Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M*O*N*S*T*A*A*H Recommends!

Many thanks to the folks at M*O*N*S*T*A*A*H for including Black Centipede Confidential among their recent recommendations!

The inimitable Chuck Miller now brings us his latest entry in the series of one of pulp fiction's newest masked hero sensations with BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL. This is also the second entry in Chuck's saga of the now vampirized master villain Prof. James Moriarity  (you know, the guy who once killed Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's classic novella The Final Solution, until the Great Detective got better). This time the blood-sucking mastermind comes to the dark hero's home city of Zenith with a posse of deadly miscreants at his side -- this group including but not limited to the likes of such legendary figures as the Bell Witch and the Loch Ness Monster! And what he's after is every bit as horrific as the once-man himself: Jack the Ripper's Analytical Engine...

READ THE REST-- AND M*O*N*S*T*A*A*H's other recommendations-- here:

Saturday, April 11, 2015



... I read through the letter and was composing a reply in my head when Prufrock came bustling into my office.

"Mister Doiley has called here seventeen times, sir," he said, with unconcealed irritation. "I really think you should speak with him."

"I never should have given him that number," I groused. "I ought to disconnect it."

"You've had ample opportunity to do so," Proofy pointed out. "But you have not. I would, with all due respect, suggest that you either speak with him or go ahead and disconnect that line. To use a rather vulgar expression I have heard Miss Earhart employ, it is time to 'shit or get off the pot,' if you'll pardon my language, sir."

"Well," I said with considerable amusement, "the analogy is an apt one. A conversation with Percy has a lot in common with that particular bodily function, and the yield is just as predictable. But you're right, Proofy old son, you're absolutely right.

With a certain amount of reluctance, I picked up the phone and dialed the Orator newsroom.

"Well," said Percy tartly when I got him on the line, "your royal highness can spare a few minutes to talk to a peon like me, huh? Wow, I feel privileged."

"Never mind all that," I said. "I'm not in the mood for it. What the hell's going on with you that's so urgent?"

"What do you care?"


"Yeah, yeah. I can't talk to you right now, but you need to meet me at the Orator tomorrow. Can you do that, your majesty? Hearst has a big thing planned, so you'll have to see him, which I know you hate, but nobody gives a shit. You'll find out the whole thing then, and you can be a smartass or whatever you're gonna do. Will you be there?"

"I guess so."

"Swell!" he snapped. He named a time and slammed down the receiver without waiting for me to confirm it.


At the appointed hour, I met Percy in the lobby of the Zenith Orator building, and was surprised to see that he had a pair of thick-lensed glasses perched on his nose.

"What's with the cheaters, Percy?" I asked.

"Ah, my eyesight's been going downhill for a couple years now," he said sourly, blinking and fiddling with the specs. "It's my old man's fault. He's blind as a bat, practically, and I guess he passed it on to me, thank you very goddamn much."

"Well, they don't look half bad," I said with great insincerity. "They make you look intelligent. Like a college professor or something."

"Shit," he said, "that's all I need."

"Is that what you've been so upset about?"

"Hell, no."

We rode the elevator up to the top floor. Percy was miserable. I was, as always, inscrutable.

Entering the tastelessly-decorated office, the first thing I saw was my loathsome patron, the phlegmatic William Randolph Hearst-- publisher of the Orator and a few other newspapers around the country-- seated behind his expensive mahogany desk. Two of the other chairs held a couple of characters I'd never seen before.

"Mister Centipede!" Hearst boomed, his voice dripping with false bonhomie. "Wonderful to see you, sir! I have two gentlemen here who are very eager to meet you."

He ignored Percy.

"Mister Walter Gibson, Mister Lester Dent," he said grandly, "meet the Black Centipede!" He sounded like a carnival barker.

The two men stood up, but they didn't look very eager. Dent-- dapper and jaunty, with wire-rimmed spectacles and a small mustache waxed into two dangerous-looking points-- seemed to be trying to avoid eye contact. There was something vaguely seedy, not to say sinister, about him. Here was a man who had gone places and done things he might not want to talk about in mixed company. And I had a strong feeling that he knew I could see it.

"Goodameetcha," he muttered, gazing at a potted plant next to Hearst's desk.

Gibson, on the other hand, couldn't seem to take his eyes off me. He was practically gawking. He had dark hair, a clean-shaven, wedge-shaped face, and glasses similar to Dent's, though the lenses were much larger.

"Holy cow," he said as he pumped my hand. His voice and face were utterly wholesome, with no indication of any hidden guile. Of course, those are the ones you have to keep an eye on. He was nervous, but I did detect some of the eagerness Hearst had promised. I sensed that he wasn't nearly as worldly as Lester Dent, but he was the type that didn't need to be. He seemed to have the sort of robust innocence that jaded men strive for without realizing that's what they're doing.

