much we longed for this in some secret part of our hearts, none of us is content. But for me it is worse. I have a secret I must keep; for how could they forgive me? They all have relatives in the camps; their sons and fathers fell in the war. Once a King slept Under Hill. As a child, I hoped that it would be I who found him, for I would be brave enough to blow the horn, and summon the rightful ruler of the land. When I became a man, I tried in books to summon forth what I could of that golden age of Arthur. It was only an echo of the true horn’s voice, and only awakened an echo of the King. But it was better than the dreamless sleep of which my holy island was dying. They were breaking ground for a strip mall, American-style, across the street from the little
parish church that had been there since Domesday. For a thousand years that church had faced nothing but a stone wall and the ﬁeld beyond it. I started to walk past the tractors and cranes, but I could not. I shouted incoherently at the workers and stumbled back along the footpath, and then into my ﬁelds, and then into ﬁelds I did not know. I fell in a hole, just like in stories. I was in a chamber wrought of silk and dark wood. A king slept on his throne, face in his hands, his men sleeping in their cloaks, as if he had kept vigil over them until he could no longer stay awake. I saw the horn. I picked it up and blew. I had no hesitation at all. As he lifted his face from his hands, I saw that his ears were too long and pointed, his eyes black eggs. His long face was eerily beautiful, but inhuman. In all of it I saw no hint of mercy, no compassion, no pity. There was a King who slept Under Hill, waiting. But he was not Arthur, or Owein Glyndwr, or any human king. How could he be? They are all long dead, for a mortal span is a moment’s gasp. He was Oberon, the King of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, ruler of selkie and kelpie, goblin and troll and pixie, banshee and brownie and all the Fair Folk; and I am he who woke him. ---End
Joe Lansdale Interview by
Tim Gallagher jOE LANSDALE, described as a “Mojo storyteller,”
was born and raised in East Texas. The author of over thirty books, such as the Edgar Award-winning THE BOTTOMS, A FINE DARK LINE, HIGH COTTON, and a series of novels featuring the team of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine (SAVAGE SEASON, MUCH MOJO, TWO-BEAR CHILI, and more). He is the author of numerous short stories; has scripted episodes for the BATMAN and SUPERMAN animated series; and has written comic books, usually teamed with artist Tim Truman (SCOUT, GRIMJACK, HAWKWORLD). Mr. Truman also provided the cover for RETRO-PULP TALES, the Bram Stoker Award-winning pulp anthology edited by Mr. Lansdale. Mr. Lansdale is the recipient of numerous awards, among which are: 7 Bram Stoker Awards for horror ﬁction, the British Fantasy Award, the Horror Critics Award, the New York Times Notable Book Award, the Critic’s Choice Award. He was named Grand Master at the 2007 World Horror Convention in Toronto for his contributions to the ﬁeld of horror ﬁction. His Bram Stoker Award-nominated novella BUBBA HO-TEP was made into the 2002 ﬁlm of the same title by director Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM). The ﬁlm starred Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK, who battle a soul-sucking mummy in an East Texas senior citizen home. Mr. Lansdale is also a martial arts expert and member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame. He is the creator of Shen Chuan Martial Science. Mr. Lansdale, with his wife, Karen, currently lives in Nagadoches, Texas, where he also teaches at his Shen Chuan Martial Arts Academy. For more info about Mr. Lansdale, his writing, his Mojo, and Shen Chuan, go to www.joelansdale. com. This interview was conducted by Tim Gallagher, with assistance from John Carlucci and Katherine Tomlinson, via e-mail. Tim was afraid to call Mr. Lansdale because he had heard that certain martial arts masters could kill people over the phone, and he didn’t want to chance it. ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE: Let’s start with a brief biography. Give us the secret origin of Joe Lansdale. JOE LANSDALE: I was born in 1951 in Gladewater, Texas, which is in East Texas. And there are no mountains, plains, or deserts here. It’s woods and creeks and rivers, and man-made lakes (one natural lake, and it’s huge--CADDO LAKE). I graduated from Gladewater High School, had some college credit, farmed, did all manner of jobs, mostly manual labor, and then my stuff started selling. I sold the ﬁrst piece when I was 21, though I may have been twenty-two when it ﬁrst appeared. AAM: Was that ﬁrst piece a short story or a novel? Do you remember the title? Who did you sell it to? How much did you make for it?
JL: The ﬁrst piece I sold was an article written under my mother’s name and with her for farm journal. It was about digging holes to garden for therapy. It was a collaboration. We didn’t make much, and we split it. But it won a prize as most popular article and we got another check on it to split. We probably made about twenty bucks a piece at most. Back then, twenty bucks was a lot more money than now. It would be like a hundred dollars or more. I placed a number of non-ﬁction articles after that. It was the middle, late seventies when I began to sell ﬁction, in my mid-twenties. At the age of 29 I went full-time as a writer and have been full-time ever since. AAM: When you started out how did you write - on a manual typewriter? An electric? Long hand on a legal pad? JL: As a kid I wrote long hand, but when I learned to type in High School, I typed when I had a typewriter. My ﬁrst one was hard to use. You practically had to stand on the keys. When I started to try and write for a living, my wife had an old man-ual Smith Corona, I think it was, from Montgomery Wards, and I wrote with that until I could afford an electric. My original electrics had keys and I wore out one just about every year until I started buying different kinds of typewriters in my early, middle thirties. I wore those out, too. I later got typewriters with some computer elements. I still have one of my old typewriters. I gave some of the older ones that still worked away to aspiring writers here and there. AAM: You’ve been described as a “mojo storyteller.” What is a mojo storyteller? And how does one acquire the mojo? JL: My webmaster, Lou Bank, came up with that. And it’s very clever. It means someone who loves telling stories. AAM: Were the people in your family storytellers? You’re from Texas, did you grow up hearing tall tales? JL: My father and uncles and a lot of the Lansdales were story tellers. But not necessarily tall tales. They told stories much as many of mine are, for the truth, but with Texas hyperbole. I come from that tradition. My grandmother told me ghost stories. Not many, but the
ones she told me stuck with me. My father when he was in the right mood was a great storyteller. He couldn’t read or write much, but if he had been able to, he might well have been a writer himself. AAM: For our readers who may never have been to Texas, can you describe for them the vast difference between East Texas and West Texas, beyond just the geography? JL: East Texas is lush with large trees and undergrowth. It’s wetter, not quite as swampy as Louisiana, but it has a lot of that, and similar animals. West Texas is dry and there are very few trees and a lot less water. We’re humid, they’re dry. I prefer here, by a long shot. AAM: Did you always want to be a writer, or were you on some other life path before the writing bug took hold? JL: Always wanted to be a writer, but I worked basic jobs along the way and considered anthropology, journalism, farming and martial arts instructor as careers along the way. Much as I love all those subjects, I thought of them as a path to writing. I managed to farm some, studied a bit of anthropology in college (read a lot more on my own) and have been a martial artist for 44-45 years. I own my own school and am the founder of Shen Chuan (Spirit Fist). AAM: So, the other jobs were to keep body and soul together until you could make a living as a writer. What type of farming did you do? Dairy? Soybeans? JL: We did truck cropping. Which means small crops harvested and hauled by pickup to market. We sold things to a health food store, but we made most of our money by working for other farmers, and we grew all our own food. AAM: You’re writing runs the gamut from short stories, to novels, to comic books, to scripts for animated shows, to screenplays. Is there any one format that you prefer, or does the story dictate the format? JL: I like novels and short stories, short stories are my favorite. But I also like working in other mediums. It helps keep me fresh, and always helps me stay in the game. AAM: You were the writer of JONAH HEX and LONE RANGER mini-series. What was it that drew you to these characters? Or did the publishers approach you because of the Westerns you’ve written and that you’re from Texas? JL: I had written a four-part comic called BLOOD AND SHADOWS for them (DC Comics), but the artist, who is very good,
took forever, so this project was offered to me to go with Tim Truman. They thought we would make a good team. I think they were right. We’re still a good team. This led to the LONE RANGER, and other projects. AAM: If memory serves, Johnny and Edgar Winter were threatening lawsuits over one of your JONAH HEX stories, claiming the villains were based on them. Can you shed any light on this? What was the ultimate resolution? JL: It was based on their stage persona, not them. They tried some ludicrous claim that we were for the destruction of all albinos. So ridiculous. We were parodying all manner of music. There was nothing personal about it, and no one in their right minds would think we were trying to suggest this was them. AAM: Have you checked out the new JONAH HEX and LONE RANGER comic book series? What is your opinion of them? JL: I haven’t checked them out. So no opinion. AAM: Your LONE RANGER AND TONTO was a great take on the characters. What inﬂuenced your take on them? Did you watch the Clayton Moore TV show when you were growing up? Listen to the old radio shows? JL: I grew up on THE LONE RANGER TV show and ﬁlms and loved him, and later I listened to some of the radio shows when they became collectable and you could buy them. I was too young to have heard them growing up. When I wrote the Lone Ranger, I took a more modern spin, because I felt that I needed to understand the characters better, who they were and why they did things. And it al-ways seemed to me that Tonto was a kind of second-class citizen in the stories, though not as much as other things of the time. I wanted to give Tonto some space. AAM: You’ve worked quite a bit with artist Tim Truman - on JONAH HEX, LONE RANGER, and he did the cover to RETRO PULP TALES. Do you two have any projects in the works? JL: D.C. brought us together, and we still work together when the project is right. We recently did CONAN SONGS OF THE DEAD for DARK HORSE. The issues have been bound in one volume. I really like it, and so did the majority of the readers. AAM: What led you to put together and edit RETRO PULP TALES?
JL: I just loved the idea of new writers writing older model stuff. Many of those writers grew up on that material, and some grew up on it second hand. I believe there may be a second volume. AAM: Who are some of your favorite writers working in the pulp genre now? JL: I’m not sure what the pulp genre is now. I don’t know how to answer that. There are a lot of writers who have those sensibilities, but are modern at the same time. F. Paul Wilson comes to mind, even Andrew Vachss whose Burke reminds me as a kind of modern, hip version of THE SHADOW and a darker DOC SAVAGE. Of course, Andrew’s books are also about things that matter, but he has the pulp element. The secret organization with specialties. I love that stuff. AAM: Is there anybody you’d like to work with? JL: I don’t think about working with anyone, though I have done it a few times, and will most likely do it again. As a writer, ﬁlm and comics is more likely. I don’t know about books and stories, though I wouldn’t rule it out, and have done it. I work best alone. AAM: Did you read pulps and/or comic books as a kid? If so, what were your favorites? JL: The pulps were pretty much gone whenI was born, but I read comics, which were pulp inspired, and stories from the pulps that were collected here and there, and later, a few of the old pulps themselves. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, many others that came from the pulps. AAM: Is there a particular genre that you’re drawn to when writing? JL: No. Not really. I just go through stages. AAM: Are there any genres that you shy away from or avoid completely? JL: Not on purpose. There are probably some that don’t interest me. Pure romance, for example. I can’t see me doing that. But, I never say never. AAM: I believe BUBBA HO-TEP is one of the greatest American motion pictures since CITIZEN KANE (then again, presently I am heavily medicated). Can you tell us how this cinematic gem came to life? And do you have any news on the sequel, BUBBA NOSFERATU? JL: I have no news on the sequel. I’m not involved in that, but I know Don (Coscarelli, director of BUBBA HO-TEP) is working on it. AAM: How involved were you in the ﬁrst movie? Were
you approached by Mr. Coscarelli, or were you shopping the story around? JL: Don kept me in the loop and asked my advice now and then. I saw the early script and had a comment or two, but mostly he was just true to the story. Re-cently I saw that there is a new Bubba Ho-tep DVD out with a little Elvis Jump suit covering the DVD. I liked that. I just recently bought the Action Figures from Reel Toys. That’s a hoot. They look really cool. AAM: Do you have any embarassing secrets to share about BUBBA HO-TEP star Bruce Campbell? Editor-in-chief JDC and I need payback big time; because of him we saw a ﬁlm titled HATRED OF A MINUTE, and I’ve been crying myself to sleep ever since. JL: No embarrasing things about Bruce. He’s a good, hard working guy, and I like him a lot. I do have this. When he and Don were kind enough to come here to Nacogdoches for a ﬁlm festival, we went out to a local Italian restaurant, and the waiter looked at Bruce, did a double take, said, “Did anyone ever tell you you look like that guy in Army of Darkness?” Bruce said, “I get that a lot.” My wife and daughter eventually told the waiter it was Bruce, but I thought that was funny. I’m sure he does get that a lot. AAM: You are the founder of Shen Chuan, Martial Science. How did you become involved in the martial arts? What led to the creation of Shen Chuan? What makes Shen Chuan different from other martial arts disciplines? If someone is interested in studying Shen Chuan, how can they ﬁnd a class near them (without moving to Nagodoches, TX)? JL: My father did some wrestling and boxing and he taught me some things when I was eleven, or twelve years old, and then I started taking Judo at the Y, and then Hapkido, Taekwondo, Kenpo, others, and then I branched out over the years and took in many places from many people. I love it. I enjoy teaching. Right now Rockwall has a Shen Chuan instructor, and in Louisville, Ky is an instructor who teaches concepts and principles from Shen Chuan along with Indonesian and Filipino arts. In Houston one of my instructors teaches private classes. We may soon have something in Nashville. We’re not trying to be the McDonalds of martial arts, and we don’t try to run huge schools. It’s very self-defense oriented, and though students of mine have competed in tournaments, mixed martial arts events, and have done well, I don’t push the competition side. I used to do some of that, but I wanted a system of self-defense with that mind set, and something you could do, with variations of course, when you’re young, and when you’re old. I’m proud of the system, and I have a number of ﬁne instructors who have made it work. We have a major camp every year the ﬁrst weekend in October, and we bring in other systems, and it’s a great time.
AAM: Your work is extensive and varied. Do you have any favorites amongst your stories? If so, why are they your favorite(s)? JL: I love THE BOTTOMS, A FINE DARK LINE, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, THE DRIVE-IN, MUCHO MOJO, all the short story collections, especially HIGH COTTON and BUMPER CROP which contain a broad section of my best work. But, lately there has been a lot of new stuff, so those collections will have to be expanded, revamped at a later date. AAM: What story or novel of yours do you recommend to someone who has never read a Joe Lansdale story? JL: THE BOTTOMS. AAM: Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books? What do you like about them? JL: I love so many authors. Early on E. R. Burroughs, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, Robert E. Howard, Gardner Fox (comics mostly), then a little later, Neal Barrett, Jr, Mark Twain, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradubry, Charles Beaumont, William F. Nolan, and then later yet Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Flannery O’Conner is very major for me. Some Faulkner, Carson McCuller, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, James Cain, Robert Alter, William Goldman, it goes on and on. AAM: Speaking of Edgar Rice Burroughs, you are the co-writer of the last Tarzan story, TARZAN: THE LOST ADVENTURE, something I’m sure many writers would have given their eyeteeth to do. How did this come about? Did you pursue this with the Burroughs’ estate, or did they approach you? JL: I was asked to do it by Pete Janes who was an editor at Dark Horse. I had a series of comics being done over there based on my stories, and he and I spoke over the telephone, and he mentioned the unﬁnished book. AAM: Do you know if any other authors were considered for this project? JL: I said Philip Jose Farmer ought to do it. Pete said, “Well, we were thinking of you.” And I said, “Tough
luck, Phil,” and was happy to do it. It probably got the most negative reviews of any of my works, and it all came from the Burroughs community, who mostly just seemed mad I got to do it. They also said I corrupted his work. AAM: Was this a case of ﬁnishing an already-started manuscript, or were you working from an outline and notes? JL: I moved a lot of his story, paragraphs, sentences around, and ﬁtted them into the text at different spots. Most of what he had was not his best work, and that’s why it was unﬁnished. He whacked a lion or panther on every page. Pete Janes said, “No wonder the animals in Africa are endangered.” I also wanted to give tribute to my sentimental favorite author without mocking him. AAM: Was there a conscious effort on your part to match ERB’s writing style? JL: I tried to write in the same vein, but not exactly like him, because no one can. AAM: What projects are you working on presently? What can we expect down the pike? JL: I’m taking a short rest, and then I have a short story to write, andthen a new novel. AAM: One ﬁnal question, to settle a bet amongst us here at ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE, based upon your martial arts expertise: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Donnie Yen, Steven Seagal, Tony Jaa, and a gorilla raised at the Shaolin Temple are locked in a steel-cage death match. Who gets out alive? JL: Questions about who would whip who just make my ass tired. I don’t care. It depends on who brought the gun. AAM: That would be the gorilla, then. I win the bet! Thank you very much, Mr. Lansdale, and keep those stories coming.
All books Copyright Joe Lansdale. All rights reserved. Lone Ranger TV series photo: “Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, LONE RANGER TV series. Phot: Howard Franklin Archives, copyright uncertain.” Lone Ranger #1 cover: “LONE RANGER AND TONTO #1, Topps Comics, by Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman. Art TM and Copyright Lone Ranger Properties. All rights reserved.” Lone Ranger #4: “LONE RANGER #4, Dynamite Entertainment. Cover art by John Cassaday.” “JONAH HEX: RIDERS OF THE WORM AND SUCH #4, by Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman, featuring the Autumn Brothers. Copyright DC Comics.” “JONAH HEX Vol. 2 #1, art by Luke Ross. Copyright DC Comics.” “JONAH HEX: TWO GUN MOJO” by Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman. Copyright DC Comics.” “CONAN AND THE SONGS OF THE DEAD #1, by Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman. Copyright Dark Horse Comics Inc. and/or its respective licensors.” ---End
He Married a Yeti by
Lloyd Hudson Frye “aBOMINABLE SNOWGROOM” The 1952 headline read like a fourth page piece in the gossip rags. Here in the grand ballroom of the London Historical Society, with reporters from all the major papers of the world, it seemed to be the biggest story of the century. My name is Random Spencer. I work for the London Daily, third largest paper in England. When my editor said, this is your assignment, I almost sent spittle into his face, but when he continued with that worried look on his mug, I sobered up. He said there wasn’t time to go to Tibet to verify the story, just have to report what this chap has to say. Jimmy T. (for Tall) Long would be my photographer, the best in the business, at 6’ 10” tall, he always got the perfect shot. He would lean over the crowd of reporters and take his shot from above. We had worked together before on several assignments and got along brilliantly. Trafﬁc was worse than usual, but the cabbie
found a couple of passable back alleys, and dropped us off in front of the impressive façade in plenty of time. I tipped him double, and he gave me a great big toothless smile. The front steps were packed with reporters in front of their cameramen, using the massive, marble-covered building as a backdrop. I followed Jimmy up through the solid mass of suits, fedoras, and umbrellas. He always managed to cut his way through a crowd like an Antarctica ice breaker, using size and weight to push men to the side. There was quite a delay at the door when a Press Pass didn’t seem to be enough to get by the coppers with the clipboards. I stepped in front of Jimmy, and folded a hundred pound note into the hand of an eager looking young man, with a badge marked monitor. Soon our names were added to the list by hand, and he winked at me, as we squeezed through the opening. The room was immense; ceilings at least twenty-ﬁve feet high, mahogany paneled walls, huge chandeliers, and carpet with pile so
thick, it was hard to walk. The dais was six feet off the main ﬂoor, several white-haired men sat in tuckand-roll, red leather, high back chairs, seemingly bored with the proceedings at that point. The noise level forced me to scream into Jimmy’s ear, “Get closer for the close up.” I would stay back and record from the recording stage, using one of the plug-in circuits provided. Using a large gavel repeatedly, a tall, thin man with a handle-bar moustache, called the press conference to order. He then introduced the guest speaker, Sir William Benchley Larchmount IV, Earl of Dover. A very old man entered from a side door, hunched over, with the aid of a walker, he inched toward the pulpit. The ﬂashes were increasing in intensity, ﬁnally, he stood in front of what had to be a hundred microphones, jammed together like tiny POWs in a small battle-ﬁeld prison. Loud-mouthed reporters in front, were yelling out questions, but the old man just stood there, silent. Finally, the roar died down and the speaker asked if those in the back could hear, a trick used by pros to get a crowd to quiet down. In a soft, shaky voice Sir William began his tale. “In the summer of 1743, several landed men of my acquaintance, formed an expedition to the Tibetan Himalayas, to search for the Abominable Snowman. Legend had it, that they were to be found high in the mountains, in ice caves. Money was no object, so supplies were carried by over a hundred locals from base camp, to the ﬁrst high camp. This would serve as the focal point, for any number of small excursions looking for signs of the Yeti. It was on one of those small hunts, that our party fell victim to an avalanche. In our attempt to dig out, my guide, Mantunin, and I managed to loosen an ice bridge over a chasm. The bridge collapsed, and both of us fell a score of meters into the abyss. When we came to a stop, it was dark, with just a dim hint of sunlight from far above. I checked for broken bones and cuts, both deadly in the higher elevations. Mantunin said he was good for hunt, but he groaned right after.” Sir William paused, held a glass of water to his lips, and returned it somehow without spilling it. His trembling hands were noticeable from the back of the room. He smiled, like that was an accomplishment, then continued. “Before we could even brush the snow off our parkas, two huge forms leaned over and lifted
each of us to our feet. Even in the dark it was obvious they were giants, at least three meters tall. The room broke out in chaos, as the obvious ﬁnally hit the slowest of the reporters. Shouts of “Fraud” and “Imposter” were heard. Sir William remained calm, taking advantage of the situation, to take another drink of water. As the shouting turned to grumbling, he continued. “We were brought into a monstrous cave, with twenty foot stalactites hanging from the top. The bottom was made up of ten foot stalagmites, which formed small rooms with smooth ﬂoors. There were torches in sconces around the entire perimeter. Sunken down four meters, in the middle of the complex, was a small volcanic fountain, complete with churning red-orange lava. Around the fountain were three rows of seating, just like the Coliseum, only smaller. Seated around the circle were dozens of Yeti with…” Again the room erupted into a din, as many covered their ears, the ﬂashes started up again. The man who had introduced Sir William stood up, leaned over to the microphone, and said that if this continued, the press conference would be over, and everyone would have to settle for a standard issued statement. “We were ushered to the edge of the fountain. Thoughts of human sacriﬁce to the mountain “God of Fire” raced through my head. My resolve to be brave to the end, had me standing straight and holding a stiff upper lip. Mantunin, on the other hand, had bent over as if his ribs were broken. The Yeti discussed our fate for some time. I watched their faces for signs of anger, no emotion was in their speech.” He stopped. The room was totally silent. “Then, from the back, a shorter Yeti raced down to me and threw its body over mine, taking me to the ﬂoor with its weight. The voice was high, I guessed it was a female. She seemed to be pleading for my life. The story of Captain Smith and Matoaka “Pocahontas” came to mind. Could this be some sort of redemption ceremony? What had to be a warrior, dropped his hatchet onto the ﬂoor with a deafening clank. My body relaxed for the ﬁrst time since the fall. I noticed how heavy she was, thirty stones or so. The king or leader called out a ﬁnal decree and the tribal meeting ended, with everyone returning to their rooms.”
He stopped for another drink. The men in the room were spellbound, not a single conversation could be heard. “The girl Yeti took my hand and placed it on her chest and said ‘MEEO’. I told her my name, she shook her head and holding her hand over my chest said, ‘OOHO’, which later, I found out meant, small hairless one. The next thing I knew she pulled me to my feet, dragging me off to one of the outer rooms of the cave. I turned to Mantunin, but he also had a smaller Yeti dragging him off, in a very possessive manner.” He stopped, smiled, and continued. “I won’t go into any details of our life together, even in my book. What I will tell you, is that Yeti women are what men dream about, when they think of the perfect woman. There were several children from that marriage, each one a gift from God Himself. After her death I left the cave, never to return.” At this point Sir William broke down and cried. No one moved. Finally he regained his composure and asked if there were any questions. “Sir William, did you mean the 1943 expedition to Tibet?” “No, 1743.” “But how could you live over 200 years?” “The Yeti worship a tiny white frog that survives freezing. Once thawed, it is ground into meal. There are ceremonies, where each member of the tribe is given a ﬂat wafer on their tongues and told it is their right to life.” “Will you go back someday?” “My heart would break in two, if I ever returned to our room in the cave” The clamor rose to a fevered pitch as men pressed forward to shout their questions. The cameras ﬂashed, shouting increased, and the pushing started. The announcer got up, said the conference was over, and led the old man back to the side door. I slumped into an empty chair. It was certainly an interesting story, but with no time to substantiate before for the midnight deadline, I was forced to settle to ﬁnd out whether there was ever an Earl of Dover by that name in the 1740s. I called the library in Dover and sweet-talked a Miss Louise Thumb to look on their records for an expedition to Tibet in 1743 and a certain land owner named William Benchley Larchmount IV, Earl of
Dover. She came back a few minutes later and conﬁrmed both for me. I promised I would send her a signed copy of his book. ---End
The 3rd Option by
Geoffrey Thorne tuesday 1130 PST
Cross hated going in to work. It was an archaic practice, one he’d petitioned the top brass many times to dump. “Everybody works in VR,” he would say. “It’s easier.” “You’re an Advocate, Cross,” was the standard Management response. “Advocates show up to work. In person. It’s tradition.” Tradition also dictated he take on the occasional case of a colleague when said colleague got swamped. “Okay, Dr. Eidling?” said Cross, beginning. The older man nodded. “Pleased to meet you, sir. I’m Advocate Cross. I’ll be taking over for Advocate Kelly.” Eidling nodded again but said nothing. “Okay,” said Cross in his best modulation. “Why don’t we take it from the top?” “I hardly know where to begin,” said Eidling after a little. “All right, I’ll start,” said Cross. His hand strayed to the touchpad on the edge of his desk and began tapping. Immediately an overview of Eidling’s employment history appeared in the air between them. “Your jobtag says you work for Behl’s Theoreticians in their Macro Chaotics branch.” “That’s correct,” said Eidling. “And what is that?” said Cross. “Essentially,” began Eidling with a contemplative frown. “Macro chaoticists study patterns of chaos. At Behl’s we are attempting to assemble a workable description of what Reality is made.” “We’re talking sub-atomic particles, right?” said Cross trying to get his brain around exactly what it was that was being described to him. Eidling chuckled softly. “Some of my colleagues are engaged in research of that sort. My work focuses on a somewhat broader venue.” “Is it safe to say your work is mostly theoretical?” “Entirely,” said the smaller man. “Well,” said Cross. “Forgive me, but what
kind of trouble could you possibly get in just sitting around thinking?” “That would depend entirely on what one thinks about,” said Eidling. “Wouldn’t you agree?” Cross wasn’t sure he did agree but he let it go. Eidling did seem anxious about something. “Here’s an idea,” he ventured. “Why don’t you just tell me what is it you’d like me to do for you?” “I’m just getting to that, Advocate Cross,” said Eidling with the barest hint of irritation. “Sorry, Doc,” said Cross, settling in. “Take your time.” Eidling’s eyes drifted for a bit as if he was trying to ﬁnd the precise place where he’d broken from his narrative. Then, “The research in which I and my partner Dr. Van Wyck were engaged was extremely esoteric” he said. “What is reality?” muttered Cross in response. “Yes. I think I got that.” Eidling shot Cross a severe look. “What you didn’t get, Advocate,” he said, “because I haven’t yet told you, is that we were very close to resolving that question once and for all.” “You were?” “Yes,” said Eidling. “Very close. I won’t bore you with the math. Sufﬁce it to say, we were within weeks, perhaps days, of a workable theory explaining the fundamental nature of¬– well– everything.” “So,” said Cross, grinning. “You and this Van Wyck had your Nobel speeches ready.” Eidling smiled back. “Indeed, Mr. Cross,” he said with a chuckle. “But, while my own head was in those clouds, Dr. Van Wyck raised an issue which had never once occurred to me.” “And that was?” said Cross. “Why?” said Eidling. “Excuse me, sir,” said Cross. “Why what?” “Why were we,” said Eidling, “why was anyone, engaged in this research?” “Well,” said Cross. “Doesn’t Behl’s engage almost exclusively in theoretical research?” “Of course,” said the little man. “But all of that research has some obvious practical applica-
tion. You know: better plasteel, realistic VR environments, A.I.’s with individual personalities. All of these were made possible by research done at Behl’s.” Cross knew all that already. Behl’s Theoreticians was the only Megacorp that didn’t manufacture goods of some kind. Their product consisted of data and advice. He’d often wondered why The Advocacy had even bothered including them in the charter. All they did was sit around and think, for God’s sake. How could that possibly cause harm to the population at large? “Indeed, before coming over to Macro Chaotics,” Eidling continued, ”Karin- Dr. Van Wyckhad worked in the particle physics branch. While there she’d seen some of her own theories applied to destructive ends and was determined that it not happen again.” “Did this lead her to take some kind of action?” said Cross. “Yes,” said Eidling, his eyes misting over. “She threw me out of the lab.” “She give you any kind of explanation when she did this?” said Cross, fully engaged now. Something about the little man’s story had made his hackles rise. “Only that she wished to go over all of our data again, alone,” said Eidling. “And what did you do then,” said Cross. “What could I do?” the little scientist muttered. “She was the head of the project. I went home. I spent a few days paying bills, sampling some of the recent game sims in VR.” Throughout Eidling’s narrative, Cross’s ﬁngers beat a soft but steady staccato across the touchpad on his desk. He left off his note-taking when he became aware that Eidling had stopped talking. There was a sort of glassy sheen in his eyes that indicated to Cross that the scientist’s thoughts were not with him. “Dr. Eidling?” he said after a time. “You didn’t ﬁnish. What happened then?” “When?” said Eidling. Cross sighed and silently counted to ten. “After you went back to the lab,” he said. “You did go back?” “Yes,” he said. “And?” “And nothing,” said Eidling. “The lab was
empty. She was gone.” “Did you try to reach her at home?” said Cross. “I’d have thought you would have guessed by now, Mr. Cross,” said Eidling. “Dr. Van Wyck and I live together. We were- are- lovers.” Internally Cross kicked himself. Of course they were. Why else had this nervous, retiring little man stepped so brazenly out of the corporate womb to involve an Advocate in his troubles? He was desperate. “I’m sorry, Doc,” said Cross. “I didn’t know. Please go on.” “There isn’t much more, really,” said Eidling, seeming suddenly very small again. “All of what I’ve told you has happened in the last few days. It was yesterday when I returned to the lab and found it empty.” “Any data missing?” said Cross. “Oh, no,” said Eidling. “Everything was as I left it.” “But there was no sign of Dr. Van Wyck?” Eidling shook his head feebly. “Dr. Eidling,” said Cross after tapping out his ﬁnal notes. “Is there something you’re not telling me about all this?” “I- no-,” said the little man blinking dully back at him. “Why do you ask?” “Standard question,” said Cross. “Is there?” “No,” said Eidling. “Great,” said Cross. “Then, I have one last one for you.” Eidling waited for it like a man before a ﬁring squad. “Why involve the Advocacy in this at all? Why not Behl’s security or the P.A.P.D.?” “Why,” said Eidling with the total shock of someone who had honestly not considered those alternatives. “Because of The Charter.” He was referring, of course, to the charter of The Human/Corporate Advocacy of which Cross was an agent. The Advocacy had been set up in The Free Zone as a buffer between the citizens who lived in The Zone and the four Megacorps that controlled it. Advocates handled disputes between the two groups. The work was challenging, paid reasonably well and those who were faint of heart or, worse, slow witted needed not apply. The Advocacy’s charter was simple, just a credo really– No Advocate through negligence, dereliction or willful activity may allow a citizen to be
harmed by the actions of any or all of the Megacorps holding sway in the Pan Andreas Free Zone. All of which led Advocate Cross to say, “What does this have to do with The Charter, Doctor?” “Well,” said Eidling slowly. “She’s missing.” “Who’s missing?” “Dr. Van Wyck, of course,” said Eidling. “She’s missing?” said Cross. “For several days,” said the little man. “I believe her disappearance to be connected to our research. And I hold Behl’s Theoreticians responsible inasmuch as she engaged in that research solely at their behest.” Although he couldn’t fault the man’s logic, like most theories, it didn’t really stand up to the hard light of reality. Cross thought about it a bit more, made another decision he knew he’d regret, and said, “All right, Doc. I’ll look into it.” Tuesday 1240 PST Cross was sure Eidling had been holding out on him. Over the years he’d developed an instinct for sensing that sort of thing. Still, believing what the little scientist had told him, he postponed his lunch and presented himself, physically, at the corporate headquarters of Behl’s Theoreticians. He spent the better part of the day making polite but direct inquiries. He was allowed– under protocol 11 subsection L. II– to examine Eidling’s workspaces and to dupe all pertinent data. Not that he’d been able to make head or tail of any of it. He only requested the data to see if the Execs at Behl’s would squawk. They didn’t. Then he thought about the whole thing some more, left an e-note for Eidling at his personal node and went home to supper and bed. Wednesday 0900 PST “Well,” said Eidling, seating himself. “Did you ﬁnd her?” “Find her?” said Cross. “Karin,” Eidling’s eagerness tweaked his voice to a high squeak. “Did you ﬁnd out what’s happened to her or not?” “Oh, yes,” said Cross, brightly. “The elusive Dr. Van Wyck. As far I can tell, nothing happened to her. Nothing at all.”
