Tuesday, February 2, 2016

READ A CHAPTER FROM BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL

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http://www.amazon.com/Black-Centipede-Confidential-Chuck-Miller/dp/1507689209/ref=la_B005WX2CKQ_1_13_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1454397647&sr=1-13&refinements=p_82%3AB005WX2CKQ

CHAPTER TWO: AMELIA

After a few more drinks, I made my weary way back to the upper reaches of the Benway Building, my sanctum in downtown Zenith. It was the tallest building in the city and it belonged to me. I inhabited the top six floors and rented out the rest.

At a reception desk in the center of the lobby sat a man. He was no longer young and not yet old, dressed in his morning coat, his collar mounting firmly to his chin. He wore a rich and modest necktie, asserted by a simple pin.

"Mister Centipede!" the man exclaimed-- not too loudly, though. His manner always seemed self-consciously subdued, as though he were afraid he might somehow disturb the universe if he accidentally became too raucous. "Good to see you, sir!"

Lately, the UAWC had diversified. Formerly an on-paper-only business entity, my corporation had recently made the jump into the real world. With the assistance of Doctor Unknown-- who was a CPA in addition to being a wizard-- I had transformed the empty shell of the UAWC into a valid business entity, with financial interests in a dozen or so enterprises. It soon became more than I could handle by myself.

What with my expansion, I had to have some sort of a staff at "corporate headquarters." At this particular time, I had two employees. One-- the man at the reception desk-- was J. Alfred Prufrock, a clerkish, expatriate Briton who had arrived at the threshold of middle age without ever having accomplished anything. That's how he saw it, anyhow, and, after reviewing his curriculum vitae, I was forced to agree.

My friend Amelia Earhart, who had recently taken it upon herself to oversee certain aspects of my life, had encountered Prufrock on one of her sojourns abroad, and had recommended him for the position of office manager. She had caught him late one night, apparently making a halfhearted attempt to jump from a bridge into the Thames. She subdued him; some mild violence was involved, she gave me to understand.

When Prufrock came to, Amelia-- remembering something she had read about a certain party who makes his home in New York City-- had informed him that she had saved his miserable life, so from that point on, he was beholden to her. She offered him a purposeful life of mystery and adventure as an agent of the awesome Black Centipede. (This was many years before the word "awesome" started making such a nuisance of itself.) Prufrock denied that he was suicidal, claiming he had only been trying to "hear a mermaid sing." However, he had heard of the Black Centipede, and he rather liked the idea of a purposeful life-- but he wondered if perhaps there were some position open that didn't involve quite so much in the way of mystery and adventure.

As an office manager, Prufrock was politic, cautious, and meticulous. On a personal level, he was deferential and glad to be of use.

"Hello, Proofy," I said. "As always, I appreciate you keeping the home fires burning. Anything here I should know about?"

"As a matter of fact, there is. You have a visitor. I put her in the green room, sir."

I didn't have to ask who it was. There was only one person in the world who could-- or would-- make her way to my headquarters and be cordially received by my majordomo. I smiled behind my mask, nodded to Proofy, and headed for the green room.

"Amelia," I said, removing my hat and mask. "I didn't know you were in Zenith."

"It's a recent development," said Amelia Earhart with a toothy grin, rising to meet me. We hugged, and I may have kissed her once or twice, and she may have responded favorably to that. There wasn't anything going on between us, as such, but there also wasn't nothing at all going on, strictly speaking. I had no real desire to define our relationship, and neither did Amelia.

She was married, having wed a rather nondescript character by the name of George P. Putnam in 1931, though she never let it get in the way of anything. Neither did her husband. I sometimes wondered what benefit either of them got out of the arrangement. There was some speculation that the union was what used to be known as a "lavender marriage." I knew nothing about Putnam's proclivities, and cared even less; as for Amelia, she never allowed herself to be bound by convention, and pursued anything that caught her fancy, whatever it might be. To her, life-- both personal and professional-- was always about kicking over the traces, and nothing was more odious to her than "the done thing."

And that is all I have to say about that.

"There is a weirdness abroad in the world right now, Centipede," Amelia said, once we had finished our greeting and lowered ourselves into chairs. "I've been on the lookout ever since we got rid of Jack the Ripper. A number of very strange things have happened in recent days. I don't know that they're connected, but I'll eat my hat if they aren't."

"Which one? That leather pilot's thing? Goggles and all? You'd better be right, then."

"I am."

"I'm sure you are," I said. "Things have been peculiar here in Zenith, too. Tell me, do you have firsthand knowledge of any of this weirdness?"

"I certainly do. I just spent two days in Adams, Tennessee. Does that name ring any bells?"

"Probably," I said, "but none of them are mine."

"Surely you've heard of the Bell Witch."

