Astonishing Adventures Magazine
Issue Five WWW.AstonishingAdventuresMagazine.com
Table of Contents Biographies....................................................... Mortuary............................................................ Megan McCord Art................................................... Devin McCarthy A Red Lipstick................................................... Cormac Brown Art........................................................... John Donald Carlucci Buster Bullet to the Rescue........................... Bill Cunningham Art........................................................... Rolf Lejdegard The Price of Perfection.................................. Cormac Brown Art........................................................... Manuel Morgado John Donald Carlucci Tired Blood........................................................ Katherine Tomlinson Art........................................................... Joanne Renaud The Somnambulant Assassin........................ Chris Dabnor Art........................................................... Joanne Renaud That Fateful Halloween.................................. Roger Alford Art........................................................... Roger Alford Toga Porn........................................................... Joanne Renaud The Many Worlds of Wold Newton........................... Henry Covert Art........................................................... John Donald Carlucci
4 6 9 15 21
28 36 43 52 56
It All Comes Out in the Wash........................ Shane Mullins I Want to Sleep with...
Audie Murphy......................... Katherine Tomlinson The Panamanian Plan................................ Michael Patrick Sullivan Art........................................................... John Donald Carlucci
Publisher John Donald Carlucci PublisherJDC@Gmail.com Editor Katherine Tomlinson AAMDragonlady@Gmail.com
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. December 1, 2008
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Biographies John Donald Carlucci Editor-in-Chief and former boy-in-a-bubble, JDC continues to search the world for evil-doers and the perfect cup of hot chocolate. He thinks the evil-doers are hiding it from him. Not that everyone is out to get me. No, that would be paranoid. PublisherJDC@gmail.com Katherine Tomlinson Katherine Tomlinson is the editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine. She is a contributor to the upcoming anthology What Was I Thinking? (St. Martin’s Press, February 2009). Tired Blood is a stand-alone story from the universe of her first novel, Begotten. She and writer/illustrator Joanne Renaud are collaborating on a multi-media fiction project that will launch next year. AMMDragonLady@gmail.com Cormac Brown “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 cormacwrites.blogspot.com/ Rolf Lejdegård Rolf Lejdegård is a 330-year-old comic book writer, artist and illustrator based just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. He is somewhat of a late bloomer but now, fuelled by a creative blizzard and with dark electro blasting in his headphones, he is currently working with writer Stephen Lindsay on Grim North, his first graphic novel for Alterna Comics. The collaboration with pulp mastermind Bill Cunningham has been a life-altering experience, entering rooms in the mind that should have remained closed al the while staring madness in the third eye. But once Rolf got used to the cold steel of Bill’s gauntlet and the heat from the laser whip, he can honestly say that he would love to work with him again. When he is not caught in a creative brainstorm he enjoys drinking tea, watching quality television, cartoons, anime, reading, spending time with his very tiny but cool wife and walking Moja, the very stubborn but super cute French bulldog.
“…creation is everything, all else is just static.” www.reifman.se Shane Mullins Shane Mullins lives in Virginia where he works as a “geek squad” consultant (yeah, that philosophy degree really paid off) and studies Tae Kwon Do. His sensei is 70 years old and can kick his ass. He is not that guy who reviews kids’ books on amazon.com. “It All Comes Out In the Wash” is his second story for Astonishing Adventures Magazine. Joanne Renaud Joanne Renaud is an illustrator who graduated in illustration from Art Center in Pasadena, California. Before moving to Southern California, she studied graphic design at Central Washington University and art at the University of Ulster in Belfast, Ireland. She presently lives in Los Angeles. Recent clients include Simon & Schuster, Random House, Harcourt Inc, McGraw Hill, William H. Sadlier, Trillium Publishing, Zaner Bloser and Astonishing Adventures Magazine. Joanne is a member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and enjoys travel, history, costume design, classic movies, old musicals and cheesy fantasy art. See her art at: www.joannerenaud.com/ suburbanbeatnik.deviantart.com/ Manuel Morgado Manuel Morgado, born in 1979 in France, went to the Graphic Design school in Portugal and actually works as a graphic designer, which is complemented his illustration career. Inspired by both comics and classics (particularly the Baroque style, and arists as diverse as Caravaggio, Rubens, Vermeer and modern artists Luis Royo, Jon Jude Palencar, Matt Stawick and Todd Lockwood, Morgado’s illustrations have been seen in books, newspapers and ads. He enjoys movies, music, sports and exploring new places. And among all other things, he seeks influence and inspiration for his art. His work can be found on:: www.manuelmorgado.wordpress.com www.manuelmorgado.deviantart.com/ Megan McCord Megan McCord is a Los Angeles native and writ-
Biographies er of short stories. She is currently an undergraduate student at Antioch University where she will soon begin an MFA in Creative Writing. She is also an editor for Two Hawks Quarterly (www.aulapress.com), an online literary magazine created by the BA students at Antioch University Los Angeles. Bill Cunningham For those of you just meeting Bill Cunningham, the world-renowned Mad Pulp Bastard, for the first time here, he is a screenwriter, producer, and marketer of movies, as well as the author of short pulp fiction and other media. He also is the master and proprietor of the great website Pulp 2.0 (d2dvd.blogspot.com), a daily must-see destination for any pulp aficionado. Bill’s been promoting the magazine to his large audience since our very humble be-ginning, for which we thank him profusely. Roger Alford 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 videos, 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), and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Serial. His screenplay Storm Tide is recommended by Script PIMP and was named a 2nd-round finalist in a Script Magazine Open Door Contest. 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. Website: www.theblackspectre.com Michael Patrick Sullivan Michael Patrick Sullivan is a hack. Nonetheless, his work was recently recognized by the Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College and by the Screenwriting Expo of Los Angeles. He also writes for comicbookresources.com. He currently lives in self-imposed exile in Southern California and can be contacted though redrighthand.net. This marks The Auslander’s fifth appearance in Astonishing Adventures. Devin McCarthy Devin McCarthy, age 26, makes his home in Venice, California. Raised in central Ohio, Devin attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, graduating in 2006 with a bachelors
degree of fine arts. After college he moved to Los Angeles where he pursues a variety of arts including 3D modeling and texturing, illustration, graphic design, and photography. Devin is currently working freelance while working on a number of projects including his upcoming webcomic “Messina.” In his leisure Devin pursues the ancient tradition of German longsword and enjoys watching a wide variety of films. website: www.photonmoon.com Christian Dabnor At an early age Christian Dabnor was captured by the Steam Pirate Captain Ron-son. He was made to perform various musical numbers for the Captain’s amuse-ment until the Captain was killed in a boiler accident. Scared that he might be blamed for the accident, he decided to make himself as obscure as possible by working in IT in Cannock, England, land of trees, opticians, and murder. Should you wish to contact him, his email is email@example.com. Christian chalks up his second story in AAM with this issue.
Please only contact the above contributors concerning serious business or polite conversation. No solicitation allowed.
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By megan mccord
he sat staring out the window at the almost left to think about her day. dark street below, eyes vacant, body slumped A tear slipped into her lap, quickly wiped in her kitchen chair. As she twisted her hair around away as she heard her husband coming into the her fingers, the sun began to rise and she knew her kitchen. husband would wake up soon. Shortly after, so “Honey, I don’t smell any coffee.” would her little boy. She only had a few moments “Oh, Sweetie, I’m sorry. Let me get that
“Mortuary” going for you.” She got up, tightened the belt of her robe, and pushed her lank hair behind her ears. “Aren’t you going to wake up Spencer?” her husband asked. She laughed nervously, head nodding, “Of course.” She plugged in the percolator and rushed down the hallway of their two-bedroom apartment where they had lived during the three years since her husband bought the mortuary downstairs. It had been a wonderful opportunity for so young a mortician and his beautician wife to purchase an established and respected business. As the former owner, Mr. Quigley, handed over the keys he said, “And won’t it be nice, the two of you working so closely together!” Mrs. Quigley did not smile. “Spencer…Spence-my-boy, wake up now,” she sang as she threw open his curtains. She sat on the edge of his bed and pulled down the covers hiding the face of her giggling golden son. Her husband handled the bodies. Fluid out, fluid in, dressing them for burial in whatever suit or favorite dress their family members had chosen. Her job was to make them look like they were only sleeping. She’d fix their hair to cover anyplace their skulls may have been smashed or cracked open, and apply make up over facial wounds acquired in whatever accident or act of violence had killed them. This was only necessary for the younger bodies, usually. The older ones more often died naturally from disease. To them, she had only to style their hair and make their skin appear as it had in life, though there were those whose lives ended suddenly with a tumble down the stairs or a fall into the coffee table. They were more work. She planted a kiss on Spencer’s forehead before giving him a light swat. “Come on. Time for breakfast.” The children were the hardest. The death of a child is never natural. She sat with them the longest before beginning her work. She would
look at their faces, their still little bodies in their Sunday best, cold hands folded over teddy bears, toy trucks or dollies. Sometimes she’d smooth their brows, as though soothing them for their afternoon naps. She heard her husband stride down the hallway towards their bedroom and begin to dress. He never had anything but coffee in the morning, no food before work. But at lunch, he expected a big meal, and dessert. She had until lunch. Spencer threw back his covers, exposing his cowboy pajamas, and made his way to his chair in the kitchen where he waited for his toast and oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. The children were the worst. At the viewings, the fathers walked around like hollowed, feeble shells, their faces slack beneath red eyes. Sometimes they had to restrain their wives, the mothers of the dead children. The mothers wailed like banshees, refused to close the casket, or would try to climb in. “Do you want PB and J or turkey in your lunchbox, Spencer?” “PB and J.” He munched his toast. She uncapped a black felt tip pen and wrote on a yellow paper napkin, “Mommy loves Spencer forever.” She tucked it next to the apple in his Lone Ranger lunchbox. “Go brush your teeth, Sweet-Pea, and get dressed for school.” “I am dressed.” “Spence, you cannot wear your pajamas to school.” He stared at her. She sighed. “Go put on your jeans and you can wear your pajama top. And don’t forget your sweater.” He galloped down the hallway. “The bus’ll be here in ten minutes!” she called. Her husband whisked into the kitchen, kissed her forehead and headed for the front door calling, “Don’t forget the Dorsey family will be here at five for the viewing. Mrs. Dorsey needs to be ready by four.” The door slammed.
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From down the hall, “Momma, tie my shoes!” “Spencer, you know how to tie your own shoes.” She listened to the silence of her small boy concentrating on his shoelaces. “Okay, I’m ready.” He ran up the hall. She handed Spencer his lunchbox and book bag. “Alright, I’m gonna watch you from the window, okay, little man?” “No, come with me,” he grabbed her hand. “Spencer, you’re a big boy now and you can wait for the bus by yourself. I’ll be watching.” He stared at her, eyes wide. “Go on.” He let out a sigh, turned around head bowed and walked to the front door. “I love you, bunny-boy.” The door slammed. Silence. She walked over to the kitchen window and saw Spencer’s small form emerge onto the street. He lifted his face and shielded his eyes to see if she was there. She waved and blew him a kiss. Satisfied, he turned around and waited for the bus. She sank back into her kitchen chair, leaned forward so she could still see Spencer, and thought about her husband’s lunch. He was very particular about what he would eat. She decided that today she’d make him a turkey sandwich on white bread. He hated turkey. Her husband smelled like death. He hadn’t always. It was after they moved here, after he bought the mortuary, that the smell of death was always present on his skin. At night, as his fingers roamed over her body, he never noticed her gagging. She’d wash his clothes in the hottest water to rid them of the stench and then hang them in the sun to burn out what might be left. But it never worked. The bus let out a hiss as it stopped for Spencer, who looked up and waved as he
boarded. She waved back until the bus door closed, obscuring the figure of her son. She made her husband’s sandwich and drank the orange juice she meant to leave for him. She forgot about dessert. She went to the hall closet and brought out the rope the movers had used to haul their sofa in through the living room window. When she looked into the faces of the dead people she worked on, she wondered about their lives, what kind of people they’d been, if they’d been happy, if they’d been loved, had their lives been for something? At night as she slept, the children came to her, “Tie my shoe.” “I have a boo-boo.” “I can’t sleep, will you sing to me?” “Momma, I want my cowboy pants.” It was all for nothing. She flung one end of the rope over the pipe on the kitchen ceiling that ran up from downstairs and tied the knot she’d watched her husband teach her son for Boy Scouts. She dragged a chair over until it was underneath the pipe, stood on it and slipped the rope around her neck. She was sorry to disappoint the Dorsey family. Their mother would not be ready by four.
“A Red Lipstick”
“A Red Lipstick” By CORMAC BROWN
old, black, green and purple spots. When they are part of an Impressionist painting, they are beautiful, but Lara’s skin is not a canvas by Monet. No, in the dingy light of the diner bathroom, her arms and legs look like they’ve been touched by the brush of DeSade or Torquemada. She winces, not at her reflection, but at the pain in her sore jaw and the tenderness in her lips. Guy went a little overboard this time…even
for him and she had known this was going to be the consequence. He arranges and oversees each one of her dates, so when she came up short with the money, one time here and another time there, Guy told her he wasn’t going to be played for a sucker. It was the things he said to her as he batted her around like a cat does a mouse that forced her to come up with plan“Just because I let you have a few extra
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dollars here and there, don’t think that I’m not keeping track or that you’re too clever for your own good” he hissed in his Louisiana accent. “You don’t want to be like Millie. Do you really believe that she went on vacation like she told you?” “Tell me cher, since you’re so damn smart. Why do you think she hasn’t sent you a postcard? She just didn’t want you getting scared, but she knew she’d only get so far before I found her. You don’t want to take that permanent vacation like she did, do ya cher? Lara was the last girl working for Guy and him using her as a sparring partner, did not help her earnings. Not too many of her regulars wanted to spend time with her looking like this and the fellas that didn’t have a problem with her looking like Max Schmeling after Joe Louis floored him, were not the kind of dates that any woman would want. Her hand trembled as she touched up makeup, her lipstick felt like lemon and salt on a paper cut. As she dabbed off the excess, the paper towel felt like it was covered with lye. Lara took a deep and as she raised her lipstick to the mirror, the bathroom door burst open. “Guy, you can’t come into the ladies’ room!” Guy checked the stalls, then sneered “First, I go anywhere I damn well feel like and ain’t nobody gonna tell me different. Second, I don’t see any ladies in here!” Lara calmly turned to the mirror and said as she dabbed her lip “I’m hungry and you’re gonna get us kicked out of here before we get a chance to eat…if they don’t call the cops first.” The mention of the police dimmed the wattage of Guy’s sneer for less than a second and only someone who knew him would’ve even noticed. “I ain’t worried about the heat; I got them in my pocket like my blade. You should worry about what’s gonna happened to your five dollar backside if you don’t get out of this bathroom in the next minute. I ain’t waiting all day to order
and if you’re not ready by the time the waitress puts my coffee on the table? Well, let’s just say you’re looking tired. Maybe you need a little vacation like Millie got. Might do you a bit of good to get some rest. A little beauty sleep.” Then he laughed like a poor Cajun’s version of The Shadow. Guy turned on his heels and walked out, his purple zoot suit with red pinstripes a garish blur. Lara smiled even though it caused her almost as much pain as one of Guy’s punches. Everything had to fall into place like one of those complicated Rube Goldberg contraptions. The stakes were high. She had everything to lose and her life to win. Her hand shook as she raised her lipstick, then it became amazingly steady as she started writing. Guy Malveux sat down in one of the booths and peered over the menu at the rather plain red-headed waitress. He winked at her and she curled her lip in disgust. Guy sneered back at her; he didn’t get California women at all. It was so much easier for him in New Orleans. There he actually had to turn women away. The women back home worked hard, they treated him right and they didn’t give him all that sass like they did out here. They knew their place, their dates didn’t give him a bad time and everything was like a slice of Heaven until a cop tried to double-dip on him. Guy bribed the man fair and square, but the flatfoot came right back the same night and said that his expenses were going up, so they had to come out of Guy’s end. Guy would’ve paid him, but business was business and usually in New Orleans, no one got to greedy because there was more than enough to go around. Guy was pleasant enough to the double-crosser and explained that he would get back to him on it when the cop put a gun to Guy’s head. Well, something in Guy’s head had snapped and the next thing Guy knew, three of his ladies were pulling him up and another was screaming. It seemed that Guy had lost his composure and
“A Red Lipstick” somehow he made the cop eat a bullet from his own gun. Guy knew that despite him always being fair and square with them, the New Orleans Police Department wouldn’t take kindly to him killing one of their own. So he got out of town before the body had even turned cold and he made his way west. He tried to make a go of it in Oklahoma, but his aptitude for business seemed to have deserted him. It wasn’t quite the same as it had been back home. He just couldn’t seem to keep his temper in check anymore and it got the best…or really, the worst of him. By the time he calmed down, someone would be hurt and it was never Guy. The girls, the dates, even a piano player here, or a washer woman there. By the time he had decided that his temper was his only true friend that he had and that he wanted it around more often, Millie was feeding trees in San Rafael, and he was trying to figure out just who was going to replace Lara. He eyed the waitress one more time. All she needed was a little makeup, but how would she look after three or four dates a night? He decided right there that he was going to flip the waitress and Lara? Well, Millie was going to have someone to keep her company. “The worst snake is the one that doesn’t rattle or a hiss. Just because it doesn’t give you a warning before it bites doesn’t mean that is not poisonous.” Millie’s warning didn’t quite make sense last year, but Lara wouldn’t have listened to her anyway. All that she could think about was the very notion of leaving Merced, California and that’s exactly what Guy promised her, a ticket out. Why else would an eighteen year-old that couldn’t stand even the sight of alcohol, spend her time in a bar, listening to a guy who seemed like even more of a hick than she was? He was pouring the sappy stuff on so thick, that she thought she was going to drown and then talked about her coming to visit him in the City of
Saint Francis. “San Francisco don’t get hot like out here in the San Joaquin Valley during the summer and why, it’s almost sixty-two degrees all-year around. Everybody invites you over to their house and it’s just like a party, everywhere you go around here. The movie stars come up to San Francisco to get away, why, it’s their playground. I met Clark Gable and Carole Lombard at a friend of mine’s, just the other night.” Lara told Guy to wait at the bar and that she would be right back. Lara’s parents didn’t even blink when she ran in, nor did they say anything when she came out of her room with a packed suitcase. This meant one less child to feed and one less person that would nag them about their drinking, or that would hide their liquor from them. Lara at least tried to kiss her mother goodbye, but her mother pushed her away because she was interrupting Fibber McGee opening that closet for about the hundredth time on the radio. So it turned out that Guy had lied about everything in San Francisco except for the weather. Most of the people of there were nice enough, but not at the parties that Guy made her go to. Lara always somehow managed to miss the movie stars by days or weeks, but the character actors and extras too. In the bathroom, Lara twisted the cap back on her lipstick. The first part of her plan was complete. She clutched something shiny and cold for a moment. This was second part of her plan. A moment later, she finally emerged from that lukewarm frying pan and into the fire. She sat down across from Guy and smiled through her pain again. Guy looked up from his menu and his face turned stone serious. He thought that he had finally beat out any of the spirit that she had left and he didn’t want any distractions while he worked the waitress. He stiffened almost imperceptibly as Lara’s grimacing smile reminded him of a corpse that he had seen wash
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up in the bayou after a hurricane. Lara’s smile reminded him of death, though she wasn’t paying any attention to him at all, because the third part of her plan had just walked in wearing a grey fedora. The man in the grey fedora was a few minutes later than Lara had figured. He carefully studied the five faces in the diner before he sat down in the furthest booth in the back. He slowly took his hat off, smoothed his slicked-back hair and put the hat back on. This apparently was a signal, as a few moments later, a police matron walked in. She sat down across from the man in the grey fedora and they smiled at each other. Lara glanced over at the mirrors behind the counter and saw the couple holding hands in the reflection. They always came to the diner on Thursday nights, come rain or shine. The waitress already knew their order because they didn’t like to be bothered; the blue plate special and they shared a piece of pie. The waitress asked Lara “What are you havin’?” “I’ll have-“ “She’s having liver” grunted Guy without looking up from his menu. “I don’t like liver.” “Don’t sass, you need your iron,” he ordered flatly. He turned his attention from the menu to working on the waitress, with a smile as bright as a camera flash. A little bit of ice from the waitress’ façade melted like Guy knew it would. As far as he was concerned, women who worked the late shift had little or no time for love, let alone attention. Lara looked at the mirrors again and noticed that both wore wedding rings. The police matron’s name was “Myra,” which was easy enough to remember. Lara knew Myra, as she had processed Lara each of the three times that she’d been arrested. Myra was the type of guard that let her baton do the talking and Lara was smart enough to never rile her. Lara figured that Myra either didn’t recognize her because of
her swollen face, or she didn’t fear running into former prisoners in the outside world. The man was Detective Duane Wolenski, a vice cop that had a reputation for shooting first and waiting until the suspects were in the hospital or morgue to warn them. Lara had managed to avoid Detective Wolenski twice by pure luck, as he and the vice squad had raided two of the hotels where she was working. The worst part of it was that each time, Guy had been tipped off before the raid and he left her to fend for herself. Guy never apologized for these incidents and she had always hoped that Detective Wolenski would arrest him, yet Guy was somehow always a step ahead. Yes, the couple both had wedding rings, but they weren’t married to each other. All of this information was hard to come by and it was also one of the reasons why Lara was coming up short with Guy’s money. One of her dates Lloyd, was a civilian that worked at the police station. Lloyd was a wonderful wealth of information and he told Lara all kinds of things about Myra and Guy, until he had realized that she wasn’t interested in him, just his gossip. From that point on, Lloyd never paid for a date and that lack of money hastened the vicious circle that surrounded Lara’s neck like a noose. She contemplated how delicious things would be if they fell into place and Lara let out a laugh. Guy glared at her and she disguised her laugh with a cough, drawing the waitress’ attention. “Cover your mouth when you cough” the waitress scolded Lara like she was a small, annoying child. Guy’s attention drifted back to the menu. Lara’s upper lip glistened with perspiration and she had to put her hands under the table, because they were starting to tremble. As long as no one used the women’s restroom for the next three minutes, everything would fall into place. So then to Lara’s dismay, who headed straight for the facilities? Oh, no. That stupid waitress is going to ruin
“A Red Lipstick” everything. What am I going to do? Lara started coughing without covering her mouth and the waitress stopped just short of the restroom doors. Lara coughed some more and the waitress paused again, this time pushing the door of the women’s bathroom open. Bright red lipstick letters could be seen on the mirror. Lara swiftly got up and went behind the counter, risking Guy’s temper in order to keep Guy and the waitress from seeing the bathroom mirror. Lara deliberately started to look under the counter and she pretended to search for something rather intently. “What are you doing playing around back there?” demanded the waitress. “I’m just getting some coffee.” “The coffee is brewing in the pot, right there.” “Well, I need sugar, too.” “The sugar is already on table! Look, just sit down and I’ll bring it to ya,” the waitress huffed. She pointed Lara towards the booth and then she folded her arms as if she were a mother guarding a freshly waxed floor. Guy paid no attention to Lara as she stumbled and bumped into him before she sat down. He didn’t notice the extra weight of the object that Lara had slipped into his jacket pocket, because of the way that his loose zoot suit draped on the seat. Guy was preoccupied with the waitress because she was going to be his meal ticket two days hence. He figured Lara was just like the steak he was about to order, well done and just something else that he wouldn’t remember by the end of the week. The waitress poured Lara’s coffee with the cup low and the pot up high, just like at a Russian tea room. She brought the cup around the counter and put it down on the table as hard as she could without spilling it. “I’ll be right back to take your order” she said to Guy with a smile and this time, the waitress gave Lara a curled lip of disgust. Myra winked at Detective Wolenski and she
rose from the booth. The waitress saw Myra making her way toward the bathroom and she let out a snort of disgust as she ceded the lavatory to her. She wasn’t sure what Duane did, but she saw the lump under his coat that was surely a gun and she always gave those two as wide a berth as possible. She knew that Myra was a jail matron, yet Duane seemed too much like a gangster to her, to actually be a cop. Myra smiled as she came out of the stall and she wondered if things could be any better. Her husband Herb would never grant her a divorce, he wouldn’t be able to his face to his family on Sunday dinners if he did. Well, Duane had a way of persuading anyone to go along with what he asked, though she also wondered if Duane felt the same way and wanted to leave his wife. After another night like this one? He would probably be the one to suggest that they get married. She washed her hands and dried them. She was about to touch up her makeup when the big red letters shook her out of her daydream“Help! I’ve been kidnapped by the man in the purple suit and he has a gun!” Lara sidled to the outer edge of her seat as the waitress took Guy’s order and then went into the kitchen. Guy poured sugar into his coffee and Lara smiled at him again with that deathlike grimace, making him pause in mid-stir. “Guy?” “Yeah, cher?” “About that liver?” “What about it?” “Well, you know you’re looking a little worn down and you could use some iron, too-“ The woman’s restroom door banged open, causing everyone in the diner except Lara to turn around. “-And you’re about to get a bellyful.” Myra’s eyes were wide and full of panic; she looked like Elsa Lanchester as “The Bride of Frankenstein” when she first saw the monster.