And the man who should have been the king of this particular hill-- Percival J. Doiley, sole author of the nation's number one pulp adventure mag-- sat in a chair against the wall, crossing and uncrossing his legs, looking as though he were about to start crying. His head was on the chopping block, and kingmaker Hearst was sharpening the axe as he interviewed potential usurpers.

Once we were all seated, Hearst started his spiel.

"I have brought you all together," he said, clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice, "to discuss the future. The Black Centipede has proven a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. A best-selling monthly magazine and a smash hit motion picture, and all of it in less than a year from the day he signed on with the Hearst Corporation.

"Young Mister Percival Doiley has done an... admirable job of chronicling the Black Centipede's true-life adventures in our publication, as well as on the big screen. But, as we all certainly know, there comes a time when a man must move on to bigger and better things. He has displayed an extraordinary talent for composing obituaries, and can produce extraordinarily riveting accounts of local flower shows. Also, our home delivery division could use another reliable carrier. You see, his potential is unlimited."

Here was Hearst the Sadistic Sonofabitch in full flower. Poor Percy had chewed the fingernail off of his right index finger, and was now trying to gnaw his way down to the bone. What had the young reporter/pulp writer done or failed to do to arouse his master's ire?

"And now," said Hearst with a nasty smile, "it is, perhaps, time to free Mister Doiley from the grind of pounding out a complete novel each and every month. I feel that his brilliance and youthful vigor might be put to better use elsewhere.

"And that, Mister Gibson and Mister Dent, is why I have asked you to come here today. You are two of the finest creators in the adventure magazine field. Either of you would be a feather in any publisher's cap."

Dent was scowling. "Hell, Mister Hearst, I'm doing okay, and so is Walter. We're fine just where we are. Would you like to know how much Street and Smith is paying me?"

The magazine Dent wrote for had just taken off in a big way. The first issue had hit the stands in February of 1933. Six months later, it was among the largest selling pulp adventure magazines in the country, second only to Tales of the Black Centipede.

Gibson wasn't doing too badly, either. His magazine had been around longer-- since 1931-- and, sales-wise, he was usually neck-and-neck with the upstart Dent.

"I already do," Hearst said, smiling like a degenerate Buddha. "I took the liberty of inquiring. You, too, Mister Gibson. I know how much both of you make. And it is impressive, especially in the depths of this Depression. However... I am willing to double the amount you earn, should you happen to become associated with me."

Dent and Gibson looked at each other. Percy had given up on his finger and was now trying to chew off his bottom lip.

"I'd like to hear more," said Dent.

"So would I," said Gibson.

Hearst nodded, looking very pleased with himself. "Let me ask you gentlemen a few questions. Mister Gibson, how does your arrangement with your... ah, client work? What sort of contact do you have with the man whose adventures you chronicle?"

"Well," said Gibson, "he sends me all of his personal case notes, and between that and newspaper accounts, I work up a story. I have a sort of rapport with him, even though we've never met personally. He's very clever, very tricky. I guess we sort of have that in common. My hobby is magic. Illusions, I mean, not actual sorcery-- stage magic, sleight of hand, that kind of thing. So I can get into his head a little bit. And I strive to be as accurate as I can."

Percy broke his silence in order to clutch at a straw. "Amazing!" he chimed in, his voice taut with desperation. "That's how I do it, too!"

This was, of course, a lie. I had never given Percy so much as a scribbled-on napkin. He made everything up out of whole cloth-- when he wasn't "borrowing" plots and characters from writers who were too dead to sue him.

"Wow," Percy continued. "Great minds and all that, huh, fellas?"

The sound of chirping crickets would not have been out of place in the silence that followed.

"And you, Mister Dent," Hearst said, ostentatiously ignoring Percy. "How do you do your work?"

"Generally speaking," said Dent, "my guy is a little more forthcoming than Walter's is. I go up to his headquarters once or twice a month, shoot the breeze with him and his aides. I get most of my dope from personal interviews, though I have gone along on a couple of their cases. I don't write myself into the action, though. I think, as a writer, you should keep a little distance between you and your subjects."

"That's my philosophy, too!" Percy offered. "I help the Centipede out all the time! We're great friends, he tells me everything. But, you know, I don't make a big deal out of my contributions, even though..."

"You know," said Gibson, addressing Dent, "I kind of envy you. My guy is a little too mysterious. I'm a magician, a sleight-of-hand artist, and I can figure out some of his tricks, but not all of them. And I've never been anywhere near an actual case. I don't think I'd want to, frankly."

"I don't make a habit of it," said Dent. "It can get pretty hairy. I don't run from danger, but some of the stuff those guys get into..."