“So, you did ﬁnd her,” said Eidling. “She’s all right?” “Well. Yes and no, Doctor,” said Cross. “I mean, would you say that a mermaid is all right? Or a unicorn?” There was a pause as Eidling completely failed to process what was being said to him. He blinked in that squirrel-like way of his. He drew the tip of his tongue quickly across his upper lip. “I don’t understand,” he ﬁnally managed. “Have you located her or not?” Cross cocked his head to one side and wrinkled his brow as if deep in thought. “No, Doc,” he said at last, “I didn’t ﬁnd her. Where she is I doubt anyone could.” “And where is that?” said Eidling. “Here,” said Cross and pointed at his own brow. “Or, rather, there.” Cross extended his foreﬁnger toward Eidling’s forehead. The effect that this had on the smaller man was as profound as it was unexpected. Eidling went beet red and surged to his feet. “Advocate Cross,” he said. “I demand that you tell me where Dr. Van Wyck is.” “She doesn’t exist,” said Cross, matter-offactly. “She never did, as far as I can tell, except in your own mind. Now, I’ll ask you, sir, to please take your seat.” Eidling did as he was told, stood again immediately, sat again and ﬁnally collapsed into himself, his face resting heavily in his hands. When it became clear that he had no plans to speak again, Cross went on. “I spoke with your supervisor at Behl’s, Doctor,” he said. “He seemed to think you’re a little overworked.” Eidling’s eyes were now screwed shut as if they were trying to block out the offending sight of reality. “Total retroactive erasure,” he muttered, over and over, like a prayer. “What’s that, Doc?” said Cross, not catching. “You still with me here?” At last Eidling’s eyes did open but they seemed somehow unfocused. It was as if he was no longer seeing Cross or the desk or the Spartan little ofﬁce. Cross got the distinct impression that Eidling was staring at something strange and distant and totally outside the slate gray environs of The Advo-
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cross,” said Eidling, in a whisper. “I never meant to put you to any trouble.” “It was really no trouble,” said Cross, immediately sorry for his earlier fun at Eidling’s expense. He’d wanted a little paypack for all his wasted time but this reaction from Eidling was too much. “I’m just having a bad week.” “To be sure, to be sure,” said Eidling, still somehow distracted. “Still, I am sorry. I’ll take up no more of your time.” With that, and despite Cross’s entreaties for the scientist to join him for lunch, Eidling stood and moved for the exit. He stopped brieﬂy in the doorway and, without turning, said, “I wonder, Advocate, if you’ve ever thought of information itself as a kind of virus?” At a loss, Cross only shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s the only way I can think of it now,” said Eidling sadly. Then he was gone and Cross was left with the gnawing sensation in the pit of his stomach that, at the very least, he’d handled the whole thing clumsily. He wished, as had many before him, that he could have the two previous days to do over again. Thursday 1000 PST “Advocate Cross,” said a mechanical voice in the dark. “You have a call. It’s crisis tagged.” “Thanks,” said Cross, blearily forcing himself up on one elbow. It had been a long night. “Give me vid, please.” As he forced himself into his approximation of a sit, his ﬂashscreen ﬂickered to life. The countenance of a swarthy, pockmarked, middle-aged man who was clearly not having a great day rezzed into view. “You Cross?” said the face. “Yeah,” said Cross. “Who are you?” “Florimonte, Pan Andreas Police,” said the face. ”We got a situation here we think you can help with.” “What’s up?” he said, reaching for a glass of breakfast. “You’re running a ﬁle on a gleep from Behl’s, name of Eidling,” said Florimonte. “Right?” Cross shook his head. “Past tense, ofﬁcer,” he said. “I closed out the ﬁle yesterday AM.” “Better re-open it,” said Florimonte. The
cop’s image dissolved into a panoramic view of the Behl’s Theoreticians central ofﬁce. There were people swarming all over the grounds. There were police tactical personnel, corporate snipers, even a few gyrocars- press probably- buzzing around like enormous hornets. Cross was just asking himself what Eidling could have to do with all this when he saw one of the cops raise a megaphone to his lips. “Dr. Eidling, we have your Advocate on the line,” said the cop. “If we patch you, will you speak to him?” Cross heard nothing but, seconds later, the image on the screen changed again. Now he was presented with the likeness of the little scientist who looked, if possible, even littler. “Just what the hell are you doing here, Doc?” said Cross. “I explained to the policeman,” said Eidling. “If they will simply allow me to leave this building, with all my research data, I will de-activate the bomb.” Cross blinked stupidly at the screen. The bomb? This Eidling thing had deﬁnitely gotten out of hand. What was worse for Cross was that all eyes seemed to point his way, expecting him to solve it. “Actually,” said Eidling. “It’s not so much a bomb as it is a Graviton Well.” Before he could stop himself, Cross asked the little man just what, precisely, a Graviton Well might be. Eidling’s halting reply had him up, down the stairs and on his way to Behl’s in under thirty seconds. Thursday 1028 PST Little had changed by the time Cross arrived on the scene. Some of the barricades had been reinforced and most of the bystanders had been pushed back to what was presumed a safe distance. That was it. If Eidling’s threat was to be believed, Cross doubted that the horizon would be a safe distance. This stand-off had to end and it had to end soon. “How much time have I got?” said Cross as he strapped Cross into his ﬂack gel vest. “You’re not out in ten minutes,” said Florimonte. He looked dubious. “We’re rushing him.” Cross smiled thinly at that. “Not the best
plan, considering what he’s got in there,” he said. “Some kind of bomb,” said Florimonte. “Okay,” said Cross. “It’s not a bomb. It’s a Grav Well. Know what that is?” Florimonte shook his head. “It’s like a miniature, artiﬁcial black hole.” “And that’s supposed to tell me what, exactly?” said Florimonte. Cross stifﬂed an exasperated sigh. “It increases the effect of gravity in a localized area,” he said. “So, what?” said Florimonte. “It makes everything super-heavy or something?” “It sucks all the matter around it into itself,” said Cross. “Crushing it down to microscopic size in the process.” The cop whistled as understanding washed over him. “What’s its range?” he said. “About forty square blocks, according to Eidling,” said Cross. “Pulling back twice that might be good.” Florimonte nodded and began muttering orders to that effect into his mic implant. Immediately the police began shoving the mass of onlookers back away from the scene leaving the hastily erected barricades behind. “Okay,” said Cross when Florimonte looked back his way, “I guess I’m going in.” “Nope,” said the cop with a grin. “We’re going in.” Thursday 1030 PST The lobby was nearly identical to that of any corporate foyer anywhere on the planet. There was a central desk with a computer directory, behind which stood two banks of elevators. Florimonte moved to the directory and pressed a few keys. “Emergency power only,” he said over his shoulder. “The building is off the grid.” Cross nodded. That was SOP in building takeovers. The two men looked the lobby over considering their next move. Behl’s people had completely cleared out. The absence of humans moving between its walls gave the place the sudden and distinct impression of having been transformed into a mausoleum. Cross hoped the effect would be as short-lived as it was illusory. “Third ﬂoor, corner,” Florimonte said, point-
ing to the stairs. As they climbed Cross wondered just what the hell he was going to do to diffuse this situation and why Eidling wanted him there at all. There had been nothing in the man’s proﬁle to indicate any of his recent erratic behavior. Cross didn’t like it when people behaved in uncharacteristic ways. It made them hard to predict and therefore hard to manipulate. When they emerged on the third ﬂoor Florimonte, on point, gestured to the left. Turning, Cross noted the single open ofﬁce door at the far end of the corridor. He nodded his understanding to Florimonte and the two men moved out. As he passed them, Cross registered absently the placards on the closed ofﬁce suites. Most, referencing the most esoteric ﬁelds of scientiﬁc research, were incomprehensible, though one or two did manage to make it into his mental archive. Omnidirectional Transport, Inertial Field Cocoon, and the tantalizingly bizarre Tachyon Nesting Project sparked uncomfortable visions in his mind. He had heard rumblings of some of this research before. Other Advocates had logged stories of cases involving unwitting human test subjects spontaneously vanishing from their work-stations only to re-appear, screaming, inside solid objects; of buildings imploding as crucial bits of their support structures, still nakedly visible, became suddenly physically insubstantial. He even remembered a tale told him by an inebriated co-worker about being called to the site of some minor disaster only to meet herself there already on the scene. The memory of those tales, coupled with the few things hinted at by Eidling himself, did not put Cross at ease. Florimonte’s drawing his evil-looking sidearm as they approached Eidling’s door didn’t help much either. “You won’t need that,” said Cross. “Really?” said the cop. “You personally guarantee that?” Cross couldn’t and they both knew it. Florimonte mouthed the words ﬁve minutes before ﬂattening himself against the adjacent wall. Cross knew what he meant, wasn’t happy about it, and was sure there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He settled himself, adopting the closest approximation of calm he could muster, and said, “Dr.
Eidling?” “Come in, Mr. Cross.” The suite was a combination of a traditional laboratory, conference room and business ofﬁce. This one was allocated to Behl’s equivalent of a mid-level executive if Cross was any judge. Two of the walls were some kind of plexi and the other two were plasteel. They were unadorned but for the data nodes that protruded from them. Eidling himself occupied the corner where the two plasteel walls met. He seemed little affected by the siege situation he’d created. Beside him stood a strange looking metallic and ceramic device that Cross took to be the much mentioned Grav Well. It was also remarkably unspectacular in appearance. It resembled nothing so much as a circular footstool with a blender attached to the top. “How much time have they given you?” said Eidling. “Five minutes,” said Cross. Eidling nodded as if he’d expected such a response. “That should be sufﬁcient,” he said. The scientist lifted his hand, revealing a small device that Cross took to be some sort of remote control, and tapped a code on the buttons which adorned its surface. This done he set the thing down on a nearby desk and took a seat. Eidling seemed distracted, as if he was listening to something very far away. “Now,” he said, leveling his gaze on Cross for the ﬁrst time. “I feel I owe you an explanation.” “Why don’t we discuss it outside?” said Cross, smiling a little too broadly. “After you’ve defused that thing.” Eidling seemed to wince at Cross’s interruption and it took him a few seconds to compose himself before speaking again. When he did it was with the voice of a man under massive physical strain. “There is nothing to diffuse,” he said. “After I’ve had my say, I will enter the de-activation code. The device will power down immediately. If, however, I fail to enter the code or if the device is tampered with, the activation process will complete. Do you understand what that means?” Cross nodded. His mouth had suddenly gone dry. “Good,” said Eidling. “Now I must ask you
not to interrupt me. I am trying not think of something and it is placing me under a certain amount of stress.” Trying not to think of something? thought Cross behind his grin. What the hell does that mean? “First of all,” said Eidling. “I’m terribly sorry for the trouble I have caused and I will do all that I can to put things right. If my superiors had allowed me to leave here with my data the whole situation might have been avoided.” Forgetting his instructions, Cross said, “What did you want the data for, Doctor?” Again Eidling winced as if he was suffering some sort of internal seizure. “Please, Mr. Cross,” he said with effort. “This is extremely difﬁcult for me. This data must be destroyed or what happened to Dr. Van Wyck, what is happening to me, will happen to others, perhaps eventually, to everyone.” It ﬁgured the mythical Dr. Van Wyck was still at the center of this. Clearly Eidling’s mind had been wildly out of whack for a lot longer than anyone had supposed. Now he was so far gone Cross thought there might not be any therapies which could bring him back. He also thought of Florimonte, crouched in the hall, pistol ready, a clock ticking away in his head. A bead of sweat appeared at his temple and trickled its way down his still smiling face. Eidling seemed not to notice and went on with his dissertation. “You remember when I asked you if you’d ever thought of information as a sort of virus?” he said. “I suspect even then I had some inkling as to what had occurred. But it was so monstrous that my mind rebelled against the conscious understanding of it. Even as, I’m sure, Dr. Van Wyck’s must have.” Cross had no idea what the little man was ranting about but he was damned sure that nearly half of the allotted ﬁve minutes were up. “You see,” Eidling went on. “When one learns, new pathways are created between synapses in the brain. Even on the molecular and sub-atomic levels, which is where we run into trouble. It’s all a matter of understanding quanta, I’m afraid.” “Dr. Eidling,” said Cross, unable to stand anymore. “If you don’t de-activate that thing and come out with me- now- someone is going to kill you. If what you say is true that means he’ll be killing a couple hundred thousand innocent people as
well. Is that what you want?” Eidling suppressed another strange internal tremor and went on. “Oh, I want considerably more than that, I assure you,” he said. “If I’m unsuccessful here, every computer networked through Behl’s must be purged and destroyed.” “Why, sir?” said Cross plaintively. “You’ll have to excuse me but I still have no idea what you’re getting at.” “First principles, Mr. Cross,” said Eidling. “Of what is reality made? I told you, or nearly told you, that day in your ofﬁce.” Cross’s mind raced. What was he on about? Eidling, seeing his advocate’s distress, went on. This time his tone was that of a patient and indulgent teacher. “Nothing, Mr. Cross. Reality is composed of precisely nothing. Or so the Quantum Mechanics had led us to believe.” Eidling allowed himself a chuckle. “But they were wrong. There is something there at the bottom– a linking, binding, connecting structure which brings all Reality into sharp and simple relief. It was Dr. Van Wyck who solved it.” “Sir,” said Cross without much hope of success. “Please believe me when I tell you that there is no Dr. Van Wyck. There never has been.” “Not now, not now,” said Eidling. A profound sense of sadness seemed suddenly to permeate his being. “You asked me what sort of trouble one could get in just sitting around thinking I believe was how you phrased it?” Cross nodded. There was now no way that he could see to resolve the situation without bloodshed. “Quite a bit as it turns out,” said Eidling. “She solved it, you see. Karin ﬁnally understood what I am trying not to understand right now. That understanding somehow¬ deconstructed her on a quantum level, removing all trace of her from reality.” There was something seductive in the frankness of the little man’s tone. Cross found he almost believed what Eidling was saying even though it was patently impossible. This was just a bunch of equations they were talking about, right? Thought bubbles in an addled mind. “Ok,” said Cross. He spoke slowly, feeling his way as he went. “You’re saying that Dr. Van Wyck ﬁgured something out, something that no one
else in history has ever ﬁgured out, and somehow that made her, what, disappear?” Eventually Eidling nodded. “But, even if that were possible,” said Cross, “which I’m not saying it is, wouldn’t there still be some record of her existence? What about her parents? Her friends?” Eidling actually managed to chuckle at that but it clearly cost him. “What does Nature abhor above all, Mr. Cross?” he said ﬁnally. “Surely you remember that from your elementary science classes?” When it was clear Cross did not Eidling said, “A vacuum, Mr. Cross. Nature, the Omniverse, abhors a vacuum. Think, Mr. Cross, think.” And then, at last, Cross did think. He thought of the invisible Dr. Karin Van Wyck and her immaterial life. Her unknown parents, her unmet friends, her unborn children all wiped from existence by one mathematic ﬂourish. Every act she’d undertaken re-assigned or removed. All this done, automatically, instantly and retro-actively to ﬁll the vacuum left by her inadvertent removal from existence, to protect Reality from the void. No, thought Cross. It’s not possible. “But,” he began in that same halting cadence. “But you remember her, doctor.” “Obviously.” “But, if what you say is true,” said Cross. “You would have been– uh- over-written- along with the rest of us, wouldn’t you?” “Very good, Mr. Cross,” the little man rasped. “I was also bothered by that, at ﬁrst. There are three possible answers to that question. One: I am, as you believe, unbalanced, and all this is a function of my delusion-” That would be my vote, thought Cross. “Two,” said Eidling. “That the over-writing process is not 100%, that there are bound to be some minor loose ends. My personal memories of Karin, on a cosmic scale, would certainly qualify as minor.” “And the third option?” said Cross, barely recognizing his own voice. “Ahh, yes. The third option,” said Eidling. “This is the one to which I subscribe. The third choice is that I myself am near to solving the very same formulae which caused my Karin’s erasure. Perhaps this has shielded me in some way from the effects of the over-writer.”
Was that what Eidling was trying not to think about? That, by solving for himself some obscure and esoteric set of equations, he would think himself out of existence? Half an hour ago Cross would have dismissed the entire idea as lunacy, but now? Now that same gut feeling which had served him so well so many times before was telling him that there was truth to the little man’s words. “Doctor,” said Cross realizing that more than time was running out, “You have to solve the equation.” Eidling simply smiled at that. It was the ﬁrst sign of unpolluted pleasure that Cross had seen on his mousy little face. “Yes, Mr. Cross, I do,” he said. “However, there is our second hypothesis to consider. If the over-writing which follows my solution takes place but leaves my– our– collected data intact, well, the result could be catastrophic.” Cross was about to ask how when he realized he already knew. There were perhaps a thousand minds within Behl’s sphere of inﬂuence alone which could grasp Eidling’s research. One of them might come across these formulae ﬂoating in the cybervoid, now authorless but still sound. The new scientist would be intrigued, fascinated, would be driven to solve the equations herself. She would solve them and be erased. The vacuum would be ﬁlled again, over-written again, and still the data might remain. If the over-writing process had failed to delete this data the ﬁrst time, why shouldn’t it fail do so again? And again and again and again. How much erasure and over-writing could reality take? It was that last thought that chilled Cross to his marrow and made him an instant co-conspirator with Eidling. “We have to destroy the data,” he said numbly. “Indeed,” said Eidling. “That is what I was attempting to do when I was forced to take the measure which brought you here. I believe I’ve managed to purge all the corporate systems but was unable to get away with this.” Eidling produced, from one of his many pockets, a small translucent cube. Cross recognized it at once as a holographic storage array. It was a common enough data repository, used the world over by anyone with a need for large amounts of data
storage. Cross extended his hand and took it from Eidling’s grasp. It was surprisingly cold to the touch. “It’s all in there,” said Eidling. “Every theorem and forumala Dr. Van Wyck and I ever wrote on the subject has been culled from the Nets and stored in that cube.” Cross knew it was an illusion but he could swear he felt the thing grow heavier in his hand. “If you still have that when- after–,” said Eidling, “you must destroy it. Physically.” Cross nodded and shoved the cube into his pocket. “And now,” said Eidling. “I must complete the equation.” Eidling closed his eyes. Cross watched as the tension began to slowly melt away from his face. In fact the only movement Cross could see was Eidling’s lips moving, mouthing the numbers and symbols which made up the fatal equation. “Wait!” he said in sudden panic. “What about the bomb? You have to defuse it.” As if in answer there was a beep from the activation mechanism. One after the other the three small LED’s winked out. The Grav Well was offline. “I was only blufﬁng,” whispered the little man. “Now, I think, Mr. Cross, it is good-bye. Hope for the third option.” Cross watched Eidling, ready for anything. Presently the man broke into a shy little smile. Then he said something Cross couldn’t hear for the sudden and oppressive sound of a torrent rushing past him. For an interval that could have been an hour or a thousand years the room swirled around them like a running watercolor. He heard himself screaming, felt himself being swept away by the impossible liquid rush and saw, at the center of it all, Eidling. He was laughing. “It tickles,” he said. Then he was gone, winked out of Cross’s perception like the hush at the end of a sigh. Cross didn’t have time to concern himself. He had become nothing but a sliver of energy arcing between points of swirling color. He wondered brieﬂy if purple and sixteen could eat stones and then it all just– Thursday 1037 PST He’d had a thought of some kind in his head
a second ago, he was sure– something about dancing and ﬂoating clocks– but now it was gone. For a moment he didn’t know exactly what he was doing there or even where there was exactly. “It’s ﬁve minutes, Cross,” came a hoarse, urgent whisper from behind him. “What’s going on? Did you turn the damn thing off or what?” Cross glanced at the strange little device. Little but lethal, he thought. No one knew who had built the thing or what they hoped to accomplish by setting it here– aside from causing this ruckus. Whoever had done it, why-ever they had, it had either been a miscalculation or a massive practical joke. The Grav Well was inert. It had never come to full activation. The numbers had ticked down for a time but, at the last instant, the device had switched itself completely off. “Cross!” said Florimonte. “Damn it! What’s happening?” He glanced quickly around the cluttered little room. Here was a chair, here a desk, here the small access terminals mounted in the wall. It was all completely normal, commonplace even, but somehow it all seemed unreal. Insubstantial. “It’s over,” he said as Florimonte came up beside him. “It’s all over.” “Good,” said the policeman. “I have to tell you I was getting worried.” Florimonte ﬁshed around in his vest for a time until he ﬁnally produced an archaic contrivance of paper and chemically treated leaves. “Cigarette?” he said, placing it in his mouth. Cross, still somewhere else, shook his head. Florimonte ﬁshed some more. “Hell,” he said ﬁnally. “Got a light?” “What’s that?” said Cross as if waking from a deep reverie. “You say something, Florimonte?” “Yeah,” said the cop. “You got a light?” Cross angled around in his own jacket and pants for a moment or two then shook his head. “Sorry,” he said with a widening grin. “My pockets are empty.” He left Florimonte to orchestrate the site clean-up and made his way down the stairs. He wanted to be outside suddenly, feeling the sun on his skin and the nip in the air. He wanted a nice lunch with a pretty girl and at least a couple of days off. He wanted to see people smiling and know from those
smiles that all was right-– or mostly right– with the world. It was a lovely day after all. It would be a shame to waste it. ---End
Michael Wm. Kaluta Interview By
John Donald Carlucci
little needs to be said about this man’s impressive and long career.
He is an artist’s artist whose work has inspired everyone who views it. His visual interpretation of the writer’s words adds unique life and vibrancy to any character. Astonishing Adventures Magazine: You’ve experienced a rich and long career - what would you consider being missed opportunities? What regrets do you have creatively? Michael Wm. Kaluta: As years go by, the missed opportunities are many: the most disappointment came when projects I’d set my mind toward in anticipation of having a fun, challenging and lucrative experience evaporated, generally with little or no explanation and certainly no recompense for time and trouble. I’m citing the “large” projects that would have been career-shaping. For example: being asked to pre-package an entire catalog of occult books: new covers and ad art, possibly interior work for some books. Dozens of titles, all to have my brand of design, drawing and color • Poof! Other examples: designing a theme park • Poof! Designing a miniature golf course with a high fantasy theme • Poof! Then there were the various ﬁlm and game jobs that months of work went into for no visible result. Of course, every artist has their own set of such disappointments. It’s the “world that could have been and never will” that I regret. AAM: Do you photo-reference when doing your work?
MWK: Not as a general rule, but “research elements” nearly always play a big part, especially if the job has anything to do with “the real world”. Those elements can be photos, art, written word descriptions, ﬁlm/TV or even sketching on the street. But as for using a photo as the subject of a picture, copied directly to the art, no, not really. AAM: What size canvas or board do you use when producing your cover work? MWK: My comic book cover work is generally done on 11” x 17” paper. Sometimes the image is boxed, say 10 x 15 (close to the comic book cover dimension) and sometimes the entire page is used, right to the edges. If oil paint is involved (rare for me these days), the canvas is generally 16” x 20” or larger. To this date the largest picture I’ve done in the India ink and watercolor approach is 40” x 60”. It was a bear• nearly broke my back leaning over the board. (one of the Very Good Reasons for working at about 12 x 17 inches is the ease of scanning the original• a larger piece would need to be photographed or scanned at a Service Bureau) AAM: Have you considered exploring digital coloring for your work? MWK: I use the computer to tweak my art, so far. If I could work with someone who colors or paints digitally, I know I’d pick up some helpful stuff. My high energy levels are focused on coming up with Ideas and doing the pictures; I’ve not been able to budget energy toward learning the digital craft. AAM: How does it feel to be an inﬂuence on other artists in the same way Roy Krenkel was to you? MWK: Well• it is quite a kick - a real satisfaction when I’m told by others how much my work has inspired them. At such times I see myself talking to Roy, Al Williamson or Frank Frazetta when they helped point the way forward for me. Being reminded that my work has more effect than just gracing the page is like extra payment, certainly, and it humbles me. AAM: Why do you think pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Spider fascinate us to this day?