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Yet it was Lara that let out the scream of panic“Help, he’s got a gun!” Myra pointed at Guy with a trembling, accusatory finger and as Duane’s eyes followed the finger’s path, he already has his .38 revolver out, and was taking aim. Guy got up and wheeled around, wondering just who the hell Lara was talking about. He figured some idiot was robbing the diner. He noticed that his jacket seemed slightly heavier than usual, and then he saw the glint of something shiny in his left jacket pocket. As fast as the speed of thought, Guy Malveux had realized that Lara had set him up. Then he was wondering just why his right cheek and chest hurt with such excruciating pain. His blood and the gunshots finally registered in his mind as he fell slowly like a tree cut down by a lumberjack. There was nothing behind Guy’s eyes as Detective Wolenski searched the sprawled empty shell that was formerly the Louisiana pimp. He found the longest switchblade that he had seen in ten years on the police force and the small nickel-plated .32 that Lara had put in Guy’s left front jacket pocket. He went through Guy’s wallet for an ID and Myra gave him a reassuring pat, then she asked “Where’s the girl?” Duane looked Guy’s license over and replied “What girl?” “You know, the girl…she was all bruised and beat up. She left a message in the bathroom that said that he had kidnapped her.” Myra looked over at the waitress for some kind of reassurance or confirmation that Lara was there and the waitress nodded vigorously. Duane whispered to Myra “I’ll go looking for her in a second, but in the meantime? We’re going to have to come up with some kind of explanation for the two of us being together at this restaurant at this time of night.” As she enters the train station, all Lara has is
eleven bucks and the clothes on her back. That will get her: a train ticket to Los Angeles, plus two bowls of soup and two cups of coffee on the train. She isn’t worried because she has her life back, she has more hope and more between her ears than all of the Guys, Myras and Duanes put together.
“Buster Bullet to the Rescue”
“Buster Bullet to the Rescue”
Written By Bill Cunningham Buster Bullet created and illustrated by Rolf Lejdegard
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ow: “Tell us a story, Uncle Lou…we want a story!” “Oh now, you don’t want to hear the ramblings from this old man’s noggin’ do you?” The children’s bright faces lit up. “We want a story. We want a story!” “Okay now. Let me see… no, not for this crowd. Maybe… no that’s not right either. Save that one for another time. Hmmm...Yes. Tell me children, have you ever heard of someone by the name of Buster Bullet?” The hushed tones told the old man that they had indeed heard of the man called Buster Bullet, and a slow smile curled the edges of the old man’s mouth. He looked out amongst their bright shining faces as they moved in closer, their eyes betraying their eagerness to hear his tale. “Everyone gather round and get settled in. Quiet now or you children won’t hear. Can everyone hear me? Come close. Good. Now then, once upon a time…” Then: “So, kid. Do we have a deal?” Buster Bullet, Ace of the Stratosphere could barely hear the soft-spoken, nearly kind words. His ears were still ringing from the barrage of punches that swelled his lobes into the size of potatoes. His eyes fared no better as he was nearly blind from the repeated hits that made his orbs black and blue pockets of blood. The only thing on his body that didn’t hurt was his left arm, bound tightly as he was to the rickety chair in the middle of the abandoned warehouse. His right shoulder lanced pain up and down his side dislocated as it was. Then, the soft-spoken voice leaned in close. Buster tried blinking the blood out of his eyes so he could see the face of his tormentor, but all he was able to discern were the hazy outline of a gray old man. If he had been able to clearly see he would have taken in the rough lines of
age across the man’s features, the long gray coat which perched around his shoulders and the silver cane he used to support his thin, stooped body. But all Buster saw of him was a patch of gray and that haunting voice. To him he was a ghost - a vengeful spirit - that struck with such precision as to invoke the most terror. In every way Buster was the opposite of his tormentor‘s ghostly silhouette. Thick, beefy with a fireplug of a body. With his flight helmet on Buster Bullet was aptly named. His massive frame was the only one that had been capable of supporting the experimental jet pack integrated into his uniform. But now, here he was - the “Ace of the Stratosphere” as the Mayor had called him - strapped down like a lab rat for dissection by this little man. Buster felt every ounce of helpless as he slowly tested the bonds holding him with his left arm. If only he could summon the strength to break the cords holding him he could activate the jetpack’s ignition sequence. Then he would show this enigma why the newspapers ran headlines of his crime-fighting exploits! The little man leaned in even closer, placed his hand on Buster to steady himself, and whispered those soft, kind words that finally made Buster Bullet tremble… “Come on, son. Those ropes aren’t going anywhere, and I can keep this up all night.” Buster knew and it was with this that a small, blood soaked whimper escaped the jet-propelled adventurer’s mouth. He was surprised as anyone that he cracked, but there it was. Tears mingled with blood and ran down his face, dripping on his radar goggles still cradled around his neck. His jaw was broken, and his voice was wet with blood, but the word the gray man was looking for finally appeared. “Yes,” Buster spat out, lip quivering, defeated. “What was that, son? I didn’t quite hear you…” “Yes! We have a deal! I’ll tell you everything.
“Buster Bullet to the Rescue” Dear God, I’ll tell you…” Buster Bullet hung his head low as bloody spittle drained from his mouth. His jaw was mush and even that tiny effort to speak cost Buster dearly. “I know, son. There, there. It‘s okay. You don‘t need to tell me anything else. I just needed to know you would.” Buster jerked his head up, the pain lancing through his neck keeping him from passing out. What was the gray man saying? The old man smiled and twisted toothy grin that mocked surprise. “Son, I know everything there is to know about you. I know that you were the Mayor’s hand-picked super-special “weapon against crime.” I know that money that has been taken from crime scenes somehow ends up in the Mayor’s campaign coffers. ” This news hit Buster like another punch to the gut. If this man knew all this, then capturing Buster and torturing him wasn’t the point. It was just the beginning. “Believe me young man, even though I seldom venture outside The Quilt, there’s nothing in this city I don’t know about or can‘t touch.” The Gray man’s grin turned into a fullon peal of smoky laughter. “Son of bitch thinks he can pull the wool over my eyes by sending some costumed aeroplane to loot my money-laundering operations? Don’t get me wrong. It‘s a smart move robbing the robbers to pay for your political campaign. I may have to try that someday after I get things quieted down again.” No, the mistake he made…you made… was robbing from me! He knows better than that. You - you’re.. Buster Bullet aren’t you?” Laughter echoed from the floor to the skylights of the old building mocking the Ace of the Stratosphere. Buster just sat there in shock. Near comatose from the brutal beating-both physical and verbal- he had just received. He now understood his role as the city’s “protector.” He was a pawn, and as near-death as he was, he was angry.
“Don’t you worry, son. I’m going to make sure the Mayor and his boys down at City Hall understand who really runs this town. Yes, indeed I’ll show him the error of his ways.” The Gray man shuffled about and turned toward a tele-viewer screen perched on the old warehouse’s block wall. An video image of City Hall came into focus, and held the old man‘s attention. “He should be giving his campaign speech on the steps any minute now.” At that moment, Buster Bullet - the jet propelled missile against crime - understood the meaning of dread. As he suspected, Buster’s capture, his torture, and his blood-caked defeat had all been a ploy. The ghostly gray silhouette before him was going to attack the Mayor’s campaign speech! There would be hundreds there on the steps of City Hall and nearly thousands out on the plaza. Buster had to get out of there, but how? Buster twisted his torso to the right and felt the daggers of pain stabbing through his dislocated shoulder. It was agony, but he twisted further, so he could move his right hand onto his jetpack’s ignition sequence starter circuit. It was at that moment that he thanked the Engineer for instructing him so thoroughly on the suits’ operation. Buster had wanted to get up and fly, but the Engineer had told him if he wanted to fly it he had to first learn how it worked. Buster’s fingers dug into the titanium casing and pulled themselves toward the access panel. Buster twisted his body further, not looking as the knob of his shoulder bulged further and further out of joint, tearing sinew and muscle. Blood and sweat stung his eyes. Everything he saw was tinged red from all the blood engorging the vessels in and around his eyes. His crawling fingers found the panel. He just had to - there! He popped it open and his trembling fingers felt along the row. He wasn’t sure, but he pushed down hard and was rewarded with the familiar startup whine of the
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jetpack’s motors. Buster lurched himself into an upright position, wrenching his shoulder further out of joint as the engines ignited the fuel cells. A cone flame burst out of the rear of the pack and torched the ropes that held him fast. Buster felt the skin on his hand bubble as he barely had the strength to pull his hands away in time as the pumps injected fuel into the turbine and went to full burn. “What the hell!” screamed the gray man. Whoosh! Buster took off through the skylight in a shower of glass as the gray man watched the human missile become a small dot in the sky. Buster arced high into the air and limped past the hodgepodge of buildings that made up the city’s most notorious neighborhood - The Quilt. It was so named because building after building was renovated or re-used to house the city’s poor. When the great depression of the 30’s hit , people suddenly found themselves sharing apartments, tearing down walls, and adding structures to half standing wrecks. What was birthed out of that need for space and shelter was a neighborhood of secret alleys, basements that led to tunnels and separate structures joined together by cargo containers and discarded technologies. Buster limped through the sky drawing the eyes of some of the Quilt’s denizens. He turned his body to arc toward City Hall - far uptown from the Quilt and away from the smoke and haze. Buster Bullet kept his eyes averted from the direct wind - without his goggles he had to steer by landmarks that he could barely make out below. Clutching his right arm to his side didn’t help as it pulled him off course. Damn - he wasn’t going to make it. Not like this. He had to do something. Something to live up to all those headlines the papers wrote about him. Something desperate. Buster turned his head into the wind and arched his body upward. The pain wracked his body and he coughed a line of blood. He reached
down with his shaky left hand and found the button (this would be so much easier if he’d had his control gloves) to ignite the afterburners. Once his body was on course he hit the button… Fwoosh! Buster Bullet remained true to his name as he rocketed his body skyward. Twisting and turning he maintained his course best he could as the high winds buffeted his body. The jetpack jerked against his frame and Buster felt one of his broken ribs pierce into his abdomen. His torn shoulder kept pulling him off course and the wind buffeted his face. He was faltering, a wounded peregrine struggling to climb. Buster ignored the agony and raised his arms out to stabilize his ascent. He tried sucking in as much air as possible, but the air was thin. The fiery blaze of his jetpack coughed slightly, as the fuel ran lower and lower. Buster reached the apogee of his ascent, and clumsily folded his arms by his sides. And then, Buster Bullet began his descent… Off in the distance was the gleaming tower of City Hall. Before that was the green of the plaza and the multicolored banners of the mayor’s campaign. Thousands were out in the plaza (paid for by the Mayor’s campaign fund) cheering him on as he took to the podium. Helicopters provided a secure perimeter as did the hundred or so special security detail police officers. “Look! Up in the sky,” came one of the voices out of the crowd. Everyone turned to see a fiery streak write itself across the sky. Cheers and finger pointing arose from the crowd downing even the Mayor’s amplified voice from the podium. Everyone loved Buster Bullet - the city’s protector. Smiles outshone flashbulbs as the crowd saw Buster streaming toward them. Buster flew closer and closer to the plaza to warn the Mayor’s security. His jetpack was a screaming animal as he drew nearer and nearer… He was going to make it.
“Buster Bullet to the Rescue” Though it hurt his broken jaw, Buster’s face put on a grin. He was going to make it. He was close enough to see the crowd and hear the roar of their cheers. He was going to make it. Buster Bullet was going to save the day. And at that moment, the gray man flipped the switch on the control unit, and Buster Bullet became Buster Bomb. Historians weren’t quite sure what sort of bomb it was, but everything with five city blocks of City Hall was near instantly de-atomized. Whatever energy it was that was released from the bomb the Gray man had secreted on Buster’s jetpack, it removed the subatomic bonds within any matter in its blast radius. No explosion. No blast. No debris. Suddenly City Hall, thousands of people - all living matter - was dust. “There’s only one man who runs this town,” said the Gray man, “and that’s Doctor Lucifer.” Now: A small tear came to Dr. Lucifer’s eye ran down his cheek to nestle in the corner of his smile. The children watching him tell the story were dumbstruck. One child dropped his Neofoam Candy™ . Their parents stared at the grayhaired head that was perched on the display’s articulating arm. Each were thankful that a thick pane of Plasteel™ stood between this madman and their offspring. “So what did we learn from Uncle Lou’s story today, kids?” The kids stared blankly at one another, looking for confirmation. Then, as a chorus they shouted… “There’s only one man who runs this town, and that’s Dr. Lucifer!” “Exactly!” Lucifer gleefully cackled following it with a demonic laugh that was a mixture of pure terror and an old-style computer modem synching up. The OpsTechs still hadn’t fixed that part of the Doctor’s physiology, and to be honest they didn’t want to - not if it got these kinds of
results. Lucifer looked across the cavernous museum’s Synth-marble™ floor to one of the smaller displays. There he was. Shirtless, Buster Bullet was seated on a couch drinking a beer and eating a bag of chips. Suddenly, kids raced over to his display and marveled at him (which hadn’t happened in a long time). Many of the kids were already downloading new Buster Bullet skins for their clothes from the Museum of Supernatural History’s VR store. OpsAdmin Hanover looked at the sales figures with OpsTech Garcia. Dr. Lucifer merchandise was hot, but clearly he had an effect on sales regarding other displays too - just as the good doctor had promised. Garcia tagged the sales figures then brought up the VR display for the Doctor’s new addition to his repertoire - that articulating arm he always wanted. “No, don’t give it to him yet,” said Hanover flatly. “ He needs to earn it.” ‘You are the Admin,” said Garcia, “but…” “But what?” Garcia grabbed the time code on the Doctor’s display surveillance and spun it back with a flick of her VR wrist. She ran the footage and scoped in on Lucifer. The Doctor looked straight into the display and grinned a knowing grin as the children’s voices piped up: “There’s only one man who runs this town, and that’s Dr. Lucifer!”