"It just so happens," Percy gamely put in, completely ignoring the fact that he was being completely ignored, "I once captured Professor Necrosis almost single-handed, practically. He was about to blow up Saint Margo's Children's Hospital, and he had the Centipede all trussed up and was about to use the Cadaver Beam on him, so I sort of..."

"The fact is, Walter," Dent was saying, "I sometimes envy you. I like my guy well enough, I'm used to him, but yours... He's more of a maverick, isn't he? A real lone wolf. To me, that's appealing. My guy is a little too predictable. Hell, I've even worked out a sort of story formula based on the way his cases usually go. There aren't many surprises. And I like to be surprised sometimes."

He probably believed that was true.

It was time for Hearst to dip his oar back in. "I think you gentlemen will find that, as a story subject, the Black Centipede embodies the best of both worlds. He is very public-- known, respected, even loved by the masses. Nobody knows who he is, but everybody knows that he is here with us. He's got what it takes. I don't believe either of you would be disappointed with him."

This went on for quite some time. Frankly, I was not taking the whole thing very seriously, and was giving it very little attention. I had vampires and bank robbers on my mind. When the thing finally wound down and stopped, I took my leave of the group, promising to give thought to something or other and get back in touch with Hearst very soon.

Five minutes later, I had forgotten the whole thing.

Saturday, March 28, 2015



...This thing was getting complicated.

Back in the hallway, I felt myself drawn to a doorway at the opposite end of the corridor. I had no doubt that the Analytical Engine lay behind it. As I moved in that direction, I knew this was too easy, and something was going to happen.

I made it fifteen or twenty feet closer to my goal when I encountered the next piece of weirdness.

A blast of air rushed down the hallway, turning it momentarily into a wind tunnel, knocking me off my feet. Tiles separated themselves from the floor and ceiling and started whizzing around in all directions. I heard an eerie, cold giggling and felt invisible hands around my throat.

It had to be the goddamn Bell Witch.

She-- or it-- was invisible. Sadly, she was not intangible, nor was she silent. A terrible racket filled the hallways, coming from every direction-- pounding, banging, clattering, chuckling, whistling, screeching, cracking, clanking, splashing, ringing, you name it.

The Bell Witch was an enigmatic entity that had launched a vicious assault on the home and family of one John Bell Sr. in Adams, Tennessee. The onslaught began in 1817, beginning with odd noises in the walls, and grew to include unusual sounds, people being slapped and pinched, objects being thrown, and animals being spooked without visible cause. The activity centered around the Bells' youngest daughter, Betsy. There was also talk of a strange creature that seemed to be part dog and part rabbit. In any event, the haunting, if that's what it was, continued up until, and for a while after, John Bell's death in 1820.

After that, the story falls apart. The Witch supposedly made a few more appearances, complete with enigmatic prophesies, before falling silent once again. Local folklore in Adams held that the thing-- whatever it was-- lived in a nearby cave, which was named, rather unimaginatively, the Bell Witch Cave. The very place Amelia had visited not long ago, and heard tales of strange and terrible goings-on.

And now the Bell Witch was swirling around me, in my own damn home!

I was getting the worst of it. The Bell Witch was pounding me from a dozen directions at once. No matter how fast I was, no matter how strong I was, I simply could not keep up. I was at a very significant disadvantage, in that I could not touch the Witch, while the Witch could touch me-- hard. It was like being caressed from head to toe by a fleet of small bulldozers.

It looked bad. Well, it felt bad, I should say-- I had too much blood in my eyes to see how it looked. I had once experienced a hurricane firsthand. This was worse. While the storm had been an awesome display of destructive fury, it was not hell-bent on killing me and me alone. I was waiting as calmly as I could for my head to be sheared from my body. Then I noticed something odd. Not only was I still alive, but the awful pummeling had stopped. I could still hear the wind and the shrieking of the Bell Witch, but there was something else-- a voice loud enough to drown out the Witch's horrible caterwauling:

"Leave him alone, you smelly half-poltergeist shrew! Let me show you what a real ghost can do!"

I recognized the voice, and it brought a smile to my face. Resurrection Mary!

I cannot begin to describe what followed. The Witch was invisible, so all I saw was Resurrection Mary flailing away at empty air. The noise was awful, and the hallway was filled with small objects, flying this way and that. Books, telephones, office supplies, and other commonplace items bounced off the walls, floor and ceiling. This went on for some time, and I had no way to judge which of the combatants was coming out on top.

Suddenly, I heard Resurrection Mary's voice in my ear:

"This is not going well, Centipede. I'm going to need some help. I want you to do something for me. Listen closely..."

She gave me a few simple instructions, and I, without question, hastened to carry them out.

I ducked into an empty office and headed for the washroom. Closing the door behind me, I stood in front of the small mirror and began to chant:

"I believe in Bloody Mary, I believe in Bloody Mary, I believe in Bloody Mary..."