MWK: I think it might be the enhanced individualism in the characters, married to the sense that whatever ones does is accepted, and is in fact a boon to the public good, that keeps the Pulp Characters so “alive” in print. When someone gets it “right” in the movies, there’ll be a resurgence of that style of story across the entertainment spectrum. AAM: Can you name any ﬁlms that you believe nail the pulp ﬁgure? MWK: Hmmmm... If we were thinking about the NOIR-type character, there are many and sundry: “Out of the Past” being a perfect ﬁlm in this Genre (and “The Dark Corner” being equally apt, though nowhere near as downbeat)... but for the speciﬁc Pulp-Action-Hero I’d have to say “The Rocketeer” is the best ever in that category, and one has to love “Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow” for its In Your Face delightfulness. I’ve gone on record noting that Richard Bohringer, as Gorodish in the ﬁlm “Diva”, acts a LOT like The Shadow... if you’ve not seen the ﬁlm, it is very much worth a gander: quite a tight, literate, entertaining set-to that is constantly surprising. In his stories, The Shadow nearly always gave his “enemies”, unless they were petty henchmen, the opportunity of Doing What Was Right, and if they didn’t, they, themselves were the cause of their own destruction. In “Diva” the character I note is very much in command of the situation, setting up the sort of dead-fall traps The Shadow was known for, to the consternation of the bad guys. AAM: Editor Tim Gallagher supplied a great deal of Shadow material to Alec Baldwin and was disappointed that it was largely ignored (nor returned). He is planning an article describing his experience with what was wrong with the Shadow ﬁlm for this very issue. To provide a counter - what do you think that they got right for the ﬁlm? MWK: I’m not really the guy to ask what was right with that Shadow ﬁlm. As my friend and collaborator Joel Goss pointed out, “There’s not much good to be said about a ﬁlm where the most memorable scene is when the mail is delivered.” In his defense, Alec Baldwin, not being a guy who grew up with the Shadow pulps, saw the production as a “camp” style story, as opposed to the very strong pulp noir it could have been. If you watch “The Getaway” you’ll see him doing many more Shadow-like moves, especially covering his lower face with his hand before blowing a hole in a bad guy he was hovering over. Sweet move. One cannot forgive the producers: they’d been told from all sides just how much more Real Shadow Content the ﬁlm needed to be strong. Had they listened to Mike Richardson, Jim Steranko or even me, they’d
have had a franchise on their hands and we’d be lining up for The Shadow VI. Having said the above (and that in no way covers all my disappointments with the movie), if you turn off the sound and just watch the ﬁlm, it is pretty goodlooking. The Art Department followed much more of the material I, and others, sent in, and the ﬁlm shows it. But the total effect of the ﬁlm, in my opinion, is a misﬁre. Too bad. AAM: I have to say that The Shadow pretty much ends at the bridge for me, but what did you think of the Doc Savage ﬁlm done by Michael Anderson in 1975? MWK: Is that the one with Ron Ely? I have to admit I never think about it. The closest to a sort of Pulp-inspired story on ﬁlm that I’ve seen is the 1931 Ronald Coleman ﬁlm “The Unholy Garden”... it looks like a SPIRIT story right out of Will Eisner’s pen... but it’s not pulpy like a Shadow or Doc Savage story. Buckaroo Banzai was a ﬁne attempt: had there been more, I think they would have become much more what we’d be looking for. AAM: Do you prefer more modern work like the Shadow, or medieval fantasy such as Elric and Conan? MWK: My heart feels most at home with the Edgar Rice Burroughs-type story: all worlds, pre-historic to future, done in what we call a “retro” style, the future or past as seen from the 1930’s: that’s my most sought-for viewpoint. AAM: Who are the writers that you have not worked with yet and would love a chance to illustrate their words? MWK: One ﬁrst-rate author is Gustave Flaubert, in his book Salammbo. Hundreds of pages of very ripe illustration fodder. The writer list could be endless: Carolyn Keene, Susannah Clarke, JK Rowling - and though it would be a heck of a lot of work, as it takes place in Regency England, Georgette Heyer’s novel, The Masqueraders.
AAM: I’ve noticed more than a passing resemblance to Tim Hunter with the Harry Potter series. Has there been any discussion concerning any infringement based upon the series and appearance of young Tim? MWK: Certainly: Neil Gaiman has gone on record (years ago) that he believed there was not the slightest chance that JK Rowling caged anything for Harry Potter from his Tim Hunter comics... it’s true that both Tim and Harry, at the beginning, are 11 to 13 year old English School Boys with round glasses and a scar on their foreheads. Tim’s scar isn’t always visible, and is an “H” for “Hero”, scratched there by his Owl. (see my rendition of Tim Hunter with his scar and his owl, in the background as a wooden board) (See this and this for the Tim Hunter images I think are closest to Harry’s look. I’ll admit to drawing about 8 personal Tim and Harry, Best of Friends homage drawings. While Harry has his broomstick, Tim has his Skateboard: just a skateboard, not a magical implement.) Let me go on record as being the absolute happiest of men that there’s both JK Rowling’s magniﬁcent Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman’s equally complex and entertaining Tim Hunter in my world. AAM: Would you name a few artists you think are doing intriguing and inﬂuential work today? MWK: Certainly, though this list is far from exhaustive: Jon Foster, Justin Sweet, Tom Kidd, James Jean, Josh Middleton, Charles Vess, Gary Gianni and oh so many more: for a longer but still incomplete listing (with linked web sites) please visit the LINKS page on my Web Site and scroll to “artists I like”. AAM: Have you experienced ageism when seeking assignments and being passed over for younger artists? MWK: Not that I’ve noticed. I seem to have an expertise in a style not many younger folk are trying for so, as long as an editor has been made aware of my “take”, I seem to get the calls. AAM: What is the project you would do if you were allowed only one
more masterwork? MWK: I suppose if I had only one more book to illustrate, it might be that Flaubert’s Salammbo I cited earlier. But, if it meant I had to stick my spoon in the wall when I was done, I’d pick something more along the lines of “all the books that ever needed to be illustrated.” --- End
Night of the Devil Pig A True Life Adventure by
Timothy D. Gallagher i stand in the darkened, litter-strewn alley,
propped-up unsteadily on one crutch. Not twentyﬁve feet away stands a hulking, nightmarish creature. Its burning red eyes ﬁx me with their baleful glare. The monstrous mouth, framed by cruel, jagged tusks, opens to emit a blood-chilling bellow of rage. Even at that distance, the monster’s fetid breath washes over me. I’m overwhelmed in equal measures of nausea and terror. Then the beast charges at me. Crippled as I am, there is no hope of escape. This is the end; I know it is. They say that when you are about to die that your whole life ﬂashes before your eyes. Well, at that moment I get gypped, because I only ﬂash back to earlier in the day... So there I was, sitting on a bench in Chinatown’s Central Plaza, staring at the back of the statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Trying to rest my injured foot, which is encased in a post-surgery protective boot. Hopped up on Hello Boss. Listening to the clatter of Mah Jong tiles through the open door of the Hop Sing Tong’s building. Watching Chinese men play Chinese chess on wooden tables they keep moving so they can stay in the shade. I envy them their shade. There’s none near the bench I’m on, and despite my shorts and light polo shirt, I’m baking in the LA sun. Not for the ﬁrst time I curse whatever ancestor of mine it was who mated with a Sasquatch, leaving me with a full coat of body hair. It served me well when I lived in a northern clime, but now it’s a nuisance and, in body-and-ﬁtness conscious LA, sometimes a source of severe embarrassment. Unbidden, my memory races back to my ﬁrst and only pedicure. I only went to accompany a woman (the root of all evil!) I was trying to date. Things were going along swimmingly until the young, petite Vietnamese woman who was working on my feet started giggling uncontrollably. She
called all the other women working in the salon to her side. Then, as they all gabbered and giggled away in Vietnamese, my attendant pulled a hair on my big toe to its full four-inch length. “You have toes like monkey,” she said, causing the rest of the salon - including my female companion - to burst into uproarious laughter. I grimace at the memory. Needless to say - but I will anyway - I never saw the woman again. Then I’m pulled from my reverie by another voice. “I have a job for you.” The voice belongs to a short, rotund, and rather elderly Chinese man sitting next to me on the bench. He has a long, thin, straggly white beard that reaches past his rounded belly. The beard is only slightly longer than the bushy eyebrows that all but obscure his eyes. The outer ends of eyebrows reach his cheeks. I recognize him instantly, even as I marvel at how he was able to approach without me hearing him: the one, the only, Herbert Fu Chang. “Nice to see you again, too,” I say without much enthusiasm. Fu Chang watches the men playing Chinese chess across the plaza. Without looking at me he points to my boot. “What happened to your foot?” “Whattaya mean what happened? This is from the last time you had a ‘job’ for me.” “That was months ago! And still you’re on crutches?” “The torn ligament’s taking forever to heal. I ﬁnally had surgery on it a few weeks ago as a last resort.” Fu Chang spits. “Surgery. Pfah! Western medicine! If you had eaten the snake gall when I said you would be healed by now.” “I’m not eating any snake gall!” “Stubborn fool! Snake is the curative for all foot ailments.” “That makes no sense. Snakes ain’t got no feets.” Fu Chang shakes his head. “Your English is
abominable.” I sigh. It’s like this every time. “So, how did you ﬁnd me?” Fu Chang ﬁnally turns to look at me. His expression tells me he thinks he’s just heard the stupidest thing in his life. “You’re a hairy, blonde giant wandering around Chinatown,” he says. “You stick out like a sore foot.” “Sore thumb.” “Your thumb hurts, too?” “No. The expression is ‘sticks out like a sore thumb.’” “Are you sure about that?” “Of course I’m sure. Geez, how long’ve you been living in this country anyway?” Fu Chang might be old and wizened, but sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a rock. “About a hundred years. What’s that got to do with anything?” Fu Chang shakes his head in exasperation. “Sometimes talking to you is like talking to a rock. Look at you, sweating like you’re in a sauna. Hopped up on Hello Boss.” He picks up the empty Hello Boss can. “How can you drink this garbage?” “It’s not garbage. It’s Chinese canned iced coffee.” Fu Chang gestures, his arm sweeping the plaza. “Look around. Do you see anyone else drinking it?” Before I have a chance to answer, he stands and hands me my crutches. “Come. We have work to do.” I follow Fu Chang down Mei Ling Way as best I can on the crutches. There’s never any question of whether or not I will. We both know I have no choice, although Fu Chang would never be so rude as to tell me that. At least not directly. The long and short of it is, I owe Herbert Fu Chang my life. Why is perhaps a story for another time. Let’s just say that since I met him, my life has become like the movie BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Only the TV series version. An unending TV series. With an unlimited budget. Fu Chang takes me on a tour of several businesses - mostly restaurants and markets - that have been heavily damaged as if a wrecking crew had gone on a spree. Doors and windows are broken or
torn out, walls are demolished, garbage dumpsters are shredded as if the steel they were made from was really aluminum foil. I’m shocked by what I see. This devastation belongs in war-torn Baghdad, not Chinatown. At each establishment the owners come out and greet Fu Chang. Not a single one of them acknowledge my existence. Fu Chang listens as they tell him their troubles, describe the damage. Many of them, both men and women, are in tears. It will be days, weeks in some cases, before the damage is repaired. Where will they get the money for the repairs? How will they stay in business? What will happen to their families? Somehow, despite not speaking Chinese, I understand what they say. Fu Chang reassures each of them, tells them that a way will be found to ﬁx their problems. To each he mentions someone her refers to as his son, Wu Kong, and their faces brighten. They express their gratitude, some pressing small gifts into his hands. He makes a polite effort at refusal, but when they insist he smiles, bows, and thanks them profusely. The last business we visit on our tour is The Imperial Palace restaurant. I shake my head in disbelief. What I had seen before was bad, but this is many times worse. The building looks like it’s been hit several times by a wrecking ball. Bits and scraps of food are scattered all over the back alley. The owner, Mr. Woo, a small, smartly dressed middle-aged man, greets Fu Chang. He has a similar tale to tell, although he adds that all his refrigerators, freezers and pantries have been raided, and all his foodstuffs are gone or ruined. He shakes his head sadly, states that the initial estimate he received indicates that it will take months to repair The Imperial Palace. Fu Chang reassures him as well, again mentioning his son, Wu Kong. Mr. Woo smiles brightly. Then they shake hands, and Fu Chang and I leave. LA’s Chinatown is not that big, certainly nowhere the size of the ones in New York or San Francisco. On any given day, even with trafﬁc lights and crowded sidewalks, you can walk from one end of Chinatown to the other in less than ten minutes. Yet the twisting and turning trek Fu Chang takes me on, through side alleys that don’t appear on any map, seems to take hours. We arrive ﬁnally at a nondescript door in a
building at the end of an alley. Fu Chang’s shop has no sign over the door. It has no need of one. The people who need to know can ﬁnd it easily. Even me, who has never been brought here the same way twice, can ﬁnd it. But for everyone else, it simply doesn’t exist. Fu Chang opens the unlocked door and enters the shop. He doesn’t even turn to see if I’m following. He knows I will. As I enter the darkened shop I’m struck by the cool darkness. It’s like heaven after baking in the afternoon sun. My eyes adjust and I look around, amazed as always. Fu Chang’s shop, dark and dusty though it maybe, is like no other shop in Chinatown. There are none of the trinkets or cheap Chinese goods for the tourists. No forest of bamboo plants or money trees in endless variations of Chinese vases. No nylon suits or dresses with Chinese motifs. Instead, his is a true curio shop ﬁlled with natural oddities preserved in glass jars; bladed weapons of all shapes and sizes that have actually seen use; volume upon cobwebbed volume of Chinese texts, some on shelves, many others in piles scattered about; astrolabes and abacuses and gyroscopes and a dozen other type of scientiﬁc instrument I don’t know the name of; an entire wall of small wooden drawers, running from ﬂoor to ceiling, containing hundreds of different herbs and other substances; hand-painted gods and guardian demons on age-yellowed paper tacked all over the walls; carved ﬁgurines of every size and shape in jade and various woods; and incongruously, on the dusty counter, a Rubik’s cube lies unsolved. Fu Chang parks his rotund carcass on a wooden stool behind the counter. He produces a colorful silk handkerchief from his pocket and mops his brow with it. He motions me to another, less substantial-looking stool. “Don’t break anything,” he says, as if that were my intention for being there. I slowly lower myself onto the stool, careful to have my crutches still carry some of my weight. “I bet that foot of yours is hurting a lot right now,” he says. “I bet you wish you had some snake gall to make it better.” “Fu...” “I’m just saying, some snake gall might be just what the doctor ordered, is all.”
“I’m not eating any snake gall!” The beaded curtain that separates the shop from the rest of the building swishes aside. A stunningly beautiful Chinese woman in her twenties enters the shop. Even in the dark shop her ﬂawless skin seems to shine, as does her jet black hair that cascades past her shoulders. She is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans that hug her magniﬁcently curved body so tightly I wonder if perhaps she was poured into them. This is Ti Liang, Fu Chang’s granddaughter. Ti Liang smiles at me as she proffers a wooden tray laden with tea in an ornate ceramic cup and a cold, sweating can of Hello Boss. My heart melts immediately, despite my lifetime membership in the He-Man Woman Haters Club. I smile back, then catch Fu Chang scowling at me. I take the cold can of Hello Boss from the wooden tray, then quickly avert my gaze to the ﬂoor. “Thank you,” I mumble. “You’re welcome,” she replies in a voice that sounds like music. “It’s good to see you again.” Ti Liang walks to her grandfather, seemingly oblivious to the withering look he is giving me. She hands him the teacup, then plants a kiss on his wizened old cheek. Even Fu Chang isn’t immune to her charms. He busts out in an ear-to-ear grin. “Welcome home, grandfather.” “Thank you, Ti Liang. How is son, Wu Kong?” She nods. “He’s ﬁne. He’s been sitting in his room all afternoon.” “Please ask him to join us.” “Of course,” she says. As she exits she ﬂashes me another smile. In that moment, I’ve died and gone to heaven. Leave it to Fu Chang to bring me back to earth. It takes a moment for me to realize that he’s been calling my name for some time. I see the Rubik’s cube in his hands, which means he’s twice as irritated. “Huh?” I say, intelligently. “I said, ‘if you’re through ogling my granddaughter, we can get to business.’” “Sure,” I respond, popping the pull-tab on my Hello Boss. I take a swig of the mega-cafﬁenated, sweetened Taiwanese iced coffee. “I’m assuming this is all about the damaged buildings.” “You’re not as stupid as you look.” He’s
talking to me, but he’s concentrating on the cube. I ignore the jab. “And it’s not something you want the police involved in.” “Yes, sharp as a bag of rocks, you are.” “Look, Fu, you’re the one who came to me, remember? What I don’t understand--” “Could ﬁll entire libraries,” he mutters under his breath. “-- is what you expect me to do. I can’t do magic like you. I don’t know kung fu, so I can’t ﬁght.” I hold up the crutches. “And I’m kinda on the disabled list, in case you hadn’t noticed.” “You don’t have to do anything, really. I just need you to assist son, Wu Kong.” “Again, why me, father Fu Chang?” Fu Chang suddenly curses vehemently in Chinese. He slams the Rubik’s cube on the counter. “Accursed demon thing!” “Y’know,” I say, “There’s some college kid who can solve that thing in eleven and a half seconds.” This earns me the angry hairy eyeball from Fu Chang. I’m saved from whatever blistering remark he’s about to make by the arrival of Ti Liang and one other person. It’s a man, about ﬁve seven or so. Wiry frame. His face is shadowed by the brim of an old fedora. The white wife-beater T-shirt he’s wearing shows that I’m no longer the hairiest guy in Chinatown. This guy must be dying in the heat, because literally every inch of him is covered in thick, brown hair. Not just on his chest, arms and shoulders, but running up his neck, too. He looks up at me and the light shows his face, and I see a beard and thick, fanning sideburns. I think he might be one of those wolf boys you see on the Spanish-language stations all the time. Y’know, the ones that look like little werewolves? Except there’s something strange about his facial features. And those gold eyes. Something I can’t put my ﬁnger on. And then I see the tail. A long, prehensile, brown-hair covered tail. And it comes together for me. He’s not a wolf boy. He’s a monkey boy. He’s not Fu Chang’s son, Wu Kong, He’s Sun Wukong. The freakin’ Monkey King. You know the story, right? JOURNEY TO THE WEST. The Monkey King (or “the handsome
Monkey King,” as he liked to refer to himself) gets bored with his lot in life. Studies and learns a bunch of magical powers. Much mischief ensues. Whereby he is then summoned to Heaven so the gods can keep an eye on him. He learns more magic. Much more mischief ensues. Scores of heroes and gods try to capture him to make him pay for his misbehavior, but they fail. He’s captured by the Jade Emperor of Heaven, and has a mountain dropped on him for ﬁve hundred years. After ﬁve hundred years, he has to prove that he has repented his mischievous monkey ways by escorting a monk west to India to retrieve some holy sutras (thus the title JOURNEY TO THE WEST). They acquire two more companions - Pigsy and Friar Sand - along the way. Much, much more mischief ensues. However, by journey’s end, Monkey has proven that he has truly repented and is allowed to ascend to Heaven for his eternal reward. The end. Except now I’m staring him right in his gold monkey eyes. And he’s staring right back at me, sizing me up. And I’m suddenly aware that I don’t want some super-powered monkey angry at me. Fu Chang makes the introductions. Sun Wukong and I both look at him, waiting for an explanation. Apparently, His Monkey Highness has not been brought up to speed, either. Fu Chang says, “You have both seen the damage. Something has been attacking Chinatown businesses these past two nights. Something no man, and certainly not your police-” (that’s directed at me) “- can defend against. Much less defeat. “We are fortunate that no one has been hurt yet. And the damage has not extended outside of Chinatown, so we are able to keep this matter hidden from others. But that will not last. This beast must be stopped, and you two must do it.” “Sifu,” the Monkey King says, addressing Fu Chang as master, “I don’t need the assistance of this white ghost. There is no beast or monster I can’t defeat.” “I’m with him,” I say, jerking my thumb at Monkey Boy. “He doesn’t need my help. Why don’t you call someone like the God of Guns?” Fu Chang says to the Monkey King: “Sun Wukong, you know you can not go out alone. I, however, must stay here to maintain the spell that keeps the outside world from learning of our troubles.”
To me he says: “And the God of Guns is ill-suited to this task. You must accompany him. Sun Wukong needs a guide in this new and modern world.” The Monkey King doesn’t look too happy about the arrangement, his expression I’m sure mirroring mine. I’m trying to think of any way of getting out of this pickle when I feel a soft touch on my arm. It’s Ti Chiang, a worried expression on her ﬂawless features. Her dark eyes lock onto mine, and suddenly I know that even if I were being eaten by piranhas, at that moment I’d be completely unaware of it. “Please,” she says softly. “My grandfather is very old. He’ll never admit it, but he’s beginning to feel his age. He can’t ﬁght like he used to. If he goes tonight he could get hurt. Or worse.” “What about me?” a tiny voice, the part that’s a member of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, cries out inside me. “Besides, he trusts you,” she says. Then she smiles at me. “And so do I.” And mentally, I’m ripping-up my Lifetime Membership card to the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Which is how I ﬁnd myself, hours later when night has fallen, sitting on the roof of a tall building near the Dragon Gate on Broadway. The Monkey King is there as well. From here we have a vantage point where we can see most of Chinatown. It’s no picnic getting him there. The Monkey King is curious about this new, modern world. He watches every car that passes by. He’s fascinated by the electric lights. He dances to the music streaming out of several stores. He presses his face up against shop windows, marvelling at the contents inside. He asks me questions about everything. He’s like the poster child for ADD, only ten times worse. I wish I had a tranquilizer gun loaded with Ritalin. Despite the glamour spell put on us by Fu Chang to make us appear as ordinary citizens of Chinatown, we’re still attracting a lot of attention. It’s all I can do to get him to the building we need and drag him to the roof. Even up here, he can’t sit still. He bounces around the roof. He counts the people walking below. He names all the different colors of the lights
he sees. He smiles broadly, a kid in a candy store. I have to almost sit on him to get him to quiet down and focus on the task at hand. “In the old days, I could’ve watched from sitting on a cloud,” sighs the Monkey King, after sitting quietly for almost a whole minute. He’s gotten rid of the clothes he wore at Fu Chang’s. Now he wears a bright red, long-sleeved shirt and loose tan pants. A gold circlet around his brow catches the bright lights from below and seems to glow on its own. From what I remember of his story, the circlet was placed on his head so if he misbehaved, the monk he was escorting could make the it induce great pain. “I don’t think a cloud would hold me,” I say. “Besides, I’m afraid of heights.” He looks at me, and I don’t know if it’s a trick of the light, but I think there’s pity in his gold eyes. “Don’t worry. I can’t do that anymore.” “Why not?” “Some of my powers were taken away. It’s part of my punishment. That’s why I’m back on Earth.” “And this?” I ask, tapping my forehead. The Monkey King nods. “To make sure I don’t misbehave while I’m here. It worked the last time, so why not?” “Mind if I ask what you did? I mean, I thought you had earned an eternal place in Heaven.” “I did. But do have any real concept of eternity? That’s a awful long time to expect a monkey to not act like a monkey.” “I suppose. But to get kicked out of Heaven again?” “Oh, I’m not worried about it,” he says exuberantly with a smile. “This time, I’ll show them. Fu Chang is a great sifu. By helping him, I’ll be back in Heaven in no time.” And that is when there is a great crashing sound, followed by a monstrous bellowing that freezes my blood. We both jump to our feet (well, okay, I don’t exactly jump, but I get up as fast as I can with the crutches). The Monkey King leaps to the edge of the roof. “It came from over there!” he cries excitedly, pointing to south, past Cesar Chavez Avenue. “Come on, let’s go!” “But wait, that’s not--” I never get to ﬁnish what I’m saying. Monkey wraps one of his arms
around me and leaps into the air. The next few seconds - although they stretch out like hours - are sheer terror as we sail over the rooftops. I want to look away but I’m frozen. Even as we start to fall, the ground rushing up at us with ever increasing speed, I can’t even scream. I ﬁnally manage to shut my eyes just as we’re about to impact the sidewalk. Ridiculously, I’m also hoping that I haven’t peed in my pants. Then--nothing. I open my eyes. We’re both standing on the ground in an alley somewhere south of Chinatown. The Monkey King is looking at me, puzzled, trying to ﬁgure out if there’s something wrong with me. It’s only then, when I realize that I’m not dead, that I manage to ﬁnd my voice again. And I scream like a little girl. I scream long and loud. The Monkey King jumps back. He’s crouched down, in a ﬂight-or-ﬁght stance, not sure what to make of me. He reaches to his right ear and pulls out a small golden rod, about two inches long. While I’m still screaming I watch the rod grow in his hand (paw?) to a staff six feet long. He twirls the staff in his ﬁngers. I can tell from his expression that he’s wondering if he’s going to have to hit me with it. Finally, I’m hoarse and out of breath and can scream no more. I gulp air, then shake my ﬁnger at the Monkey King. “Don’t (gasp) ever (wheeze) do (gasp) that (choking/gagging noise) again!” He’s about to respond when a group of Hispanics come running down the alley towards us. They’re screaming and yelling in fear, much like I did. An old woman, supported by a young man, passes me. She looks at me and points down the alley, her eyes rolling with terror. She yells something in Spanish, but the only thing I understand is “El Porko Diablo.” The Devil Pig? Then they’ve passed us. I look to where the old woman pointed. I see the shattered remains of a tacqueria, the back end of the building torn apart. The dumpster is overturned in the alley, its contents strewn about the ground. I see a dark shape in the hole in the building’s back wall. It’s huge, vaguely man-shaped, and even hunched over I can tell it’s at least ten feet tall. It’s snufﬂing and snorting, accompanied by an occasional deep-chested grunt. I know
in an instant that this is the beast that we’re looking for. The beast backs out of the building, a large pot in one of its car tire-sized hands, the remains of a condiment and ﬁxings’ table in the other. As it tilts its head back to upend the contents of each hand into its cavernous mouth, I get a good look at the face in the light of a streetlamp. The thing has small, red eyes that glow malevolently in the dark. Two large, pink ears, with bristles the thickness of a pencil, ﬂap at the top of its head. A large snout ends in a ﬂattened nose with nostrils large enough to snort a softball. The mouth is framed by cruel, yellowed tusks. It is a giant, monster pig, and it is eating the remains of a taco stand. Finished, the beast throws aside the pot and the table, and they clatter to the ground. The beast looks about, licking its lips. It’s thirsty, looking for something to drink. It reaches inside the shattered building and retrieves a large bottle. As it breaks of the top of the bottle and begins guzzling the contents, I see the bottle label in the dim light. It’s hot sauce. Right then and there, I don’t see this ending well. The bottle is emptied and thrown away before the beast feels the effects. I can see steam coming from its nostrils, ﬂames from its mouth. It thrashes about, bellowing in pain and rage. Then those beady red eyes ﬁnd me. The beast has a target to vent its anger upon. It charges me, and I do the only thing I’m capable of doing at that moment. I scream. Again. Long and loud. The beast hasn’t covered ten feet before the Monkey King jumps into its path. The monster swings a ﬁst to smash him, but the Monkey King leaps away. The ﬁst strikes the ground, shatters the concrete alleyway. El Porko Diablo switches its attention to the Monkey King, shaking its ﬁsts at him. The Devil Pig then screams, and lo and behold, it screams in Spanish: “Por que?” A pause, as if awaiting an answer. “Si!” The Monkey King bounces around the beast, trying to confuse it. He rolls and darts, leaps and chatters, smiling down at the Devil Pig while perched on a ﬁre escape. He’s not afraid of El Porko Diablo; he’s having a grand ole time. El Porko Diablo, on the other hand, continues to grunt and bellow like the enormous boar that
it is. Its ﬁsts keep swinging for the Monkey King, but continue to miss. Then Sun Wukong gets bored and leaps down to go toe-to-toe with the Devil Pig. They trade blows back and forth, the Monkey King mostly blocking with his staff. To my eye it appears they’re evenly matched. This just frustrates El Porko Diablo more. “Por que?” it screams and smashes the concrete again. “No!” This time a piece of concrete ﬂies off. It hits one of my aluminum crutches, bending it in two. I fall to the ground painfully. I wince from the agony, but at least I’m no longer embarrassing myself by screaming. This distracts the Monkey King, though. He looks my way just long enough for one of El Porko Diablo’s ﬁsts to connect. My last sight of the Monkey King is him tumbling in the air and disappearing over the rooftops. I turn to ﬁnd El Porko Diablo standing over me, its eyes burning like hate-ﬁlled red coals. The steam from its nostrils washes over me, sickening me, but I’m too scared to vomit. This is it. I’m dead. The tusk-framed mouth opens menacingly, and I wonder if I’ll end up being one bite or two. Or will it take the time to chew me thoroughly and savor the taste. “Por que?” it screams again. It looks me right in the eye, as if expecting - nay, demanding! - an answer. “Pig?” I squeak, my throat constricted by the I’m-about-to-die fear. El Porko Diablo’s expression of rage melts into one of confusion. “Porkay Peeg?” it repeats, in its logic-defying Spanish accent. It scratches its huge pig head with a huge pig ﬁst. Suddenly, I have no intention of being eaten by some monster pig. I ignore the pain and pull myself into a sitting position. I grab my remaining good crutch and swing it for the most vulnerable area I can reach. The blow strikes home. El Porko Diablo emits an ear-splitting high-pitched squeal and doubles over. “Ay yi yi! Mi cajones!” I haul myself up on the crutch and hobble out
of the alley, favoring my injured foot. If I can get around the corner before El Porko Diablo sees me, maybe I get back to Fu Chang’s and safety. No such luck. The Devil Pig is up and after me before I can reach the mouth of the alley. “Estupido gringo!” it squeals. “You keel mi cajones! Now, I keel you!” I turn and raise the crutch, holding it like a baseball bat. Maybe I can get in a good smack on its snout before the end. I never was any good at baseball, but with a target that big how can I miss? It turns out I don’t have to. The Monkey King materializes in front of me. He gives me a quick wink, then faces the charging El Porko Diablo, which is coming at us like a locomotive. No way he’s stopping it, I think. The big pig’s going to run us over. The Monkey King leaps up at the last moment. He swings down his staff and it connects solidly with El Porko Diablo’s skull. It’s instantly lights out for the big pig. It falls where it is, even losing all the momentum from its charge. The sound it makes as it hits the ground is the same I imagine a Sequoia makes when it’s felled. The Monkey King stands over his fallen foe, casually leaning on his staff, one monkey foot perched on El Porko Diablo’s head. He smiles at me while absently scratching his jaw. “Good work,” I gasp. “Thanks. You didn’t do bad yourself. Although you might want to work on that screaming thing.” “I’ll do that.” Then I hear police sirens approaching. Sun Wukong grasps his staff in both hands and tenses. “What kind of monster is that?” “It’s no monster, but that’s our cue to get outta here fast.” I look down at the unconscious El Porko Diablo. “We can’t leave that here.” “Don’t worry,” he says, and even though I know he’s a super-powered monkey, I’m amazed to see him lift El Porko Diablo with one hand as easily as picking up a pebble. He puts the monster over one shoulder. The staff shrinks back down to its two-inch size, and he puts it back in his ear. He starts to reach for me but stops. “Oops. I almost forgot.” The Monkey King plucks one of his hairs out, then blows it at the tacqueria building. Before my stuptiﬁed eyes, the
building is completely restored. “Okay, now we can go.” The Monkey King wraps his free arm around my waist and we ﬂy off into the night towards the heart of Chinatown. I manage not to scream this time. Back at Fu Chang’s, we gather in the basement (which, in the semi-darkness of a few 40-watt bulbs, seems as large as a city block) while Ti Liang watches over the shop. The Monkey King easily holds down El Porko Diablo - now semi-conscious and continually whining, “Ay yi yi, mi cabeza,” while Fu Chang circles and mutters an incantation. A weird, otherworldly green light surrounds El Porko Diablo. The Monkey King steps back as the nimbus of light shrinks around the beast. El Porko Diablo shrinks with the light, it’s features softening and changing. The light fades away, and where once had been a hulking beast, there is now a very obese man: four hundred pounds if he’s an ounce; barely six inches over ﬁve feet in height; looks like he’s made of roll after roll of fat. He has very pink skin with coarse bristles scattered all over his body which, thankfully, the Monkey King covers with one of the rugs scattered about the basement. I get a gander at the man’s face, and once again I’m confronted with a man who is not a man. He has beady black eyes, almost hidden by his enormous cheeks. His nose is a long, ﬂattened snout, Big, pink ears ﬂap on either side of his fat head, which he rubs with his hands. “Oh, my achin’ melon,” he says with, of all things, a Brooklyn accent. “Pigsy!” says the Monkey King, his smile lighting the room. “Hiya, Monkey,” says Pigsy. “Cheezitz, didja have t’smack me so hard wit’ dat staff of yers?” “Sorry, Pigsy,” the Monkey King says, gently rubbing his old friend’s head. “It was the only way I could think of stopping you. You were kind of a monster.” “Oh. In dat case, I guess it’s all right.” “But, Pigsy, what are you doing here on Earth?” “Things got kinda borin’ in Heaven wit’ ya gone, Monkey. So, I kinda snuck out an’ followed ya’s here.” Then he adds, sheepishly, “I guess I
musta got da spell wrong or sometin’.” At this point I turn my attention from them and peg Fu Chang with a hard stare. “Okay, Fu. Explanations. Now.” Fu Chang says, “Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, has been sent here as a penance for transgressions in Heaven. His friend, Pigsy, followed him.” “Yeah, yeah. That part I got.” “Young people. Always in a hurry,’ he mutters. “Pigsy, having left Heaven without permission, has also committed a transgression, and must also pay penance.” “I do?” says Pigsy. “Yes,” Fu Chang responds. An ornate scroll appears in his hands. “I have here the proclamation of the Jade Emperor of Heaven. Would you like me to read it?” “No,” Pigsy says, sounding like a little kid called before the school principal. “I believe ya.” Fu Chang turns to me. “The spell that Pigsy used, somewhat incorrectly, brought him to Earth, but in a confused state. He was taken over by his vorascious appetite.” “So that’s why only restaurants and markets were damaged,” I say. “Precisely. During the day he slept in some subterranean lair. At night, he consumed everything in sight, growing larger and larger.” “But how did he become El Porko Diablo? I mean, he was speaking Spanish and everything.” “Since the spell left him in such a ﬂux, he took on characteristics of his environment. He was eating Mexican food, and therefore became Mexican.” “D’you mean to tell me that if he’d broken into a French restaurant he would’ve been wearing a beret and talkin’ like Pepe lePew?” Fu Chang nods, even as both the Monkey King and Pigsy ask, “Who’s Pepe lePew?” Fu Chang smiles. “Your new sifu can tell you.” He points to me. Like some Saturday morning cartoon the Monkey King, Pigsy and I all say in unison: “Wha-?” Fu Chang continues, “Sun Wukong and Pigsy are quite rambunctious. Regretfully, I am too old to keep up with them. Already Ti Liang treats me like a delicate piece of pottery. And, they will need a guide in this strange, modern world as they
earn their way back into Heaven.” I shake my head so vigorously it’s a wonder it doesn’t ﬂy off. “This’ll never work, Fu! The last time they had a holy monk to guide ‘em. At least you - you’re some kinda wise man. Me, I’m just a regular guy.” “Who is badly in need of enlightenment as well,” Fu Chang replies. “This will be a mutually beneﬁcial arrangement.” “Ya mean we gotta follow this shmoe?” Pigsy asks incredulously. “I don’t believe it,” chimes in the Monkey King. Fu Chang produces another ornate scroll. “It is the will of the Jade Emperor of Heaven,” he states imperiously. That shuts them up. You don’t argue with the Jade Emperor. I try to wrap my head around the sudden turn of events. I’ve now got two roommates for my oneroom apartment. Roommates who just happened to be a man-sized super-powered monkey, and a very rotund man-sized magical pig. And to top everything off, my foot hurts like hell. Fu Chang looks at me and says, “Well?” The Monkey King and Pigsy also look at me expectantly. “All right, I give in,” I sigh. “Give me the snake gall.” --- End
The Electron Jockey by
Mark Caldwell white.