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“The Price of Perfection”
“The Price of Perfection” By CORMAC BROWN
Well, it’s been a hard day and I sure could use a highball,” I say in a way that is far warmer than I feel. I go to the liquor cabinet under the bar and I look for a bottle that isn’t there, since I already emptied it this morning. I grimace. “Listen, Sweetheart, we’re all out of the good stuff. I am going to drive down the hill and get us a couple of bottles of rye.” She just smiles that warm smile of hers, and instead of it making me feel good, I feel like her grin is a shot to my gut. Ah-oh, she sees something in my face and she looks concerned,
ain’t she something? She’s so sweet, this is just killin’ me. There ain’t no two ways about it, this is just killin’ me. “What’s wrong, did I say something?” “Nothing, Doll…it’s nothing you want to know about. It’s just some dumb business stuff,” I put across to her like a starving used car salesman. That concerned look of hers isn’t going away. “Henry, why me?” “Why you?” ‘Why you’ what?” “Henry, be serious for a second, please. The
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coat check girl last night…your latest client …” “You mean “our” latest client. You’re part of the agency now. What about ‘em?” “I see them looking at you, watching you, making eyes at you. That stupid hatcheck girl even tried to give you her phone number right in front of me.” Damn it, I hate it when her lip trembles like that; she’s making this harder than it has to be. “Nuts to her, what’s your point?” “Why me, Henry? Why did you choose me? Out of all these women, what makes me so special to you?” It’s not gonna end like this; I can’t stand it. Toughen up, Hank, you’re almost there. Put a finger to her lips, cup her chin and get through this. “All those mixed-up dames can’t hold a candle to a lady like you…” Damn, I don’t think she’s buying it “…but if you must know? It’s your eyes.” Pull her a little closer. “Things change; we’re all going to get older and our looks will go. But the eyes? When a woman has eyes like yours? Baby, that’s all I need. Besides, when you’re this close? It doesn’t matter if you are the prettiest girl in the world, or the ugliest, because this is all I see.” Now, kiss her like it was the last time, because really? It will be. Wow. She’s really responding. Her breaths are so deep; her pupils are dilating. One last kiss...a wink and let’s end this for good…on a happy note. “I’ll be right back, Doll; you keep the place…and yourself, warm.” Now, don’t appear nervous and don’t overdo it. Just walk towards the door and smile at her before you go out. Don’t let out a sigh or a loud exhale as you close the door. Look at her…look at this house…I’m gonna miss them both. I worked hard to win her over, but I worked a hundred times harder to get this
house and it took me ten years just to get into a position where I could even afford a down payment on this thing. Cripes, Henry, look at her getting herself all pretty for you in the hallway mirror. Sure, she’s more than beautiful enough for any man, but I know why she asked that question. She thinks that she is not in my league, but she’s wrong. That ain’t what I’m about, and in a sense, how pretty she is really doesn’t really matter. No, most guys would miss her the first time they looked around a room full of women, but to me? She’s perfect. I’m falling for her and that’s what’s eating me…I’ve only fallen for one other woman before like this and that’s how this poor gal got sucked into this situation. The first time I saw Ella was nine months ago, New Year’s Eve. Here we are, in a new decade, and I’ll be damned if anybody wants to put The Depression behind us more than me. I was working a case that night at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Ella was there working for Laird Thompson, a rival detective and one of the cheapest bastards to ever walk the Earth. I should know. I started out working for him back in ’32 and I’ve since passed him by in business like I was a Ford Flat 8 and he was a Model T with four square wheels. Every once in awhile he would try to poach or sabotage my business, and this looked to be one of those situations. I noticed Ella, not because of her strong resemblance to the woman that had just left me in a lurch, but because she was doing a bang-up job keeping Laird at bay. The man pitched woo like he ran his agency… dirty, shameless, unorganized, and all over the place. Ella got tired of his gorilla antics and she flung a glass of champagne in his face. Laird reeled back like he was going to slap her, and she grabbed a pitcher of water from the bar and poured it on him. He stormed off and she made for the exit. I waited a moment, and then I went
“The Price of Perfection” after her. I didn’t want the man I was originally tailing to see me and he would have, as she had the attention of everyone in the room. I called after her, “I hate to see what you do to people that are actually thirsty.” She froze in her tracks and wheeled around with anger. “Are you a friend of that octopus?” “No, I’m not as smart as you; it took me two whole years of working for that schmuck to get wise.” “Well, when he comes back, tell him I quit!” She wheeled off and I froze her feet again with, “Well, he and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms. Besides, you were probably here because you were supposed to distract me.” She came up to me, gave me the once-over, tilted her head and said, “Come again?” “I figure he hired you to distract me. He has always taken it hard that I spun off and started my own agency, so his favorite thing is to try and gum things up for me, here and there.” “And you are?” “I’m Henry Thompson, Laird’s cousin and former operative. Here’s my card. C’mon by if you’d actually like to work…as opposed to my cousin, who would rather that you be a working girl for him.” Look at me, reminiscing like this and I only have eleven minutes to get down the hill!
angry he will queer my alibi. Let’s see, the store’s clock behind him is about five seconds fast, so now is the time to apologize. Good, let’s shake on it. C’mon, you mug, take my hand before I say out loud what a rat fink I really think you are. Atta boy, be a pal and let me stay on schedule here. Hold the bottle just…so…as I come out of the store and when it goes off in a second, there will plenty of witnesses when I drop it becauseMother of God! That was too much! That was no ordinary dynamite. That was Popeye on a spinach-bender, because I could see the explosion all the way down here! That Marty Martin is just that- a martin! A stupid weasel! Don’t cry now, Hank, save it for when you get back up the hill. Goodbye Ella. Goodbye house. Neither of you deserved this, but it was the only way. Good, the fire department is already here, so now I can let it all go- “no…no…no! Lola!” Somebody grab me, please, before I run into the burning house, because I will. C’mon, you wimp, keep me down before I barbecue myself! Now you are askin’ yourself “who the hell is Lola?” Well, I told ya, there ain’t no two ways about it, this is just killin’ me and Ella was perfect. I fell for her and I’ve only fallen this hard for one other woman like her this way before. That’s how this poor gal got sucked into this situation; she was the spittin’ image of my wife.
She isn’t just a pretty face; she’s a pretty fair operative too. Hell, she even solved an employee theft case that I wouldn’t have figured out, even if you spotted me a hundred years. This will hurt twice as bad, losing both a detective and a good woman like Ella. “He’s come to, Lieutenant.” Wait until now…perfect. With exactly two Ah, Sergeant Kowalski, your ugly mug is a minutes left, I ask the liquor store clerk for a sight for sore eyes, because that means thatbottle of Bushmills, but I already knew that the “Hey, Henry, how are you doing?” owner of the store is a Scot who hates all things “Did you find her, Lieutenant Mogahan?” Irish. The key is to argue with him, but not to Mogahan and Kowalski won’t give me the third growl at the poor bastard so that he doesn’t get so degree; we play poker together for chrissakes.
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I’ve helped them out plenty with cases and, unlike other cops; they appreciate a hand here and there. “First things first, Henry lad, are you okay?” “Is she okay?” “We have found nobody so far, but that doesn’t mean a thing. That was quite an explosion; I haven’t seen that kind of devastation since the Second Battle of Marne. Listen, me boyo, you mentioned a name and I just want to make sure that the fire captain had heard right… did you say “Lola” was there?” “She came back; I don’t understand how they knew.” “Dragna and Roselli would have eyes and ears all over the place…I don’t know how she stayed alive this long.” By barely surviving in a god-forsaken, malaria-infested island in the Caribbean, while I live high on the hog at home. Lola is my wife, and the first thing that attracted me to Ella was her resemblance to the woman I walked down the aisle with. Lola and me were at a party where I was keeping in touch with some contacts with Mickey Cohen’s mob when a couple of Jack Dragna’s men showed up and shot a couple of Cohen’s. One of them that was involved in the shooting was Johnny Roselli; Lola recognized his clothes, stature and voice from when he used to run shakedowns at the movie studios where Lola was an extra. Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen were fighting for control of the gambling stakes for all of Southern California, and my wife was a witness that could tip the balance in the favor of Cohen. Not to mention the City of Los Angeles wanted Dragna put away too, so Lola did the only thing smart and fled to an island that I can’t even name without a map. Right after she did, I put a plan in motion where Ella would, for all intents and purposes, become Lola. The two weren’t identical, mind
you, but add a bomb and a house fire, and even Lola’s mom should be convinced by whatever was left over at 15 Loring Avenue. My favorite bomber Marty Martin owed me big time. I had found somebody that gave him an alibi when everyone in the world knows that was him running away from his ex-girlfriend’s car just after it blew up. That alibi, plus one of the best defense attorneys that money can buy… or that blackmail can draft into service...got him off scot-free. Now, you say, “Henry Thompson, the police surely are smarter than that. What about dental records?” And I say “what about ‘em?” I have Lola Thompson’s dental records and X-rays, but they are Ella’s. I was working on this even before Lola saw that hit; I’m always working angles. That is what makes a great detective and I’ve got this figured out down to the last letter. All of the tears I shed right now, though...are real. I’ll miss Ella. Well, it’s been four days and they haven’t asked me to come down to the morgue yet. My friend at the coroner’s office won’t return my calls, so that has me suspicious as hell. The police haven’t brought me in for a talk and that is the sole reason I haven’t scampered away. I can’t imagine why they would, though; I didn’t have an insurance policy on Lola and the one I had on the house will barely pay enough for a crew to clear away the debris. Since a good portion of a house’s price comes from the land that it sits on, I just wanted to sell the lot off anyway. What funds I have in the bank are set to transfer to a Cayman Islands account and a friend will wire whatever is left over from the sale of the house lot. I’m all packed up here; all I need is suntan oil, which I’ll get at Union Station and I’m set. Who the hell is it at the door this time of the night? “Yeah?” “Hank? It’s me, Lieutenant Mogahan.”
“The Price of Perfection”
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Damn it, Mogahan, you being here can’t be good. Put the stuff in the trash, answer the door and hopefully they won’t conduct a through search. Just get them out here and you can get somebody to fish it out of the trash later. Just open the door and…a .38 in the face, now there’s a fine “how do you do?” “Easy Sgt. Kowalski, I’m unarmed.” “Frisk him anyway, Sergeant.” Look all you want, Lt. Mogahan, you won’t find anything other than a suitcase full of clothes. Uh-oh, I don’t like that smile on Kowalski, that’s his “full house smile.” You’re on the take, aren’t you Jake? They’ve got their claws into you. This changes everything. You just need to ease up, Sarge, just a little bit. Give me a chance to tie all the loose ends up. “How long have you known me, Sarge? Longer than you’ve known Mogahan, even.” “Shut up!” Shrug this off and wink at the mug, that same wink between friends that we always shared at the poker table. C’mon, Kowalski, I laid down all the time and let you win for your stupid wink. The least that you could do is just ease up a tad for mine. Atta boy. “Would you mind telling me what this is all about, Lieutenant?” “Sure. In a minute. But I’ll let you know right now that you might want to call up everyone you know in other countries and ask them if they know any attorneys, because there isn’t a lawyer in America that would take your case now.” Tilt your head and smile at Kowalski. That’s it, Sarge; it’s me, your favorite poker patsy and source for good seats at the fights. “Is it okay if I have a cigarette, Lieutenant?” He waves the okay, Sarge, give me the cigarette. “I see from your suitcase that you are planning on going on a trip, Hank.”
“Only to Mexico, I just needed some time by myself to forget Lola.” “Who?” “Lola, Lieutenant.” “I don’t why you are bringing up your wife, because it sure as hell wasn’t her that you left in the house to die.” “Have you gone nuts?” I say as calmly as possible, and it takes every bit of strength to keep my hands from shaking as I light this cigarette. “I don’t know what you are talking about, honestly. I would have thought that you would’ve been a little more sympathetic. If you had lost Carol, do you think that I would be over at your house, talking crazy?” “Leave my wife out of this, Thompson…you think that I’m talking crazy, eh? Let’s try this on for size. Let’s say a good friend of mine goes loony because the Mafia wants his wife rubbed out. So he decides the best way to keep her alive is to make it look like someone has done her in, by having a woman that could pass for this wife’s sister or cousin, killed by a bomb. Are you with me so far?” “‘With you?’ I have no idea what you are talking about. Not only are we not on the same page, we’re not even in the same library. You must have had a suspect hit you on the head just a little too hard, because you are positively punch-drunk.” “Yeah, that’s right, I’m all slap-happy and you are as innocent as a newborn, but the fact is that you weren’t counting on a little gray dog throwing a wrench in your works. This poor woman that you left to be killed by the bomb in the house, Miss Ella Dumas, heard the whimpering of the wounded mutt. It seems that this dog was almost done in by a pack of coyotes, but he got away. Miss Dumas heard his cries and she went to check on him. That’s when the bomb went off.” “She was found the next morning by the groundskeeper up at the Bel Air Country Club.
“The Price of Perfection” The Club called an ambulance and it took her a whole day to regain consciousness. And then it took her another two hours to remember what happened.” “The thing is, good a detective as you were and as many enemies as you have made over the years, I didn’t think twice about your version of the events. They all seemed to fit. But when her story got back to me? It wasn’t that hard for me to put together the rest.” That’s right Mogahan, keep poking me in the chest, three more puffs of this cigarette and we’re all done. “I inquired as to whom Marty Martin’s mouthpiece was, and sure enough, you had been seen in that same country club that Miss Dumas was found at, pressing him on something. So I told Marty that his lawyer had been caught doing something wrong with someone not of age and that he was telling stories on Marty, to trick it out of him.” “I told Marty if he came clean before the lawyer finished his deposition, that I would put in a good word for him, seeing as all we wanted was you, Hank. He gave you up like a Catholic gives up meat on Fridays.” That’s right; poke me this last time because I’m poking back, Mogahan. “Where do you get off, shoving me like some two-bit hood in his first interrogation?” I step toward Mogahan and Kowalski grabs me…neither of them seem to have noticed that I have flung my cigarette into the wastebasket. Now the dash into the bedroom to draw them away. “Don’t make me shoot you, Hank!” I’ll just dive under the bed and make like I’m pulling a gunWow, I gotta hand it to Mogahan, he didn’t shoot me in the back and he waited until I turned around. That’s odd…I only heard one shot, but he put two slugs in me…the sting of a bullet from a friend can be the worst of all. “Jeez, Mogahan, I though you checked the
room for guns!” “I did! He didn’t have a gun! Damn it, Hank, what were you trying to pull?” Sniff-sniff. “You smell something?” “The trash can! He set it on fire, Kowalski! Put it out!” “Crap, Lieutenant, everything is ashes except for this train ticket to Florida! Is he still breathing?” “Only just, Kowalski, only just. C’mon, Hank, death-bed confession time.” “I don’t have anything to say with Kowalski here,” I sputter. It’s awfully hard to talk with a couple glasses of blood in your lungs. “You know me Thompson, if you say it to me, you can say in front of my partner.” “Mogahan, I’ve played poker with the two of you for how many years now? It was all over your face, you know damn well that you didn’t get all that information out of Marty Martin. You could hit him all day with phone books and billy clubs, but he didn’t cave under police pressure last time and he damn well didn’t this time, either. You know that Kowalski gave you all of that info, but what you don’t know is that he got it from the mob.” “What? Don’t kid around, Thompson, you don’t have that much time left-“ “C’mon, Thompson, where is she?!” “What are you doing, Sergeant? Get back!” “Get out of the way, Lieutenant, either he tells us where she is or there will be hell to pay for all three of us!” That’s right, Kowalski, keep arguing. I’m not long for this world and I know I’m going nowhere but down. I hope that Lola will be able to live off of that little Cayman Island account, and that maybe if I’m lucky in the distant future that they let angels have one-day passes to Hell.
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“Tired Blood” D
By KATHERINE TOMLINSON
o you know how old a vampire has to be before it begins to show its age? The one sitting across from me looked 60—silver-haired and still vigorous—but I knew he was much, much older. He’d told me once he’d been born into the blood when he was only 14 and that had been some time during the 50-year reign of Djer, back in Egypt’s 1st Dynasty. That made him something like five thousand years old, give or take a decade. He’d told me in his youth he had been beautiful as a woman, even before his transformation. I saw no reason to doubt it. Even now, even to my eyes, he was a handsome man. He called himself Haarith and the mayor called him “Harry” and the norms who did business with him addressed him as “Mr. El Gabri.” His children, who numbered around 1500, simply called him “father.” The cops called him “the Godfather” and kept a close eye on him. His clan was the largest and most powerful in the city and when the city had gone bankrupt, they’d bought Griffith Park and turned the observatory into their own private frat house. Haarith kept his children on a short leash but lately there were rumors that all was not well in the house on the hill. There’d been a series of murders in Silverlake that no one wanted to talk about until a fed-up cop sent me an anonymous e-mail with crime scene photos clearly showing the puncture marks. I’d broken the story on paracrime.com three weeks ago, scooping the smoking gun by publishing both the official and unofficial police reports. The
resulting controversy had landed me on Alexa. com’s list of 100 top-ranking sites in the United States, somewhere between QuizRocket and UPS.com. Best of all, the site was tracking way higher than the L.A. Times site, which had folded their para-crime coverage into the regular crime beat and downsized all their para-crime reporters, including me. Call me a sore winner, but it felt good. Haarith had asked for this meeting, and he’d shown up at the diner in full Godfather splendor, his Brabus Rocket driven by a hulking chauffeur who looked human and trailed by a pair of bodyguards wearing beautifully cut jackets with discreet lapel pins bearing the logo of Etebari Enterprises. A were family that had pioneered paranormal security, with offices in six US cities as well as London, Paris, Berlin and Beijing, the Etebaris were considered the best in the business. Haarith’s guards were brothers, so similar in appearance and demeanor it was hard to tell which one of them was the alpha. The diner cleared out when the circus rolled in, the other late-night patrons suddenly deciding they really didn’t need that last bite of pie. That was fine with me. Scared people do unpredictable things. Scared people can get you killed. Haarith waited until I’d been served a cup of coffee before getting down to business. Then he spoke without preamble. “Someone is trying to kill me,” he said. “Good luck to them,” I replied, stirring way too much sugar into my coffee to cover my surprise. I would have sworn that he wanted to
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talk about the Silverlake murders. “It would make a good story,” Haarith added. “Only if they succeed.” He studied me for a moment. “Do you think that’s likely?” I took a sip of my coffee and winced at the taste. “Depends on who it is.” “If you had to guess?” “Power play?” I suggested. “One of your children thinking maybe it’s his turn at the trough?” Haarith dismissed the possibility with a wave of his hand. “No.” I wasn’t surprised by his reaction. For creatures that live such a long time, vampires don’t seem to have much of a grasp of human nature. You’d think that self-absorption would pale after a few centuries, but no.