"Ah, yes, of course," I said, pulling up data from the depths of my photographic memory. "Adams, Tennessee-- like Fall River, Massachusetts--  has a macabre and murderous saga as its sole claim to fame."

"Right," Amelia said. "There was a strange disturbance at what the locals call the 'Bell Witch Cave.' Four witnesses who live close by swear they saw something leave the cave. They were unable to describe this thing, but they say it was accompanied by a very strong odor of sulfur. This was on the 12th of this month. And that wasn't all that happened that day."

"What else?" I asked.

"In Scotland, a man named Hugh Gray photographed an aquatic monster in Loch Ness."

Modern students of cryptozoology will no doubt be familiar with the Gray photo, though it is not as famous as the so-called "surgeon's photo" taken in 1934. But Gray's was the first, though it has been declared inconclusive at best, a crude hoax at worst. The truth is, it really doesn't look like anything.

"I've seen the photo," I said. "It's blurry and confusing."

She gave me a wry look. "Maybe. But the other two aren't."

"I thought there was just the one."

She reached into her handbag and took out a manila envelope. From this, she extracted three photographic prints, which she handed to me.

"They only printed one of them," she said. "The others were seized by a certain branch of the British intelligence services. They let the newspaper keep the first one, which, as you have pointed out, is so unconvincing that it does more to discredit Gray's story than to support it. The rest of them are something else again."

They sure as hell were. The second photo had been snapped from further back, and the edge of the lake and part of the shore were visible. The undefined blob from the first shot was now recognizable as a frightful-looking creature that resembled drawings of aquatic dinosaurs I had seen in textbooks.

In the third shot, it was obvious that the photographer had retreated quite a distance from the shore. It was a little blurred, but plainly showed the creature crawling from the water, up onto the land, using two thick limbs that ended in broad flippers.

"This is pretty astonishing," I said. "But there's nothing to indicate scale. Just water and grass. How big is this damn thing?"

"According to the man who took the pictures, it was the size of an eight-story building. I figure it was more like half that, judging by the flipper marks left on the shore. That's not counting the upraised neck and head. I'd say the body was about forty or fifty feet thick, from belly to backbone. Maybe eight or nine times that in length, from the head to the tip of the tail."

"Shit," I said softly.

"That's putting it mildly," Amelia said. "Wait 'til you hear what happened next. You won't believe it."

"What?"

"You're not going to believe it, I swear."

"Amelia, please. I detest suspense. Just tell me."

"Okay," she said flatly. "It flew away."

I waited for more, but that was all she had.

"It flew away," I repeated, staring again at the third photo. "I don't see any wings."

"It doesn't have any. It didn't use wings."

"What did it do? Climb into a goddamn airplane?"

"Keep a civil tongue in your head," Amelia said sharply. "Airplanes are not 'goddamn.' I don't badmouth centipedes, you watch what you say about airplanes."

"I hate centipedes," I replied. "They scare the hell out of me."

"Airplanes do the same thing to me, sometimes," she confided. "But I just can't leave them alone."

I smiled at her. "Yes, I love that about you. So, how did this behemoth manage to get off the ground?"

She shrugged. "According to Hugh Gray, it just rose up into the air. That doesn't seem likely. I have to think Gray was in a blind panic by this time, and was not making reliable observations. If you'll look closely at the third photo, up there at the top, you can see what looks like the bottom edge of a wide strap of some kind. My theory is that something was lowered from above to snag the creature and lift it into the air."

"With what?" I asked.

"Probably a goddamn dirigible," she said with a smile.

"It's okay to curse dirigibles?"

"Sure. I've got no love for them. I could fly one if I had to, but I'd rather not. I'd need to hide my eyes or something. They are dull and plodding, nothing sexy about them. What some people see as dignity and majesty looks like bloating and sloth to me."

"Jesus, Amelia, that seems unnecessarily harsh."

She shrugged. "I just call 'em like I see 'em."

"Yes, you do," I said. "And why are you keeping up with all this strangeness, Amelia?"

"Because it needs to be kept up with. You remember what Mary Jane Gallows said; the forces Jack the Ripper had set into motion did not stop when he died. But I'll bet some of them got sidetracked. We have no idea what those forces are or how they manifest themselves. So, like the late Charles Fort, I have been gathering oddball data-- things that do not fit in with the generally-accepted picture of how the world works. Monsters, ghosts, strange flying vehicles, and so on. This stuff is getting more and more common, and I think there has to be a pattern. Have you experienced anything profoundly out of the ordinary?"

"Oh, not really," I said. "I've been too busy to pay attention to weird goings-on. In fact, I'm just getting back from a little tussle with a vampire. Nothing mysterious, though. I know who he was: Professor James Moriarty."

Amelia's jaw dropped. "What? Are you talking about Sherlock Holmes' Professor Moriarty? He died in 1891!"

"Of course he did," I shot back. "He couldn't very well be a vampire if he still had a pulse, now could he? In fact, he is now the Lord of Vampires, according to a story I heard not long ago."