Everywhere white. It had to be a hospital. Nowhere else is as white. White walls. White ceiling. Crisp sheets. White of course. Bright white light through the window. Only my bed in here. A private room? I can’t afford a private room. Flowers. Fresh fruit. I can’t afford health insurance. How am I supposed to pay for this? Things started to come back to me. An accident. A job. Something had gone wrong. Most of the crew were dead. There was a rustle beside me. Turning my head hurt. He sat there beside the bed impassive. I recognized him from his poster. “Good your awake. Well now your going to go to sleep again. Look into my eyes.” I couldn’t stop myself. The neck brace held my head in place but I could have closed my eyes. “I’m going to count back from three to one. When I reach one your going to fall asleep. While your sleeping you’re going to dream. You’re going to remember what you did from when you met Dale Hoover to the accident. Your going to tell me what you did. Three. Two. One.” Dale Hoover was a small time operator but a big ﬁsh to his crowd. There was something about the guy I didn’t like. I spent maybe twenty minutes trying to ﬁgure it out. Maybe it was the tone of his smile. It might have been the way he kept one eye on me and the other was watching the blond in the corner. Probably it was just that I was sick of doing jobs for other big shots just like him. I wanted a regular ofﬁce, regular hours and a regular girl, preferably not unlike the blond. Guys like me don’t get that kind of luxury though. I get it. I get messages left at a bar I frequent. Some acquaintances would say prop up. I prefer frequent. It doesn’t matter really; nine times out of ten it’s where I get an invitation. Invitations to discuss opportunities. Opportunities that come with a side helping of quotation marks on the left and on the right. If you’re lucky the chump doesn’t
wiggle his ﬁngers to make the point. I’ll let him get away with it maybe a dozen times. My pal Vincent now he likes to snap their ﬁngers the ﬁrst time they do it. Says it serves as a warning to others. This one had his own quirk and I don’t mean the trick with his eye. He’d been in procurement somewhere. He kept telling me how he was inviting me to tender for the job. He kept on acting like that was how it worked. The only thing I wanted to tender for was the blond. I listened politely for an hour and a half. He had paid for the steak. I ﬁgured that had to be worth about an hour of my time. A couple of drinks maybe another half hour. He’d got a line of a rare item that he knew he could move for a healthy return. All he needed to do was separate it from its current owner. Not its rightful owner just its nine tenths of the law owner. There’d be no interference from the cops if we only snatched it. He’d got a crew, they were all set to do the job but there were certain special requirements. The guy they’d got lined up for them had had an earful from his old lady and his feet had gotten like she’d ﬁlled his boots from the icebox. He offered me a half a share for one night’s work. I countered for two. They needed me more than I needed some half-baked scheme and years of pacing a room shared with a guy called Bubba. We went back and forth. He wouldn’t budge up. At least he wasn’t a cop. A cop would have gotten desperate sooner. They’d have wanted to seal the deal. To shake on it then shake me down. They’d have been thinking about the doughnuts at the station house and needing me to sign on for the wire. I gave him ten percent more time than I’d ﬁgured he was entitled to. Ten percent including generous rounding in his favor. I wasn’t sure why. Just something I had to do. I ﬁnished my drink and made to leave. I ﬁgured the blond might be interested in a little bit of rounding up in her favor. She’d probably show more appreciation than this guy and his half share. Finally he saw sense and offered what I had coming to me. An equal share in the pro-
ceeds of our labors. Small timers like him have to go back and forth. It makes them feel big. For long time losers it’s the closest they’ll ever get. He wanted to set it all in stone right there. He’d have had blue prints on the table and pushed toy cars round on them like he’d seen in the movies. I told him to beat it, that some off duty cops had just walked in. I told him I was going to get myself an alibi just in case. I’d call him around noon. I didn’t tell him I wanted to see a blond about some mutually beneﬁcial equity. I’d spent the night discovering an error by the taxman in my favor. The error was letting me buy her a drink or maybe it was asking me in for coffee. We’d been practicing our arithmetic till the sun came up. I called him after one. I wanted him off kilter. He thought he was too smooth. A bit of edge and he’d be more careful. Not too much, I didn’t want him doing something stupid. I met him under the clock as its Westminster chimes struck quarter to two. He wanted to know about the cops. Had they run me in for questioning? Had they’d asked about him. I told him not to worry. They’d only be interested if they knew him. They didn’t know him right. Right? That switched things in my. People expect us electron jockeys to be nervous types. We aren’t supposed to be cool. We’re supposed to sweat under pressure; sometimes to crack. Sure we sweat. It’s natural when your sharing a crawl space that’s hotter than a Turkish bath and smaller than a cofﬁn with juicy high voltage cables. If you short the wrong wire bells start ringing in the local station house. Inside we’re cool. We need to be to know if it’s the red, the blue or the striped wire we need to cut. That takes cool. He’d rented a pad in one of the fashionable parts of town. Fashionable for rats and woodlice. No frills. No maid service. He pushed beer bottles and cigarette ends into the bin before he laid out the plan. It was a top-notch piece of security. Custom designed. I knew the style. The guy who’d put this together was top of the line. Given time I could crack it. First I needed these bozos to get me past the guards, the wall, the dogs and the doors. If they could do that I could do my part and make a call on my alibi to practice some of the ﬁner points of triple
entry bookkeeping. Had I got any questions? Just the three. Who was the mark? What were we lifting? How could they be certain they’d be out? He played it cagey again. Like I was a stooge. Getting him to crack was easier than that alarm was going to be. The cops would wilt like a geranium under the interrogation room lights. The mark was a big name stage magician. For one night only he was appearing at the White House. It was the butler’s night off. The target was a green jade statue that disappeared from China during the Wuchang Uprising. Certain Chinese warlords were prepared to pay a handsomely for it. How it came to be with its current owner he didn’t say just no matter how well connected he was he wouldn’t be keeping it should the authorities ﬁnd out. How soon would I be ready? As soon as he was. Did I need anything? I just needed to fetch a few tools. He was coming along. Sweet but no thanks, I don’t take girls back to my place so no way I was taking him. I’d be back at six. I felt eyes on the back of my shirt. I wasn’t wrong. I made the car before I’d taken three corners. Two hoods. I let them follow me the whole way there. They had to be with him because if they weren’t I’d call the job off before we did more than consort with intent to look shifty in a public bar over a badly cooked steak. I laid my stuff out then laid myself out for a few hours shuteye. I woke refreshed. My new friends were still outside. No point in trying to give them the brush off now. They knew where I lived and where they’d ﬁrst picked me up. It wouldn’t take a genius to know where I was going. Five minutes after I’d climbed the stairs Dale’s crew started arriving. Raul Harrison and Dusty Sellers arrived together. They were the pair who’d eyeballed me earlier. A more unlikely pair you’ve never seen. Raul was a hulking man who’d ﬁt right in as an ex-boxer in some low budget sports movie because that’s what he was. Dusty spent all his time polishing the little glasses that clung on the end of his nose like a damsel clinging to the cliff edge in a silent movie. His name sounded fake to me like a bad alias. He’d been a racing driver in his youth or so he claimed. He was an antiquarian bookseller by trade. Hard times had pushed him into Dale’s scheme. He said it was
more honest than selling specialist books to wealthy customers and paying protection money to the boys from the vice squad. He was educated, said knew a thing or two, like how to take care of the dogs. Roxie Ryan turned in next. She was the kind of dame that sprains men’s eyeballs. She’d worked nights as a singer at a gin joint till the owner’s wife took a dislike to the way he watched Roxie. This gig was just to keep her going till she made it big. Last to arrive was Ferdinand Largent. I knew his reputation. We moved in similar circles. We’d never worked together. Our paths had barely crossed. He specialized in box jobs and locks. He certainly wasn’t a yegg more of a possible suspect than the top dog. He kept clear of nitro. He liked to keep all his ﬁngers on his hand. I liked that. There wasn’t much else though. They all already knew the plan. Dale insisted we go over it for my sake. It was the same as it had been that afternoon, a simple in and out to remove an item from a safe. Dale was very insistent that we weren’t to take anything else even if it looked a bit tasty. Roxie was ﬁrst up. She’d distract the guards while we went over the wall. A simple damsel in distress gig. Dusty tricked her car’s engine. It wouldn’t be going anywhere in a hurry. Roxie had tricked her outﬁt. The guards would neglect their duties. Somehow the knit of the jumper and the tightness of the jodhpurs made her appear more unclothed than if she’d gone naked. When she got their attention all she had to do was hold the hood release on and a light would come on on our car’s dash. Roxie gave us the signal on time. Raul had the ladder from the car to the wall and Dusty was on his way up in seconds. He’d brought steak for bait. He didn’t need it. The hounds wanted his blood. The pfft of his dart gun silenced them. Landscaping covered us most of the way from the wall. The last thirty yards were open lawn. I expected the alarm at any moment. Roxie was earning my gratitude and her share. The ladder was against the side of the house and I was ﬁlling the bell box with quick setting foam. There was no way to stop the alarm sounding as we broke in but it rang in stages. This would buy the time to neutralize the remote alarm while the guards were otherwise oc-
While I’d been up the ladder Ferdinand had been at the locks. Raul had the ladder down and was on his way. Dale held the door with one hand and passed me my tools with the other. Two minutes. Like I needed reminding. The main security box was in a room described as a cupboard. I’ve lived in smaller houses. First I needed to disable the anti tamper. I didn’t have time to be subtle. I measured the spot, marked it with a chalk cross, pressed the punch against the box and smacked it with a hammer. The ﬁrst blow made a dent. The second almost went through. The third went deep into the box smashing the circuit board. In an ideal world Ferdinand would have ﬁnessed the lock. He was needed elsewhere. The lock was a second victim to the punch. That was when I realized I had an audience. Dusty was in the doorway. He should have been waiting in the car. If I wasn’t the last minute help I’d have said something. That was the moment I knew this crew were amateur hour through and through. It was too late for second thoughts. I swung the box open and went to work on the circuits inside. A wire snipped here; an extra connection there and the house’s alarms were off. Most jobs my work would be done but not tonight. This house had at least two other independent alarms and one of those ran from the safe Ferdinand was working on. I didn’t have time for gawping around the place but even by torch beam I could tell the guy who’d ﬁtted this place had class. Solid wood paneling. Antique furniture. Subtle lighting from hidden ﬁttings lit framed posters for the world’s most famous illusionists’ shows. You had to wonder where the cash came from. He might be a world-renowned but this had taken serious money. Either this guy was old money or he’d got dirty hands. As my granddaddy used to say old money is dirty money with a couple of generations of trying to scrub the grime off. The study was something else. It went all the way to the roof where a huge skylight was set. Spiral stairs lead to a balcony round the rooms six sides. Where the wall wasn’t doorway it was books. A desk dominated the room’s heart. Hexagonal display cases with pyramidal glass tops housed one of the ﬁnest private collections of the objects of the
performers art. It was as if I could hear a voice telling me their origins. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin’s automata shared a case with locks and chains used by Harry Houdini. Cards, handkerchiefs, throwing knives and every device of the trade had their place and history. Many would fetch a year’s salvation from work from the right buyer. Ferdinand and Dale had found the catch to swing a section of the bookcase away from the wall. A drill stood on a complex frame precisely locating its diamond tipped bit. I set myself up to one side ready. Dale nodded to Ferdinand. Slowly he started the drill. Dusty was wandering around the bookcases behind me. Dale should have told him to be in the car with the engines ready for a quick getaway. I heard the drill bit bite into the hardened metal. Ferdinand pressed forward spraying lubricant as it worked its way in. The maker claimed the safe uncrackable. Ferdinand didn’t agree. He had a precise target; a point where a wire was soldered onto the mechanism. If we could drill to the contact and juice it we’d burn out the vacuum tubes and destroy the alarm. A ﬁne theory but not one we’d tried. Not one anyone had tried. Ferdinand had the Turkish bath look. I’d have been the same in his shoes; especially with Dusty going on about the books. It took ﬁve long minutes to drill the hole. I checked through an illuminated lens. There was the solder. Perfect. I slipped a probe into the hole; a contact went on the case both secured with putty. Raul returned lugging a heavy box. I pulled it open and hooked wires to terminals. I told them to stand back. I threw the knife switch on the box. Ozone and acid. Even Dusty shut up. The alarm didn’t sound. Raul was on his way. Ferdinand swapped the bit of his drill for a less reﬁned tool and went to work on the lock. No ﬁnesse this time. This was brute force without the mess of gelignite or the dull assault of sledgehammers and crowbars. The safe surrendered with a whimper. Dale swung the door open and reached inside pulling out a translucent green statue. I couldn’t make out the detail but it was covered in ﬁne engraving. Maybe I’d have gotten a better look except that was the moment the world exploded. Dusty had found something. A rare book. Something antiquarian he couldn’t resist. He’d had
to touch. Hadn’t his mother ever smacked his hand as he reached for a cookie? Didn’t he know how to control his impulse? The book had moved in his hand. Then the whole shelf moved. I don’t know what was behind it. It was too dark to see. Somewhere secret. Not on the plans. An alarm sounded, more foghorn than alarm. That wasn’t on the plans either. Ferdinand and I started to move. Instinct. Our only hope was to run and run fast. Dale was behind us. Dusty didn’t move. He couldn’t. The book he’d taken was part of the shelf. From the shelf a trap had sprung around his hand. He’d have had to chop it off or spend hours with tools to get free. Ferdinand had the lead. That’s what saved me from the dog. There must have been one of them than we’d missed. It came out of the dark and had him on his back. I could smell the scent of his fear in the air. Dale and I made it to the wall. We were up and over in nothing ﬂat then into the car. Rusty sat patiently in the back. No Dusty to drive. Dale grabbed the wheel. No keys. Dusty must have them. I ripped wires from under the dash and started it the hard way. Behind us a pair of headlights were catching us fast. We broke into the city at speed. Down one street. Sudden turn here. Double back there. Trying to shake our pursuer. It was no good. Maybe with Dusty at the wheel we’d have stood a chance. The left front blew I think. I’m not certain. Rolling. Tumbling. Red. Spinning. Then we really hit something. A brick wall? Upside down. Rusty lay still his unnaturally thick neck at an unnaturally twisted angle. I watched Dale through the shattered windscreen staggering away. Roxie had him now helping him into her car. My world faded to red then black. Antiseptic odors. Clean sheets. Dark outside. A polite cough. Pain as I turned my head. He’s still there beside the bed. Might as well wheel me off to prison and save the cost of the trial. He doesn’t look angry. He looked concerned. “You’re awake. Excellent. Now look into my eyes. When I count to three you’ll remember everything. One. Two. Three.” The veil lifted from my memory. I remembered. My special job. Had we pulled it off? “Don’t look so worried you pulled it off.
Dale and Roxie were on the ﬁrst plane to Rio. The statue will soon be in their master’s hands. Everything is going according to plan.” “Your car crash was a bit dramatic. Made the whole thing seem more real. Now you get well. I need my favorite handyman up and about. Seems your impregnable alarm system wasn’t quite impregnable.” “Oh one last thing. Someone from the tax ofﬁce is asking to see your accounts. Something to do with an irregularity and needing to audit your tangible assets to identify inﬂationary activity.” --- End
Doug Klauba: The Interview by
Tim Gallagher doug Klauba is a painter and illustrator born and raised in the “Windy City,” Chicago, Illinois.
A student of the legendary Drew Struzan (the artist of movie posters for INDIANA JONES, STAR WARS, and many, many more), Mr. Klauba has made his mark in the worlds of advertising art, book illustration, cover art, and more recently comic books. He has produced a number of covers for Moonstone Books featuring characters like the Phantom, Kolchak (of THE NIGHT STALKER TV series), and the Spider. In fact, it was his cover for THE SPIDER CHRONICLES, a collection of new stories about the popular pulp hero, that ﬁrst brought Mr. Klauba to our attention. The awards he has received for his work include: the International Academy of Communications Arts & Sciences - Gold; the Ozzie Awards - both Gold and Silver; the Apex Awards for Publication Excellence; and the Visual Club Publication Cover Show - Award of Excellence. A family man, Mr. Klauba resides in Chicago with his wife and two sons. For more on Mr. Klauba, and to view more of his great art, please visit www.douglasklauba.com or www.