“No?” I asked, letting just a little edge of skepticism into my query. “You don’t have a single enemy in your family? Not many humans could say the same.” He didn’t like me being flippant and behind me, one of the bodyguards gave a low warning growl. I ignored it. The most dangerous predator in the room was sitting across the table from me and I wasn’t about to take my eyes off him. I don’t scare easily—you can’t work paracrime if you do—but Haarith scared the bejesus out of me. I’d met him when I first came to Los Angeles looking for my mother and her blood-father. My mother, I discovered, was long dead, but her blood-father was still around, angling for the job of Big Bite in a clan that was struggling for dominance in South Central. Sort of a Crips
“Tired Blood” versus Bloods thing. My mother’s maker had been a young vampire as their years are counted, his afterlife dating only from the 18th century. He mistook Haarith’s strategic wariness for fear and against the advice of his own godfather, led a splinter clan faction in an assault on the observatory. It was a bloodbath. Haarith had the survivors staked out on the observatory lawn to die as the sun rose. He sent me a video of it. Suggesting that I might take pleasure in watching the demise of the thing that took my mother from me and turned me what I am. I destroyed the tape without watching it. “More coffee?” Lost in my own thoughts, I hadn’t heard the waitress come up to the table. I noticed that she was blushing. I noticed she’d unbuttoned enough of her blouse to show cleavage. I noticed she was not looking at me. “Sure,” I said, and slid the cup over. She refilled it then retreated. Haarith seemed not to notice. In fact, he seemed distracted. He had a string of worry beads in his right hand and for a moment, he seemed to be mesmerized by the action of clicking them between his fingers. “Someone is trying to kill you?” I prompted. “Look,” he said, pulling off his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeve. His forearm was disfigured by an ugly burn scar, its center still raw. Despite myself, I was unsettled. Vampires heal fast as you know, and you get so used to seeing them with their smooth skin and unmarked bodies that any sort of flaw is shocking. “How did that happen?” I asked. “I don’t know.” He shot his bodyguards a venomous glance. “One minute I was getting in my car and the next, I woke up screaming in pain from the burns.” He pulled his sleeve back down as if disturbed by the sight. “Someone is trying to kill me,” he repeated. “Okay,” I said. ‘I’ll check it out. See what I can find out.” He didn’t say “thank you.”
Vampires rarely say “thank you” or “please” or any of the other magic words humans are taught to say when we’re children. I turned to signal the waitress for the check. She laid it on the table between us and smiled big in his direction. Haarith reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold coin, placing it directly into her hand, folding her fingers over it. “For you, my dear,” he said to her. “For your most attentive service.” She blushed deeper then, her face going so crimson I thought she might burst a blood vessel. I’m immune to vampire glamour, as all Begottens are, but she was giving off an almost visible cloud of pheromones. Her eyes watched him wistfully as he walked out of the diner and into the night. The bodyguards followed him and one discreetly dropped a business card in front of me as he passed. I picked it up. “Jon Etebari. Security Consultant.” A phone number with a 310 area code. I pocketed it as the waitress examined the coin Haarith had given her. “Is this real?” she asked, handing it to me. I looked at it. It was a Japanese two-yen coin, dated 1880. “Yeah,” I said, handing it back. “It’s real.” “Is it valuable?” “Yeah.” The last time a gold two-yen coin was auctioned off; it fetched more than 32 million yen, which works out to about $325,000. She looked at the coin and she looked at the check, clearly trying to figure out how to keep the coin and still cover the bill. I made it easy for her by pulling out a five and putting it on the table. I was pissed at having to pay for my coffee after Haarith’s grand gesture. Paying for small services in big gold coins was a new fad among the varistos, the vampire aristocrats who apparently didn’t realize that their ostentatious spending only fueled resentment among the humans who’d been hard-hit by the recession. Didn’t realize or didn’t care. I left the waitress fondling the coin. The
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darkness was a relief after the harsh light of the diner. I slipped off my sunglasses and looked around. Nobody else was in the parking lot. I took another look, looking closely at the shadows. Nothing. I always take that extra look around, to see if there’s anything lurking that shouldn’t be. I was busy the next few days. A shape-shifter hooker had been killed out in Calabasas and nobody could figure out if she was the target or if some deranged fan had wanted to snuff the woman she was mimicking, a sexy Oscarwinning actress. Everybody’s a critic. I finally called Jon Etebari to see if he could fill me in on what was going on with his boss. He said he had some things to tell me, asked me if we could meet. I swear, I don’t know what it is with the paras and face-to-face communication. It’s like they never heard of e-mail. I told him I’d drop by his office, an idea he quickly vetoed. Which meant Jonny was going to be telling tales out of school. Interesting. We met at a dog park off Beverly Glen. I found him playing with a happy little dog of indeterminate breed and extravagant fluffiness. “What’s his name?” I asked. “Killer,” he replied and grinned, picking up the wriggling dog one-handed and bringing it close to his face. “Who’s a killer? Are you a killer?” The dog licked his nose and he laughed, showing his teeth. Werewolves always have great teeth. “Actually,” he said, “his name is Oscar. Like the Muppet.” “I see the resemblance,” I said drily, because the dog was pretty much the least grouchy creature I’d ever met. I liked that he wasn’t embarrassed by the little dog, didn’t try to claim he was watching it for his girlfriend. “So what’s going on Jon?” I asked and watched as the lightness drained out of his face. He put the dog down and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I wanted you to see this.” He clicked a few buttons and brought up a
photo of Haarith on the screen. It was blurry, as all photos of vampires are, but even so you could see the hideous burn marks on his face and his arms. “He showed me his scars the other night.” “What you saw happened last week. This picture is from three months ago. It’s been happening a lot.” “A lot?” He nodded, looking at the picture again. “So, what do you think is happening/ “I think he might be …I think this is selfinflicted.” “Why on earth would he be doing that to himself?” He shook his head. “Something’s up with him. He’s been distracted lately. And he’s … is this off the record? “Sure.” My spidey sense started tingling. If he wanted this conversation off the record, he must be something really juicy to say. “He’s stopped playing chess with Ragno, says it bores him. He spends hours closeted in his office, says he’s writing his memoirs, but nobody’s seen any pages. He has trouble making decisions, even simple ones. Mickey’s been laying out his clothes every morning for weeks. Otherwise, he just wanders around in his pajamas.” Mickey would be Jon’s older brother Michael, who is, according to Google, in line to take over not only the business but the whole Etebari clan. “And what does Mickey think?” Jon made a sound that was not quite a growl. “Mickey thinks that as long as the checks clear, everything is fine.” I was surprised by Jon’s candor. Betas often butt heads with alphas but usually not in public and almost never in front of norms. And I was surprised by something else. There was genuine worry in Jon’s voice. “You’re fond of him.” “I feel sorry for him. Mr. B is running the whole show these days and he doesn’t even
“Tired Blood” pretend to care what Mr. El Gabri thinks.” And Mr. El Gabri doesn’t seem to notice or care either. Ah. Mr. B. That would be Lawrence Benbow, Haarith’s second-in-command and fondly known around town as “Leisure Suit Larry” thanks to his penchant for dressing like a 70s hipster. He often went for the full Cleveland, accessorizing his outfits with a white belt and white shoes. The bio on his MySpace page said he was born in 1830. My sources put the date some centuries earlier. He was a wolf in clueless clothing and didn’t want anyone to know his business. If he was making a move for a takeover, it could be bad news for Haarith and maybe for the city.. “Do you think Benbow would harm Haarith?” “No. He likes being Oz behind the curtain. He likes the idea of being able to blame someone else if anything goes sideways.” I was silent a moment, taking this in. “But Jon, still, WHY would he be hurting himself? To get attention? To gain sympathy? To make some sort of statement?” He shook his head. “You’re the reporter,” he said. “I’m just putting it out there.” His phone rang then. The ringtone was the chorus to Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Cute. He glanced at the caller ID but didn’t answer. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “Thanks for listening.” He whistled for his dog and the two headed for his car. I was surprised to see he drove a Prius. I started asking around. It turned out other people had seen the burn scars on his face and hands. I started hearing a lot of stories like the one the were had told me. Whispers that the Godfather was losing his mojo. Rumors that that Godfather was past it. Suggestions that maybe the Godfather had lost his mind. I didn’t really know what to make of it. And there And then I got a call from Jon Etebari. He didn’t
even bother to say hello. “How far are you from Hollywood?” He gave me an address and told me to meet him there as soon as possible, apparently mistaking me for a growl-groupie with nothing better to do. But he’d sounded tense, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and made the trip from my Studio City apartment in record time. I found Jon and his brother standing outside an elevator in the underground parking garage attached to a movie theater complex. The door was locked and Haarith was inside, apparently having figured out a way to lock it up. Mickey’s fists were bruised bloody from trying to break the metal door down. Jon was on his cell, talking to his boss, pleading with him to open the door. When he saw me, he said, “She’s here” into the phone and a moment later, the door to the elevator slid open a crack. “Just her,” Haarith ordered. Mickey and Jon exchanged glances. “I’ll be okay,” I said and slipped through the crack. If I’d had a muffin for breakfast, I wouldn’t have made it. The door slid shut behind me and Haarith hit the buttons to take us to the top level. I knew the elevator opened onto an open-air plaza without any shade and it was high noon. I reached over and hit “stop” on the control panel, bringing the elevator to a shuddering halt. “Why did you do that?” he asked plaintively. And then he looked at me more closely. ‘I’m sorry,” he said. “Have we met? I’m usually so good with faces.” “You know me Haarith. It’s Kira Simkins.” “Kira,” he mused. “No, I don’t know a Kira.” He moved closer and I realized he intended to bite me. I fumbled for the garlic spray I always carry and managed to spray it directly into his eyes. He staggered back, slamming into the control panel and resetting the stop button. The elevator lurched upward. “Don’t be like that Kira,” he coaxed. “There’s no reason to be afraid.” But there was. He
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lunged for me again just as the elevator came to a stop and the door opened. Off-balance, I fell into the sunlight and scrabbled backwards to put some distance between us. He said something then, in a language I didn’t recognize. And then he stepped into the sunshine as well. He looked startled as a horrific burn mark slashed across his face. He lifted his hands to shield his face and burns charred and bubbled the flesh of his fingers. The pain seemed to bring him to himself. He looked at me and for the first time there was recognition in his eyes. “Kira? What…?” And that was all he had time to say. They call it “going into the light,” a sardonic riff on the human near-death experience. It’s a popular form of suicide. It’s the way my mother died. But this was not suicide. And it wasn’t an easy death. He screamed at the last, a scream that wasn’t human. But then, he had not been human for a very long time. Jon and Michael arrived moments later, having run up the stairs from the basement. Jon looked horrified by what he saw, Mickey—alpha wolf that he was—quickly took charge. All that was left of the Godfather of Los Angeles was his suit of clothes and a pile of glittering, crystallized red dust. And his string of worry beads, cherry amber worn smooth by the incessant touch of his fingers. I picked up the beads and looped them over my wrist like a bracelet. Michael found a big black garbage bag from somewhere and we shoveled Haarith’s remains into that as the mall security guard kept the horrified and titillated onlookers a safe distance back. When it was done, Michael handed the bag to me. I tried to give it back. “Take it,” he said. “Someone’s got to go up the hill and give them the bad news.” “Are you serious?” Michael walked away without answering to have a few words with the security guy. Jon looked sympathetic. “I’m
sorry.” “How is this my problem?” “We can’t go up there. Bowman’ll will blame us for what happened.” “And that would be bad for business,” I said sarcastically. “It’d be bad for us.” He looked at the bag in my hands. “Why did he want to talk to you so badly?” I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “He didn’t seem to know who he was.” I thought about it for a moment. “But I can tell you one thing, he was surprised when he stepped into the light and it burned him. I think he’d forgotten that vampires can’t walk in the sun.” And the minute I said that, I knew it was true. We always hear about how vampire bodies can regenerate but nobody ever talks about their minds—what must happen to their minds after centuries and millennia of life. The symptoms had been there and we’d simply not recognized them because he wasn’t human and it never occurred to us that a vampire could suffer from dementia. In the end, Haarith El Gabri had forgotten himself and embraced the sun as a friend. I took what was left of him up to the observatory and was surprised when the new Godfather received me himself. Word travels fast. Someone had already told him about the gift I was bearing. He was already acting like the prince of the city. “So good of you to come, Ms. Simkins.” He held out his hand as if he expected me to kiss his ring. I couldn’t even bring myself to shake it. Instead, I thrust the bag at him and mumbled, “I’m sorry for your loss.” The insincere condolence sounded hollow in the cavernous entry hall. He didn’t move to take it, just smiled that creepy tele-evangelist half-smile that always creeps me out. “I’m told you witnessed Haarith’s death, is that true?” “Yes.” “A pity you could not have done anything to
“Tired Blood” prevent it.” I suddenly wished I’d just left the bag by the nearest dumpster, and had a little more insight into the Etebari brothers’ decision to bail. But I couldn’t let this portly sangsue see my fear. He still hadn’t taken the bag from me, so I dropped it at his feet. “Ragno,” he called out softly. The boy appeared out of the shadows. Dapper as always in the Eurotrash threads that made him look younger than his apparent age, Ragno was wearing sunglasses. That meant he’d been working near the big windows in the west wing, a place where sunlight always managed to leak in despite the blackout shades. He picked up the bag and whisked it away. The Godfather contemplated me with mock solicitude. ‘It’s a warm day. Might we offer you some refreshment?” “No thank you Godfather,” I replied, giving him his title without the respect that should have accompanied it. He clocked the attitude but let it pass. “Then we won’t keep you,” he said and turned away. Godfather of the city for less than an hour and Larry’s already using the royal “we.” I was almost to the door when Ragno called my name. I turned, surprised. He’d taken off his shades and I could see there was a red-tinged tear slowly rolling down his cheek. “Thank you for bringing father home,” he said, gazing soulfully into my eyes. I’m short, but he was only half-grown when he was born, so we were nose to nose. I had thought Ragno’s eyes were brown but up close they were the color of moss agates, a hazel shot with dark green and gold and … His voice snapped me out of my fog as he took my hand. “He was always fond of you.” He stroked a finger lightly across the back of my hand. His finger was warm, his skin almost hot to the … Warm???
I tried to yank my hand away, but he held it fast. I saw the glimmer of a smirk on his face. Ragno had been using his glamour on me and I had not been immune. The realization shook me to the core. And he saw the confusion on my face. This time the smirk became a smile. “I look forward to reading your story,” he said to me. “And I hope to see you again under more … pleasant … circumstances.” He bent forward and kissed my hand and just for a second, he let his teeth graze the skin. Then he released me. Outside, it was 98 degrees. The same temperature as blood. But I was chilled to the bone. It was only later that I’d noticed he’d slipped Haarith’s worry beads right off my hand without my noticing. I found myself wondering just how long Lawrence Bowman might reign over the city with Ragno at his back.
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A Herbert Smythe Adventure
“The Somnambulant Assassin” By Chris Dabnor
“The Somnambulant Assassin”
t is at the behest of Professor Hoyle that I began to transcribe the events that shook the socialite scene of London, that certain things might be clarified. I hope that you may also derive some enjoyment from my tale at the same time, but I must warn you, say my publishers, that it is a dark tale, a tale of villainy, deceit and forbidden arts, so, if you are of a weak disposition, I urge you not to read on. For those of you brave (or foolhardy) enough to continue, allow me to regale you with the tale of THE SOMNAMBULENT ASSASSIN. The story begins with me in my town house in London. I was in the drawing room, discussing my latest invention with Professor Hoyle, a friend of longstanding and a well respected resident at the British Museum . “And so you see, if I open the right hand valve, it extends the outer barrel, and if i open the left hand valve, it extends the inner,” I explained, twisting the wheels in turn. “What if you turn both at the same time?” “This device here,” I tapped a box underneath the main assembly, “prevents you from doing that, otherwise it could be problematic, as I have found to my cost.” “Ah, do you mind if I give it a try?” “Not at all, my dear professor.” I stood aside and motioned him towards the eyepiece. Steam hissed as he toyed with the mechanism. “May I be so bold as to make a couple of observations?” “Not at all,” I said, confident in my invention. “Firstly, with the lack of effort required to operate a telescope of this magnification, a steam powered one is somewhat redundant.” “Go on,” I said, a little reticently. “Secondly, the fact that the steam generator requires either a hand cart or rather cumbersome harness, whereas a mundane telescope can be stored easily about the person. And finally,
the steam from the engine obscures the view somewhat.” “Well, it’s a work in progress, I don’t expect to have all the answers at once,” I replied, a little testily, if I am to be honest. All too often, people fail to see potential in a design, even people as learned as the Professor. Before he could respond, there was a sharp rapping at the door. “Come!” I barked and my manservant Jarvis entered. A sturdy fellow of indeterminate age, his family had served mine for as far back as I could remember. “Sir, there is a gentleman to see the Professor. He claims to be from Scotland Yard and is demanding to see the Professor.” “Well then Jarvis, show him in,” I commanded. A short, ruddy fellow with a thick beard entered, flanked by two gentlemen in police uniforms. “Mr. Smythe, my name is Inspector Greaves. My apologies for the intrusion, but I’m afraid that Professor Hoyle is under arrest. Officers, take the Professor into custody.” “This is preposterous!” exclaimed the Professor, attempting vainly to free his hands from the two police officers as they cuffed him. “What am I being accused of?” “The murder of Lord Lionel Pettigrew,” replied the inspector. Both the Professor and I were shocked by this terrible news. “This is preposterous!” I cried. “The Professor and Pettigrew are close friends, why, only this very morning, the professor was telling me the wonderful job Pettigrew was doing in sponsoring the museum’s exhibition of anthropological curiosities.” “That’s as it may be, Smythe, but, according to witnesses, the Professor was the last person to see Pettigrew alive, and we found a blood stained antique knife, of the sort used by jungle explorers, in Hoyle’s quarters.”
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“The evidence may seem damning,” I said. “But I have no doubt that my friend is innocent and I will prove it to be so. Professor, do not worry, your incarceration will be but temporary.” “That’s as may be, Smythe, but for the time being, I must take the Hoyle into custody.” I watched as they took my friend away. Such an undignified exit. I ran to the window to see how he faired outside. People pointed and gasped as they saw him hauled into the waiting carriage. I had to clear his name. “Jarvis, prepare my investigatory tools! We must away to business!” “Very good, sir.” My steam carriage (a machine of my own design, I am pleased to say), squealed to a halt outside Pettigrew’s apartments in a cloud of steam. As usual, it attracted a large crowd, and with a flourish, I dismounted. Jarvis clambered off in a more ungainly manner, clutching my detecting bag. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to clear the name of Professor Hoyle of the British Museum,” I said, raising my hat slightly, before striding inside. Pettigrew had been found in his bed, and the bloodstains were still there. “As you can see, Jarvis, the attack was quite frenzied. Blood has sprayed across the bed and onto the walls. Each line,” I said, pointing to the flecks of blood on the wall, “would most likely indicate a slash of the blade. The fact that the top sheets are undamaged and tossed to the floor would indicate that the victim was awake at the time of the attack and therefore there is the possibility of him being able to defend himself. The professor is not the most robust of gentlemen and neither is he adept with a blade, whereas Pettigrew is quite the pugilist, and as such, I would expect there to be more signs of struggle. Instead, Pettigrew was only able to crawl a short distance before expiring, as indicated by the large blood stain here.”