As I spoke, I turned around and around in a circle. When I had repeated the phrase thirteen times, and made thirteen circles, I stopped and faced the mirror. The room, which had been quite dark when I entered and began the ritual, was now illuminated by a faint glow that seemed to come from the surface of the looking glass. My own reflection slowly faded away, and something else took its place.

I jumped back reflexively and crashed into the door when a shrieking, apparition sprang at me from the glass. It was a woman, dressed in a funeral shroud that appeared to be soaked through with fresh blood. Her long, black hair whipped around as she jerked her head from side to side, screaming threats and imprecations at me.

"Can it, sister," I said, grabbing her by a slender, long-nailed hand. I could feel the icy cold through my glove. "We don't have time for this. A friend of yours needs some assistance."

I yanked the washroom door open and made a dash for the hallway, dragging the horrifying specter along with me.

"There!" I shouted, as we cleared the outer doorway. "Work out some of that hostility on the Bell Witch!"

As the howling phantasm joined her "sister" in battle, I reflected on the fact that this case had more Marys per square inch than anything I'd ever been involved in.

Again, any attempt on my part to describe what I saw wouldn't do you much good. It was nothing like a typical-- or even atypical-- prizefight, and there wasn't much for a ring announcer to work with. The Bell Witch was, of course, invisible. And whatever the two ghostly Marys were doing didn't require them to move very much at all. They shimmered like heat mirages, and seemed to be getting larger.

The noise reached a crescendo, then dropped off. The wind stopped and all the flying objects fell to the floor.

"We didn't destroy her," Resurrection Mary said, more than a hint of regret in her voice, "but she won't dare come back here any time soon."

Bloody Mary just glared at me like I was the most infuriating object on earth, gnashing her teeth and flexing her fingers in a threatening manner. Quite rude, I thought, but since she had just helped save my life, I was prepared to make allowances.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Review of Black Centipede Confidential

5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Centipede returns for another epic adventure in Pulp Noir!, March 11, 2015
 Verified Purchase
This review is from: Black Centipede Confidential (Kindle Edition)
Book Review: Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Black Centipede Confidential: Book Two of the MORIARTY, LORD OF THE VAMPIRES Trilogy

NOTICE: Any spoilers are totally unintended.
The book opens with the notice in the paper of Sherlock Holmes. His death date is given as November 13, 1933.

Next, the Centipede is involved in preventing a bank robbery, said to be the gang of Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger. Unfortunately, the same identifying discrepancies that followed the gunning down of Dillinger outside a Chicago theater on July 22, 1934 apply here. Neither the Centipede nor his companion, Detective Lieutenant Stan Bartowski, is exactly certain that Dillinger is even in Zenith, much less the bank.

As the action of the bank robbery winds down, the Centipede notices the strange thin man with the unusual eyes. He recalls that witnesses claimed the robbers carried a coffin into the bank. Now the sun has set, and their Vampire overlord is free to exact his own acts of vengeance. The old man turns out to be Professor Moriarty, saved from death at Reichenbach Falls by being turned into the undead. Even in his current state, Moriarty is a planner, a Napoleon of Crime, a great spider in the center of a web of criminal activity.

And with this opening scene, Chuck Miller returns us to the world of The Black Centipede, a world where time and events do not necessarily follow real life or the established worlds of fiction. There are familiar faces, friends and enemies:

Amelia Earhart
Bloody Mary Jane Gallows
The Stiff
Baron Samedi
William Randolph Hearst
Doctor Unknown
Lester Dent
Walter Gibson

Then there are the new characters that pop up now and then throughout this fierce battle:

Bela Lugosi
Resurrection Mary
Patience and Prudence, professional fixers.
Al Capone
John Dillinger, (fighting on the side of the Black Centipede!)
Scott Fitzgerald, author
Anonymoushka, a faceless but deadly woman
Herbert West, reanimator
The Bell Witch
The Loch Ness Monster

The battle ranges from the rooftops of Zenith City, to the red light district, and to the network of tunnels underground. Moriarty is after a certain Analytical Engine, confident that it has been stored somewhere in Chicago. Could it be in Al Capone’s famed secret vault? Or is the secret and scope of the Engine so great that it occupies much greater space? Or maybe much, much less space?

The action never even slows down as Chuck Miller frantically paints prose with both hands, with brushes of pulp, horror, and noir. When the time comes for him to sign the finished work, you still might not be sure who is on who’s side. But that is pure Chuck Miller. The book is a joy to read and will keep the reader guessing, and pressing on, unable to put the book down lest you miss something!

It is no argument that this book deserves five out of five stars! Thanks, Chuck, for the exhilarating wild ride! Looking forward to your next project!

Quoth the Raven…
Thanks, Raven! Glad you liked it!