comicspace.com/dklauba. This interview was conducted via e-mail by Tim Gallagher, with assistance from John Carlucci and Katherine Tomlinson. ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE: Mr. Klauba, let me say ﬁrst that we here at ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE would like to thank you for agreeing to this interview. We’d also like to say that since we saw your cover to Moonstone Books’ THE SPIDER CHRONICLES that we’ve become big fans. DOUG KLAUBA: THANKS! AAM: Now, with the fanboy stuff out of the way, here come the questions. First, give us a brief biography of Doug Klauba. Where were you born and raised? DK: I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I was pretty much the only kid in the neighborhood who liked to draw, and I drew every chance I could much to the interest and amusement of my family and friends. On days when other kids were running around outside my mother had to basically kick me out of the house. Fortunately for me, Mom made sure that I balanced my time with being creative and getting out. I read a lot as well and picked up anything at the neighborhood magazine shop or corner store that impacted me visually. I gravitated to comic books and Warren monster magazines, and especially Classics Illustrated which I found second hand. Monster magazines appealed to me the most with the gorgeous Basil Gogos, Frazetta and Sanjulian covers from Warren. On Saturday mornings my friends and I would shoot over to the movie theatre and catch the weekly double feature, again mostly monsters or fantasy stuff like Hammer ﬁlms, Harryhausen or Planet of the Apes... I remember standing in front of the posters and lobby cards and
studying every detail from the illustration to design. Later we would pull out the Super 8 movie camera and create our own “little” ﬁlms and I would then design the movie poster. Throw in the fact that I was raised in a creative family and it seems like destiny that I was headed towards being a practicing artist. My father, although a tradesman, would draw, paint or build models and my uncle George is an illustrator so I was always exposed to paintings and drawings, Uncle Dave is a landscape architect, and my grandfather was a performing magician from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. Being raised in the creative environment was a huge conﬁdence booster. AAM: You mentioned that your grandfather was a professional magician. Was he anyone famous that we’d recognize? DK: My grandfather was well known among his peers, other magicians in Chicago during the 1940’s 1970’s. One of his few stage names was Prince of Presto and probably the name he used the most, especially in the 60’s and 70’s. I have a large part of his ﬁles that survived over the years and among them are con-
tracts, program brochures, awards and letters from organizations thanking him for his performances at different theaters and events, mostly in the Midwest. In my spare time, I am compiling a brief history of him with photos and I hope to put it online and linked to my website in the very near future. I think then I’ll ﬁnd out if people in Chicago remember him. AAM: Is your painting “Magic Hat” an homage to him? DK: “Magic Hat” was an illustration assignment for a hospital conference and although my grandfather has a personal connection with my “Magic Hat” painting, it is not a direct homage. The Prince of Presto is there in spirit! I also plan to start incorporating him into some personal projects that I am developing. AAM: Did you always want to be an artist? DK: I have always been an artist. I have never thought of anything but the fact that I like to draw, paint and create. My family was always supportive and always helped me to pursue that interest. Pencil and paper was always available. Before long I started to work in pen and ink and then on to paint. AAM: Where did you go to art school? DK: Originally I had intended to follow my friends into ﬁlm school. But out of curiosity I dropped in at the American Academy of Art in Chicago upon my uncle’s recommendation since that is where he studied. I still remember stepping off the elevator and instantly realizing I had found the place that I HAD to be and I wanted to be an art student. A big decision immediately became apparent to me and I became very excited. The years I spent at the American Academy successfully put me on my path of becoming an illustrator. But, after working at various Illustration studios around downtown Chicago for about three years I realized I wasn’t prepared to be a freelance Illustrator and packed my backs and headed to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art College to study with a number of truly incredible illustrators that I admired and had an incredible opportunity to study with such as Thomas Blackshear, Drew Struzan, Kazu Sano and Charles Pyle to name a few. While at the Academy, I rebuilt my portfolio and headed back to Chicago as an Illustrator and started to pursue projects that appealed to me and my sensibilities. AAM: You started out thinking about ﬁlm school and got distracted. Are you interested in going the Frank Miller route and collaborating on a ﬁlm that has the visual style of an artist and not necessarily a ﬁlmmaker (i.e. Sin City, 300)? DK: I don’t know if it was truly any distraction that swayed me away from pursuing ﬁlm. Upon reﬂection it’s just that I took art more seriously and I might have realized I was only attracted to Columbia College because my friends were there already. I planned to study ﬁlmmaking as well as art classes there. I had been making ﬁlms with these friends throughout my early childhood so I was always “following” them. I guess for some period I abandoned ﬁlm making and then became involved again later on with my friends production company. When I made the decision to throw myself into painting and drawing at the Academy - it was a very freeing decision as well as realizing I was doing something that I was more passionate about. Maybe never realizing it before because art, drawing, sculpting and painting came so easily to me. I was very serious about my art, always - but loved ﬁlm. And at the time some newer ﬁlms were making huge impacts with me as a visual person: Raging Bull and The Elephant Man. I was a creative kid and I always explored all creative outlets that interested me. I was in my share of garage bands through out high school as well as helped the school plays. Acting is also in our family, the respected New York actor Jerry Orbach was] my father’s cousin- so acting interested me brieﬂy. I was, and still am, exposed to ﬁlm and performance. I would never give up painting for directing but I am associated with a group of friends in ﬁlm and seem to always
be involved. Right now I am working on an independent ďŹ lm project as conceptual artist and art director for a short ďŹ lm. AAM: You said that Drew Struzan was one of you instructors at school. Was he working on any of his famous movie posters at that time? Did he ever share any stories about dealing with the movie studios? DK: Drew Struzan and I seemed to hit it off. I respected him tremendously as an artist and businessman and still apply a lot of what I learned from him. He treated everyone in the classroom positively and sincerely giving insight to the movie industry as well as advertising illustration, and art history. I originally just wanted to learn his technique but what he taught me was much more important. One of those things was to seek your own personal tastes and incorporate them into a larger part of your work. Another was to work at and understand your craftsmanship. There really is a whole other interview here about studying for the short time with Mr. Struzan. I learned a heck of a lot in a very short time- of course I
came into the class with a good idea of what I wanted out of my attendance. And I welcomed his critiques - often brutal but always honest and sincere. I didn’t mind at all because I trusted him and I wanted him to dissect my projects. I wanted to grow! When the course ended Drew said some very inspiring things to me. Those words coming from the artist that he is, inﬂuences me to this day. And he shared a lot of his stories from working in the movie poster industry over the years, dealing with Alice Cooper, Michael J. Fox, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. All great stories... he did a couple of demonstrations that were fun to watch, most of it involved drawing. I don’t remember him discussing the projects he was currently working on at the time. But once, while visiting him in his studio in southern California I had the opportunity of watching him work on some revisions on the art for the “Hook” movie poster. A gorgeous painting... But, I really owe more to Thomas Blackshear though, for his guidance while I was studying with Drew Struzan and the other illustrators that I admired like Kazu Sano and Charles Pyle who were all teaching at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Thomas was the initial reason I moved to San Francisco, I really wanted to study with him. Thomas understood why I was back in school, what I hopefully wanted to achieve and we became great friends. He took an interest in my portfolio and growth often inviting me to his studio to watch him work and talk. At the time we were actually working in a similar mixed medium technique, so it was very helpful for me to watch him work. Out of all the people I studied with and met in California, Thomas and I remain close friends to this day. For those who might not know Thomas Blackshear’s work, simply Google him to see his King Kong painting, postage stamps of the Universal Monsters, his movie poster for Ridley Scott’s Legend... and he can sculpt, too. AAM: Are there any artists whose work has inﬂuenced you? Who are your favorite artists? DK: The list of artists that have inﬂuenced me and continue to inﬂuence is endless. Truly, my studio is ﬁlled with art books on Alphonse Mucha, Paul Manship, Joseph Clement Coll, Frazetta, Dean Cornwell, Fredric Gruger, Belarski, Barry Windsor-Smith, Symbolist Art, Waterhouse, Tadema, Pulps, Movie Poster art... Actually, after reading books about Michelangelo and the Italian renaissance is what made me seek out a “master” to study under and that eventually led me to look into schooling again and studying with Blackshear, Sano and Struzan who were instructing at the Academy in San Francisco at the time. I am also inspired by artist friends around the Chicago area like Gary Gianni, John Rush, Scott Gustafson, Alex Ross... as well as friends who are sculptors, painters, ﬁlm makers, writers and musicians. Whatever gets the creative mind working... Way back in high school when I was starting to take the idea of becoming an art student seriously the books that were my “bibles” were The Studio (Wrightson, Kaluta, Jones, Windsor-Smith), Alphonse Mucha, The Magic Pen of Joseph Clement Coll, Frazetta and a Virgil Findlay book. Those were the artists that were inﬂuencing me and whose work was exciting. It is very hard for me to pick a favorite artist... I can’t get enough of Donato Giancola’s work - truly awe inspiring. My all-time favorite golden age illustrator is Joseph Clement Coll, favorite modern illustrator is my mentor and friend, Thomas Blackshear - his work continues to inﬂuence me. And then there’s Mucha, whose work I always go back to and study. AAM: Give us a progression of your career once you ﬁnished art school. Did you start out in advertising? Book illustration? Comics? DK: While attending the American Academy of Art in Chicago I started to show my student portfolio around Chicago trying to get work here and there, mostly for trade magazines. A very brief attempt at show-
ing my portfolio to First Comics was at best memorable but no work ever came from talking with them. After I graduated I kind of “hung around” working in the school ofﬁce, and working at an art store before ﬁnally landing a full time position in a design and illustration studio. The studio serviced ad agencies all over town and it was a great place to land after working at a couple of other studios for a short time. I was hired as the studio illustrator and all of a sudden I was working in almost every medium: Markers, pen and ink, pencil, pastels, watercolor, oils and air brush for a variety of clients. It was great time of growth and learning the business. I also had an excellent arrangement with the studio as I could do all my freelance work after hours or if there was nothing to work on during the day. For awhile, I was doing work for the horror and sci-ﬁ small press right alongside my freelance advertising projects. While working at the studio my freelance career soon was taking off and I was working very long days and seven days a week. I soon crashed and burned, fell into a mild creative depression and realizing, although I was making a lot of money working on a variety of projects and in a variety of styles, I wasn’t “me”. My portfolio looked like a one man studio with no focus or personality. So, I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco and enrolled at the Academy of Art with the intention of re-doing my portfolio. I eventually moved back to Chicago to ﬁnish up some commitments and continue to work on my new portfolio and pursue projects that interested me creatively. My original intention had always been focus on being a book illustrator, but I started to pursue entertainment work. Unfortunately, being an illustrator based in Chicago - ﬂying back and forth to California wasn’t cutting it. So, either I had to move again to California or concentrate on something else and I decided to stay in Chicago. About that time I had decided to be represented locally by a well-known agent and the work ﬂow was really good. While the agent was getting me assignments in advertising I continued to look into other areas that interested me. I decided to try painting for collectibles and before I knew it, I was doing collector plates for The Bradford Exchange. I painted a very successful Gone With The Wind plate series for them among other things like Patriotic Scenes, Sports, Elvis, and The Beatles. The exposure from that work led to assignments for Broadway and Off-Broadway posters and children’s books. Around this time I started to develop my own “personal” style more seriously and a designer friend labeled it “Heroic-Deco” and that stuck with me. I began getting work from agencies looking for someone who could do “super hero” illustration but not “comic book” heroes. All this time I’ve still been a comic book reader and attending conventions as a
fan and I start running into people that I went to school with or knew from school like Gary Gianni and Jill Thompson. And soon after people began asking me if I was interested in doing comics. And then Alex Ross’ MARVELS was released and it made an big impact with me. I then became very serious about developing my portfolio to possibly try my hand at a genre that was near and dear to my heart. I didn’t immediately start painting super heroes but concentrated on my Pulp interests and pieces like Buck Rogers and Mercury Jack which is an homage to golden age heroes like The Flash. AAM: What is the breakdown of the type of work you do now - how much is advertising, how much is book illustration, how much is commissioned pieces, and what type of pieces do you prefer doing? DK: That varies year to year for me. Last year I did a lot of advertising than usual, I would roughly say it was 40% advertising and 60% book covers and interior illustrations- maybe a bit more book work. I worked on two ad campaigns with 5 to 6 illustrations for each project as well as some “wrist” work for an iconic character re-design for packaging. The book and magazine illustrations are always on the schedule regularly but I enjoy it all. I like the fact that it’s always something different and each project compliments each other, keeping me “fresh” for each individual piece. Right now I don’t have a preference as I am offered projects that ﬁt with my sensibilities, I’ve had pretty good opportunities painting The Spider, Doc Savage, Super-
man, The Phantom, Dr. Fate and Zorro. One of the ad campaigns from last year was 5 pulp/noir paintings of private eyes for a ﬁnancial group. That was a lot of fun and called upon my love for ﬁlm noir, retro movie posters, pulps and paperback art. I am always ﬂattered when people approach me for commissions and I do try and do as many of them as possible. I am currently working on a large piece that I am very excited about. I plan on working on it in between my regular projects and a new book cover series that was just assigned to me. AAM: What mediums do you work in? Do you prefer one medium over another? DK: I love to draw, so give me any pencil and any piece of paper and I’m happy. I use acrylics for my paintings and enjoy the immediacy that I get from the paint. Originally, I painted in gouache watercolor and slowly introduced myself to acrylics. I still occasionally paint in watercolors but haven’t touched oils since my children were born because I didn’t want them to be exposed since my studio is right next door to our kitchen and the play room. I’m happy working in acrylics and recently started to get back into doing pen and inks, which I missed dabbling in. AAM: Do you use models or photo reference when working, or do you prefer to work straight from your imagination? DK: Hmmm... I would like to think that I do both. The images come from my imagination. I support those images by doing thumbnail roughs, loose sketches and shooting photo references to develop a tight drawing to paint from. This insures that I am doing an original piece of work. I never rely solely on a found piece of reference material as it dictates your concept and then you’re just a “renderer”. When working on an illustration I’ve turned myself into a production company: designing sets, costumes and props. Casting the scene, setting up the lighting, choosing the right angle to photograph the character and situation. Choosing the mood using composition and color... my own theatre on paper and board. And there are some pieces that I draw from my imagination using references of clothing and lighting to get what I want- very rarely do I work this way but it does happen. I recently painted a “Zorro” cover without shooting a model and relying on different references that either I found or the client supplied. That seemed to work smoothly for that project. My cover for Clifford Simak’s CITY was developed without photo references. AAM: Were you a pulp or comic book reader/fan growing up? DK: I think I was obsessed with comic books, comic strips, pulps, movies, old time radio, models, paperbacks, monster magazines and movie poster art as a kid growing up in the 1970’s. Much hasn’t changed! As a young artist it was all visual excitement and I soaked it up like a sponge. Every Wednesday I’d run down the street to a store called “Ideal Cards and Books” which was basically a neighborhood newsstand with greeting cards and small gifts. They carried only Marvel, DC and Archie titles, but not all of them. The rest of the titles as well as Charlton’s and Gold Key’s were at the corner drug store which was a bit farther to walk to. I just couldn’t get enough of the visual excitement and always craved more and more, driving my poor parents and siblings crazy. AAM: What books or series did you read? Who were your favorite characters? DK: I grew up reading Batman, Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, well... probably all the Marvel titles, honestly. As well as some DC stuff from Jack Kirby to Bernie Wrightson and anything by Jim Steranko. Thanks to Warren for publishing The Spirit alongside Creepy and Eerie. As a younger reader I was addicted to everything Spider-man and because I was reader I collected the Classics Illustrated comics. As I got older I tended to gravitate towards pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan, The Avenger and John
Carter. Which I started reading in comic books but ended up reading the paperbacks soon after. I was informed about pulps by reading The Monster Times and Mediascene magazines. Byron Priess was publishing some great things that inﬂuenced me in Fiction Illustrated and Weird Heroes like “Starfawn”, “Son of Sherlock Holmes” and Steranko’s “Chandler”. AAM: Are you reading any pulps or comics now? DK: Because of my working schedule comic books are ideal for the time I have available. They’re quick reads, here and there. AAM: What are your favorite books or characters? DK: Right now I’m a regular reader of: Daredevil, Fear Agent, The Black Coat, The Phantom, The Spirit, 100 Bullets, Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon strip reprints. On occasion I’ll read EC reprints, Warren magazines, Conan and bronze age Kirby, DC and Marvel stuff. My weekend reading is varied with short stories from Robert E. Howard or The Spider. I like to reread Burroughs’ John Carter Mars books, who is one of my all time favorite characters and currently I started reading the Dumarest series by E.C. Tubb on someone’s recommendation. My favorite characters are the classics: Spider-man, Batman, Superman, The Phantom, Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan and John Carter. My personal favorites are: golden age Sandman and The Spirit. AAM: Are there any publishers and/or characters you’d like to work with? DK: Moonstone has the pulp heroes that I would like to work on and if they ever get The Shadow, I hope to paint him as well. I have some pretty cool ideas for some Star Wars illustrations and I’d love to do another Flash Gordon painting when I ﬁnd the time. I haven’t worked with much of the characters from DC or Mar-
vel and they all pretty much interest me as a comic book fan. The Spirit, of course Sandman, I’ve always wanted to do Nick Fury, Namor and obviously Spider-man (who doesn’t). Actually after thinking about this, I have a lot of characters on my “want” list! I’d also have to include characters from Cartoon Network like Ben-10. AAM: Do you have a dream project you’d like to do? DK: Yes, I would love to do a painted golden age Sandman story. The Sandman Mystery Theatre series made a huge impact on me as a comic reader, pulp and noir fan and artist. I also have a couple of personal projects in the works that I would love to start. One is crime / noir inﬂuenced and the other is sci-ﬁ / fantasy. It would be a “dream” to ﬁnd the time to work on them. AAM: Besides your website, where can people see your artwork? DK: The focus of my website: http://www.douglasklauba.com is an overview of everything I do an it is in the process of being re-thought and redesigned. I update my page regularly at: http://www.comicspace. com/dklauba at there you will ﬁnd more specialized galleries dealing with my pulp, sci-ﬁ and comic book illustration. There you can also ﬁnd links to other interviews and where to purchase my originals. AAM: Have you published a sketchbook or collection? DK: There has been talk about a book of collected works from a couple of different publishers. It’s up to me and I need to try and ﬁnd the time to pull it together. I’m in the process of ﬁnishing up the Sketchbook: “Fist Full Of Lead” and will be available by August. There is also two sets of postcards that are available from: http://www.urgero.com/postcards.htm and include various images that were featured in past Spectrum art annuals and Moonstone covers. AAM: Do you ever attend any comic book or other type of conventions? And do you attend as a fan or as a pro? DK: I have been attending conventions since I was a kid and only recently as a professional - but I will always be a fan. I am always at Wizard World Chicago, The Windy City Pulp And Paperback Convention and other area shows. I try and go to San Diego Comic-Con when my schedule allows. I plan on making the New York Comic-Con every year either as a professional or a fan. I enjoy walking around meeting other artists and seeing the original art - and there’s a lot of good stuff to see. AAM: By the time this sees print, convention season will almost be over. Are you planning to attend any conventions after August where fans can meet you? DK: Because of my work load, this year will be a light convention schedule for me. If you missed me at The Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention or Wizard World Chicago, next year might be better. I only recently had to cancel San Diego Comic-Con because of deadlines through July and August. If anyone is interested, they can ﬁnd out on my page at: http://www.comicspace.com/dklauba. AAM: Are you teaching your sons to draw? Since you grew up in a very creative environment, do you have a sense of having them carrying on a tradition? DK: My boys are deﬁnitely creative and will probably be carrying on some family tradition one way or the other. They’re too young to see what direction that will be. Right now they’re having fun just being boys.
Dames, Dolls and Femmes Fatale: The Women of Pulp Fiction by
Blue Johnson you’ve heard of the Madonna/Whore complex;
the idea that women are either saints or sluts, ladies or prostitutes? You’d think such a quaint notion would have long been discarded by this time. And in real life, it mostly has. But in the ﬂickering anti-world of reel life, things are quite different. If anything, they’ve devolved. While screenwriters of the 30s, 40s, and 50s offered actresses juicy roles ﬁlled with psychological depth and a diverse palette of emotions, most of today’s movies treat women as mere accessories, with barely enough personality to convey a plot point. For every movie that presents women as complex, intelligent beings (like Notes on a Scandal or The Queen) we get dozens of ﬁlms where the women are just there to ﬁll up the frame. (If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that the best female role in a summer blockbuster movie was Marge Simpson.) Nowadays, female movie characters seem to be divided into “the girl” and “the mom.” Pickings are so slim that you ﬁnd Academy Award-winning actresses doing genre movies. Bad genre movies. And when they tank (as they have been doing all summer), box ofﬁce analysts blame the women. (Mmmmm, do we really think that Nicole Kidman is more responsible than the screenwriter for the failure of Invasion?) In the realm of Pulp Fiction, women are equal to men. The great villains of ﬁlm noir are equally divided between the sexes. And the women of pulp are a much more diverse group than the women of today’s blockbusters. For one thing, in these movies, the fairer sex is divided into a number of separate categories, the main ones being: good girls (dolls), bad girls (femme fatales) and dames. Dames can sometimes be dolls, but dolls are never femmes fatale. Women in all three categories are inevitably beautiful and their sex appeal can range from girl-next-door (Alice Faye) to exotic/erotic, as with sensual beauties like Rita Hayworth. Angelina Jolie can pull off the pulp thing, but there are precious few others who can. (Jessica Biel? Sorry. Cameron Diaz? Nice try. Meg Ryan? Not a chance.) But it’s not their fault. They just don’t have the support of the screenwriters. So instead of character, we get explosions; instead of drama we get … explosions.
Maybe it’s time to take a look at the women of Pulp Fiction and see what they had to offer—style, wit, a great fashion sense. Maybe it’s time screenwriters got a clue and started writing women like the women who inhabited movies 60 years ago. Here’s an idea—the Zeroes are the new Forties! Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland got it right in L.A. Conﬁdential, but there are other ways to go. You don’t always have to bet on the blonde. In Film Noir, a brunette is as likely to be the good girl waiting at the altar as the heart-breaker who leaves the hero holding the bag. A pulp blonde might be a dish, a tomato, a cookie, a good kid, a sweetheart, a ﬂoozy, a good sport, even a broad; but she was never, ever a dumb blonde. She was a girl who had your number and if she decided to give you a ring, you answered. The Blonde Standard was set by:
Miss Barbara Stanwyck—If you only ever saw her playing the matriarch on Big Valley, mother to a brood of handsome sons and the lovely Linda Evans (who at the time looked a lot like Paris Hilton) , then you don’t know anything about her. For one thing, she was that rare actress who could credibly play all three faces of the pulp heroine. She was fresh-faced and adorable in Union Paciﬁc (a Cecil B. DeMille ﬁlm) and delightful playing the domestically challenged food writer in Christmas in Connecticut. In a series of comedies (Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve, Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire), she was the brassy, ballsy, sexy dame who ultimately bags her man. She was terriﬁc in the title role of Stella Dallas and also wonderful as the spoiled, bedridden heroine of Sorry, Wrong Number. But her most indelible performance was probably in Double Indemnity. That ﬁlm set the bar for ﬁlm noir. Based on a James M. Cain novel and adapted by Billy Wilder,
who also directed, this story of an affair turned murderous is an almost perfect movie. Co-starring Fred MacMurray as the insurance agent who falls into Stanwyck’s web, and Edward G. Robinson as a suspicious investigator, the movie sits squarely on Stanwyck’s narrow shoulders. She’s superb. She’s so good in fact, that you just feel sorry for anyone who had to follow in her high-heeled footsteps. Among the Dark Ladies were:
in Night Without Sleep, based on a Cornell Woolrich story. (It’s a remake of Black Angel, and there are elements of the story that will tickle fans of Presumed Innocent.) Miss Yvonne DeCarlo—Would have celebrated her 85th birthday on September 1st, but sadly died earlier this year. Fondly remembered by baby-boomers as Lily Munster, matriarch of the Munster clan on The Munsters, she’d already had a long and varied acting career, parlaying her brunette beauty into roles that were all over the ethnic map. She played a lot of native girls, Native American maidens and generic dark-haired spitﬁres. (She was one credited as “the left brunette in Singing Quartette.”) There was nothing cookie-cutter about her, though, and when she got a role she could sink her teeth into, she chomped down hard. She was particularly memorable as Moses’ wife Sephora in the star-studded, 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic, The Ten Commandments. Miss Anna May Wong—the ﬁrst (and so far only female) Chinese-American movie star, was unlike anyone the movies had seen
Miss Linda Darnell—died tragically in a house ﬁre after watching one of her own movies with a friend. You couldn’t write a more Hollywood ending for the woman who started out as underage star bait before making a huge splash in a movie based on her own experiences as a wannabe actress. From 1939 to 1965, she was one of Hollywood’s go-to gals when it came to playing bad girls and temptresses. She was Dana Andrews’ inspiration for murder in Fallen Angel, although she’s the one who got killed instead. She’s also quite moving as one of three women Gary Merrill may have killed
before. She wasn’t white. She wasn’t blonde and she wasn’t even particularly petite. What she was, was ferociously talented. Her last big-screen appearance was in the deliciously over-the-top Portrait in Black (1960), a noir in which Lana Turner and her lover, Anthony Quinn, murder her husband, Lloyd Nolan and live to regret it. By then, even the stereotypical Asian parts (like the “Dragon Lady” in the Terry and the Pirates serials) were being played by starlets like Sheila Darcy and Gloria Saunders, who were about as Asian looking as Lindsay Lohan. But in her heyday, the Los Angeles-born Wong was an exotic hottie whose presence graced movies with wonderfully evocative titles like The Devil Dancer, The Crimson City, Daughter of the Dragon, Tiger Bay and Land of Lost Men. Maybe Lucy Liu is the new Anna May Wong. Maybe Reese Witherspoon is the new Stanwyck. It remains to be seen. But we can always hope. Women ruled in Pulp Fiction. It’s time they ruled again. --Blue Johnson is a dame. Yes, “Blue” is her real name and if you knew her parents, you’d know she was lucky not to have been named “Harmony Starshine.” For glam bathing suit shots of some of the great pulp heroines, check out the Pinups website: http://www. galbreath.net/bill/20-60swim.htm. Everyone’s there—from good girls Gene Tierney, Olivia De Havilland and Virginia Mayo to dames like Ginger Rogers, Sheila Darcy and Joan Blondell to the bad girls, Eleanor Parker, Rita Hayworth and Susan Hayward. Even the bikini shots are tame by today’s standards and all of the women look gorgeous. More proof, in case anyone needed it, that mystery is sexier than a shot of your naked ya-ya. (Are you listening Britney?) ---End
THE HUNDRED DOLLAR BABY by
Roger Alford born into a wealthy family, young Brent
Gregor’s life was shattered one fateful Halloween night when an intruder’s bullets took his parents and left him unable to walk. Young Brent became a brooding recluse locked away, forever alone, in his family mansion. When he reached adulthood, Gregor spent much of his vast fortune searching the world in vain for a cure. His far-reaching efforts led him to an old gypsy woman who offered a fantastical proposition: by joining with a mysterious entity known as the Spirit Force, Gregor could summon it when needed to not only walk again, but to harness phantom-like abilities: superhuman strength and agility, the power to hide unseen in the shadows, move objects with his mind, and easily pass through locked doors. In return, he vowed to stand for the righteous, to ﬁght evil, and bring justice to those who have none. Now...like a ghost, he moves through the shadows of the night, bringing evil-doers to justice! When criminals and lawbreakers are marked with his trademark “X,” they know there is no escape from...The Black Spectre! Oscar Travers grabbed another shot from the bar in his anvil-like ﬁst and tossed it back like a glass of water. His body was steeled from years of working on the docks, and now, thanks to a combination of whiskey and rage, his nerves were steeled as well. He’d never beaten another human being to death before, but he was more than capable. On this night, especially so. His pride had been severely bruised, and he was smarting for revenge. Feeling the alcohol work its way into his system, he glanced again out the window to the Orpheum Theater just down the street. The doors would open soon to let the rich and inﬂuential step out among the masses for just a moment, then get in their expensive cars and ride back to their posh mansions in exclusive Lakeview Heights. And Oscar Travers would be waiting. Inside the Orpheum, the audience applauded as the curtains fell across the stage. The sounds echoed
through the small, but ornately-crafted theater. Brent Gregor clapped, too, from his wheelchair in Box Five. As much as he enjoyed the show, a musical farce about love and mistaken-identity, it only served to remind him that he was very much alone. Of course, he had his faithful valet, Bernard, at his side--the only other living person who knew him as the Black Spectre. But Brent longed for companionship of another kind, and those thoughts always led in the same direction. Vicky. As the fates would have it, Victoria Rose, the headstrong, auburn-haired reporter for the Daily Crusader, actually sat far above him in the uppermost balcony. With her was her boyfriend and coworker at the Crusader, Denny Morris, who toiled daily in the newspaper’s archives. They were celebrating the anniversary of their ﬁrst date together and Denny had wanted to do something special. He’d saved for many months and managed to pull a few strings to take her to the opening of a new show. Though he wished he could have done a lot better than the “nosebleed section,” he was just glad to have a special night with her without having to encounter his chief rival for Vicky’s attention (aside from the newspaper)--Brent Gregor. Vicky was an angel, his angel. And on this night, dressed in her beautiful soft-blue gown, she looked just like one. As they got up to leave, Denny’s eyes quickly scanned the crowd below. He was surprised by the number of famous faces: Mayor Eugene Barker, wealthy industrialist Julius Kennelly, prominent attorney Cecil Davenport, IV, and others. The curtains shielding the box seats kept him from seeing the one face he secretly hoped would not be there. After much of the audience had left the theater, Bernard pushed Brent Gregor down to the lobby in his wheelchair. Brent stared deeply at the gold-set ﬁre-red opal that adorned his ﬁnger. It was this ring that gave him the power of the Spirit Force-and the ability to walk as long as he used those powers to ﬁght for justice in an unjust world as The Black Spectre. It was this ring that both brought him
closer to Vicky and kept them separate. In order to tell her the truth about his feelings, he would have to tell her so much more. Perhaps he would, in time, but that day was a long way off. As Bernard wheeled him into the lobby, he spotted Denny and Vicky emerging from the staircase across the hall. Brent’s face lit up at the sight of her, just as Denny’s dimmed at the sight of him. “Brent!” Vicky called out. “Look, there’s Brent!” she chirped happily as she tugged Denny by the hand and rushed over to greet him. Denny smiled politely. It was a common expression for him. As the lobby bustled with men in tuxedos and women in fancy gowns, all chattering happily about their wonderful evening, no one paid any mind when Oscar Travers pushed his way quietly into the lushly decorated room. Travers silently scanned the crowd, searching for one person in particular. He couldn’t help but notice Brent Gregor, the only one in a wheelchair, talking to a beautiful redhead. Only a man with that kind of money could get a woman to forget he was crippled, Travers thought. Then his eyes landed on the man he’d come to see: Cecil Davenport, IV, the wealthy attorney and heir to the Davenport fortune. Davenport had everything--handsome good looks, his beautiful wife, Julia, dutifully at his side like a trophy to be admired, and a modicum of fame and fortune. But there was one thing Davenport had wanted that he couldn’t produce--an heir of his own. No, that he had taken from someone else. Taken from Oscar Travers. Travers pushed his way quickly through the crowd and grabbed Davenport by the collar in a vice-like grip. Before the stunned aristocrat even had time to react, Travers’ iron ﬁst connected with Davenport’s glass jaw with the speed of a locomotive. The rich man’s head jerked back from the ﬁerce blow and he spat a mouthful of blood across his beautiful young wife’s gleaming white gown. The crushing blow knocked Davenport straight to the ﬂoor. The young Mrs. Davenport screamed at the sight. In that split second, her concern was not only that her husband was loosing blood, but that she found it on her dress. He was about to spill more. With the speed of a man possessed, Travers quickly scooped Davenport off the ﬂoor and assailed him repeatedly in the face and gut. Davenport was
so dazed by the onslaught that he could only cough up more blood. He was completely unable to come to his senses, much less retaliate. The crowd quickly parted in shock and horror. Men shouted and women screamed. It was a brutal sight. Vicky looked up at the melee with widened-eyes. Brent quickly assessed the situation to see if he should act. Denny just stood back in shock. Travers hauled back to pummel Davenport to the ﬂoor once more, but an unseen force stayed his clenched ﬁst. In the instant of his fury, Travers thought it was someone behind him. He didn’t have time to realize he was standing alone. Brent gripped the handles of his wheelchair as he focused his concentration, thankful he could use the power of the Spirit Force without being noticed. Travers could only shout in frustration, “You stole our baby! We already paid! That baby was ours!” Two burly Ushers stormed quickly through the horriﬁed crowd and grabbed Travers by the arms to hold him back. Travers was momentarily stunned to ﬁnd that there had previously been no one behind him. He then struggled against their solid grasps and shouted, “You stole our baby!” They quickly drug him out of the lobby and into the alley. Denny only had a moment to look up at Vicky to see her follow right behind. Her reporter’s instinct had kicked in as usual and she had no choice but to follow the story. Literally. Brent gave Denny an understanding nod, seeing him standing there alone, their special evening brought to a tragic and unexpected end. Denny watched as Bernard wheeled Brent outside. He then looked over at the men who helped Davenport to his feet as he coughed more blood into his handkerchief. The women attended to Mrs. Davenport, as she cried in terriﬁed confusion. Bernard helped Brent into their dark, luxurious car, then settled himself into the driver’s seat. “What do you suppose that was all about, Sir?” Brent stared thoughtfully out the window, pondering Travers’ words as Bernard put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. He had his suspicions. “I’ve heard rumors of a baby-selling racket. More like a baby auction,” Brent told him. “Supposedly, there’s a doctor in town who helps ‘unfortunate’ girls, then sells the baby to the highest bidder. I’m guessing that man was outbid by a wealthier buyer.”