“Very insightful, sir,” said Jarvis, somewhat drolly. “Thank you, Jarvis.” I began opening the drawers by the bed. “As I expected. Pettigrew kept a revolver in a draw next to his bed, yet was unable to retrieve it, or even reach the handle of the draw. Either the attacker was too strong for him, or the ferocity of the attack too overwhelming. Neither hypothesis sounds like our friend, the Professor.” “ Outstanding deductions , sir.” “So, if we can rule out Hoyle, we have to examine who else may have motive. Once we have established motive, we can begin to look for evidence.” Back at my house, I began to draw up a chart of associates of Pettigrew, both organisations and individuals. “Right, so, we’ll start with the Professor. Pettigrew sponsored his exhibition of Thugee artefacts. Who else was involved in the exhibition?” “I wouldn’t know, sir.” “It was a rhetorical question, Jarvis.” “Very good, sir.” “Dr. Haversham was Hoyle’s fellow curator for the exhibition. By all accounts a remarkable anthropologist. There are a number of students involved too, but I don’t have their details to hand. Pettigrew was a notorious gambler. I must get a list of his associates. Mrs. Pettigrew would stand to do well from his inheritance and the rumours are that she was involved with another man. A stable hand at Pettigrew’s country house, or so it is said, name of Arnold Butters. I think a simple burglary can be written off, as there was no ransacking of his apartment. That fact also leads me to disregard gambling debts as the motive - if our criminal was in the mind to collect money, he would have searched for valuables. Now, whilst Mrs. Pettigrew would lack the physical prowess to best Mr. Pettigrew, it is more than possible that the stable hand,
“The Somnambulant Assassin” spurred on by his lust for Mrs. Pettigrew, would act with the savagery and strength we witnessed. Plus, the stable hand would have ingress to the house provided by the widow Pettigrew. I believe we need to speak to this stable hand.”
at the knee. The navy did what they did with so many of us - tar the wound, fix on a peg and leave us ashore the next time we made harbour. I’d have been begging still if Mr.Pettigrew, God rest his soul, hadn’t seen me. See, my father used to work for the Pettigrews, before death took “Ah, the countryside. What wonderful him from us, and Mr.Pettigrew recognised me aromas assail the nostrils. Listen Jarvis, listen and took me under his employ.” to the birdsong. Whilst I do confess I am a city “Ah, allow me to explain the reason behind man, I do enjoy time in the country.” my visit. I am currently trying to clear my friend “Most pleasant, sir,” replied Jarvis and I do of the murder of Mr.Pettigrew. Your name believe he was smiling slightly. came up, because you were rumoured to be in “Ah, there we are, the stables. Excuse me! dalliance with Lady Pettigrew.” Excuse me!” At this, he scoffed. “Look at me! Do you “Yes, guv’nor?” Although his words were think she’d see anything in an old tar like me? respectful, I could tell by the tone of his voice And even if she did, I owe this family too much that the stable hand who answered was not to do anything to hurt them.” entirely pleased to see me. “Please accept my sincerest apologies, Mr. “I’m looking for an Arnold Butters,” I asked. Butters, it seems I have done you a disservice.” “That’s me guv’nor, Arnold Butters.” “Good day to you sir, I have work to do,” If the rumours were true of his affair and with that, he limped away towards the with Mrs. Pettigrew, then her taste in men stables. was nowhere near as refined as her taste in “May I say, sir, you were quick to accept his antiquities. He was a thickset fellow, with a scar reasoning,” said Jarvis, quietly as we walked back that ran down his face. He certainly looked a towards the steam car. dangerous sort. “Jarvis, do you honestly think that the attack “Could we talk somewhere in private? I need on Pettigrew was delivered by a one legged man? to discuss a matter that I’m sure you wouldn’t No, his sincerity, combined with his physical want prying ears to hear.” affliction are enough to convince me of his “If we must, but I must tell you I’m a busy innocence.” man.” As I was finishing my explanation to Jarvis, “Of course, of course, I’ll try not to keep a little peeved that he should think to question you too long, but this is a matter of the utmost me, we saw a black carriage approaching, drawn urgency,” I said, trying to temper my tone by two large black horses. somewhat. “I’m not sure I like the look of this, sir,” “Follow me then, sirs.” muttered Jarvis. As he said this, I realised my mistake. He “Nor me, Jarvis, nor me. Keep alert.” turned in an ungainly fashion, swinging his right “Sir! Look out!” Shouted Jarvis, knocking leg out in an arc. me to the floor. Fortunately for me, he had “Mr. Butters, your leg...” noticed the barrel of a rifle parting the curtains “Aye, I lost it at sea,” he said, pulling up his of the carriages window, and our mysterious trouser leg to expose a crude wooden prosthetic, assailant’s shot merely kicked up dirt behind us. “It was a wild storm and one of the mizzenmast “Quick, Jarvis, before he can reload!” broke, pulling tight a rope which severed my leg We were soon back up on our feet and
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running towards the carriage, but the driver had whipped the horses and it was pulling away. We leapt into my steam carriage and engaged its throttle. The chase was on! The carriage ahead of us bounced wildly down the rough country road, and, I have to say, despite my sophisticated suspension, my bones were being rattles by our pursuit. Jarvis had taken his blunderbuss from the back of the steam carriage and was taking aim. At this speed, it was a difficult shot, but Jarvis had become something of a marksman during his military service. He was almost unseated by the recoil of his firearm. His shot, however, was dead on, and he shattered the rear axle of the carriage. I shouted my congratulations over the noise of the carriage as I let go of the throttle and pulled on the brakes. We leaped down and ran towards the wreckage. I wrenched the door open, pointing my pistol through the opening, but it seemed it was not necessary. The two occupants - I assumed one the gunman and the other the driver, were thrashing around, white foam flecked with blood around their mouths. “Lye. There’s nothing we can do for them now. Our quarry is worried. I fear that Hoyle may be in danger.” My words proved to be prophetic. The Professor had received something of a beating. Fortunately, a fellow inmate had come to his aid, fending off the attacker, who later claimed not to remember a thing. Hoyle now sat in Inspector Greave’s office, staring balefully at the inspector. I passed the documents I had earlier procured to Greaves. He raised a monocle to his eye and examined them thoroughly. “This is most unusual. Most unusual indeed. Why would Palmerston have any interest in this?” asked the inspector, satisfied that the letter was genuine. “Palmerston is a good friend of mine, who I have previously assisted, and, when I presented him with the facts, he agreed immediately that
Hoyle must be innocent. Therefore, you are to release Hoyle into my custody, until such time as his innocence can be proven.” “It’s not for me to disagree with the Prime Minister. If Hoyle should escape, or commit further savagery, then on your head be it Mr.Smythe, I’ll have you as an accomplice.” “Hoyle is innocent, you’ll see. Good day to you.” And with that, we returned to my town house. The Professor and I talked into the early hours of the morning, on every subject but his case, it seemed. Finally, tiredness and the effects of the port we had been imbibing, we bid each other good night and retired to our beds. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought I heard the sound of primitive pipes being played, but I assumed this to be nought but my imagination. I was soon asleep. After a short while, I was awoken by a crash. I sat up and retrieved my gravity pistol from my bedside cabinet, quietly sliding the cartridge feed lever forward, allowing the first shell to drop into place. In nought but my nightclothes, I padded downstairs to find the source of the noise. I was dismayed to see Jarvis collapsed, clutching his head. A trickle of blood seeped between his fingers. “I’m sorry sir, he took me by surprise,” said Jarvis. “Who?” “Hoyle. He hit me with a saucepan. I think he’s... LOOK OUT! BEHIND YOU!” I whirled to see Hoyle, with a knife raised as if to strike. I sidestepped his clumsy blow, hitting the back of his neck open handed, in the Oriental style. He tumbled to the floor, snarling like an enraged animal. I leapt onto him, trying to hold him down. His strength seemed to surpass that of a normal man and he through me from him. He stared down at me, his eyes dull and listless, his face without emotion. He raised
“The Somnambulant Assassin” the knife again, and was about to bring it down, when once more, I heard the sound of primitive pipes. Hoyle turned and loped out of the door, ignoring Jarvis and I. “What’s got into him sir?” asked Jarvis. “I’m not sure, but I feel that the answer may be contained within that devilish music. Follow me, we must get to the bottom of this before Hoyle hurts anyone else, or even himself!” We ran down the street, following the sound of the pipes, the soles of our hobnailed shoes clattering against the cobblestones. We cried out Hoyle’s name, eliciting shouts of dismay from the inhabitants of the street. Eventually, we came to a house whose window was opened. From inside came crashes and screams. We made our way up the narrow staircase as fast as we could, crashing through the door from which the drama emanated. Inside, a gentleman a recognised to be Haversham, the curator with whom Hoyle worked, was fending the Professor off with a broken chair. A man dressed in the manner of a thuggee priest was urging him on. When he heard our ingress, he turned, a look of pure hatred in his kohl rimmed eyes. “What’s this?” he hissed, “One come to the rescue of these petty temple thieves?” “I know nothing of theft, these men are students of anthropology. What I do know of is murder and the arrest of an innocent man.” “We’ll see how far your belief in him goes.” The man then hissed something in a language I didn’t understand and Hoyle turned to face me. “Let’s see if you would sacrifice your life for your friend!” Hoyte raised a wicked looking blade and lumbered towards me. “Hoyle! For God’s sake man. Stop this madness!” I cried, but he didn’t seem to recognise me and swung his knife, catching my arm. A weaker, less stoic man may have faltered from the pain, but not I, I moved closer and
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ran him into the wall, knocking the wind out of reader, that I will once more be there to him or him. The priest leapt onto my back, scratching any other that would threaten our fair city. and biting. I leaned forward and propelled him to the floor. It was then that I noticed the glowing amulet around his neck. It had to be the source of his control over Hoyle, so I grabbed at it, snapping the chain. The thugee cried out in alarm, and I was able to fling him from my back. With one quick motion, he leapt out of the closed window, shattering the glass. I turned to Jarvis, who tossed me my gravity pistol, and ran to the window. Brushing aside the curtain, I looked down to the street, but of the priest there was nothing to be seen. “Smythe? Smythe? What’s happening here?” I turned to see Hoyle, looking dazed and lost. He stared at the knife for a moment, before dropping it disgusted. At least, I thought, he was out of his trance. “It seems, my dear friend, that you have been under the influence of some dark magic. That talisman on the floor seemed to have some power over you.” “How peculiar. It matches almost exactly a golden mask we have at out exhibition. I tried on the mask, to try and capture some of the feeling of the period, and remember feeling quite peculiar. I thought little of it, but maybe it forged some sort of link to that damned thing.” “Well, I’ll ensure it’s destruction. Hopefully you will be released from it’s vile spell. The only thing we have to do now is explain to the inspector what has occurred,” I said, fearing that particularly job would not be entirely simple. As it was, the Inspector was more reasonable than I gave him credit for, although the meeting between him and the Professor was terse to say the least. Of our shamanic friend, nothing further was seen, but on occasion I have heard the eerie sound of pipes drifting across the wind. During these moments, I have reached for my sidearm, fearing assault, preparing myself for the next time our paths should cross. Whatever hideous scheme he is working, rest assured, dear
“That Fateful Halloween”
The Black Spectre in
“THAT FATEFUL HALLOWEEN” Written and Illustrated by Roger Alford Born into a wealthy family, young Brent Gregor’s life was shattered one fateful Halloween night when an intruder’s bullets killed his father, put his mother in an asylum, and left him in a wheelchair. 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, which Gregor could summon 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!
rent Gregor had long dreaded Halloween. The holiday, if one could call it that, brought nothing but old, very painful memories of that night so long ago. The night that he never wanted to remember, but could never, ever forget. But this particular Halloween, as Brent stood on the downtown rooftop in the cold night air, things were different. For nearly six months earlier, in exchange for the ability to walk again, he had taken on a new guise -- that of The Black Spectre. In exchange for the simple joy of once again standing on his own two feet, of feeling like a whole man, of feeling stronger than ever before, he was forced to stalk the night and bring
justice to those who have none. It was a price he had been well prepared to pay. As he gazed down on the cold, bitter streets of Terminal City, his mind drifted elsewhere. He couldn’t help but wonder if this particular Halloween would be any different from the last fifteen. For as strong as he was physically, it was those terrible memories of that fateful night so long ago that still haunted him deep inside. Bernard Worthington, Brent Gregor’s dignified and faithful valet, sat in the long black car and tightened his thick wool coat around his neck in an attempt to escape the growing
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chill. It would take some more time to get used to nights like these. He wondered how Master Gregor withstood the evening temperatures as he prowled the rooftops above. He wondered even more if this nightly vigil would continue once winter had fully set in. Bernard was startled when he heard a small tap on the glass of his car window. His thoughts raced for a lie that he hadn’t been prepared to tell that would explain his presence. He’d been certain that he’d parked the car well enough into the dark alley so as not to be seen. He let out a quick sigh of relief as the dark figure with the gleaming skull mask peered inside. Mere seconds later, The Black Spectre climbed into the back seat and closed the door behind him. Worthington wondered if the cold had been too much for him as well, but he wasn’t about to suggest it. “You’re back earlier than I expected, Sir,” was
all that he could muster without being impolite. “I just can’t stop thinking about it,” Brent Gregor answered as he pulled off the hat and mask. “Please, take me home.” “Of course, Sir,” Worthington answered as he started the motor and put the dark-curtained automobile gear. Brent said nothing more on the long drive back to Lakeview Heights. Worthington checked on him via the mirror periodically. The troubled expression on his face said more than could ever have been spoken with words. As Brent Gregor’s trusted servant and the only “family” he had left, he’d hoped the young man would have found more than physical strength with his newfound abilities. Perhaps it would take more time, he thought. As they entered the upscale neighborhood, Brent finally spoke up again. “Take me by the Patterson House, please.”
“That Fateful Halloween” Worthington glanced back at him again, puzzled. “Are you sure, Sir?” “Yes,” Brent answered with reassurance. “I’ll be fine. But don’t park too close. Keep the car hidden.” Worthington did as instructed and steered the car the extra few blocks to the Patterson House, a large, old manor with an ornate porch that sat well off the street. The children of Lakeview Heights knew this house well, and it had been a ritual for as long as anyone could remember for all “Trick-or-Treaters” to visit it each Halloween. One by one they would each step up on the porch and stare into the smudged window on the front door to see if they could spot a ghost. Brent wondered if the children still did this. He quickly got his answer. As soon as they came into view of the house, he could see them lined up. And there in the middle of the group was the tallest child and ringleader, Julius Kennelly. Only this was Julius III, the son of his own youthful nemesis. Some things never change, he thought, as the memories of his own terrible initiation rushed straight back to him. Julius Kennelly II, then all of fourteen, looked at them, eye to eye, one at a time. Pointing at each one with his pirate sword, he asked, “So, who’s brave enough to go up there and look?” Young Brent, barely ten at the time, immediately knew that he wasn’t. He stepped quickly back behind the others so as not to be noticed. He hoped deep in his heart that someone else would decline, too, so that he would not be the only one. Julius was the first to look, of course, showing himself to be the bravest. One by one the other children followed and peered into the dark windows of the front door. Brent assumed that none of them saw anything, because they all turned away, giggling nervously. Still, that wasn’t enough to give him courage enough to do
it himself. His heart sank as the other two young children, Billy Wentworth and his little sister Abigail, perhaps more afraid of Julius than whatever ghost lurked inside that old house, stepped up on the porch and looked in as well. At last, it was down to just young Brent. He hoped that no one had noticed that he was the only one who had yet to look. But they did. “Well?” Julius asked him and tapped his sword in his hand. “You gonna do it or not?” Brent wanted nothing more than to race down the street, back to where Bernard waited for him by the car. He stared wide-eyed back at Julius. His pulse pounded. His lip quivered. The other kids stared at him, too, waiting. If he chickened out, he’d never hear the end of it. “Come on, you little baby!” shouted Julius. “Get up there!” Brent stood frozen in fear. He wanted to move. He wanted to do something. But he did not want to go up on that porch. He looked around for sympathy. There was none. “Come on, let’s leave the little baby by himself,” laughed Julius. “He needs to go home to his Mommy.” Julius started off, leading the other kids away. “Wait!” called Brent. Julius turned back around. This was Brent’s final chance. He looked up at the porch. He did everything he could to steel his courage and started down the walk. He gripped the tiny handles of his toy pistols. He knew they wouldn’t do any good, but it still made him feel better. He could barely feel his feet touch the cold sidewalk before he found himself take the first step of the creaking old porch. Before him, inescapable, was the large front door. The bottom half was solid wood, but the top half was split into two large windows of equal size. There would be no quick peek. He
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would have to look deep inside. Brent finally reached the door itself. There was just enough light from the gas street lamps to see into the front hallway. The inside was dark and littered with shadows. It still frightened him, but not so much as he had expected. He’d done it. Brent felt a quick sense of relief and was just about to turn away when something caught his eye. It was glowing and just appeared out of the darkness. Without thinking, he turned back to get a better look. It was a face. A woman’s face. She was in pain. He could have sworn she called out to him. “Help me!” With ghostly hands, she clawed for the doorway. Brent screamed at the top of his lungs and raced off the porch. He barreled straight through the gaggle of children, knocking some of them down in his wake. He could hear Julius’ laughter as he raced down the street as fast as his small legs could carry him. He didn’t know if he’d truly seen a ghost or if it had only been his imagination. But he knew he wouldn’t feel safe until he was home. Brent rounded the corner and felt a huge sigh of relief when he saw Bernard standing next to the long, black family car. He ran straight into the large Englishman’s arms with such force that it nearly winded the middle-aged man. Bernard looked down at his young charge, whose eyes were full of tears and whose body shook uncontrollably. “Why, Master Gregor,” Bernard asked. “Whatever is the matter?” Brent just shivered and held him tightly. Brent could still feel the clutch of Bernard’s grasp as he stood hidden in the shadows that overlooked the old house. He smiled for a moment at the memory of Abbie when they’d been so small. He had disliked her so much then.