“My heavens!” was Bernard’s response. He could not believe the words. “Every time I think that mankind has sunk to his lowest depths, he seeks to prove me wrong.” Brent added that he’d looked into this before, but had only come up empty-handed. “Whoever this doctor is, he does a very good job of covering his tracks. But at least now there’s a trail. And with more than one path.” The Black Spectre, of course, wasted no time in following that trail. Cecil Davenport may have been well-guarded at the hospital to which he was taken, but that didn’t keep him from having visitors. Most especially, one visitor in particular. Despite the doses of morphine and expert attention at Terminal City’s ﬁnest medical facility, Davenport did not rest well that night. Nestled in his hospital bed, his face was heavily bandaged around his crown and his nearly-broken jaw. Davenport was jostled awake by something uneasy and unexpected. He struggled to open his eyes. Through the drug-induced clouds of his mind, he saw Death standing over him. Or something that looked very much like it. Davenport let out a very loud gasp as his heart stopped momentarily. A dark-gloved hand quickly covered his mouth. Without time to think, Davenport’s hand shot out for the small hand-bell he used to call the nurse. He shook it violently, but it made no sound. He looked back at the dark ﬁgure before him. Surely he was dead. “Tell me,” said the Black Spectre in his deep, scratchy voice, “who is the doctor that sold you the baby?” Davenport stumbled on his words as he attempted to speak. “I -- I don’t know.” The Black Spectre leaned directly over Davenport’s face, so that all he could see was the gleaming white skull of his mask. “Don’t lie to me!” demanded the Spectre. “Do you really want to spend eternity in Hell?” Davenport blinked through tear-ﬁlled eyes and answered, “No, Sir! Please! I swear! I don’t know. But I know the name of the hospital. It’s Hollyvale Country Hospital. That’s where they take all the unfortunates.” Just at that moment, the door ﬂung quickly open. Davenport turned to look. There, bathed in
the light of the hallway, was a pale-blue angel. Now that he had told the truth, he had purged his soul from the darkness of Death. She was there to save him. Or so he believed when he saw her. Her reaction, however, was not so angelic. “What are you doing here?” she demanded of the darkcloaked ﬁgure. “The same as you, I imagine,” answered the Spectre. With a wave of his hand, the lights in the hallway went out behind her. “Come with me,” was all he said as he whisked her out the door. Davenport could only look up in confusion. “Angel, come back!” he called out. Though he only touched the ﬁngers of her hand, Vicky felt herself being pulled down the dark hallway until they quickly came to a stop. He moved around her in a sudden, ﬂuid motion, then loomed over her, face to face. She wasn’t so easily intimidated. “Meet me at the Hollyvale Country Hospital,” was all he said, then disappeared into the shadows. She blinked a few times, wondering if her eyes had played tricks on her. She’d seen him do that many times before, but never up close. She shook her head, completely unable to make sense of it. But there was no time to ponder such puzzlements now. Despite her disdain for the Spectre, she had the information she’d come to retrieve and, to her way of thinking, she wasn’t about to let this phantom character rattle her into letting go of it. Even if he was the one who gave it to her. Moments later, the Black Spectre ducked unseen into a long, black car tucked safely some distance away in the darkness of the night. Bernard looked into the rear-view mirror to see the smiling face of Brent Gregor staring back at him. “I trust you were successful, Sir?” Bernard asked. “Certainly,” said Brent, giving him their next location, then added, “we’re meeting Vicky there.” Bernard looked back at him curiously as they drove off. Several long miles later, well outside of the city, the Black Spectre swooped in on the small country hospital. It was a quaint little place, like a rather long home that had been extended in both directions. Certainly the kind of place where un-
fortunate girls would feel as welcome as they could during their extended stay. As he expected, the Spectre found Vicky at a back door, hunched down, working the lock in frustration with a hairpin. “Allow me,” he said, startling her. With another wave of his hand, the door unlocked and swung open. “You knew I was coming.” Vicky could only respond with an aggravated grunt as she brushed quickly past him to get inside ﬁrst. “Stay quiet,” she said, barreling into the hallway and having to suddenly stop short by the sound of her clacking heels on the slick, tile ﬂoor. She let out another aggravated grunt as she stopped to take off her shoes. The Spectre moved silently past her and she was forced to follow. As they reached the ofﬁce, the Spectre opened the locked door and led her to the ﬁling cabinet. “Can I at least do this part?” she asked in frustration. “This is what I do.” The Spectre stepped politely back, pointing her to the ﬁles. She thrust her shoes into his glovedhands as if he needed to do something useful. She went to the ﬁrst drawer and gave it a quick tug. Of course, it was locked. “Try it again,” he said, without moving a muscle. As much as she hated to, and without even glancing in his direction, she gently pulled on the drawer again. It came right open. Still refusing to look at him, she went straight to work. Like a highly-trained specialist, she whizzed quickly and quietly through the ﬁle drawers, pausing every moment or so to hold a folder up to the dim shafts of light that bore across the dark room from the street lights outside. “I still don’t know if you’re a criminal or a savior,” she said, ﬁnally looking up and staring him down. “I’m no criminal,” he replied matter-of-factly. She only made a sound of disbelief before going back to the ﬁles. After another few moments, she let out a slight sound of satisfaction. “Here. Girl’s name is Susan Harris. Checked out two days ago. There’s some numbers and initials written at the bottom—I’m guessing they sold the baby to Davenport for $100 dollars. Travers had only paid ﬁfty. Looks like
she hasn’t given birth yet.” “Who’s the doctor?” the Spectre asked. She looked up at him as if to ask if he really thought she’d reveal such a vital piece of information. As much as she wanted to withhold it, there was no way she could have kept it from him. And if that wasn’t enough to really irk her, it was a name she didn’t recognize. “Dr. Zachary Wellman,” she confessed. “You know him?” she asked, both hoping that he did and irritated that he might. In fact, the Spectre knew Dr. Wellman rather well indeed. He lived in Lakeview Heights, a few blocks from the Gregor Mansion. His home backed up against the long-empty Patterson house, which Brent and every other child that grew up in Lakeview Heights knew to be haunted. And if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Wellman had attended to Brent and his mother that fateful Halloween night so many years ago. Again, the Spectre told Vicky to meet him there. After the several-mile drive back into the city and on to Lakeview Heights, Bernard let the Spectre out near Dr. Wellman’s house before taking the car on to the mansion. Vicky wasn’t far behind, though, and quickly rushed in through the open front door to ﬁnd him waiting. “Doesn’t seem to be anyone home,” he told her. “Have you looked upstairs?” she asked, not waiting for him to answer. She barreled quickly up the grand, circular staircase. Since this was only the second home in Lakeview Heights (the ﬁrst being Brent Gregor’s, of course) she’d been in, her mind was momentarily distracted by the thought of how much she’d have liked to see this home with the lights on. They rushed into the study to ﬁnd it dark and empty like the rest of the house. As Vicky glanced over the papers on the desk and found the drawers locked, she could have sworn that she saw a ﬂash of light in the house directly behind them. “Isn’t that the old Patterson House?” she asked. “The one that’s supposed to be haunted?” “Yes,” answered the Spectre, knowing full well that it was. For on the same fateful Halloween that had changed his life, he’d had his ﬁrst brush with the
otherworld. Like all the kids in Lakeview Heights, he’d peered in through the front door while completing the neighborhood children’s rite of passage, and something--something ghostly, something frightening, something not from this world--had called out to him. Vicky’s voice shook him from those terrible memories. “If you were going to hide someone and you wanted to make sure she was never found, where would you hide her? A haunted house maybe?” Before he could answer and even think to hesitate, Vicky was down the stairs and out the back door. The Spectre caught up with her as she charged across the yard, ﬁnally stopping at the back porch to look up at the ornate, eerie ediﬁce that had frightened so many and left scars on more than a few. She turned quickly back to look at him, waiting impatiently for him to unlock the door. For once, he actually hesitated. “Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed, “don’t tell me you’re afraid of this place?” Of course, he couldn’t answer. And he especially couldn’t confess to the terror that his childhood memories of that night evoked. He knew there was no backing down. At least they weren’t going in the front door. With a quick wave, the back door opened with a long and resounding creak. “Great,” she said, “just like a horror movie. Let’s just hope Bela Lugosi isn’t waiting inside.” In a quick glide up to the porch, he stepped in front of the door and blocked her path. “Please, allow me,” he said, now leading the way. “About time,” she answered. “Thought you’d feel right at home here.” She shook her head, puzzled, thinking to herself that maybe he was human after all. The Spectre led her quietly in. Even with his ghost-like movements, he couldn’t avoid the quiet creaks as he made his way across the ﬂoor of the empty room into which they’d entered. Vicky did much worse, only this time she wasn’t about to take off her shoes. As they went into the main hallway that led to the stairs, the Spectre found the unsettling prospect of staring out the front door himself, taking on the vantage point of whatever it was that had looked out at him. He wondered if he would encounter that visage again now that he was deep within the house.
An eerie chill ran down his spine. As if on cue, they heard a mufﬂed scream from upstairs. Vicky grabbed his arm and practically pulled herself under his cloak as she let out a gasp that left her breathless. As anxious as he was at that moment, having her in his arms and the need to protect her supplanted the childhood fears that still lived within him. “Think it’s a ghost?” she asked. Before he could answer, they heard it again. This time, he was reassured. “Come on,” he replied, his voice strong and commanding once again. He led her up the stairs, keeping her tight under his cape. It felt good to move together as one. But as much as he treasured this moment, he knew he would have to let her go when they reached the top. At the end of the long black hall, they could barely see a thin bit of light creep under the last doorway. Then they heard another scream. This time, Vicky was sure, too. It was no apparition. The Spectre backed her to the wall, ﬁnally releasing her from the safety of his grasp. “Stay here,” he whispered. She nodded silently. He ﬂoated over to the door and commanded it to open silently, and just barely at that. “Push!” shouted Doctor Wellman as the poor young Susan Harris lay back on a bed with the doctor and an older nurse, waiting at her feet. The Spectre immediately recognized her, too, as Mrs. Wellman. He’d heard rumors that the Wellman’s were having ﬁnancial troubles. Had it really come to this? Had he known, he could have easily helped. Susan bit down on a rolled up rag as she screamed and gave it her all as Wellman had commanded. The Spectre watched wide-eyed as Susan gave birth at that moment to a healthy baby girl and the room was ﬁlled with the cries of both mother and daughter. Susan ﬂopped back on the old, rumpled mattress in exhaustion as Mrs. Wellman dabbed her forehead with a wet cloth. Handing the baby off to his wife, the doctor soon realized that they weren’t alone. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem startled. Perhaps he’d experienced ghosts in that house before. Mrs. Wellman, however, had the complete opposite reaction. She shreiked even louder than Susan had; though, to be fair, she didn’t have anything to bite on. “It’s okay, Muriel,” Wellman reassured his
wife. “Attend to the baby.” Wellman turned back to the Spectre. “How did you ﬁnd me?” he asked as Mrs. Wellman nervously bundled up the newborn. She was afraid to take her eyes off the dark visage as she placed the infant in a make-shift cradle. The Spectre well knew the voice that came from the old man before him. He knew its kind, reassuring tones. It was weaker and softer now, but it was still that same voice that he had known so long ago. He could only regret this moment. “Just followed the clues, that’s all,” answered Vicky as she marched through the doorway and went straight up to Wellman. Her voice wasn’t so kind. After all, she hadn’t known the doctor before and could only judge him by what she saw then. It was a near deadly distraction for both of them. While the Spectre was lost in memories of both this place and the old doctor that stood slumped and exhausted before them, Mrs. Wellman quietly took a syringe from a nearby table. She moved silently behind Vicky. Then, in a motion surprisingly fast for an aging woman, one born of desperation more than strength, Mrs. Wellman went to plunge it straight into Vicky’s neck. This was not the kindly woman that Brent had known as a child. The needle had nearly pierced Vicky’s ﬂesh when a black-gloved hand stopped her. Only the hand hadn’t even touched her own. Instead, it was several feet away, outstretched with ﬁngers extended, tense and shaking from exertion. Vicky screamed with a start as Mrs. Wellman struggled against the unseen force that had stopped her. Another equally powerful and invisible force pulled Vicky quickly away, then sent the syringe ﬂying from Mrs. Wellman’s hand to smash against the wall. In that same instant, Vicky found herself once again in his arms. This time, staring him face-toface, she thought for a ﬂeeting moment of wrapping herself completely in his cape. “Well,” she ﬁnally said, struggling for the words. “I guess you are a savior after all.” As much as he wanted that moment to last for an eternity, and seeing in her eyes that Vicky was considering the same, the Spectre reluctantly let her go. He secured the Wellmans, tying their hands with dark cord, then led Vicky back out into the hall.
The police will be here soon,” he told her. And with that, he was gone. Just like before. Perhaps he wasn’t a man after all. Vicky rushed over to the bed to look down on Susan Harris. Despite all that had happened, she was smiling at the sight of her healthy baby girl next to her. “Will they still take my baby?” Susan asked weakly. “No, not now,” Vicky reassured her. “Don’t worry. You get to keep her now.” “Oh,” said Susan, “looking away. “But what about the money?” A short while later, the wealthy residents of the neighborhood poured from their front doors as ﬂashing police lights ﬁlled the usually tranquil streets. There was many a shriek and murmur from both children and adults alike when the black and white cars pulled up outside the old Patterson House. Vicky rushed out to meet the grizzled and burly Detective Shayne as he moved cautiously towards the front door. Then there was an audible sigh of relief when they all realized that she wasn’t a ghost, though one man in the crowd did notice that she looked like an angel. That man was Denny. He rushed over and clutched her by the hand, pulled her to him and, he presumed, to safety. In that instant, she realized that just then she didn’t feel quite as safe as she had before, upstairs in the house that was haunted and wrapped in the cloak of a man she didn’t know. “Thank goodness, you’re okay,” Denny exclaimed. “What happened in this old place anyway?” “It’s the baby-selling racket,” Vicky shouted, both to Denny and Detective Shayne. “An old doctor and his wife, a young girl and her baby. They’re right inside, upstairs.” “You don’t say!” shouted Detective Shayne with a start before charging up the steps and directly inside. The crowd gasped again at the sight of someone actually going into that old, frightening ediﬁce. “Talk to you tomorrow, Detective,” called Vicky, as she heard him clomping up the creaky old stairs. Then she turned back to Denny and added, “Come on, let’s get out of here. I need to get back to the ofﬁce.” Despite his desires to the contrary, Denny dutifully agreed.
When Detective Shayne reached the upstairs room, he found the Wellmans, Susan Harris, and the baby just as Vicky said. But one additional detail immediately caught his attention--two strips of tape stretched across the window formed the shadow of a large â€œXâ€? across the room. Shayne could only nod knowingly. This was the work of the Spectre, no doubt. As Vicky drove out of Lakeview Heights, she passed the Gregor Mansion. There, in the upstairs window of his bedroom, was the familiar silhouette of Brent Gregor, ever-watching. ---End
THE ELDRITCH HORROR FROM BEYOND THE NETHER VOID by
D.A. Madigan in the hideous, ﬂickering glare reﬂecting
from the huge, cyclopean idol’s glassy greenish surface, the swaying, heaving undulations of the gathered eldritch throngs were etched in stark relief against the backdrop of the old, crumbling church. From the upper balcony, where the shambling hulks bearing the three captives lurched ponderously into the horribly transformed chamber of worship, the entire ghastly vista was mercilessly displayed. Before the captured adventurers’ smoke strained eyes was spread a hellish tableau of a sort that would have sent weaker minds tottering into madness at the merest glance. There, coiling and uncoiling in inhumanly syncopated rhythm within what should have been one of humanity’s holiest places, was assembled the entire population of the small town. Cheery cheeked Mrs. Buttersbee, the captive group’s erstwhile landlady was there, her pleasant blue eyes now slitted like a cobra’s, her apple-red cheeks pallid, green-tinged and, in the ﬂickering light from the awful emeralf torches, even scaly seeming to the naked eye. All the other tenants from Mrs. Buttersbee’s boarding house were also there – the kindly middle aged schoolmarm Miss Spence, the retired postmaster Abner O’Keefe, the morose, taciturn traveling salesman known only as Mr. Bitters. All of them now swayed and hissed inhumanly in front of their depraved and disgusting idol, all of them as grotesquely metamorphisized as Mrs. Buttersbee. The leader of the bound captives, whom many mere humans of the year 1932 would have believed they instantly recognized as Colonel Nathaniel Champion, international adventurer of vast
renown, stared grimly from atop the vast, brobdignagian shoulders of the creature bearing him down the stairs from the balcony. It took only a fraction of the formidable acumen reputed to Colonel Champion to realize what a ﬁx he and his companions were in. Yet no trace of panic marred the noble forehead above the shaggy, greying eyebrows of the famous international paranormal investigator, nor did the slightest hint of any discomposure so much as quiver the semblance of the hard set lips framed by the luxurious silvery whiskers of one of the world’s greatest heroes. Nor was any untoward emotion betrayed by the beauteous visage of red haired Patricia Champion, daughter to the renowned Colonel, and similarly resolute were the aquiline features of the ﬁnal captive, a bold adventurer nearly as recognizable as either Champion, the intrepid and brilliant Professor Copperton. Only Patricia’s vastly heaving breasts, rising and falling magniﬁcently like some regularly crashing tsunami of perfectly sculpted female ﬂesh beneath the clinging fabric of the tight, now tattered blouse she had donned at Mrs. Butterbee’s boarding house barely an hour prior, gave away any emotional tumult that she might harbor locked within her powerfully pumping heart. She had absolute faith in her partners in peril, a faith fully reﬂected in the calm of her glacial blue eyes – the same eyes which had snared the hearts of a million men, staring out of the covers of various glamour and fashion magazines each month from every corner newsstand in America and Europe. Beneath Professor Mark Copperton’s perfectly controlled visage, a torrent of intellectual prowess might well be raging. Copperton’s ﬁnely tuned mind
might well be racing through every conceivable permutation of possibility, winnowing, narrowing, reﬁning, until at last he would formulate a series of strategems that, although each individual step might seem unlikely and even deranged by and of iteself, would, in culmination, inevitably lead to the escape of he and his comrades and the salvation of all their hopes. Or, equally, he might simply be composing a monogram regarding the differences between the strange serpentmen who comprised most of the townsfolk here in the odd little village of Howard Harbor, and their even stranger slave race, the bulky, hulking shoggoths who currently bore the three of them effortlessly towards the hideous idol where they would no doubt be horribly sacriﬁced. He might, indeed, be mentally composing the sentences in which he would describe the various human guises that nightfall had caused to slough off the seemingly human inhabitants of Howard Harbor, transforming the heavyset, slow moving farmers and laborers hanging about on the front porch of Milt’s Country Grocery and Post Ofﬁce into the hideously strong, nearly non-sentient hulks currently carrying he and his friends, while the remainder of the townsfolk had taken on the disturbingly ophidian aspect of ancient Lemurian serpentmen. As the shoggoth bore their captives past an undulating group composed of the town’s mayor and all four of its selectmen, the grizzled leader of the captives made his move. Although the brainless shoggoth had searched each of the adventurers before binding them, their dull mindlessness had been no match for the driving intellect beneath the brow of Colonel Champion. Now, as the razor blade concealed in the sleeve of his heavy cotton safari jacket ﬁnally sheared through the stout hemp ropes binding his wrists, he twisted his heavily muscled form to the side, hurling himself off of the broad shoulders of his shoggoth bearer. As he did so, his right hand darted to one of his jacket’s epaulets and tore it cleanly away, thus igniting the chemical fuse woven into the fabric there which connected directly to the detonator in the epaulet’s small button, which was itself composed entirely of an artiﬁcial explosive of the Colonel’s own design.
Even as the Colonel landed on his side and rolled towards the church wall like a great jungle cat, he was ﬂicking the epaulette and its incindiery button towards the main mass of shoggoths. His comrades had needed no prompting. Taking their cue from Colonel Champion, both other captives immediately executed similar gymnastics of a sort that only Olympic level athletes in peak physical condition could even hope to perform, acrobatically hurling themselves through the air away from their bearers. Before the slow brained occult slaves could even begin to ponderously turn on their clumsy hooved feet, the Colonel’s explosive pellet detonated in their midst. Their dense, bulky bodies absorbed most of the blast, but the hideous shoggoth were scattered like tenpins, their torsos and tiny pinheads crushed and deformed by the devastating fury of the explosion. Meanwhile, the razor still in the hands of Colonel Champion had not been idle. All three adventurers lithely sprang upright again, no longer bound, and without any discussion, Professor Copperton snatched up one of the pews that had been pushed to the side of the chamber and smashed out a window with it. With hordes of ululating serpentmen slithering madly behind them, the three vaulted to freedom! Racing through the dank, livid shadows of the horror ﬁlled Howard Harbor night without a word to each other, the three reached the front of Mrs. Buttersbee’s boarding house, where they had parked their vehicle, a heavily modiﬁed Army surplus jeep. Without uttering a syllable, Patricia seized up a .45 revolver and one of the Springﬁeld riﬂes from the back of the jeep. In addition to being a world famous fashion model and ingenue, Patricia Champion had won three gold medals in the 1932 Olympics on the U.S. women’s riﬂe and pistols teams. Now, as the two men leapt into the Army jeep and struggled with its starter mechanism, she dropped to one knee and began to provide withering covering ﬁre for their escape. An occult mist had sprung up all around Howard Harbor, a defensive device used by its hellish inhabitants to protect their sinister secret. While this impenetrable mystic fog might have foiled the escape attempts of lesser beings, the serpentmen
who wove it had reckoned without the intellectual prowess of Professor Mark Copperton. The experimental compass of his own design he held in his hand, as well as his careful map making of the days before, paid dividends as the small party of adventurers hurtled off into the night, away from the little town of horrors and back towards the world of ration and reason. 14 hours later, the town of Happy Harbor lay in smoking ruins. A battalion from the local Army post was sifting through the blazing embers that had once been the horribly inhuman township, seeking any survivors. Occasionally hisses of outrage, quickly followed by shots that cut them terminally short, rang out through the afternoon haze. On the fringes of the no longer existent town, Colonel Champion and his two companions had set up a large tent from just outside of which they were overseeing the clean up operation through ﬁeld glasses. As the man called Professor Copperton watched, he saw an Army staff car approach the tent and come to a halt. A lieutenant emerged from behind the driver’s seat, opened the door to the rear compartment, and saluted smartly. The battalion commander, General Harderman, unfolded his lanky length into the smoke smeared sunlight and stifﬂy approached the adventurers’ pavilion. “All clear!” he said, snapping Colonel Champion a punctilious salute. “Most of these snake things are dead already from the ﬁre; my boys are having no trouble cleaning up the rest.” “Yes, they’re sluggish anyway in the daylight,” Colonel Champion agreed. “Probably why they adopt human guise when the sun is out,” Professor Copperton mused. “It’s horrible,” General Harderman said, shaking his head. “If you hadn’t gotten onto them… there’s no telling what their nefarious plans may have been!Are there more of them, do you know?” “According to our… sources…” Colonel Champion said, “this was the last enclave.” “Thank God for that,” the General said.”What a horrible surprise to ﬁnd such things exist!” “Yes, we were shocked,” Professor Cop-
perton said. “We weren’t prepared for them at all.” His eyes grew distant. “We all thought humanity was the dominant race on this planet,” he said, his tone slow and thoughtful. “All our devices, our mighty plans…” He narrowed his eyes. “We had to improvise. They could have muddled everything up terribly.” “Yes, yes,” the General agreed, perhaps somewhat pompously. “Man takes his place in the universe for granted… perhaps too much so, indeed. Still, thanks to you, humanity is safe from this horrible threat.” The Professor and the Colonel exchanged glances. “This one, yes,” the Colonel said, perhaps a bit dryly. “General Harderman,” Patricia murmured, inclining her beautifully coifed head towards the tent ﬂap, “there is something you should see inside here, if you have a moment.” “Of course, ma’am!” the General said. “Anything the U.S. can do for you, your father, your ﬁance… we owe you a great debt!” Unhesitatingly, the General, who had fought on a hundred battleﬁelds but none anywhere near as strange as where he found himself today, followed the three adventurers into the canvas enclosure. Inside, it took the General’s eyes a few moments to adjust to the gloom. Then: “By God!” he gasped. “Is that… is that meant to be ME?” Stacked around the tent were four and ﬁve foot high piles of what seemed to be seed bags. On top of them were huge, purplish looking gourds of some kind; dozens of them, spilling from atop the seed bags to lie, gleaming in the dim light, all over the dirt ﬂoor. In the very center of the tent, one of the vast purplish gourds had split open on one end, and protruding from it was what appeared to be the head, neck, arms, and upper torso of a naked man… and although the ﬁgure was enshrouded still in some sort of silky webbing, still, anyone could see that it did indeed bear an identical resemblance to the General. The General shot a horriﬁed look at Colonel Champion. “Is this what they were planning to do? These horrifying serpentmen, these worshippers of ancient, eldritch deities? Replace living Americans with some kind of manufactured, vegetative slavedrones?”
“Oh, no,” Colonel Champion said, smiling reassuringly as Professor Copperton smashed his gun butt down on the back of the General’s head. “This one is ours.” Without a word, the alien wearing the duplicated form of Patricia Champion bent down and fastened a vine from the General-pod to the real General’s unconscious head. Within moments, the General was no more than a hollowed out, withered husk. The three members of the alien vanguard helped their newest recruit out of the already shriveling pieces of his nurturing pod, and handed him the General’s uniform. Then they carefully gathered up the seeds dropped by the nurturing pod as it withered; such seeds were vital to the plan. There was no need for verbal communication; the four of them were one. The General would distribute replacement gourds to each member of the battalion outside, ordering them to keep them by their sides at all times. After tonight, the entire battalion would be available to begin distributing seed-pods to all the surrounding human villages. The seeds sprouted quickly, the new colony should be fully established within a few planetary rotations, at most. The serpentmen, whose metabolisms, and worse, whose utterly inhuman mental processes, were completely incompatible to the colony mind, could have proven a serious threat to the invasion. But as the blossom-queen had indicated, the ﬁrst three humans chosen for recruitment had had adequate personal resources to deal with that problem. Soon, this world would belong to the pods. ---End
INVADERS FROM UNDER THE SEA An Adventure of the Atomic Thunderbolt! by
Timothy D. Gallagher it was just after seven o’clock in the evening when the broadcast was delivered in New York City. Every single radio within a ten-mile radius, even those that were turned off, suddenly emitted a strident whistle guaranteed to draw the attention of anyone within earshot. All over the city knobs were switched, dials were turned, but to no avail. The whistle continued for a full minute. Then, as abruptly as it started, it stopped. People were perplexed. The regular programs that the whistle had interrupted had not resumed. There was only silence. Then a voice issued from the radios. A man’s voice, strong, accustomed to command. The voice spoke in perfect English, but there was the slightest hint of an unidentiﬁable accent. The voice spoke clearly and without distortion, as if the speaker were in the very room with the listener. “Attention New York,” said the voice. “This is the Yarong the Twelfth, ruler of the Empire of Lemuria. “For too long has the Empire of Lemuria been forgotten and ignored by you surface dwellers. We, who were once masters of the planet, will once more assume dominance of the Earth! “Therefore, tribute will be paid to the Empire of Lemuria. All the gold that your United States has secured in its vaults will be given over to us by noon tomorrow. “Should the United States fail to comply, the Empire of Lemuria will respond by destroying New York!” And then, as abruptly as it began, the strange broadcast ceased. The next day there was a feeling of foreboding in Manhattan, a tension, as if millions were holding their breath. People went about their lives, but
watched nervously everything and everyone around them. Eyes lingered as strangers passed. Conversations were muted and terse, the participants afraid of calling attention to themselves. A truck backﬁred on Seventh Avenue and set-off a small panic, men and women scrambling for cover. They smiled and chuckled half-heartedly amongst themselves when they realized it was a false alarm. Only newsboys behaved normally, hawking the latest edition at the top of their lungs at every corner, their youthful exuberance immune to the fear that Yarong had spread. Their shouted headlines told of the United States’ refusal to bow to Yarong’s demands; of how the mayor was calling it an elaborate hoax; of how the Army was standing by in case it wasn’t a hoax. No where in the city was the tension felt as strongly than at police headquarters. Every ofﬁcer on the force was on duty; vacations, leaves and days off had been cancelled. Foot and car patrols had been doubled. The Riot Squad waited tensely by their vehicles, ready to go at a moment’s notice. The hour of noon came, and the city held its collective breath. This was the time that Yarong had declared he would strike. No matter where they were, no matter what they were doing, people stopped and looked about them apprehensively, alert for anything out of the ordinary. How would Yarong attack? From which direction would it come? When it came, would they be able to escape? As clocks across the city moved past the hour of noon, slowly the citizens of New York began to relax. Nothing had happened. They were safe. It had all been a hoax after all. Steadily, in small measures, the city came back to boisterous life. The Hudson River, on the west side of Man-
hattan, suddenly roiled and bubbled as huge, black shapes rose to the surface. Water hissed sibilantly as it slid from the side of the metal-vessels shaped like sea creatures: some were squid, others sharks, barracudas, and great killer whales. Each vessel was as large as battleship, but no land-based nation had ever built these. They were the dreaded Black Fleet of Lemuria! By-standers and passers-by ran yelling for help as the ﬂeet appeared. The threat was real! The doom decreed by Emperor Yarong was coming to pass! The vessels slid sideways to abut wharves and docks that dotted the shoreline. Large doors on the vessels’ hulls opened, revealing cavernous holds. Things stirred in the darkness of those holds. The few witnesses who stayed to watch were then subjected to the shock of their lives. Marching forth from the Lemurian vessels were creatures straight from a nightmare! High above Manhattan, inside an enormous cloud-bank, soared a unique airship. This dirigible, larger than any ever before built, boasted eight enormous, whisper quiet engines. Its bullet-proof skin was constructed of a unique material that mirrored the surrounding sky, making the dirigible all but invisible. Spouts along the gondola spewed forth gas that created the cloud surrounding the airship, keeping it hidden from the ground. This was the most unique aircraft in all the world. This was The Stormcloud, the ﬂying headquarters of that most powerful enemy of crime, the tireless defender of the weak, the veritable one-man army - the Atomic Thunderbolt! Inside the pilothouse of The Stormcloud, Jerry Sanchez worked the radio station. Earphones strapped on, he diligently worked the receiver, scanning for any word of trouble that would call for the Atomic Thunderbolt’s attention. The crew of The Stormcloud was certain that Emperor Yarong’s pronouncement the night before had not been a hoax. They knew he would strike; it was just a matter of where and how. Suddenly the wiry little Latino sat bolt upright in his seat and clapped a hand to his earphones. He was listening to the police band: the Lemurians were striking! “Skipper!” he yelled, never taking his eyes
from the radio set. “We got trouble on the West Side!” A man walked over to stand beside Jerry’s station. The man stood four inches over six feet, and was powerfully built. The thick, jet black hair on his head was marked by a streak of white. His handsome features were angular and clear-cut, and displayed the intelligence and determination of a man of action. However, it was his eyes that clearly set him apart from others: the irises were a rich, crimson color. The man was dressed in a leather ﬂying jacket, it’s brass buttons running down the front on both sides. The jacket was dyed red, with a stylized golden atom and lightning bolt symbol emblazoned on the front: the symbol of the Atomic Thunderbolt! “What kind of trouble, Jerry?” the Thunderbolt asked, his voice even and strong. Jerry pulled one earphone of his ear and turned to face his boss. “You ain’t gonna believe this, Skipper. They’re claiming monsters are coming outta the Hudson.” “Monsters?” said Lucinda Williamson, The Stormcloud’s pilot, incredulously. Lucinda was an African-American woman in her late twenties. She wore a large metal helmet that covered her head and most of her face. The helmet was connected by thick wires to the pilot’s console. It fed data from the radio-sonar array aboard The Stormcloud directly to her brain, forming three-dimensional images of the entire area around the dirigible, which otherwise would be ﬂying blind inside its cloud cover. Ironically, Lucinda had been blind since birth, but with the helmet she was the equal of any pilot in the world. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “Don’cha remember that big ape what climbed the Empire State coupla years ago?” Jerry asked. “You mean the one Doc Cumberland’s got on ice in the basement?” “Never mind that,” the Atomic Thunderbolt interjected. “Lucinda, get me over the West Side right away.” The pilot smiled beneath her helmet. “Already halfway there, Skipper.” She pushed down on the control wheel, and The Stormcloud dove westward. The Atomic Thunderbolt stood in the belly
of The Stormcloud’s gondola. He had strapped on a pack, essentially a powerful jet turbine engine, with stubby wings that projected from the side. Gloves the Thunderbolt slipped on served a two-fold purpose; ﬁrst, they contained the controls for the jet-pack; second, they prevented him from leaving ﬁngerprints. It would not be prudent for his real identity to be learned. Lastly, the Atomic Thunderbolt slipped on a red leather mask that covered half his face, further hiding his identity. Goggles in the mask hid his eyes, while a compact radio set in the earpiece kept him contact with The Stormcloud. This was completed with a voice-activated throat microphone in his jacket collar. “We’re above Hell’s Kitchen, Skipper,” Lucinda’s voice crackled in his earpiece. “Roger,” he replied. “Payload away.” He hit a large button on the bulkhead. Bomb bay doors opened beneath him. He dove through the open doors, which automatically closed moments later. He sped through the cloud cover and was in clear sky, streaking towards the city below. A squad of policemen crouched behind their radio cars, which blocked West 43rd Street, and watched as nightmarish creatures approached their position. The police ofﬁcers had their revolvers drawn, and were prepared to use them, but knew the .38 caliber rounds would be as useless as pea shooters against such monstrosities. They needed the Riot Squad, or better yet the Army, to deal with this. Man-like shapes in ornate, other-worldly armor, sat astride the beasts, guiding their path. The armored forms were armed with weapons that resembled riﬂes, but as ornately built as the armor. As far as the policemen could tell, the invaders’ weapons did not shoot bullets or projectiles of any sort. They were extremely destructive, nonetheless. An invader saddled to a gigantic, two-legged lizard with a huge mouth ﬁlled with teeth, pointed his weapon at the policemen. Several of the ofﬁcers opened ﬁre, but bullets merely bounced off the attacker’s armor. The strange weapon was triggered. The policemen heard nothing, though there was a painful sensation in their ears, and their teeth rattled. Suddenly one of the radio cars exploded, showering the police in shards of metal and glass and tongues of ﬂame.
The dazed policemen still alive looked up from the pavement were they had been scattered. The lead beast, the two-legged horror, leaned over them. It issued a terrible roar as its six-inch long teeth sought their ﬂesh. One of New York’s Finest, who still retained his revolver, shouted his deﬁance and emptied his weapon into the beast’s open maw. It had no affect. The policemen were doomed. Just as the ﬁrst ofﬁcer was about to be impaled on those ivory daggers, there was a sound like an onrushing locomotive. A red blur streaked from the sky and slammed into the beast with a tremendous impact, knocking it off its feet and spilling its rider. The policemen blinked in surprise. They had been saved! As they watched in amazement, their savior looped through the air back at the invaders. “It’s the Thunderbolt!” shouted one of the ofﬁcers. The Atomic Thunderbolt sped towards the armored forms and their mounts. Despite the many strange things he had seen and experienced in his career, he was not prepared for men riding dinosaurs. Dinosaurs! The situation would seem absurd if not for the death and destruction being spread by the invaders. The beast he had struck, a Tyrannosaurus rex if he remembered correctly from his last trip to the Museum of Natural History, was still on its back. It kicked savagely, trying to regain its footing, even as it bellowed in rage and pain. The rider lay motionless on the street, crushed beneath the beast. The other four dinosaurs in the group, two stegosaurs; a Triceratops; and another, smaller twolegged carnivore with perpendicular horns over its eyes that the Atomic Thunderbolt didn’t recognize, charged toward him. The Thunderbolt ﬂew at the head of the lead stegosaur and struck out with all his might. Empowered with the strength of one hundred men, the Thunderbolt’s punch was sufﬁcient to knock the plated dinosaur down. As it fell to the group, the second stegosaur ran into it and stumbled. Both riders were unsaddled, and they quickly scrambled to get away from their ﬂoundering mounts. The horned carnivore snapped its massive, tooth-lined jaws at the Thunderbolt as he jetted by. The Thunderbolt landed on the street a block distant from the dinosaur. The jet-pack was powerful, but its fuel supply was limited and he needed to conserve it. As the dinosaur roared and stomped toward
him, he ran to meet it. His mighty leg muscles propelled him at tremendous speed. He dodged another snap of the deadly jaws and struck at the leg of the dinosaur. Despite being as thick as a tree trunk, the leg snapped and the dinosaur fell to the ground screaming in pain. Before the Atomic Thunderbolt could turn around, he was struck full-force by the charging ten-ton Triceratops. He was sent sprawling across the street by a blow that would have pulverized an ordinary man. He slammed into the side of a building, its brick face cracking and crumbling from the impact. Dazed, the one-man army stood and shook his head to clear it. He heard the Triceratops’ rider laugh even as the dinosaur lowered its head for another charge. He was horriﬁed to see a dead policeman impaled on one of the beast’s long horns. The Atomic Thunderbolt spied an empty Packard parked nearby. Racing to the automobile, he lifted and swung it at the dinosaur. The Packard crumpled as it impacted with the Triceratops’ skull. The monstrous, three-horned beast went down with its rider. The Thunderbolt used the remains of the automobile to strike again, ensuring that the Triceratops would not rise again. A thundering footstep behind him alerted the Atomic Thunderbolt that another of the beasts was approaching. Even with his great speed, he could not react in time before massive jaws snapped about him, catching him between rows of knife-sized teeth. The Tyrannosaurus rex clamped down harder, trying to bite its prey in half. Luckily, the Thunderbolt’s skin could not be pierced by the enormous teeth. The Thunderbolt braced his hands against the jaws. He pulled his left leg free of the teeth, and tried to ﬁnd purchase in the slippery mouth for his foot. He pushed with all his might, forcing the huge jaws open. The Tyrannosaurus rex shook its head, trying vainly to dislodge the Thunderbolt. With enough space to move, the Atomic Thunderbolt punched upwards straight through the roof of the dinosaur’s mouth. He felt the skull shatter under his blow. The Tyrannosaurus rex screamed in pain, then fell silent and collapsed to the pavement. The one-man army extricated himself from the dead beast’s mouth. He looked about for the next threat. He saw the stegosaurs struggling to their feet. He rushed to them and, with one mighty
blow apiece, crushed their skulls. It was then that he noticed strange metal devices connected to the sides of the beasts’ heads, near the crown of the skull. The Atomic Thunderbolt took a moment to examine the devices. Wires from them ran into each dinosaur’s skull. The devices were connected to the small, primitive brains of the dinosaurs. That was how the Lemurians controlled the savage beasts! He searched for the remaining four Lemurians. They were engaged in a gunﬁght with the policemen, who had retrieved their revolvers. Bullets bounced harmlessly off the invaders’ armor, but they wielded their silent weapons with devastating affect. The valiant policemen were in danger of being wiped out. The Thunderbolt leaped into the midst of the Lemurians. His ﬁsts shot out with blinding speed. Otherworldly armor cracked and crumpled as if made of tin foil. One by one the four invaders were knocked to the ground. As they lay there, limbs feebly twitching, gouts of dark blood spurted from the crevices in their armor. A couple of the invaders jerked spasmodically, then were still. “What the hell--?” a perplexed police ofﬁcer said as he approached the Thunderbolt. “They exploded when their armor was cracked open,” the one-man army explained. “They’re used to living beneath the sea. Their bodies couldn’t withstand the change in pressure.” Then the armor started to glow red, as if exposed to an intense heat. Smoke curled from the armored forms. “Watch out!” the Thunderbolt warned, pulling the ofﬁcer to safety. The four suits of armor suddenly blazed with white ﬂame that roared like a blast furnace. A moment later, there remained only four man-shaped piles of ash. The Thunderbolt looked over to where the Tyrannosaurus’ rider had fallen. There was an ash pile there as well. “A self-destruct mechanism,” he said. “The armor must sense when the wearer dies. Then it self-destructs to keep from falling into the enemy’s hands.” The Atomic Thunderbolt nodded in grim understanding. Emperor Yarong couldn’t chance the surface world getting a hold of advanced Lemurian technology. He didn’t have time to worry about that now. There was still an invasion underway. He turned to
the policeman. “Contact police headquarters. Have them evacuate everyone underground. Then have the Army Air Corps strafe these beasts once the civilians are safe underground.” Before the police ofﬁcer could respond, the Atomic Thunderbolt leaped into the sky and disappeared over a near-by building. The police followed the Thunderbolt’s instructions. Civilians were packed into the subways. Others hid in the basements of their buildings. Trains were stopped so that people could be packed into the tunnels. There they cowered in fear as the monsters stomped and roared above them, but the dinosaurs could not reach them. The Army Air Corps arrived from ﬁelds in New Jersey and Long Island. The pilots were conﬁdent; members of their elite service had been called on before to kill a monster in New York, and despite the loss of two men, they had succeeded. Then the target had been isolated on top of the Empire State Building, easy to spot, and there was plenty of room to maneuver. Now, however, the targets were on the ground, with plenty of places to hide. Squadron after squadron ﬂew through the man-made canyons of Manhattan, raining volleys of machine-gun ﬁre on the invaders from under the sea. It was dangerous work. Several planes were lost because the pilots’ attention had been diverted for a split-second, ending in disaster. This time the air battle over New York would not be quick or easy, and the cost would be severe. The ground defense was by regular Army ground troops, armed with heavy weapons and tanks; and the New York Police Department’s Riot Squad, armed with Thompson sub-machine guns and tear gas. The tear gas was especially effective on the dinosaurs, causing the Lemurians to lose mastery of the beasts despite the control devices. The Lemurians, whose armor made them immune to the gas, savagely fought on. The advanced weapons of the invaders took a horriﬁc toll on the defenders. Still, the soldiers and policemen were Americans with a duty to perform, a country to defend. They persevered. The Atomic Thunderbolt had cleaned-up sev-
eral squads of the dinosaur riders. His uniform was in shreds, being much less resilient than his skin. He leaped from rooftop to rooftop, occasionally using the jet-pack to zoom over the city, and stayed in contact with The Stormcloud. His observations allowed her crew to coordinate the counterattacks against the invaders. In other areas, he called upon The Stormcloud to drop guided bombs upon the attackers. He jetted over a large grouping of invaders congregated near the Elevated. Armored men astride great, towering brontosaurs, formed a circle. In the center of the circle was a Lemurian whose armor was far grander than the others’. A royal blue cape fringed in gold fell from the armored shoulders. He sat astride the largest, ﬁercest Tyrannosaurus rex the Thunderbolt had seen yet, commanding a dozen dinosaur riders outside the circle. One of the brontosaur riders pointed at the Thunderbolt, ﬂying hundreds of feet overhead. A dozen Lemurian weapons were raised, aimed at the one-man army. The Thunderbolt felt nothing at ﬁrst. Suddenly, the bullet-proof plastic goggles of his mask cracked, then shattered completely. Sonics, thought the Thunderbolt. Their weapons use high-frequency sonics! It made perfect sense for a people that lived beneath the sea. The water was an excellent conductor for the sound weapons, but would be far weaker and have less range in the medium of air. He did not want to imagine how much devastation those weapons were capable of underwater. He turned to approach the dinosaur riders again when he felt a rattle on his back. The steady, powerful thrum of the jet-pack was replaced by a violent shuddering. He was still in range of the sonic weapons! The jet-pack literally shook itself to pieces on his back. The fuel tank exploded, and the Thunderbolt plummeted to the ground hundreds of feet below. Lemurians cheered as he crashed into the roof of a three story building. So violent was the impact that the building collapsed in on itself. The Thunderbolt was buried under numerous tons of rubble. The Lemurian leader had heard reports about this lone, ﬂying warrior defeating entire squads of his army. Now with their most powerful enemy dead, it was time to wipe out the rest of the defend-
ers and claim this city for the Empire! The leader signaled his men to move on. There was a commotion behind the Lemurian warriors. A ﬁgure exploded out of the rubble that had once been a building, its leap taking it to the top of the Elevated. The Atomic Thunderbolt’s chest was bare, his pants in tatters, his mask torn. But he stood deﬁantly before the Lemurian invaders, ﬁsts balled at his sides. The dinosaur riders were astounded. What manner of surface-worlder was this, that could survive such a fall? Their leader barked an order. All weapons were again aimed at the Thunderbolt. At this much closer range, there was no possibility of the enemy surviving. A dozen triggers were pulled in unison. The deadly sound waves shot out. The Thunderbolt felt the concentrated beams strike him. The Elevated tracks around him vibrated and hummed as the sonics tore them apart. His body shook from the violent attack, but he remained standing. He knew that the onslaught, given time, would harm him. He did not intend to give the invaders that time. He tore up two twelve-foot lengths of steel rail from the Elevated tracks. Throwing these like spears, he impaled two of the brontosaurs in the chest. The beasts cried out in pain and fell to the ground with a thunderous crash. So closely packed was the circle of brontosaurs that these two caused the rest to stumble. The brontosaurs fell into the pack of other dinosaurs around them. The Lemurian riders were jostled violently, so intent on not spilling from their saddles that they abandoned the attack. Freed from the deadly sonic beams, the Atomic Thunderbolt tore up another, larger section of rail and sprang into the midst of the Lemurian invaders. The Atomic Thunderbolt called on the full might and speed that was his to command. Atomic ﬁre fueled his muscles as he pummeled dinosaur and armored warrior alike. He darted about almost faster than the eye could follow, never in one spot long enough for his enemies to counter-attack. He was a one-man army as he whittled down the invading force. He heard the drone of airplane engines. A ﬂight of ﬁghters zoomed past the battle, straﬁng the entire area. The large caliber machine-gun bullets
bounced off his naked back like raindrops from a spring storm. The concentrated ﬁre of the airplanes felled more of the invaders’ beasts. The Thunderbolt took care of the riders, cracking open their armored shells as if they were no more substantial than cardboard. The last of the group fell to the Air Corps’ bullets when the ﬁghters made a second pass. The Atomic Thunderbolt was suddenly struck from behind with terrible force. He ended up yards away sprawled in the street. Before he could get up he was again accosted. The Lemurian leader directed his mount, the huge Tyrannosaurus rex, on top of the masked defender. Huge clawed feet slammed down on the Thunderbolt with hideous ferocity. He felt his body driven into the concrete road below him. Despite his great strength, the one-man army could not get the leverage to stand. The blows struck with such force and such speed as to keep him helplessly pinned on the ground. Desperately, the Thunderbolt twisted under the stomping feet of the Tyrannosaurus, gaining a few inches between each blow, until he was ﬁnally on his back. Then, timing his move perfectly, he grabbed the dinosaur’s foot as it came down upon him. He grabbed it and did not let go, squeezing with all of his might. The dinosaur cried out in pain but did not blindly lash out like its brethren. It stood on its free foot and shook the other, the one the Thunderbolt clung to, violently from side to side. It slammed the foot on the ground, seeking to dislodge him. The Thunderbolt ignored the punishment and squeezed even harder. He was rewarded with the sound of bones snapping in the Tyrannosaur’s foot. The beast toppled on its side. Even wounded and unable to stand, the beast did not stop ﬁghting. It snapped at the Thunderbolt, twisting and craning its neck to try to clamp its jaws on him. The Thunderbolt pulled the steel rail from the body of a dead brontosaur. With lightning swiftness, he leaped atop the head of the Tyrannosaurus and drove the rail down through its skull. The Atomic Thunderbolt let go of the rail and dropped to the ground. All the other dinosaurs were either dead or dying. Their riders were no more than piles of ash, which were starting to be blown away by a small breeze that had started. Overhead, the
Army planes made one last pass, dipping their wings at him. The armored foe slashed at the concrete projectile, but was still knocked off balance by its in salute. The Thunderbolt waved to them as they ﬂew by. impact. A sound behind him made him turn. It was The Thunderbolt ignored the pain and used the sound of a sword leaving its scabbard. his uninjured leg to propel himself at the Lemurian The Lemurian leader, he of the grandiose like a cannon-shot. He tackled the armored invader, armor and cape, faced the Atomic Thunderbolt. A one hand grasping his enemy’s sword wrist in a large, two-handed broadsword was in the leader’s vise-like grip. The two combatants grappled as they hand. The blade of the sword was indistinct, out of rolled across the ground. The Thunderbolt’s efforts focus. The Thunderbolt realized it was vibrating so were concentrated on keeping the deadly sword at fast as to almost be invisible. bay; the Lemurian sought to dislodge his foe. To demonstrate the weapon’s deadliness, The Thunderbolt had one chance for a the armored ﬁgure casually swung it at a blue De desperate move. Moving at the speed of thought, Soto lying sideways in the street. The blade passed he released his grip and smashed his ﬁst upon the through the front of the automobile as easily as Lemurian’s helmet with all his strength. The helmet through water. The cut portion of the De Soto fell cracked open. The Lemurian screamed and dropped aside, revealing that the engine block had also been the sword. The invader frantically tried to seal the neatly sliced. crack with his hands. It was no use. Blood geysered as the Lemurian exploded. The Thunderbolt tensed. His skin could The Thunderbolt stood up and hobbled away withstand a small artillery round, as frequent experience had taught him, but here was a weapon that from the dead invader. A moment later there was might kill him. And his opponent seemed perfectly the familiar white ﬂash, then just ash remained. The Atomic Thunderbolt turned and walked in direction capable of using it. of ﬁghting noise from a few blocks away. His leg The Lemurian leaped at him with amazing speed. The warrior, used to the crushing depths of wound had already stopped bleeding and closed. It the ocean, had great strength and speed in the lighter would be completely healed by the time he arrived at medium of air. The Thunderbolt barely dodged the the battle. sword, and at the same time realizing that the LemuBack aboard The Stormcloud as it sailed rian could match him. back to its hangar on Long Island, the Atomic The Lemurian pressed the attack, expertly Thunderbolt wore a fresh uniform, sans mask. The maneuvering the sword, thrusting and slashing at his masked opponent. The Thunderbolt was forced invaders had been defeated, every Lemurian warrior backward. The deadly blade blocked any attempt to self-destructing into ash. The Stormcloud, accomescape or leap away. panied by the Army Air Corps, had begun bombing The caped Lemurian feinted with his blade. the Lemurian submarines in the Hudson River, but The Thunderbolt instinctively dodged. Before he every one of them had sunk beneath the surface and could react he felt a sharp stab in his right leg. The escaped. Navy vessels tried to track the submarines, Thunderbolt gasped as his leg collapsed under him. but they evaded all attempts at detection. Pain was an almost forgotten sensation for him. He Several of the dinosaurs were still alive, allooked down in disbelief at the deep gash in his though the more grievously injured were put down. thigh. It had been a long time since he had seen his The Thunderbolt helped capture and secure the othown blood. ers, using whatever materials were at hand. The herThere was no time to reﬂect any further. The bivorous dinosaurs did not pose much of a danger, Lemurian pressed his advantage, driving the sword although given their size they could not be allowed down to skewer the one-man army. The Thunderbolt to roam freely. The few carnivorous beasts remainrolled to one side, barely in time to avoid the sword ing were a different matter, but the Thunderbolt blade, which sank deep in the pavement. Before the managed to secure them safely as well. For a time Lemurian could extract the blade, the Thunderbolt he had felt like a cowboy working on the world’s ripped up a large portion of the road and hurled it strangest round-up.
He managed to convince the authorities to keep the dinosaurs alive. They were an immense scientiﬁc ﬁnd, and he was certain museums and zoos the world over were already working hard to provide accommodations for the gargantuan beasts. Clean-up operations had begun. The Thunderbolt knew that if anyone could bounce back from the invasion quickly, New Yorkers could. They would take it in stride, and life in the Big Apple would be back to normal before long. As he paced The Stormcloud’s pilothouse, he examined the sword he held in his hands. It was the Lemurian leader’s sword, recovered after the ﬁghting was ﬁnished. The blade, constructed of a metal the Thunderbolt was unfamiliar with, was no longer vibrating. At least Doc Cumberland would have an undamaged piece of Lemurian technology to examine. Perhaps Doc could ﬁnd a method to counteract that technology. Then, the Atomic Thunderbolt promised to himself, it would be time to return the favor and pay a visit to Lemuria. ---End
THE AUSLANDER In
FORMULA FOR FATALITY by
Michael Patrick Sullivan dream. There was something there he had to do. He was fairly certain that saving a woman from the instinctual things. For him, the swift, breatha would-be rapist or robber was not his purpose, stealing blow to another man’s solar plexus was an instinctual thing. In fact, he was barely aware he had though. Surely, that was incidental. She continued spewing forth her thanks, evdone it. ery bit of it genuine. He didn’t care. He didn’t even He also still had language, but he didn’t talk hear most of her gushing gratitude.” Instead, he was much. Something wasn’t quite right there. It made looking down the street, at the factory where Adele people nervous. Uncomfortable. Most of the time, worked and had been walking home from after a late they didn’t even understand him, but he understood shift. That was the reason he was there. He recogthem. He understood them all too well. nized it from somewhere. Maybe it was from his Adele Sturgis watched as the man with the shock white hair and deep black trench coat brought dream. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he knew he had to get into that building. Something in there was an elbow down on the back of her attacker’s head while he was doubled-over, trying to breathe in some very wrong. For Adele, he was just in the right place at the right time. Or she was. air with the same desperation with which Adele Adele was running out of words. “I don’t screamed for help just seconds before. His moveeven know who you are,” she said as she looked up ments reminded her of the machine operators in the factory where she worked, supporting the war effort at the man who stood at an even six feet. “Neither do I,” he thought to himself. He while her beloved Jimmy trudged through the mud turned his regard to her, looked directly into her of Europe ﬁghting the Nazi scourge. Each moveupturned eyes and told her the only thing he really ment, every strike was efﬁcient and effective, like knew about himself. “Ich bien ein auslander.” I am those of the operators who repeat the same machine a foreigner. movements a thousand times a day. The measure of both gratitude and relief that Still in her Rosie-The-Riveter work clothes, showed on her face quickly turned to apprehension Adele stayed close to the alley wall, transﬁxed by and fear. It occurred quickly, but as The Auslander the violence the fair-skinned stranger was inﬂicting watched the lines on her face change their curves, it on the foul-smelling man who had grabbed her by seemed ages. The corners of her mouth turned down her arm and yanked her roughly from the sidewalk. so slowly it was nearly imperceptible. The black and white man threw the criminal to the “Sie arbeiten dort?” He glanced back at the ground. Adele jumped back to avoid her attacker Randall Rubber Tire Factory, as he said it. He had getting blood on her shoes as his jaw hit the ground her there, no matter how, and he had to try to use at exactly the angle one’s jaw should never hit the ground. The broken man was no longer a threat, but that fact. Adele was consciously frozen to the spot. Adele’s pale defender took her by the arm, the same Having seen the man in action, she knew she could arm, and rushed her out of the alley and back into not get away from him if he didn’t want her to. She the open street, dimly lit by a rising sun. had to think for a moment before she could stammer “I’m so grateful. I can’t even tell you.” out “I don’t understand.” He came to Gary, Indiana because of a He still had the instinctual things, but Eng-
the black and white blur of a man still had
lish, speciﬁcally, was not instinctual to him. If he knew it before, it wasn’t his ﬁrst tongue and, regardless, he’s been relearning it, in bits and pieces, since he ﬁrst woke up as who he is now. He’s been doing it quickly. “You work there?” Adele nodded hesitantly. The Auslander smiled so slightly that no one would ever be aware of it. “Loose Lips Sinks Ships” read one of the many security-minded posters in the factory. Those posters were designed to remind the workers that even the slightest piece of incidental information regarding their work might be of use to enemy agents that could well be lurking anywhere. None of these posters meant much to a woman who was being intimidated by an actual and imposing German man. Adele answered every question The Auslander put to her, not at all being put at ease by his attempts at a friendly demeanor and the coffee and pie he paid for local diner. Within ﬁfteen minutes, the foreigner with the spotty memory had enough information to be able to surreptitiously enter the factory that produced tires, not only for many domestic automobiles, but for a vast number of jeeps, armored personnel carriers and even aircraft currently engaged in battling the forces of the Third Reich. As he listened to her talk, in the window booth farthest from the door, about the security precautions and the times of shift changes, he knew in the back of his mind that she was telling the absolute wrong man. He was not oblivious to the possibilities of his true identity. When he ﬁrst awoke one day, not long before, with no idea as to who he was, he checked his wallet to ﬁnd a driver’s license in one name, a passport in another and a United States Army identiﬁcation card in yet a third. All with his picture, though his hair was a dark brown in each. He also had some other items with him. Unusual items that may come in handy from time to time. This wasn’t the ﬁrst time that his dreams have led him someplace to undo or prevent some wrong. Nor would it be the last. Each time has led to uncovering another memory, another secret. Since waking nameless, he has worked against the bestlaid plans of his likely fatherland because he believed it to be the right thing to do. He lived in fear of what he will believe when something triggers all of his memories to return. If it happened that night,
then Adele could very well have signed the death warrant for herself and possibly scores of other Americans and Allies. “You know what I do when I leave here?” he asked Adele as she picked at her largely uneaten piece of cherry pie. She nodded as she ﬁnished her cup of coffee. She had no difﬁculty drinking the coffee. She thought it might help give her the nerve to do something, anything, to get out of this uncomfortable situation. It didn’t. He tried to disguise his accent, but his concentration was on what he was saying, not how he was saying it. “You have no reason to believe I go there to do good, but...is true.” He was trying hard to ﬁnd the words, all the words, so as to sound as American as he could. “If you are choosing to call police or warn someone I am coming, then I cannot stop you.” He couldn’t read her. He couldn’t tell if she was listening to him or just hearing him. “Gefahr...danger is there and I will end it.” She nodded again. This time she looked him directly in the eye. The ﬁrst time she had done so. He got up from the booth and walked away from her, never looking back, but watching her, nonetheless, in the reﬂections of windows, chrome napkins dispensers and the glasses of an old man who had arrived for his morning coffee and pancake breakfast. He thought to himself how he had meant every word he said to her, except for the words “I cannot stop you.” He could take no chances and for the ﬁrst and, likely, only time in Adele’s life, a cup of coffee put her to sleep as she couldn’t help but lean her head against the window and close her eyes. One of the unusual items he kept in his possession was a bottle of so-called knockout drops. The Auslander’s window of opportunity was short, but it coincided with the arrival of the morning shift. He acquired a company jumpsuit from a worker whose morning pick-me-up consisted of several parts whiskey in the back of his Studebaker. The foreigner was likely doing a great many people a favor by using the tippler’s own liquor bottle to crack him good enough to insure he wouldn’t be raising a ruckus in the short term, not the least of which being himself. Once outﬁtted with the drunkard’s greasestained overalls and his solid steel lunch pail, the
foreign man found an out of the way place to observe the employee’s gate. There was one guard on duty, armed with at least a holster and possibly even a gun to go in it. He was shielded from the elements, not to mention a clear view of the street, by a small guardhouse. The workers seemed to pulse through the gate in small groups of four or ﬁve. Some were all men, others all women, occasionally there was a mixed group. The guard nodded to someone in each group as they passed, likely he knew all the workers by sight. Three young women and two older men, separate but close together, were approaching the guardhouse. The Auslander hoped to slip by with the group. If the guard caught him and made trouble, he knew that he would be able to handle this group if some of the workers tried to get in on the ﬁght. He sidled alongside the women, on the far side from the guard station and kept his head down. “Steve. Sadie.” The guard singled out two of them for simple acknowledgement and a nod of greeting. The Auslander glanced inadvertently when the watchman spoke and accidentally made eye contact. He was prepared for the drunken man’s lunch box to make a hard impact on the guard’s face, but nothing happened. No movement. Not so much as a twitch. No alarms. Nothing. Once through the gate, the white-haired imposter broke away from the group and whispered to himself, “Dumkopft.” Clearly the qualiﬁed security professionals were overseas, ﬁghting either the Yellow Peril or those who may well be his own countrymen. It was a thought he didn’t entertain long. It was too distracting. It was too disturbing. Once inside, the easy part was over. He had to ﬁnd what he was looking for and he did not yet know what that was. With a found hardhat covering his alabaster head of hair, the man-out-of-place kept his head down and his distance from the workers. Most were consumed in their work, minimizing the risk that anyone would look him in the eye and see that he did not belong in their building, let alone their country. When someone did glance up, he feigned whatever work he could get away with, be it sweeping the ﬂoor, moving some clearly out-of-use piece of equipment and, on one occasion, pulling the Oh-Iforgot-something turnaround. After over an hour of uncomfortable looks in
the back of the head and a couple of close calls, The Auslander was ready to decide that there was nothing to be found here and that sometimes a dream is nothing more than a dream, no matter how unreal the circumstances. As he plotted his path out of the building, he noticed two stern men with dark suits and equally dark hair. They had a walk that he recognized. It was the gait one adopts when one carries a ﬁrearm under one’s coat. An imbalance in arm movements and an occasional twitch to their off-hand side is a dead giveaway to a trained eye. If only he knew how his eye had become so trained. The men were unescorted and walked as if they knew their way around the plant, but a misstep down one path and quick correction to another revealed to The Auslander that they had about as much business being there as he had. He kept a weather eye on them as best he could and watched them climb the stairs to the plant manager’s private ofﬁce. It had a window that overlooked the production ﬂoor and the window’s blinds were closed nearly the instant the two men entered the room. That was likely not the plant manager’s idea. The best way to ﬁt into a place is to appear to belong in that place and as The Auslander walked intently to the stairway, he felt more inconspicuous than he had in the last hour and no one gave him a second look. He had purpose. He actually had purpose. He did belong there. At the top of the stairs, he stood outside the door that had the words “Joseph Peschke - Plant Manager” painted on the door in gold letters with black edges outlining them. He listened. “Your twenty-fours hours are up, Peschke,” said one of them men in a gravelly voice with a thick New York accent. It was the sort of accent that had little place in Gary, Indiana, home of the Randall Rubber Company. “I assume that since we were not turned away by your guards, you realize that we mean our threats to you and lovely Betty and little Timmy.” The second man said in the exact same accent. “Tommy.” “As you say.” He didn’t use words the way the accent suggested he should. He was too formal. Maybe a bit studied. English was not these men’s ﬁrst language and The Auslander knew it. “You will begin treating the rubber used in