How things changed. Looking back at the ritual that was repeating itself before him, he felt for the smaller ones that were bullied by young Julius III and thought that perhaps the apple could be swept away from the tree. As the younger Julius stepped first up onto the porch, as his father had done so many times before, Brent focused his gaze on the door and outstretched his hand. As soon as young Julius reached the door, it swung ferociously open. Something unseen and with a strange tingle grabbed him by the waist and pulled him inside the dark portal. The children stood silent with mouths open wide as the door slammed shut and Julius III found himself on the inside, pounding on the glass, trying to get out. The children screamed and scattered in every direction. None were left to witness the door swing back open and young Julius came fast behind them into the night. Brent chuckled to himself, then wondered with a sense of guilt if he had used the son to gain revenge on the father. But perhaps the next Halloween, young Julius and the other kids that came after him would think twice before bullying the smaller ones into looking inside. At least that’s what he told himself as he instructed Worthington to take him home. As they turned away from the Patterson House and drove the few blocks back to the Gregor Mansion, there were other, more painful memories that gripped the back of his mind. No matter how hard he tried to fight it, he was continually plagued by the images of what had happened later that same night, so long ago. When he walked back into the dark, empty foyer and looked up at the tall, winding staircase, it all came back to him. As if he were reliving it all over again. Nanny Miriam rushed quickly in to lead
“That Fateful Halloween” young Brent up the grand marble staircase that led to the second floor. Brent’s young mother, Sarah, rushed up to her son’s room, kissing his forehead and holding him tightly until he had fully calmed down and was ready for his bath. Brent’s mother was as beautiful as she was melodic, her auburn hair let down for the night and cascading across her shoulders. After Miriam had gotten him ready for bed, Brent hoped that his father would be home soon. Though he was safely at home and recovered from his ordeal, he wouldn’t feel truly comforted until his father was there with him. Brent followed his memories up the grand staircase and down the hall to his old room. He hadn’t been in there in years, but it was immediately obvious that Worthington and the other servants had kept it clean and maintained, as they had the rest of the house. As he peered at his small bed, he thought it looked just the same as he remembered. It seemed like only yesterday since he’d stayed in that room last. He wanted it to feel so much longer. Young Brent sat up in bed the moment he heard his father coming up the long, winding staircase and then down the hall. He knew his father’s footsteps -- quick and deliberate. Thomas Gregor was not a man who wasted time getting to where he was going. He was young and handsome, a man of courage and action. Everything a young son could dream his father to be. Though it was very late, Brent had resisted falling asleep before his father returned from work at the Court House. Brent’s eyes lit up when Thomas opened the door. He was tired, but smiling, happy to finally be home with his family. “Did you win your case to-day, Father?” asked Brent. “What are you still doing up?” Thomas asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound
disappointed. His relief to be home, in the comfortable arms of his family, was too great for him to sound truly stern at this hour. “He just couldn’t get to sleep before you got home,” Sarah Gregor’s soft, soothing voice chimed in behind his father. “He had a bit of a fright to-night.” Thomas brushed her tresses aside and gave her a soft kiss before going to Brent’s bedside. “Did you go with those kids to look at that old house?” Brent looked down, answering, “Yes, Father.” Thomas shook his head, but he more than understood the power of peer pressure. “It was that Julius Kennelly, wasn’t it?” his father asked. Brent hung his head again. “Yes, Father.” “Listen, Son,” Thomas told him. “Being brave doesn’t mean doing a dare just because some older child like Julius puts you up to it. Being brave is standing up for yourself. Not letting others push you around. Do you understand?” “Yes, Father,” Brent answered. “Well, I hope it didn’t frighten you too much.” “I saw something there, Father,” Brent told him. “Oh?” Thomas asked. Sarah perked up as well. She hadn’t heard this part of the story. “It was a face. A ghost. She cried out,” Brent told him. “Are you sure it wasn’t just your imagination?” Thomas asked, unconvinced. “I don’t think so. It looked real.” Whether it was real or not, Brent was certainly convinced. “I assure you, Son, there’s no such thing as ghosts. Now you need to go to sleep.” Thomas kissed his young son on the forehead then tucked him beneath the wool covers. “You can tell me more about it to-morrow. I love you, Son.” “I love you, too, Father.” Brent smiled. This is for what he’d been waiting. Now he could sleep soundly, comfortable and secure. Father was home.
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As Thomas stood at the door, he held Sarah and looked proudly at his only child. Brent’s young voice called out to him again. “Father, are there any ghosts in our house? I hear noises at night.” Thomas and Sarah smiled, then Thomas answered reassuringly, “I don’t think so, but it’s an old house, and if there are any ghosts, then they would all be family and they would be here to look over you, just the same as we all do.” Brent wished his parents good night then closed his eyes as his father pulled the door closed. “Not all the way, Father.” “Of course not,” Thomas replied. He stopped so that a narrow bar of light from the hall stretched safely across the floor to Brent’s bed on the opposite wall. “I love you, Brent. Good-night.” As he stood at the doorway for one last moment, it suddenly dawned on him that this was how the room must have looked to his father. Now finally able to stand again, he’d never seen the room from that vantage point before. It was like a glimpse into the past, into another body. A chance to see a brief part of his own past, but through his father’s eyes. Brent turned around to find Worthington standing dutifully behind him. “Are you certain you’re all right, Sir?” “Yes, Bernard,” he answered, though with not as much reassurance as before. “Just thinking.” Brent handed Worthington the hat and mask, then removed his cloak and gloves. “Please, put these away if you don’t mind. I’ll be in my study.” “Of course, Sir,” Worthington answered. *** Sadly, what Thomas and Sarah Gregor had not known was that there had been a ghost out that night. A frightening one. While they were upstairs tucking in Brent, they didn’t suspect that the ghost that was making his way through the
darkness across the mansion grounds. Neither they, nor their servants -- who had all retired for the night -- heard the breaking of glass in a distant, downstairs room as the ghost made his way inside. They didn’t sense the lumbering footsteps as the ghost wandered through the endless hallways to where a light shone down from the staircase. They had no idea he was there at all until they came downstairs and surprised them in the hallway. Sarah barely managed a scream before a large hand with only three fingers covered her mouth. The other pointed a gun to her head. Thomas had no time to react, even if there were anything he could have done, before the husky voice barked out to him in broken English, “In there -- if you wants her to live!” “Three-Finger Ned” Vogel shoved Sarah forward, pointing them both towards Thomas’ study. Moving into the dimly lit room filled with bookcases that stretched to the ceiling, Thomas was finally able to get a look at their attacker and assess the situation. Vogel towered over him and held his wife’s very life in his iron grip. He was a huge man with bulldog-like features, dressed in a dark coat that seemed to barely contain his bulky form. There was nothing Thomas could do at the moment except comply and pray for her safety. “Open the safe.” Three-Finger Ned’s instructions were quick and guttural. Thomas took one look in his wife’s frightened eyes and wasted no time in doing exactly as Ned ordered. He pushed aside the framed portrait that covered the safe and spun the dial as fast as he could. In seconds, the vault was open. He looked back at Ned, hoping to be rewarded for his obedience. “Empty it,” was the only response. Thomas looked frantically on the desk. He grabbed an empty portfolio from beside a swordshaped letter opener and scooped the papers and money inside with one quick motion. He turned back to Ned again, pleading with his eyes for his wife’s safe release. If only he’d had a weapon or some means to fight back. If anything were to
“That Fateful Halloween” happen to her or Brent, he thought, he would never forgive himself. Thank goodness Brent was upstairs asleep. Hopefully, he would stay safe.
servants were all downstairs in the far wing. There was no way to reach them. If anything was to be done, Brent would have to act alone. Brent rushed back to the top of the stairs. But Brent hadn’t been asleep. He had nearly He could hear the shouts of Ned and his father, drifted off when he’d been jolted awake by his broken only by his mother’s cries. mother’s stifled scream. He’d already faced one As Brent gripped the marble balusters of the terror that night, but that one was nothing banister, quivering from the sounds below, the compared to what had happened downstairs. words that his father had spoken just a short Whether the previous ghost had been real or while ago suddenly came back to him. “Being imaginary, he had no idea. But this one had most brave is standing up for yourself. Not letting definitely been real. others push you around.” As Brent stood at the top of the stairs and The man had a gun. That’s why Brent’s father stared down at the dark hallway below, all he couldn’t fight back. But Brent had something could think about were those terrible sounds his father didn’t. He had surprise. He had to be coming back to haunt him. Worse yet was the brave. He had to do something to help. If he still-stinging feeling of how helpless he’d felt. could knock away the man’s gun, his father could He’d wanted to save his parents, and yet knew fight. that there was little he could have done. He Swallowing hard and mustering far more was only a child at the time and completely courage than he’d done to step on that porch, powerless. The memory of it all sickened him. Brent crept quietly down the stairs. Careful not to be seen, he slid silently to the Worried and frightened of what could be suit of armor that stood sentry in the hallway happening below, young Brent crept to the top and quietly plucked the sword away from its of the stairs just in time to see Ned force his mount. It was much heavier than he expected parents into the study. Though he only caught a and he almost dropped it. glimpse, it was certainly long enough to see the Quickly, he moved to the open door of his gun in Ned’s hand. father’s study and peered inside. Just a few steps They needed help. And there was no one away, Ned stood there clutching his mother there but him. while his father bundled papers and valuables Brent ran quietly back to his parent’s into a portfolio. Once again, fear overtook him. bedroom and pushed open the large door. It He was ready to drop the sword and run. But his creaked just a bit -- enough to make him stop father’s words rang ceaselessly in his head. “Being and wait. But no additional sounds followed. As brave is standing up for yourself.” best he could tell, he was still safe. He rushed to the phone. He didn’t know The adult Brent walked slowly back down how to call the police, but he knew well enough the stairs towards the study below. With each to ask for the Operator when he picked it up. footstep his legs grew numb and plodding. He “Operator? Operator?” he whispered quietly, could hear each foot drop against the marble his small voice full of panic. surface, but could no longer feel the sensation as There was no answer. The phone line was they touched each step. His nightly duties long dead. over, the Spirit Force was leaving him, forcing His young heart raced, terrified and barely him to rest. He needed to make it downstairs able to think. Worthington and the other to the study where his wheelchair waited. No
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matter his fantastic abilities, he could never truly escape it. When he finally reached the dark-paneled room, he stared up at the tall ceiling and high bookshelves. How huge that room had looked when he was small. It still looked huge to him in his adult years. Feeling his balance give way, he reached for the wall to keep from falling. He shifted his weight towards his father’s large mahogany desk that sat there unmovable like a stone crypt. It was a just image, Brent thought, since his father had died upon it. He took another lurch forward and reached for the desk, hoping to catch himself and work his way around. But his strength had gone completely and he collapsed to the floor. He was helpless again. With no more time to think, young Brent
made one bold move. Raising the heavy blade above his head, he charged in as fast as he could. He swung the sword down onto Ned’s outstretched arm with the pistol. But the blade was old and was dull and it only managed to knock Ned’s hand down, the pistol still firmly in his grip. Ned shouted more in surprise than pain. Sarah Gregor dropped to the floor as Ned whipped around to face his assailant. Ned had already pulled the trigger before Brent’s young face registered in his mind. Both Thomas and Sarah’s cries were immediately drowned out by the sound of the gun blast. Brent didn’t even realize what was happening until the bullet ripped into his side and knocked him to the floor, stunned and bleeding. In the only moment available to him, Thomas Gregor grabbed the letter opener from
“That Fateful Halloween” the desk and lunged at Ned’s throat with all his might. But Ned was a formidable opponent and his deadly instincts were sharp and well-trained. The second shot hit Thomas clean in the chest. He fell almost in mid-air, slumping down face first on the desk. Instinct took over again as Ned pointed the gun once more at Sarah as she screamed and clambered for her husband. Without even thinking, he fired the gun a third time. The bullet threw her backwards as it grazed across her head. She crumpled to the floor in a hysteric bundle of tears, blood running down her beautiful, delicate face. Ned stared at her coldly, his large finger still on the trigger, taking in the realization of what he’d just done. He’d never killed a woman before. Or a child, for that matter. He hesitated, then lowered his pistol just a bit. Instinct told him that the threat was over. This had not gone at all as planned and there would be hell to pay. He scooped up the portfolio from the floor then leaned over Thomas Gregor’s lifeless body. “This is what you get for sticking your nose where it don’t belong.” Ned turned back to the door. Brent was lying there in a pool of blood, grasping his side. His face was turning pale. Approaching footsteps echoed down the distant hall. Maybe the kid would live, he thought. But if Ned didn’t move soon, there would be still more killing to be done. Ned returned to the prostrate corpse of Thomas Gregor. Young Brent watched in delirious confusion as Ned dipped a thick, stubby finger into his father’s blood and drew an “X” on the back of his shirt. Then Ned grumbled in his husky voice, “You been marked.” Ned rushed past Brent lying nearly unconscious on the floor and back down the hallway. He made his way back out the way he had come in. As he crawled out the window, he could hear the screams of the Servants as they
discovered the bloodbath he’d left behind. Worthington rushed into the study to find Brent still on the floor as he struggled to pick himself up. “Sir!” Worthington exclaimed and rushed to Brent’s side. Though no tears streamed down Brent’s face, Worthington could see them in his Master’s eyes and knew that the pain was not from falling. Not completely. Worthington lifted Brent up beneath the arms to get him in a sitting position. Though he was not a young man anymore, it was something he’d practiced many times over in the past several years. And each time he was glad that he still had the strength to do it. Seeing that Brent was physically well, Worthington grabbed the wheelchair and steered it over behind his employer. He lifted Brent again then pulled him up gently into the cushioned seat. “Are you all right, Sir?” Worthington asked again, dutifully. He tried not to think of what would have happened had he not been there. “I’m okay,” Brent answered quietly. “I think I’d like to just sit in here alone for a while.” “Yes, Sir,” said Worthington, then backed towards the open door. “If you need anything...” “Of course,” Brent replied, then gave a bit of a smile. “And Bernard, thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you here. It’s just great to have family nearby on nights like this.” “Always here to be of service,” Worthington reassured him, then closed the door behind him.
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“Toga Porn” WRITTEN By Joanne Renaud
ometimes it seems that everyone loves ancient Rome, like Coke or blue jeans. It’s been a popular literary setting since the Middle Ages. The Last Days of Pompeii, written by Edward BulwerLytton in 1834, is considered a seminal piece of historical fiction. Victorians were particularly keen on all things Roman, and loved paintings depicting that era. It was “exotic”; it provided a high-brow excuse for naked people, and it made for a sexy getaway from corsets, locomotives and Christian morality. These same Victorian “Roman” paintings were so well-known that they were often used as a basis for films during the 1920s and ‘30s. Cecil B. DeMille discovered that ostensibly historical movies, set during pagan antiquity, made for boffo box office, especially when they featured axe-crazy gladiators and hotcha empresses. You could fool the censors and get away with lots of sex and violence, especially if your characters wore togas! With the birth of the paperback book market in the ‘40s, writers who grew up with DeMille wrote suitably DeMille-esque historical novels about ancient times, ramping up the sex and violence by several more notches. And thus, the genre of TOGA PORN was born. This trend continued through the ‘50s, ‘60s, ’70s and ‘80s, with books ratcheting up the raunch until even Caligula might have blushed. Scantily clad femme fatales like Messalina, Poppaea and Cleopatra prowl through palaces while manly centurions and gladiators glare
at them lustfully or fight to death in the background. Naturally this says more about postwar American pulp fantasies than what life was actually like 2000 years ago, but when the art is this cool to look at, who cares? Even the worst paintings are a lot of fun to look at, with famous artists like James Bama, Bob Abbett and Manuel Sanjulian contributing
covers to various toga porn potboilers, with countless other covers created by artists who remained completely unknown and uncredited. Messalina is a fun, trashy bodice (or stola) ripper by Jack Oleck, a Silver Age comic book writer who worked with the great Jack Kirby. Besides scripting for Foxhole and DC, he wrote a few novels on the side. He really struck gold with Messalina in 1959- the book went through many reprintings throughout the ‘60s, with new cover art every time. My personal favorite is this wonderful cover by James Bama-- who, hilariously enough, is better known for his paintings of cowboys. Here, Messalina is not
only into whips, she’s clearly having lunch in the middle of the Forum. Like you do... Here’s a little-known romp, published in 1982 by the equally little-known Jack Mertes. It’s another “naughty empress” book, which in itself is a subgenre within the toga porn category. A better title of this particular epic would be Poppaea does Rome. I don’t know who did the cover- there’s no credit anywhere in the book- but it’s a nice painting, with lots of well done, if completely random, details. (For example, note the parrot and the Mycenaean vase in the foreground on the front cover.) I especially love how the heroine’s hair-- described as ‘amber’ in the book—is painted the color of strawberry Kool-Aid.
Another naughty empress book! Messalina, as you can tell, has an evergreen appeal. Pagan Empress was published in 1964 by Midwood Tower books, which specialized in sleaze. You’ve got to love the gladiators fighting over the blonde chick sporting an unlikely amount of blue eye shadow, and an equally unlikely outfit. Apparently in the book, though, Messy wears even odder costumes: At first he thought a gladiator stood there in greave and mail and subligaculum. Then he saw the heavy breasts pushing naked about the leather strap that held the mail sleeve, the gently rounded belly with its deepset navel, and
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the somewhat heavy thighs. It was Messalina, dressed as a secutor! Remember kids, if it’s got Latin in it, it automatically makes it classy!
And here we’ve got Cleopatra, circa 1962! This novel, with its cover by Bob Abbett, would have been considered more “respectable” than anything from Midwood Tower, as it was published by Dell and written by Noel Gerson, a veteran author of various frothy historicals. Julius looks like he’s telling Cleo something very important, perhaps advising her to invest in mutual funds, but clearly she is thinking: “Mutual funds, ha! I am Egypt! I worry not about such things!” I find it interesting that Abbett’s version of
Cleo doesn’t resemble Liz Taylor in the slightest (the filming of Cleopatra was getting a lot of publicity at this time), but instead looks almost exactly like Joan Collins from Land of the Pharaohs. I’m not sure what actor Julius looks like. Lee Marvin?
“Great Nero will sing!” someone cried, and hundreds of half-naked men and women stopped fondling to listen. Yes, everybody loves Nero! As you can tell by the cover. Nero is one cool cat, surrounded by dozens of adoring fangirls (the image seems a touch racier than usual for 1961). The centurion looks rather sad, though, as if he wants to be Nero too, or at least join the party. Sorry, pal;
“Toga Porn” there can only be one, and like the Beatles, he’s bigger than Jesus! As the man himself says: “I shall erect a great temple for worship of myself,” Nero declared. “Then these other foolish gods will be forgotten.”
to the next, and who is eventually reunited with her True Wuv just as Vesuvius blows its top, it’s more amusing than most books of this type. As usual, Sanjulian does beautiful work, although the heroine looks like her neck has just been broken—perhaps by the raw, throbbing power of the centurion’s passion? As you can see, anything goes within the scorching, magnificent empire of lust that was ancient Rome--from orgies to gladiators to whip-wielding imperial nymphets. And so that glorious time will live on in the overheated imaginations of authors, who seek to leave behind their mundane lives and take their readers into the throbbing heart of a vanished realm.