all your tires according to this formula.” After a brief rustle of paper, Peschke spoke. “You realize what this would do?” “Of course, we do.” The ﬁrst man apparently favored short sentences and The Auslander knew why. “You also realize that we supply the military. Our boys at war.” “Randall will lose their contract and our employers will step in and save the day while reaping the beneﬁts of a government contract,” said the second, dark man “People will die,” Peschke protested. “After just a few weeks of use, these tires will quickly crumble to chunks under the heat stress. Maybe less.” “Yes, they will. Quite suddenly as well.” The Auslander had heard enough. He knew these men were lying. He knew their plan. He remembered it from somewhere. He just didn’t know where. He wouldn’t wait a second longer...until he heard one of the men make a step toward the door. That extra second gave him an advantage. It gave him a new weapon. The Auslander opened Frank Peschke’s personalized door directly into the face of the more garrulous of the pair, knocking him off his feet. The Auslander stepped on him, rather than over him as he launched at the ﬁrst, more verbally conservative German agent. He broke the ﬁngers of the downed man’s gun hand, his right, in doing so. That these men were German operatives ﬂashed through The Auslander’s mind. They took on the guise of organized crime thugs rather than risk a patriotic sacriﬁce on Peschke’s part by threatening him as the Nazis they were. Upon seeing Peschke’s missing hand, The Auslander knew that he’d been to the war and back and such a sacriﬁce was probable if not certain. It was vital to them that their plan be put into motion, as it would cause chaos and fatalities on the homefront and overseas, both fronts. Jeeps would tumble to their axles in foreign lands while a mass recall and highway deaths would demoralize the citizens and even the soldiers abroad, likely to lose loved ones in horrible accidents. The less talkative man was much larger and would be a tough ﬁght and the ﬁrst man was not entirely prevented from action. The Auslander was
relying on Peschke to seize an opportunity while he was landing blow after blow on the large Hun to seemingly little effect. A strike at the bigger German’s jaw had no effect. Another blow to the solar plexus, which worked so well for him earlier in the day, felt like punching a training bag ﬁlled with wet, packed sand. A third blow to the groin had a distinct result. It made his opponent very angry. The ﬁrst man, denying the pain in his ﬁngers reached for his gun, but couldn’t effectively handle it and worked to switch it to his perfectly functional left hand. It was during that time that Peschke rushed over carrying his desk phone, receiver in one hand and heavy metal carriage in the other. For a brief moment he considered strangling the man who had threatened his family moments before. He took no chances. It was the sound of the bell inside the phone carriage ringing out as it struck the ﬁrst German’s head, as well as the crackling of his fatally-splintered skull, that distracted the second just as he was about to heave off a mighty blow on the Auslander. It afforded the white-haired man the chance to dodge the man’s blocky ﬁst, sending him off his center. The time it took the larger German to recover his balance was enough for The Auslander to make a recovery himself, that of the ﬁrst man’s gun. It was a familiar sight to him, as well as the man he now trained it on. It was a Luger. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was just his way of fulﬁlling a contingency order common to undercover agents, but the large enemy agent charged at The Auslander anyway. He came at him dead on with no fear in his eyes or, apparently, sense in his head. The Luger felt like it ﬁt in The Auslander’s hand as if by design. It felt as though it was an extension of himself. He had scarcely even realized it when he’d pulled the trigger, placing a 7.65 caliber slug in the man’s brain. After the thud of the man’s last fall ever, Peschke took a breath, as though he hadn’t taken one since the ordeal began. He noticed that his savior was breathing normally and that his breath rate never seemed to have changed, as if this was all normal to him. “How did you know? The Auslander didn’t answer. He heard a
ruckus coming from below. Footsteps came up the stairs and he was more concerned with the window behind Peschke’s desk. He rushed over to it and removed a fan lodged in the sill. It looked down on an awning over the building’s main entrance, providing direct access to the street. “Where are you going? You’re a hero.” He then realized that he didn’t recognize the man in the overalls bearing his company’s name. “Who are you?” The white-haired foreigner hated that question. It always stopped him cold. He only had one answer. Peschke started slowly sizing him up as he waited for that answer. “Ich bein ein auslander.” Peschke was still gripping the phone. It was still a weapon. Peschke, however, stepped slowly backward. “Kraut! There’s a Kraut up here!” He was not aware that he should have been using the plural and never would be. Peschke glanced away from the fearsome stranger to look out his ofﬁce door and see a factory guard and one of the older, leather-faced machineoperators. That one carried a big wrench that seemed like it was made for cracking bone rather than loosening or tightening anything. Peschke looked back at the window. “He’s gone.” “Who’s gone?” asked the wrench carrier, standing in the doorway behind the guard as he surveyed the two dead men. “Huh?” Peschke seized the opportunity. “No. No one.” He set the phone down and sat behind his desk to work out the details of how he stopped these men in their ﬁendish plot. The police would arrive soon. Reporters would follow shortly afterward. That night, The Auslander found a cheap room in a highway motel just over the Illinois state line. He managed to deal with the clerk in single syllable words, to hide his accent. The foreign man slept in a strange bed and he dreamt of a faraway place called Seattle. Perhaps in that place he would ﬁnd an answer to that question that disturbed him so much and was asked so frequently. Maybe, it wouldn’t be the answer he feared. Though, if it was, he prayed learning it would not turn him into a monster like the ones he ﬁghts against. He would be on his way in the morning. ---End
The Rude Tin Star by
Brad Reed the tin star had ragged edges and was
cut from a thin sheet of metal. The badge had ﬁve points instead of the correct six. Scratched across its face in a sloppy hand was the word “SHERIF.” Deputy Mayor Custis scratched his nose. “You got a problem with it?” Joel Dalton said nothing. The two other men who rode with Dalton also received false tin stars. Theirs read “SHERF” and “SHEERF.” Custis spit onto the parched ground. “Town’s nothing but Indians, Mex, and Bohunks. None of ‘em know what real badges look like. Hell, none of ‘em can read English. These’ll fool ‘em ﬁne.” The riders crossed a ridge and saw Beckettown. The town squatted on a ﬂat, cleared portion of a hillside next to the entrance to a mine shaft. Dirt-covered men trudged in and out of the mine carrying pickaxes. A rough-hewn mill stood by the mine opening, ﬂanked by huge piles of gravel. Pine trees turned brown by drought surrounded the town. The rocky bed of the July River baked in the sun, with only a shallow stream left to run down its center. Beckettown was mostly a collection of crude shacks. At its center stood a well-made two-story building with a widow’s walk atop its front porch. Across from it stood a sturdy gallows, one wide enough for ﬁve ropes. On the far edge of the town sat a church, larger than the surrounding hovels, decorated with a cross atop its roof and clean white paint on its sides. Next to the church were ﬁve dozen improvised crosses, marking ﬁve dozen patches of recently-disturbed ground. Behind the riders staggered a man, his wrists bound together and tied by a long rope to the horn of Custis’s saddle. On his way to collect the three men from the nearby Fort Johnson, Custis said he’d captured the man, a fugitive. For the sixteen miles Dalton and the men rode to Beckettown, the captured man walked behind the horses and did not speak. Custis tugged on the rope and drew the captured man near. “Tell you what, glad I found this
broke-neck hoople. Becket’s been on my ass about him for days. Mister Becket has strong ideas of how things go, and runaways get his goat more than anything.” The men rode to the center of the town. Custis led the captive into the tall building. Dalton and the other two riders, Linden and Cook, followed them. The inside was hotter than the scorching outdoors. Curtains covered the windows, shutting out daylight. Cook bumped into a bench and cursed. “That language is inappropriate in Beckettown, gentlemen,” came a voice. “Though today we are a humble mining town, we are the model of tomorrow, and must comport ourselves with our eye toward the future.” Custis tied the captive’s rope to an iron ring along a wall. He then removed his hat and motioned for the others to follow. “Sorry, Mister Becket.” A large man emerged from the far corner of the room, a man who stood as wide as he did tall. His suit was as white as could be managed in a remote California mining town. “No matter. Your arrival writes a new chapter in the history of our bold venture. “I am Jedidiah Becket. Welcome to Beckettown. Law is the cornerstone of civilization. Respect for law separates the citizen from the barbarian. I have created law here, and I have made you my lawmen. It is good. “Many here have failed to grasp the opportunity I have given them. Perhaps I erred in taking on foreigners rather than Americans. They have displayed a startling cussedness, one so divorced from recognizable human behavior one hesitates to call them men. They are children, in need of fatherly guidance. It is my burden to civilize them. “These people,” Becket said, gesturing at the prisoner, “are ungrateful. They make mischief. They lack respect.” He stabbed his ﬁnger at the prisoner with each word he spoke. “They need to respect my law.” Becket inﬂated his chest and tucked his thumbs into the waist of his pants. “Now that the law is here, justice will follow. We can enrich our-
selves in peace, as God intends.” Custis led the riders back outside. “Job’s simple. Mex or Bohunks get uppity, we put ‘em back. Somebody runs up too big a tab at the company store, we lean on ‘em. Sometimes we gotta keep the peace, act like real lawmen too. Should be easy. Town’s not too big. Most folk here are too yellow to start anything.” Custis broke into a wide, gap-toothed smile. “Any gold they ﬁnd, we get ﬁve percent. You should see how much they’ve dug up already. Gonna be rich, boys. Rich as the devil hisself.” Later, Dalton stood by the entrance to the company store to get a feel for the town. He saw miners’ wives trading Becket’s scrip for necessities, as he did not pay in money. Every woman also made marks in the credit ledger, since none had enough to pay for the goods. Two Mexican women commiserated in front of Dalton. He did not let on that he understood them. “How is your boy?” one woman asked. “Not well. Rosa gave up her turn to eat today so he could have at least a little something,” said the other. “Mother of God. I pray that nothing horrible happens to Raul or Pedro in the mines. When Chuy was hurt, Inez had to sink into more debt than they could ever pay off, just to survive a week. How can we live if we have to go into debt just to eat?” The second woman said, “How much gold have our men dug up? And what do we get? Becket breaks us and builds an empire on our bones!” The ﬁrst woman ﬂicked her eyes at Dalton and shivered in fear. He would recognize the name Becket, and their voices implied hatred. She put on an exaggerated smile and said to Dalton in English, “She say, Mister Becket, he is, is good man. Very kind man.” Dalton said nothing. The women left, clutching each other and casting back quick glances. He walked to the riverbank and sat on a large rock. He tried not to think. “Joel! Joel Dalton!” a man’s voice shouted behind him. “Imagine you here.” Dalton turned and saw a preacher. The preacher drew close and said, “I haven’t seen you in, what, ﬁve years? Remember me? Hans Abeken. Back in Kansas.” Abeken examined Dalton. “You’re the new sheriff?”
“After a manner.” The preacher sat on another rock. “Glad to hear it. You were a good sheriff. This place needs an honest man.” “Mm.” “It’s odd, seeing you again. You disappeared awful sudden. Heard all sorts of rumors why.” Dalton stared at the nearly-dry riverbed. “Hugh Jackson offered me a thousand dollars to kill Jimmy O’Malley.” Abeken set his jaw. “Horrible. That town was a nest of vipers. Nothing but bloodthirsty gangs vying for power and riches. No wonder you left. All that work, all your efforts to make the town worth living in, and for what? To be offered an assassination. To be treated like scum, like a hired gun.” “I took the money.” Abeken’s tried to decide how to react. He said the ﬁrst thing that came into his head. “Uh… Jimmy O’Malley’s still alive. Last I knew.” “Remember Declan Finnegan?” “Sure. Of course. A sad story. New fellow, just came to town when they found him shot in the back, out by the...” “Get drunk enough and all Irishmen look alike.” Dalton coughed and rubbed his face. Neither man spoke for a spell. Dalton broke the silence. “After that, I couldn’t wear the badge.” He took off his rude tin star and turned it around his ﬁngers a few times. “This don’t count.” Abeken said, “I saw you come out of Becket’s Palace. He brought you on, eh? Keep the peace?” “A guy in Sacramento was looking for tough men for a mining town to break some heads. Promised big pay. Me and two other guys took him up on it.” Dalton threw a pebble into the river. “So what brought you here?” “Souls need salvation everywhere,” the preacher said. “The life of a miner is a difﬁcult one. It is my mission to ease their suffering and soothe their afﬂictions, to bring the Good News of the risen Lord to the poor.” “Nice-looking church,” Dalton said. “Mister Becket has given me great assistance. He cares for his workers’ souls. He is a Godfearing man. With his aid, I do the Lord’s work.”
A slight, cruel grin crossed Dalton’s face.
Reverend Abeken spent that evening in his room behind the church. He lifted his Bible from his bedside table then set it down, unable to bring himself to open it. He then opened a cigar box next to the Bible and ﬁxed his eyes on its contents. He did not move for some time. “Cigars that pretty, preacher?” Dalton said. He leaned through the open window. The voice startled Abeken and brought him back to awareness. “I am a liar, sheriff. Just like you said.” “Hell, I’m no sheriff. I was just bustin’ your hump.” The reverend closed the lid on his cigar box. “What brings you by?” Dalton came around through the door and sat down. “Most everyone here is either scared to death of me, speaks a tongue I don’t recognize, or is a complete idiot. Gets lonely.” The preacher said nothing, so Dalton continued. “Y’know, I do remember you from Kansas. Where’s your wife? Didn’t you have a couple of kids? Don’t look like they’re here.” “They’re not,” Abeken said. “Damn shame.” “I’m glad they aren’t here. To see this place.” He lifted the lid on the cigar box again. “You know, I quit preaching three years ago. I got sick of the power struggles. Decided to walk away from the inﬁghting that was killing my soul. Become a rancher. Make the big money.” “Tough work,” Dalton said. “Winter of ’97, Lise, little baby Lise, got sick. Before we knew what was what, she was gone. Her sister Rahel went with her a single day later. One single day.” From the cigar box, Abeken removed a photograph. “Just like that.” The preacher fought to control himself. “Dorothea lasted all of a week beyond our girls.” He put the picture back in the box and withdrew from it a battered revolver. “Dorothea gave me this when we moved to the ranch. ‘Beat this into our plowshare,’ she said. ‘Put the ﬁghting and politicking behind us. Repair the damage done to our lives. Make things right.’” Abeken opened the revolver and pulled out
the single bullet it held. “Were it not a sin, I would have.” He squeezed the bullet in his ﬁst. “Were I not afraid.” He slid the bullet back into the gun and closed it. “And so I am here. Two years ago Becket found me. He spun lies about how vital I would be to his ‘town of the future.’ I would provide the spiritual guidance to enrich the lives of the townspeople. “As soon as I got here, I saw the truth. And I decided to believe the lies, because I was tired in my soul. Because it was easier. I pretend that my work here serves God’s plan, that I help these people.” Dalton said, “You give ‘em hope.” “I give them fear, Dalton. ‘Sit down and shut up or burn forever.’ I’m a whip, just like you. A disgrace.” He pulled off his collar. “Mine’s no more real than yours.” Shouts broke through the walls of the room. Both men leapt to their feet and out the door. They saw a crowd form around the front of Becket’s palace, and they joined it. Reverend Abeken asked a man what happened. “Stjepan! Stjepan insulted Becket about his punishing Josip! Now they’ll both hang!” Cook and Linden stepped out of the Palace with their riﬂes pointed at the crowd. “Y’all get back!” Linden said. “Got to have some justice now!” Behind them, Custis led two men in handcuffs. Both men’s faces were covered in welts and open cuts. Custis called to Dalton. “Joel! Get your riﬂe! Got us some work to do!” Dalton said, “Scuse me, preacher. Duty calls.” Abeken said, “Yes. Yes, it does.” Shortly, the condemned men had nooses around their necks. Dalton stood on one end of the gallows with a Winchester, with Linden and Cook on the other. Custis manned the trapdoor lever. The entire area was well-lit by torches. Becket wanted the crowd to see everything. The townspeople whispered in Croatian, Spanish, and Wintu. Dalton heard Josip Supek whisper a few words in Croat to his friend. By his tone, Dalton guessed it was an apology and a thanks. Stejpan Varicak whispered back something similar. They snifﬂed and coughed and tried not to cry. Becket emerged onto the widow’s walk of his palace, ﬂanked by a pair of bodyguards carrying riﬂes and torches. He paced the length of the walk.
“Sin. Sin! These men are awash in it. They stink of it. “Josip Supek stole from me. Stole from us. Stole from our beloved city of Beckettown. He accrued a debt he had no intention to pay. He then compounded his sin by ﬂeeing. Yet Josip Supek could not escape justice. “Beside him stands Stjepan Varicak, whose sin is even greater. Stjepan did not just accrue a mighty debt. No, Stjepan Varicak committed another, graver sin. He insulted me! And in doing so, he insulted us all! He insulted the city! He insulted the wisdom of the Lord Almighty, who gave us this town!” Linden and Cook surveyed the crowd. Custis spit and leaned against the trapdoor lever, waiting for Becket to give the order. Dalton tightened his grip on his Winchester. The anger of the crowd was unmistakable. Becket’s voice became incoherent noise as Dalton focused on the crowd and waited for the ﬁrst person to make a move. His eyes stopped on the face of Hans Abeken, who stood beside a wagon well to the side of the crowd. Tears streaked the preacher’s face. Abeken swallowed hard and unbuttoned his black jacket. The preacher drew his tarnished revolver from his waistband. He pointed it towards the hangman, his hands trembling. The barrel of the gun bobbed and danced in his grip. No one but Dalton could see him. The preacher closed his eyes and could not think of a prayer to say. He pulled back the revolver’s hammer. He heard the crack of a shot not his own. Abeken opened his eyes to see Custis collapse and fall off the left side of the gallows clutching his neck. Joel Dalton pulled down on the cocking lever of his Winchester to eject the spent shell. Then Cook fell as Dalton shot hit him in the side of the chest and collapsed his lungs. Linden ﬁred a single wild shot before a rock ﬂew from the crowd and hit the side of his head. He toppled. The crowd roared in triumph. Dalton cocked his riﬂe again and leveled it at the widow’s walk. It stood empty. He muttered a curse and threw his false badge to the ground. Townspeople attacked Becket’s cronies. Rocks shattered the windows of Becket’s Palace.
Men and women swung pickaxes at its walls and punched mighty holes. Others tore into the company store and took long-denied supplies. Dalton leapt from the gallows and ran towards the rear of Becket’s Palace. Rounding the corner, he heard a crack and felt a splinter of wood scratch his cheek. He dove down as a second shot cut the air above his head. He rolled behind a nearby log pile for cover. Then he heard Becket’s voice. “Torch it! End this damned place! Let the ﬁres of hell consume these sinners!” Dalton peered around the pile and opened ﬁre in the direction of the voices, spitting four shots as quickly as he could. He hit nothing but the side of a shack. Becket and his men were gone. Gouts of ﬂame shot up from the mill building. A voice cried out in Spanish: “The gunpowder! He’s lit the gunpowder!” Fire leapt from the openings in the mill. An explosion shook the earth and sent ﬂaming debris across the town and into the treeline. A half-dozen shacks caught on ﬁre. Dry needles on the forest ﬂoor and sap-covered trunks ignited as well. The men and women of Beckettown took the wagons near the mill and pulled them towards the trickle that remained of the July River. They improvised buckets out of whatever supplies they could to douse the ﬂames. The preacher ran to Dalton. “Joel! If Becket escapes to Fort Johnson, he’ll talk this up and get a bunch of soldiers sent here to ‘restore order!’ We gotta stop him!” Dalton said, “The stables are already full of angry miners, so there’s no way he’s getting a horse. He’s gotta be on foot.” “The whole damn forest’s going up,” Abeken said. “The river. He’ll follow the river.” “Yeah,” Dalton replied. “Take this,” the preacher said. He held out his revolver, still loaded with a single bullet. Dalton took it and ran for the riverbed. Frank Becket stumbled on a rock and nearly fell into the foot-deep water. He looked back to his bodyguards Ruskin and Norwood, who had not seen. They themselves were looking back the way they’d come. They were still alone, after hours of walking. Becket’s fear faded and rage grew in its place. He had enough gold and enough inﬂuence
with Colonel Regan to roust up a punitive force. By the grace of God, he thought, he would do so. Soon would come Fort Johnson and vengeance. Walls of ﬁre lined the river. Pops and cracks of bursting branches mingled with the roar of the ﬂames to deafen the ﬂeeing men. Visions of a raid on the town danced through Becket’s head, entertaining him. Hearing a series of loud cracks, he imagined soldiers opening ﬁre on a crowd of miners. He saw a hat ﬂoat past his shins. A moment later, a second hat ﬂoated by. Becket laughed and wheeled around. “You clumsy hooples both…” He was alone. Becket tripped backwards and fell into the shallow water. A silhouette stalked towards him. The shape was a man with a riﬂe. Becket clambered to his feet. Firelight caught the riﬂeman’s features as he grew near. Becket spit. “Sonofabitch.” Dalton kept his riﬂe trained on Becket. “Some people want you.” “Those mongrels? Those ingrates? They destroyed everything I built! Built with my own hands! With my own two hands!” “With their hands,” Dalton said. Becket calmed his voice. “Fine. Fine. Take me to them,” he said. “Take me back and I will convince them of the error of their ways. They will see that children need a father, a guiding hand.” Dalton gestured with the riﬂe for Becket to walk the way they’d come. On his third step, Becket tumbled into the water again. He cursed and pushed himself halfway up with one hand on a large rock. From inside his jacket, Becket drew a small pistol and ﬁred at Dalton. Dalton fell. His riﬂe clattered on the rocks of the riverbed. Becket stood erect and hooted in triumph. “Ha!” He raised his arms above his head and faced the burning forest. “I am the true father of this land! Jedediah Becket will not be-“ A bullet entered Jedediah Becket’s skull just above his right eyebrow and exited through the top of his head. Blood distended his right eye, shading it maroon and dilating its pupil. Becket dropped to his knees, then face-ﬁrst into the thin stream of the July River. Dalton put the preacher’s pistol back in his belt. He poked his ﬁnger through the hole in his jacket where Becket’s wild shot had gone. “Nice
shooting, ‘Father.’” He made it back to Beckettown early in the morning. Most of the town still stood, excepting Becket’s Palace and the gallows. Dozens of exhausted townspeople slept on the ground. None paid attention to him. He found Hans Abeken helping a Wintu family remove debris from their shack. “Mornin’, preacher,” Dalton said. He gave the clergyman back his pistol. Abeken looked at Dalton with an inquiring expression. “Made things right,” Dalton said. Abeken closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He opened his eyes and reached into his pocket. “Found something for you.” He pulled out a blackened tin star. It had crude edges and had gained a bend of a few degrees across its middle. Under the coating of soot, the word “SHERIF” was visible. Abeken put the badge in Joel Dalton’s hands. “It counts.” ---End
I WANT TO SLEEP WITH STEVE MCQUEEN by
Katherine Tomlinson well, who didn’t?
Sheryl Crow knows what I’m talking about. Her song Steve McQueen is an ode to cool, and anyone who hears it, gets the shorthand. Steve McQueen was the king of cool. It says so in IMDB, so you know it’s true. Steve McQueen survived a childhood that can only be called Dickensian (abandonment, reform school, a stint in the Marines) to become Hollywood’s highest-paid actor. He was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking tough guy who went out with his name above the title. He lived for speed, and watching him on a motorcycle (as in The Great Escape) or on a race car (Le Mans), it was sometimes hard to see where the role stopped and the man began. He was Oscar-nominated for his role in The Sand Pebbles, as was his co-star, the formidable actor Mako, who for once was playing something other than an Asian stereotype. McQueen made westerns. He made war movies. He made thrillers. He made sci ﬁ movies (The Blob, in case you’ve forgotten.) He made disaster movies. He even made a movie based on an Ibsen play (An Enemy of the People), which probably would never have been made if he hadn’t been one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood ﬁrmament at the time. He not only had a pilot’s license, he had his own plane, a Stearman bi-plane. How cool is that? He was adept at Tang Soo Do, a traditional Korean martial art. He was such a close friend of Bruce Lee’s that he served as a pall-bearer at Lee’s funeral. McQueen’s son Chad, also a manly man, is an actor whose genre-movie career has included a number of martial arts ﬂicks. Lover. Fighter. Race car driver. Steve McQueen could do it all. And make it look easy, exuding cowboy cool or cosmopolitan charisma as the situation demand-
ed. Check him out here: The Magniﬁcent Seven. This western remake of the classic Kurosawa ﬁlm Seven Samurai has it all. Seven men are recruited to defend a poor Mexican village against a vicious bandit leader. (Eli Wallach in full sneer mode.) Gunjinks ensue, set to a rousing Elmer Bernstein score, later used as the backdrop of Marlboro cigarette adds on television. The cast is fantastic—Yul Brynner (sexiest bald man ever), James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn (soon to be Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and … Horst Buchholz. Horst who? you’re probably saying. Buchholz was a handsome actor dubbed “the German James Dean.” He’d made his Englishlanguage debut in 1959, co-starring with John and Hayley Mills in a tidy little thriller called Tiger Bay. (If you only know Hayley Mills from her Disney movies, check out this movie and also Whistle Down the Wind, another thriller that shows just what a fantastic actress she was.) But back to Horst. If you watch the original trailer now, it seems to be all about promoting Horst. And to be kind, Horst’s acting style comes across as a little … overwrought … when compared to McQueen’s economic, iconic cool. Watch the trailer here. Bullitt—When people talk about this movie, they always talk about the amazing car chase through San Francisco. The chase is more than ten minutes long and a thing of beauty. You can see it here. This story of a cop going after the killers who murdered a witness he was protecting is full of great character actors, Robert Vaughan (again) and Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, Vic Tayback and the always wonderful Robert Duvall. McQueen’s co-star was Jacqueline Bissett. (Rhymes with Kiss-it, she used to say and here, McQueen takes her up on that invitation. The heat is palpable. Enough to make you wonder if they ever slept together. But he was married to ﬁrst wife Neile Adams at the time, so we won’t explore that unwarranted speculation.) The Great Escape—one of the best World War II movies ever made and based on a true story of a mass escape attempt by several hundred Allied
POWs in a German prison camp. John Sturges directed and the screenplay was by novelist James (Shogun) Clavell. Another fabulous ensemble cast supported McQueen in this one, including James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, Richard Attenborough, and Gordon Jackson. Running time is almost three hours and you won’t look at your watch once. McQueen’s character, Captain Hilts (known as “the Cooler King” for the amount of time he spends in the punishment “cooler”) is the soul of the movie, a rebellious American ofﬁcer who will not be broken. The Thomas Crown Affair—A movie so good, they made it twice. And with all due respect to Pierce Brosnan, McQueen’s version of the title character was just … cooler. Faye Dunaway is the love interest in this cat and mouse tale and there’s a kissing scene so hot it’s a wonder the ﬁlm didn’t melt. Sean Connery was originally offered the title role, and is said to have later regretted turning it down, which may explain why he later made Entrapment. Towering Inferno—With apologies to all those Poseidon Adventure fans out there, this was the best of the disaster movie genre. Directed by masterof-disaster Irwin Allen himself, the movie’s script (by Stirling Silliphant) was based on two separate novels, one of which had been inspired by the building of the World Trade Centers in New York. (The novelist created a scenario in which a ﬁre broke out in one of the upper ﬂoors, a scenario that now seems both prescient and short-sighted.) The movie’s cast is a perfect fusion of old and new Hollywood at the time, with Fred Astaire, William Holden, Jennifer Jones and Paul Newman joined by Susan Blakely, soap opera queen Susan Flannery and Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner and Richard Chamberlain. O.J. Simpson played the role of the token black. The movie is cheesy as all get-out but a true guilty pleasure. The Getaway—Probably the pulpiest of all the ﬁlms McQueen ever made (with the possible exception of The Blob), this violent tale of double and triple crosses and dishonor among thieves was directed by Sam Peckinpah from a script by Walter Hill. The real-life chemistry between McQueen and
co-star Ali MacGraw (formerly of the sappy Love Story) is incendiary. Ali left her husband (producer Robert Evans) for McQueen and the two were married for ﬁve tempestuous years. The movie was remade in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and thenwife Kim Basinger. It just wasn’t the same. The Hunter—Before there was Dog, the Bounty Hunter, there was Ralph “Papa” Thorsen, a reallife bounty hunter who lived hard and died the same way. McQueen was already sick when he made the movie, but he was as tough in real life as any of the characters he played and he kept his illness to himself. Once again, he was blessed with terriﬁc supporting players, including the always reliable Eli Wallach, Oscar-winner Ben Johnson (and if you never saw Last Picture Show you cannot call yourself a ﬁlm buff), Tracey Walter and LeVar Burton. (Scuttlebutt at the time said that Burton’s character had originally been written as a dog.) Bonus Movies: The Reivers—Based on William Faulkner’s last novel, this engaging adventure story co-starred Mitch Vogel, Rupert Crosse, Sharon Farrell and Will Geer. McQueen’s character is a rogue and a rascal in this movie and he has never been more charming or light-hearted. The movie didn’t perform well at the box ofﬁce—his fans wanted to see him in more action fare—but it’s a lovely period piece, with a great ensemble cast. Le Mans—This was McQueen’s race car movie and truth be told, it’s not very good. This was the tagline for the movie: Steve McQueen takes you for a drive in the country. The country is France. The drive is at 200 MPH! That pretty much sums it up. What you get here is Steve McQueen and a bunch of Formula One cars being driven very fast. Some would say that’s all you need. The Tao of Steve—This oddball indie charmer doesn’t star Steve McQueen, but his spirit infuses every frame. The movie stars Donal Logue as a guy who has studied McQueen’s coolness and distilled it, stirred in large dollops of Buddhism and created the perfect way of life. Until a woman
comes along and shakes up his world. (Isn’t that always the way?) Worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Logue’s, a character actor who’s always interesting to watch. You think you’re tough? Stand up next to Steve McQueen (or one of those cardboard stand-up thingies since he’s no longer with us) and see how you measure up. Yeah. That’s what we thought. But don’t feel bad. Next to McQueen, pretty much everyone else is a pussy. ---End
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