In Nero’s empire of lust, her body was her only weapon! And last but not least, we have The Ravishers, with cover art by Manuel Sanjulian. Although The Ravishers (written by Virginia Coffman, under the name of Jeanne Duval) is a stereotypical 1970s stola-ripper about a luckless girl who bounces from the bed of one emperor
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The Many Worlds of Wold Newton:
How the Farmer Grew a Universe WRITTEN by Henry covert
ast issue I attempted to explain sci-fi maverick Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton concept. A quick recap: Farmer used the real-life 1795 meteor crash in Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England as a springboard to tie together his favourite literary and pulp characters into one massive family tree, using the conceit that the meteor’s radiation affected a phalanx of coaches passing nearby, mutating the passengers and their offspring, who then intermarried, reinforcing the benign mutations. Thus followed a procession of extraordinary descendants - heroes, villains, and otherwise exceptional individuals. This was the Wold Newton Family. Mr. Farmer introduced this conceit in his two classic “fictional biographies”: Tarzan Alive
(1972; henceforth ‘TA’) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973; hence ‘DS: HAL”). By weaving so many legendary literary figures into one rather complex tapestry as the Wold Newton Family (henceforth ‘WNF’), Farmer forged a realm of near endless possibilities. The extended WNF was certainly the crux of this shared universe, but Farmer expanded his milieu further in several works of short fiction and a handful of novels. Farmer apparently enjoyed his delightful conceit so much that he began writing original stories featuring the characters in the WNF - in pastiches(disguised, parodic, or “unauthorized”) and “authorized” (approved by the owner of the character/ “property”) works alike. The
How the Farmer Grew A Universe canonical/ “authorized” work versus pastiche debate is a topic best left to future articles to explore, as it remains a hot button topic with certain literary purists. Which is only apropos, as Philip José Farmer has fearlessly courted controversy throughout his career. Mr. Farmer used pastiche to cross over characters that could be found on his Wold Newton ‘world tree’, his Yggdrasil if you will. Characters whose trademarks and copyrights prohibited their appearance side-by-side nonetheless teamed up in several of Phil’s WN stories. Many of the WNF characters were in the public domain already, which freed up PJF from many of these concerns. Alas, Tarzan and Doc Savage, the linchpin characters (arguably along with Sherlock Holmes, who did lie in the public domain) of the WNF, were still owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ estate and Conde Nast, Inc., respectively. Thus began a cycle of Tarzan and Doc Savage pastiches that took the characters into realms their creators and readership would likely have never dared imagine. Most notorious in this cycle are the stories chronicling the antagonism, and then alliance, between Tarzan and Doc Savage analogs Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban, respectively. In these tales, Farmer posits his Lord Greystoke and Doc Savage surrogates as halfbrothers, sons of Jack the Ripper and grandsons of XauXaz, the “real-life” basis for the Norse god Odin/ Wotan, and one of a sinister group of Nine immortals who manipulate Grandrith’s and Caliban’s lives until they turn on the Nine to stop their dark schemes. The books in this series are: A Feast Unknown (1969), Lord of the Trees, and The Mad Goblin (both 1970). There was an intended fourth installment that remains unfinished, but the 12 page chapter PJF did complete can be found under the title “The Monster on Hold” in the anthologies Myths for the Modern Age
(edited by Win Scott Eckert) and Pearls from Peoria (edited by Paul Spitieri), both listed as recommended reading last issue. It is interesting that the Grandrith/ Caliban novels saw print before TA and DS:HAL, as though Mr. Farmer was warming up with the purported “real” Tarzan and Doc, in order to tell the real “real” stories of their lives (confused yet?). The Grandrith/ Caliban stories are incompatible with the WNU Tarzan and Doc, whose lives and character Farmer had so carefully delineated. Grandrith and Caliban cannot be John Clayton and Clark Savage Jr.. That said, there are open spaces in some of these novels to allow the possibility of Grandrith and Caliban existing in the WNU alongside Greystoke and Wildman. Wold Newton scholars Dennis E. Power and Brad Mengel have both explored the possibility in well-reasoned essays. Farmer, in any case, had much more to say about the two iconic characters, especially John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. Lord Tyger (1969) features Greystoke analog Ras Tyger, another child of English nobility raised in the jungle from infancy. The terrible twist is that Ras’ entire life was one huge experiment by a wealthy Tarzan-obsessed madman essentially asking, what if you could ‘create’ a Tarzan under similar conditions - regardless of the consequences? PJF went even further afield from the WNU and into surreal parodies of the superheroic cousins, In “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod”, a Tarzan tale written as though it was penned by a different Burroughs - not Edgar Rice, the pulp romanticist, but William Seward, the beat iconoclast. “The Savage Shadow” chronicled the adventures of Kenneth Robeson (in real life, the “in-house” catch-all pseudonym for authors of Doc Savage and the Avenger; Lester Dent actually wrote the bulk of the Savage “), as he “crossed over” with Maxwell Grant (house
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pseudonym for authors of the Shadow), with their exploits providing the basis for their fictional creations - who also, within the story within the “Savage Shadow” story, had nonlitigious pastiche names - Savage’s being ‘Doc Fauve’. The density of these recursive storieswithin-stories stretched across a vein of reality, with multiple subtexts (and puns - for Phil is ever the literary trickster) - these constitute metafiction as the term has come to be used in Woldnewtonry. For if Farmer the trickster could hoax the world, however briefly, into really, truly believing John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, actually walked among us - then this Coyote/ Loki (PJF riffs on the latter throughout his ouevre) of speculative fiction could easily use every trick in the metatextual book to entice us into his worlds-within-worlds, no matter how dense those worlds became. Shortly after DS: HAL, Farmer shifted gears away from his more audacious pastiches of his beloved pulp and literary heroes and began using the “real” characters in stories that supported and complemented TA and DS: HAL - thus building in earnest what we now know as the ‘Wold Newton Universe’ (this phrase was coined by Win Scott Eckert; henceforth ‘WNU’). Being that many of the characters PJF used were disguised for legal reasons, one could argue that all of Woldnewtonry itself is one huge pastiche. Which in no way detracts from its brilliance. Farmer began producing a large body of work - novels and short fiction - taking place within the WNF framework set forth in TA and DS: HAL. The first of these to see print was the 1973 novel The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, arguably the first WNF crossover. Farmer had established the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days as a member of the Wold Newton Family in his faux bios.
In Other Log, PJF utilizes his Wold Newton trope of telling the “true story” behind Fogg’s eighty day sojourn. It pits him against Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, who Farmer revealed in DS: HAL as Fogg’s half-brother (their overly amative father, Sir William Clayton, also sired arch-villain Fu Manchu, among many others). This tale cements some of Farmer’s (and Holmesian scholar H.W. Starr’s) speculations from DS: HAL, including their controversial contention that Moriarty was also Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo! Or, a Captain Nemo, at least. In Woldnewtonry, you’ll find that there may have been a few men operating under that pseudonym. Verne himself was guilty of some discrepancies about the character between his appearances in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island. The Nemo/ Moriarty supposition leads us to another convention Phil established from the start in Wold Newton studies, that of character conflation. This is where two or more characters seem so sympatico to the Wold Newton scholar that, in the spirit of Occam and his razor, they are revealed to all be the same “real” person, under different guises or simply referred to pseudonymously by their chroniclers to further cloud the path to their true “true” identity. There are conflations that seem a stretch to some, but can be rationalized, such as Starr’s and Farmer’s Nemo/ Moriarty amalgamation. There are instances where, upon closer examination, there are two many conflicts between the conflated characters’ chronologies and origins for it to work. The blueprint of the latter was Farmer’s contention in TA that the characters G-8, the Spider, and the Shadow were all in fact the same schizoid crimefighter. PJF reconsidered his position on this, and in DS: HAL, he establishes these characters as three separate individuals, albeit closely related on the Wold Newton family
How the Farmer Grew A Universe tree. Conflation occurs a good bit in Farmer’s WNU essays, and it’s been utilized extensively by Phil’s heirs, the current crop of Wold Newton scholars. How it is used, and how often, is just as controversial today to many in the Wold Newton scene as it was when Starr and Farmer’s theories rattled and rankled the Baker Street Irregulars. Which leads us to the paradigm of conflation in the WNU, upon which much of Farmer’s theories regarding Tarzan and Doc Savage pivot. Starr and Farmer worked through the Holmes Canon, and found connections with the Greystokes. In the first two addenda to Tarzan Alive, their findings reveal, firstly, that Tarzan’s grandfather, the fifth duke of Greystoke; John Clayton, the hansom cab driver from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles; and Sidney Trefusis, the protagonist of George Bernard Shaw’s novel An Unsocial Socialist, were all the same man. Secondly, of Clayton’s two sons, one was John Clayton II, Tarzan’s father; and one was a man who figured in two of Sherlock Holmes’ cases. In The Adventure of Blanched Soldier, Watson refers to him as “the Duke of Greyminster”;and, in The Adventure of the Priory School, as “the sixth Duke of Holdernesse”. The sixth Duke had an illegitimate son, who Watson calls “James Wilder”. Pulp writer Lester Dent called him “Clark Savage Sr.” His real name was James Clarke Wildman, and went on to father James Clarke Wildman Jr., who Dent calls Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. And so, perhaps the most important of Farmer’s original tales set in the burgeoning WNU was a tale of Lord Greystoke himself this time, no pastiche, but the real deal. The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1974) was the first team-up ever of WNF cousins Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. This was the second major story set in the milieu Phil had created - which we now know as the Wold Newton Universe -
and it was a chance to “prove” some of Farmer’s speculations from TA, such as the ones above, by weaving them into the story. In Peerless Peer, Farmer also crosses Tarzan and Holmes over with the Shadow for the first time by using pastiche in the way it’s most often applied in Woldnewtonry these days - disguising the character to avoid legal wrangles (Kent Allard, the Shadow, is known as the aviator ‘Kentov’). Unlike Phil’s earlier Tarzan and Doc pastiches that veered wildly off course from the universe he was cultivating in TA and DS: HAL , he now uses more subtle clues indicating the pastiche character actually “is” that character he/ she resembles. Whereas Farmer first used pastiche to radically deconstruct the pulp hero mythology he was weened on, from TA and DS: HAL onward (for the most part), he used pastiche of such characters simply to disguise characters he didn’t have legal access to. This aided him in fleshing out the world he’d created in those two books, and in populating their amazing family trees. Kent Allard also makes a subtle appearance, alongside Doc Savage, in Farmer’s Nebula-nominated short story “After King Kong Fell” (1973), which, through the connection with the two, adds Kong to the universe the WNF inhabits. The crossover between characters who share WNF roots and those who simply co-inhabit their universe, was established by Win Scott Eckert on his massive Crossover Chronology as a major linking device to establish other characters as sharing the WNU. Philip José Farmer birthed the Wold Newton Universe; thus, it was apt that he told its first tales. These stories were a way for PJF to further his own WNF theories from TA and DS: HAL; to explore characters he had placed on WNF tree; and to add characters to his growing universe. The aforementioned Adventure of the Peerless Peer, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg,
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and “After King Kong Fell” are the earliest examples of this. These stories strengthened the metafictional milieu in which Farmer gleefully - but respectfully - deconstructed the sacred canons of his beloved fictional characters. Many genre authors and fans still label such an exercise - indeed, at times, all Woldnewtonry - as heretical. I could not disagree more, for reasons that I’ll explicate on in future issues. Next Issue: The Tree the Farmer Grew... Recommended Reading, Part Two: Venus on the Half Shell and Others by Philip José Farmer (edited by Christopher Paul Carey, Subterranean Press, 2008; essential volume collecting all of the stories Farmer wrote under the guises of fictional characters - even his own. The vast majority of these tales are set squarely in the WNU, most notably the original Tarzan-Holmes version of The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (with Phil writing as Dr. Watson). Unfortunately, none of the following titles are currently in print, but I’d be remiss in not recommending them here. The proverbial eBay, Amazon.com, or used bookstore hunt should yield copies, however. One certainly must do their homework in studying Woldnewtonry but the reading is never dull. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould (1962; most recently reprinted in 1995) This “fictional biography” of the Great Detective started it all - for Mr. Farmer and so, for the rest of us. The Other Log of Phileas Fogg by Philip José Farmer (1973; most recently reprinted in 1982) A Feast Unknown by Philip José Farmer (1969; most recently reprinted in 1996). As previously noted, this is not widely seen as taking place in the WNU proper, but there have been compelling arguments for its inclusion. Regardless, a fantastic read, but most definitely
“Adults Only”. Errata: Last issue, I stated that Philip José Farmer won “a prestigious Nebula Award in 1953 as “most promising new writer” for his story (later expanded to a novel) “The Lovers”. As avid Farmerphiles quickly pointed out to me, Mr. Farmer in fact won a Hugo Award for “The Lovers”, for Most Promising New Talent, to be more exact than my original wording. PJF did later win the Grand Master Nebula Award in 2001. The sad thing is, not only did I in fact know this, but to make my error even more egregious, I have actually held said Hugo in my own two hands in the Farmers’ basement, as the photographic evidence below can attest: I’ll do my best not to get Mr. Farmer’s many well-deserved awards tangled up in my brain in future columns. The Many Worlds of Wold Newton, its complete text and accompanying illustrations (unless noted otherwise) are Copyright 2008 George Henry Smathers Jr.
“It All Comes Out in the Wash”
“It All Comes Out in the Wash” WRITTEN by shane mullins
here was nothing Maura hated more than removing someone else’s dryer lint before she put her own clothes in the machine. She knew it was clean, but peeling the compacted softness off the lint screen seemed like a shockingly intimate act, like peeling dead skin from someone else’s sunburned shoulder. Maura pretty much hated everything about apartment living. When she was married to John (damn his eyes), their home had been a lovely California ranch in Burbank, with Japanese magnolias and oleander trees in the front yard. Now her living room overlooked a street used as a shortcut by drive-time commuters. The noise and clamor of their passing filtered through the poorly glazed window like an infection seeping through a gauze bandage. Her place always smelled, too, despite her constant cleaning. The neighbors on one side of her were heavy smokers, and the cheap plaster of their shared wall absorbed the acrid fumes and sweated them out into Maura’s breathing space. On the other side was a family from Sudan who insisted on cooking their native dishes, odiferous stews of lentils and spices; entrees of fish with peculiar green sauces that reeked of cabbage. The woman of the household (probably the wife, but you never know with these people) frequently
brought her containers of the food, holding out the congealed messes with a timid smile and friendly eyes. She always seemed hurt when Maura refused to take them (God knows what she puts in there to make them smell so rank. For all I know, she’s trying to poison me so her family can move into this apartment.) When she’d been married to John, Maura had cooked every meal from scratch, elaborate feasts that showed her husband how much she loved him. She was a good cook too, though over-fond of cheese sauces and rich desserts. Maura didn’t cook much for herself these days. There was never enough time (so much to do) and anyway, it was no fun cooking for one. She ate instant oatmeal and ramen noodles—cheap filling food that never tempted her to overeat. Since the divorce, she’d lost the weight she’d carried around during her marriage, got rid of it like a dress that had gone out of style. (John will be so sorry when he sees how thin I’ve gotten. He’ll be sorry he called me a big fat pig.) She didn’t miss doing John’s laundry at all. The skid-marks in his briefs, the yellow sweat stains on the armpits of his sleeveless undershirts. He called them “wife-beaters. He thought that was funny. He’d covered up his nasty underwear with crisp Egyptian cotton shirts and
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tailored Italian suits. But she’d known what was underneath. (He could fool the rest of them, but he couldn’t fool me.) Near the end of their marriage he’d begun using a laundry service, as if having her touch his clothes was even too much intimacy for him. She’d stopped washing her own clothes then, because really, what was the point? Since she’d moved to Panorama City, though, she’d gotten back in the habit of doing laundry again. It got her out of the apartment at least once a day. That was important because if she didn’t get out once a day, she felt like she might (go crazy) explode with cabin fever, She didn’t like running into her neighbors, who always wanted to talk to her about some trivial matter or another. (Why are these people so concerned with what I’m doing? Don’t they have lives?) She mostly did her laundry after midnight, avoiding the elevator and taking the stairs to the basement. The place was always filthy. Her neighbors were careless, leaving their clutter behind for her to deal with. She’d found many socks separated from its twins, a pair of bikini panties with a torn lace crotch. She didn’t like to think about how that lace got torn. (Slut!) She found chewed-up dog toys and discarded fotonovelas and once, a cheap plastic watch missing its minute hand. Maura threw it all in the garbage bin provided by the management, shaking her head. No one ever cleaned up after himself. She thought it was rude. Most nights she washed her underwear and her bedclothes and her towels but when she ran low on quarters, she decided it would be okay to just run the underwear through. (Did the UPS man take the quarters when he brought that package in the apartment for me? They were just lying in a bowl on the table. He must have seen them and scooped them up. I thought he was being a little too helpful.) She’d brought a book to read because she never left her laundry alone, (Some pervert
might steal my bra. Or slice my panties to ribbons. Someone might put ground glass in my socks. It’s been known to happen) One of the bulbs in the caged light fixture was burned out and the remaining two weren’t strong enough to illuminate all the corners of the room. (Creepy.) Maura’s annoyance level rose. She had trouble reading in dim light and now she’d just have to stare into space for the hour and 15 minutes it would take to finish the wash/ dry cycle. (Would it kill the owners to hire a maintenance man?) With a long-suffering sigh, Maura yanked open the lid of the only working washer in the room. (How many notes have I left on these washers? Maybe I should have written them in Farsi. Maybe then the owners would get someone down here and fix the stupid washers.) Much to her disgust, the only working washer was already filled with sodden clothes. With a sigh, Maura began pulling them out of the washer, dropping them on the dust-covered lid of the broken washer next to the one she was using. Each item of clothing hit the metal with a satisfying, meaty PLOP. (Men’s clothes. That figures.) A faded denim work shirt was tangled in the agitator mechanism. Maura had to twist and pull at the shirt. (Damn thing is jammed in there good.) Even though she was careful, she heard the fabric tear. (Oh great.) She pulled the shirt free and that’s when she noticed the stain. A huge irregular patch of dark brown. (Oh my God. That’s blood!) She smoothed out the shirt for a better look. (Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I know this shirt. It belongs to the guy in 307. He wears it tucked into tight jeans that show off his ass.) The stain covers the whole front of the shirt, with splatters down each sleeve. Now she looks over at the pile of dripping clothes. Sees a pair of jeans. In the murky light, she can’t really see anything on the dark, wet denim but it seems like she can smell the blood on them, the salt
“It All Comes Out in the Wash” metallic scent only slightly diluted by the washwater. (Oh my God. He must have killed his girlfriend. He must have seen her sitting around the pool, showing her breasts to everyone like a prostitute advertising her wares. There’s so much blood. He must have used a knife. Who would have thought she had so much blood in her, skinny as she was.) Maura panics when she hears the sound of the elevator arriving in the basement. Footsteps echo in the cold, cement cave of the parking garage. Footsteps coming toward her. She is trapped. But she is not helpless. Maura never leaves her apartment without an eight-inch carving knife, the one with the serrated blade she bought at Williams-Sonoma when she was still married to John. (You can’t be too careful these days. John thought I was paranoid but he has no idea.) Maura recognized the guy as soon as he stepped into the room. It was the guy from 307. (The one who never holds the elevator for me. The one who punches the “close” button even if someone’s coming.) He looks at the jeans in her hands, puzzled, then angry. He steps toward her. Maura drops the jeans, raises the knife. She plunges the knife into his chest, missing bone on the downswing and burying the blade in his soft gut. (Been awhile since you did any sit-ups hasn’t it? Bet it was hard getting into those jeans without lying on the bed to yank up the fly. Bet she told you you still looked sexy. Bet she said she didn’t mind your love-handles. That’s what we all say. But we lie.) It took the guy awhile to die (what is his name anyway? Tad? Todd? Orson?), but as he is thrashing and moaning, Maura calmly finishes her laundry. (Such a damn whiner. He can dish it out but he can’t take it.) When she is done, she goes back up to her apartment with her clean clothes. She leaves the knife in his body. She isn’t squeamish but (it’s ruined now) she doesn’t want to get her hands dirty picking it up. Maura calls the police as she has her
underwear folded. At first she can’t get anyone to take her seriously. She’s called them before. On numerous occasions. Usually to report one of her neighbors for engaging in terrorist activity. When she mentioned the dead body, though, they decide it might be worth sending a car by. It’s a slow night. The young cops responding to the call split up at the entrance. One comes upstairs to talk to Maura, the other heads for the laundry room for a look-see. The young officer talking to Maura is very polite. When his partner radios him that he’s found something, the cops ask her to sit quietly on the couch while he conducts a search of her apartment. (He’s surprised the place is neat. God knows what kinds of hovels he has to enter on a regular basis. People just have no pride in themselves any more.) The cop finds Maura’s meds in the bathroom, which is as sterile as an operating room. He asks her how long it has been since she’s taken her pills. (What an impertinent question!) She tells him it has been a few days but she really isn’t sure. The pills make her sleepy, she says, and make her hungry. (Maybe he’s hungry? Should I offer to make him some oatmeal? Or some ramen noodles?) Things got a little hazy after that. There were lots more cops. And a doctor with really bad breath. (Peroxide and baking soda will clear that right up.) The doctor gave her a shot that left her floating and not really caring if his gums rotted or not. As it turned out, the dead man on the floor of the laundry room (whose name was Jorge) really had murdered his girlfriend because she’d been showing a lot more than her breasts to the guy in 407. Jorge had used a knife, not unlike the one that Maura used to gut him. He’d cut his girlfriend’s body up in the bathtub, taken his bloody clothes down to the laundry room (because who’s he going to run into in the middle of the night?), returned to his apartment
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and cracked open the bottle of Patron Silver he kept for special occasions. He was starting to feel sorry for himself (It’s the bitch’s own fault) when he realized he needed to put his clothes in the dryer. Sometimes, timing is everything. Both Jorge and Maura’s apartments were cleaned and repainted by the end of the month and rented within a week of being advertised. No one’s very nice to Maura at the hospital, and the doctors have put her back on the meds that make her sleepy and hungry. (This is outrageous.) When she isn’t taking a nap or snacking, she thinks about writing a letter to someone and giving them a piece of her mind. But they won’t let her have pens or pencils or anything with a point on it. (They want to silence me. But one day I’ll get out of here. And then they’ll all be sorry. Even John.) Maura’s impulsive act of vigilante justice had gotten three days of play in the Los Angeles Times, two days more than crimes involving ordinary people usually do. Maura’s ex-husband John saw the story and counted himself lucky his ex-wife had never turned the serrated edge of that carving knife against him. Then he called his country club and scheduled a tee-time.
“I Want to Sleep with...Audie Murphy”
“I Want to Sleep With… Audie Murphy”
By KATHERINE TOMLINSON
efine irony. The most-decorated soldier of World War II was not yet old enough to vote when the war ended and he came home to Texas with a chest full of medals, a war wound that would keep him from attending West Point, and a case of PTSD that would haunt him the rest of his life. In 1971 he was a month shy of his 47th birthday when he died in plane crash in the Virginia mountains. It was Memorial Day weekend. His name was Audie Leon Murphy and he was an American hero. These days, the word “hero” has been
so devalued by overuse that it’s damn near meaningless but once upon a time, the word defined something extraordinary. By any possible definition the word applied to Audie Murphy. He earned 33 medals for his actions in WWII, eleven for each year of his service. He won the Silver Star twice. He won the Bronze Star twice. He earned three Purple Hearts. And he earned the Medal of Honor. Of all the men who served in WWII, only 464 of them earned the nation’s highest honor; with 266 receiving the medal posthumously, You don’t earn the Medal of Honor for just showing up at the party. It’s awarded for “conspicuous gallantry” and actions “above and
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beyond the call of duty.” Here’s what Audie Murphy did to earn his Medal of Honor:
“Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire, which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad that was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued his singlehanded fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way back to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack, which forced the Germans to
withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.”
If Audie hadn’t been wounded so many times and so badly, he might have gone on to West Point and a career in the military. As it was, he hedged his bets by joining the Texas National Guard in 1950, shortly after the Korean War broke out. His unit was never called up, but he served until 1966, attaining the rank of Major. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where his grave overlooks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is the second-most-visited site in the cemetery, second only to the grave of President John F. Kennedy. He is not the only actor among the 290,000 people buried
“I Want to Sleep with...Audie Murphy” complete with an over-the-top rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is available on YouTube Check it out:. (http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=TNLOXYY17PQ) In certain scenes, you’d swear you were looking at Brad Pitt’s little brother. New Yorker writer Lillian Ross wrote a book about the making of the movie, which was directed by John Huston and co-starred cartoonist-turned-actor Bill Mauldin, who’s surprisingly effective. Her portrait of Murphy in Picture was not particularly flattering, and she skewered the movie-making process with an eye for detail that resulted in what New Yorker editor William Shawn (actor Wallace Shawn’s father) called “the funniest tragedy I have ever read.” Newsweek Magazine simply called it “the best book about Hollywood ever written.” The movie that really established Audie as a star was 1955’s To Hell and Back in which Audie starred as “Audie Murphy.” The movie, based on Audie’s memoir of the same name (and ghost-written by a friend) was a huge success for Universal and would remain its topgrossing movie ever until its record was toppled in 1975 by Jaws. Audie hadn’t wanted to play himself in the movie (he would have liked Tony Curtis in the role), but the public wanted to see the real deal and the boyish, baby-faced actor was launched on his career. He spent 20 years as an actor, making movie after movie on Universal’s backlot and never having much of a kind word to say about his acting ability. He was often quoted as saying, “I’m working under a great handicap … no talent.”
It’s true, he made some bad movies. But he made some good ones too, and oddly enough, he turned in some of his best performances playing villains. In 1958 he played the title role in The Quiet American, the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel. (Brendan Fraser played him in the 2002 remake._ With his open face and his soft Texas accent, he disappeared into the part in a way that was authentic and understated. A year later, he played gunman John Gant in No Name on the Bullet, a western written by Gene L. Coon, who would go on to write a number of Star Trek episodes. (He is credited with creating the “Prime Directive” rule against interfering with alien civilizations.) The movie is as much a psychological thriller as a western and Gant is a terrific character who rides into a town with a mission and watches as the townsfolk fall apart when their guilty secrets start bubbling up. The town sheriff goes up against him, only to have his gun hand crippled. “Why didn’t you kill me?” he asks. “I wasn’t paid to,” is the chilling reply.
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on the grounds. Lee Marvin is there too, and so is actress Phyllis Kirk, who is buried with her husband, a vet. (It may surprise you to know that writer Dashiell Hammett is also buried there; I know it surprised me.) Soft-spoken, five foot five, snub-nosed, freckle-faced Audie Murphy was an unlikely hero but he was an even unlikelier movie star. James Cagney spotted him on the cover of Life Magazine, gave him dancing lessons (proving that tough guys do dance) and set him loose on Hollywood. His first starring role was in a movie called Bad Boy (1949) in which he played the bad boy of the title. The movie co-starred Hollywood hard guy Lloyd Nolan (who would later be repackaged as a cuddly character actor in such sitcoms as Julia) and Jane Wyatt, who would go on to geek fame playing Mr. Spock’s human mother Amanda Grayson on Star Trek. In 1951, he played the lead in an adaptation of Stephen Crane’s anti-war novel The Red Badge of Courage. The overwrought trailer,
The town’s doctor is played by Charles Drake, who appeared in a number of movies with Audie (including To Hell and Back and is also fondly remembered for being the self-involved doctor in James Stewart’s version of Harvey. Other veteran character actors who appeared were R. G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell, Virginia Grey, and Jerry Paris. In 1960, he played “Cash Zachary” in a movie called The Unforgiven, not to be confused with Clint Eastwood’s award-winning Unforgiven (1992). Co-starring Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Lillian Gish as well as pulp favorites John Saxon and Doug McClure, it featured a mustachioed Audie as a racist who discovers his adopted sister is a “red-hide Indian.” It’s a complex character, and he’s very good in the part. Cowboy, detective, war hero—he played all the pulp heroes and antiheroes and even tried his hand at comedy, starring in Destry, a 50s remake of the James Stewart-Marlene Dietrich comedy Destry Rides Again. Once again he was surrounded by a cast of scene-stealing character actors, including Lyle Bettger, Edgar Buchanan and Thomas Mitchell, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s father in Gone With the Wind and Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. He wasn’t as good as James Stewart was in the part, but he’s not bad either. Speaking of James Stewart, Audie starred opposite him in Night Passage (1957), another outlaw role where he acquitted himself well as the younger brother of a railroad detective. The Cain and Abel story featured a rogue’s gallery of supporting actors including Jack Elam, Dan Duryea, Brandon DeWilde (the kid from Shane), Jay C. Flippen and Hugh Beaumont (soon to be famous as Ward Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver). The last movie he made was called A Time for Dying (1966) and it wasn’t one of the
“I Want to Sleep with...Audie Murphy” good ones. He played legendary outlaw Jesse James and maybe there’s some irony there too—a living legend playing a dead one. Audie was not a simple man. He was a member of the NRA and a Democrat (just like Bill Clinton). He wrote country songs (Harry Nilsson recorded his “Please Mr. Music Man Play a Song for Me”) and poetry. He was a Freemason. He spoke out about his struggle with PTSD and lobbied for veteran’s rights. (A VA hospital in San Antonio is named after him.) In 2000, he was honored with a 33-cent postage stamp, part of a series that also honored Spanish-American war vet General John L. Himes, WWI’s Sgt. Alvin York and General Omar Bradley (whose name is commemorated in the Army’s “Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” which
replaced the Jeep). That same year his official fan club was officially disbanded, although the Audie Murphy Research Foundation, founded by Murphy’s oldest son Terry, carries on. Check them out here: http://www.audiemurphy.com/ amrf.htm He was a rancher and a businessman. In fact, he was on a business trip that Memorial Day weekend in 1971 when his rented airplane crashed into the side of a mountain not far from Roanoke, Virginia Four other people died with him in that crash, but the newspapers were only interested in the death of the hero. And the sad, cruel irony of the date. “Show me a hero,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “and I will write you a tragedy.”
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THE AUSLANDER In
“THE PANAMANIAN PLAN” By Michael Patrick Sullivan
ortunately for the foreigner with the shock white hair, the engine room of a freighter is scarcely short on weapons. His grease-covered opponent, who he mentally named Gunter, did as much damage to the white-haired man in being hit as he did in hitting, and the black-clad stranger resorted to whatever was at hand. Built like the hull of the ship they were both aboard, it meant nothing that when the gigantic wrench the black and white man wielded seemed to clang as though metal had struck metal when it made contact with gigantic alleged mechanic. He didn’t feel the reverberation of the impact travel up his arm. He was still suppressing the inordinate amount of pain he’d sustained fighting the beast. What he felt was the splat of Gunter’s Nazi blood on his neck and collar. What he heard was the dull thud of the monstrous German saboteur as he hit the deck, followed by a gurgling noise that he interpreted as a familiar question. One he has heard time
and again. “Who are you?” His answer came, drenched in an accent familiar to Gunter. It was the same shade of Austrian as his own. And it was the same answer the shock-haired man gave every time it was asked. It was the only answer he had. “Ich ben ein Auslander.” The man who went by that sobriquet could see that Gunter was fading fast. He dropped the wrench and traded it for the collar of the burly man’s lubricant-stained undershirt and pulled the man’s head off the steel-plate. “Where is it?” His demand was as insistent as it could be to either a man twice his size or half his consciousness. “Where…what?” Gunter could barely form the words he’d strung together to almost make a sentence. The Auslander was sure he was just buying time. He needed to know where the bomb was. Of course, there was no proof that there was a bomb, but he was certain that there was such a thing and
“The Panamanian Plan” that it was somewhere on this ship that was transporting arms, vehicles and supplies to Allied forces. It was a little over two weeks ago that he dreamt of the shipyards in Los Angeles. Like the many dreams he’s had before, they are a remnant of a past life. One he led before he woke up, amnesiac and nameless, the only clue to who he was being the Austrian-inflected accent that gave him away whenever he spoke, something he tried to avoid entirely. Each dream leads him to a Nazi plot, usually just in time to stop it. He knows full well that it’s not by chance or supernatural intervention that these dreams guide him to these vile plans of wartime sabotage. The Silent Sentinel is all too aware that, in some way, he had something to do with these plots and the man he is now cannot let those plans stand. He must act to stop them before his memory returns to him and he, perhaps, becomes the monster he fears he once was. “Where is the verdammt bomb?” His demand of Gunter went unheard, as the behemoth lost consciousness. The Auslander dropped the man with disregard, wondering if the name Gunter was something his subconscious dredged up from the annals of a closed off part of his mind. “Is his name really Gunter? Did I send him here?” His distraction was ended by the sound of a hatch creaking open. His battle had likely rattled through the hull and attracted attention. He knew that when his shipmates, to whom he’d never grunted more than a “yes,” “no,” or “dunno” in the week he’d worked on board as a deckhand found Gunter, he’d be the prime suspect. He also knew that any explanation offered as to why he had blood on his person that once coursed through the greasemonkey, who expertly hid his accent and went by the name Gary, would go unbelieved. In fact, he thought that he might well be summarily executed by the patriotic crew of ex-cons who
would just as soon be on the fields of France killing his countrymen with the guns in the ship’s hold. The Avenging Austrian escaped through an access hatch that lead him topside while the blood of the crewmembers who came though the boiler room came to, he noted with some sense of amusement, a boil. He overheard that outrage and he heard the name that he’d offered as an alias bandied about with suspicion, unaware of the irony of the situation. The Auslander could not leave the vessel without having located and disarmed the inevitable bomb. He contemplated how to hide on the vessel while searching for the infernal device. His muscles felt afire as pain returned while he scurried across the top deck, ducking and weaving as the ship known as the Margarita Calafati passed though the barren field that surrounded this portion of the Panama Canal. The quiet was broken by the sound of a motor, a small one that had no earthly business being in this part of the world. The shock-haired man glanced over the side to see an off-road truck racing along the lock, brimming with roughlooking men, all brandishing firearms. “Pirates,” he thought to himself. “From bad to better to bad again, if not worse.” The truck, even on the overgrown ground and rocks along the strait, had no difficulty catching up to the ship, which moved as though being pulled a team of sickly elephants. They were about to board in a matter of seconds. Some tie ropes left dangling aft made that an easy prospect for the raiders. The Auslander identified the leader as a fair-haired man who gave the command to his four subordinates to take the ropes, a command that was given in German. It all became clear to the Amnesiac Agent. There was no bomb that would do the double damage of destroying the shipment and blocking the canal. Those ropes were not left out by accident. The plan was prevent the supplies from
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reaching allied forces not by destruction, but by theft. The Auslander moved to cut the ropes, but that would not stop the marauders from getting on board. They surely had grappling hooks or would simply jump into the lock and swim to an inconveniently located access ladder that was welded to the stern. And with only the Luger pistol he had on his person that day he woke up with no name, he would only be able to eliminate one of the attackers before drawing fire from their machine guns, forcing him to go below. He found himself caught in a squeeze. He couldn’t warn the crew without being taken as part of a plot to capture or kill them. It was necessary to slow the Nazis’ progress until he could devise a plan, so with careful aim, he took out their coordinator. As squeezes went, the one he placed on the trigger of his German Army issue weapon was light, done with a minimum of effort and left a fair portion of the fair-haired man’s grey matter splattered on a Panamanian field. The Germans’ response was immediate and loud and the hail of gunfire prevented the Foreign Fighter from reaching the ropes. He would soon be overrun, and without being able to martial the ship’s crew, he found himself at a tactical disadvantage. He felt he had as little room to move as did the Margarita in canal waters. At that moment the Auslander realized that his plan was simple, obvious and that he was already in it. “What is the canal if not a 48-mile bottle neck?” He would settle for a 48-foot bottleneck. What he would get would be an eight-foot bottleneck and a risky maneuver that had as much chance of being an act of international sabotage as it had of being a solution to his problem. With much of the crew below decks and those above outgunned, the White-haired Warrior’s only chance was to threaten the shipment. Clearly the Germans had a keen interest in acquiring the ship’s cargo, as a
sabotage mission would be much easier and less costly, requiring only some smuggled-aboard TNT and one agent who had already been in place until his untimely “fixing.” The Auslander raced to the bridge, realizing that his plan might be doomed as he likely spread the wrong brain across the lands of Central America. Would the henchmen be smart enough to realize what they had to do? “One way to know,” he uttered to himself as rushed through the brief corridor that was the only way in to the wheelhouse. He slung the driver against the back wall, hiding the slight twinge of guilt he felt as he abruptly threw the older and not-entirely-fit man against the bulkhead, as well as the twinge of pain from what might be a fractured humerus bone. The dumpy man was not a member of the crew. He was just the driver. He sole job was to guide ships through the narrows of the canal, being intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the locks from having guided hundreds of vessels through the canal in his lengthy career. He likely didn’t even know what lay in the cargo hold or where it was going. The black-clad foreigner would have just as soon removed him from danger by removing his consciousness, but he was going to need the man’s skills. “I need you to steer the ship toward the locks walls.” He saw fear in the man’s eyes and was amazed at his capacity to display even more fear when the man heard his accent. The man pleaded. “We’ll crash the ship. There’s little room for error.” “Then I hope you’re very good at your job.” The Auslander held his Luger to the driver’s head as the fearful man made a very slight, almost imperceptible adjustment to the ships course, measured in mere feet rather than nautical miles. The collision alarm sounded. “One of them must have been recruited from Kreigsmarine,” he thought to himself as within a minute they were clambering toward the bridge, accessible by a steel grate stair that rattled a
“The Panamanian Plan” warning of their approach. Beyond that stair was the bottleneck that would save the ship, if not his life. Eight feet of paint-peeled bulkheads, two iron hatches and a bare light bulb so dim that it might be older than the ship it’s on. The first man, who the Auslander had mentally named Johann, was a simple shot. He was taken unawares in such a manner that the shock-haired man thought very little of whatever training he might have received in the German Navy. His death served as an instant warning to Bert, Ernst and Josef. The Auslander tried to humanize his foes by naming them, in hopes of staving off the callousness of the man he was should his memories return to him one bad day. Johann fell back on Bert, bleeding from a finger-poke-sized hole in his chest that gushed like a water balloon punctured by a knitting needle. Bert was a quick thinker and immediately used his former de facto leader as a shield; however it did his aim no favors, as it forced him to handle his MP40 with one hand. His shots all fell short. The Auslander was not to proud to accept the gift of a ricochet from the bottleneck’s riveted walls that punctured Bert’s skull and turned him into an additional hindrance to Ernst and Josef. Ernst put up a good fight. With ample barriers, he was able to select his bursts better than the Auslander could ducking in and out of the open steering room hatch, taking little better than potshots as he depleted his magazine. Ernst, despite that, would release more than one burst before the foreigner showed his snowy mane to take another shot, revealing an impatient streak. With that knowledge, the Auslander chose to stay clutched close to the wall in the steering room. He motioned for the driver to get the ship back on course and the driver did so with panicky haste. It was with a different haste that Ernst decided to venture into the corridor to take on the Auslander. It was his first step on the deck
plate that signaled to the driver’s defender to leap past the opening and send a single bullet, the last bullet, straight into Ernst’s sternum, breaking off the bone and lodging sharply in his heart. If he had the time, he’d be proud of that shot. As it was he still had to contend with Josef. So he thought. Josef was now alone and as such no longer outgunned the several crewmembers who responded to the racket of the bridge invasion bearing a variety of sidearm, many of which were World War I surplus, but deadly nonetheless. A suicidal barrage of German firepower killed Cookie, who was not in fact the ship’s cook, but acquired his nickname during a drunken evening in Tijuana It was suicidal in that it elicited a hail of bullets that turned him from threat to the war effort to a lump of powder-burnt meat on the bridge tower of the Margarita Colafata. The crew was in the mood to shoot first and ask questions later as they barreled into the corridor in search of further raiders. It was the driver’s quick thinking that saved the foreigner when he threw the hatch shut and spun the lock as the Auslander recovered from throwing himself across the deck. He offered a hand to his prone savior and asked him a question. It was one that the black, white and battered man knew before the first syllable was complete. “Who are you?” He got to his feet and offered the same answer he always did. “Ich bin ein Auslander.” That night, the foreigner slipped off the ship and into the nearby coastal town of Cristobal, where he would spend the night before finding a way back to the states. Before he fell asleep and his dreams would lead him to a new destination and a new mission, he wondered to himself, “Why all the effort to steal the ship rather than destroy it?” The German war machine had no difficulty arming its troops. He knew this much to be true. “What did they intend to do with all that equipment?” He slept especially poorly that night.