"You're bullshitting me," Amelia accused, rather feebly.

"No," I said. "You know better than that. And, by the by, the Professor is in no way the exclusive property of the Great-- and recently deceased, rest his soul-- Detective of Baker Street, though Conan Doyle did turn their relatively minor conflict into the stuff of legend. There is a great deal more to Moriarty than the meager tidbits served up in 'The Final Problem' and 'The Valley of Fear.' Are you going to tell me, Amelia, that you know nothing of Moriarty's current position as Ruler of the Undead? I'd think a high priestess in the Order of the Centipede would keep track of things like that."

"Oh, not that again."

"Oh, yes, that again."

This had developed into a bone of contention between Amelia and myself, at least as far as I was concerned. Most of the time, I treated it as a sort of running joke. At bottom, I trusted Amelia implicitly, and I figured she must have what she considered some damn good reasons for keeping me in the dark.

"So," I continued, dropping the bone, "you are unaware that, after his 1891 duel to the death at the Reichenbach Falls with Sherlock Holmes, a mortally injured Moriarty was 'rescued' by the then-current Lord of the Undead, Count Dracula."

"It's a new one on me," she replied, and I believed her. I had no reason to assume that a priestess in the Order of the Centipede would have any need to keep up with the doings of Vampire Lords or Napoleons of Crime.

But it was common knowledge in certain circles. As I say, I got the dope from Doctor Unknown. He didn't know the whole story, but he had given me an outline of what he did know, along with what he had surmised, one night over a fifth of whiskey.

A little crease had appeared between Amelia's eyebrows.

"In light of what you've just told me," she said. "There's somebody I think you ought to meet. He approached me a few days ago because he wanted to talk to you about a... unique problem. I debated it with myself, because he isn't exactly what you'd call completely reliable all the time. I was trying to decide what to do. But now I think you might want to hear what he has to say."

"Anybody I know?"

"By reputation, I'm sure. I believe you're familiar with his work."

She told me this person's name, and the nature of his problem.

I found it very interesting indeed.


*


But my mind was, first and foremost, on John Dillinger and his association with Professor Moriarty. And that wasn't the only imponderable I had to ponder. One of the other bank robbers had been a dead ringer for Clyde Barrow. Or, rather, a live one. I hadn't mentioned that to anybody. I wanted to keep some information contained until I could figure out what it meant.

After Amelia returned to her hotel, I placed a call to the nominal head of the Chicago Syndicate, Francesco Raffaele Nitto-- better known as Frank Nitti. We had a relationship that was almost cordial. He had reason to be grateful to me, since I had been instrumental in keeping Frank out of a cement kimono when his mob cohorts decided he was expendable.

"I need a favor," I said to Nitti when I had him on the line. "Nothing onerous-- that means difficult or bothersome. Can you get me information on Dillinger's escape on October 12? Not what's in the papers. Something from the inside."

The last absolutely verified Dillinger sighting was on October 12, 1933. That was the day he broke out of jail in Lima, Ohio. At 6:30 PM--not long after sunset-- Dillinger's cronies, Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, and Russell Clark entered the office of Sheriff Jesse Sarber. That's what the newspapers said, anyhow.

Of course, it might have been a straightforward escape, and Dillinger might have hooked up with Moriarty later on. But it had barely been a month ago, and the heist I had witnessed must have been planned well in advance.

If Nitti didn't know anything about it, he'd probably know someone who did. Bandits like Dillinger were not affiliated in any official way with organized crime. Most mobsters looked on them with disdain. But their orbits converged here and there, and some syndicate gangsters had dealings of one kind or another with the wild and wooly outlaws.

Nitti was silent for a moment, rummaging around inside his head. "Yeah, I think I can manage that. I know a guy. How come? You think the newspaper stuff is bullshit?"

"Isn't it always? Let me know when you have something, Frank."

Nitti called me back within the hour, and he sounded excited.

"Well, Centipede, you was right," he said. "The story that got printed was bullshit. There were actually four guys that showed up to spring Dillinger. Three of 'em were Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, and Russell Clark, just like the official version says. What the official version don't say is that there was a fourth guy. And that's where it gets weird.

"Nobody knows who this mug was. He didn't look like a heavy, though. For one thing, he was old. Maybe seventy or eighty, the witnesses said. Now, as you know, that sheriff-- what was his name, Jerry Sable?"

"Jesse Sarber," I corrected in vain.

"Yeah. This Sheriff Sable got killed, right? The story they put out is that Pierpont pulled a rod and plugged him, okay? Well, that part's bullshit. The truth, according to the guy I know, is that this fourth man, the old guy, jumped on Sable and bit him!"

That made sense to me, but Frank didn't need to know everything I knew, so I feigned disbelief.

"Bit him?" I said incredulously. "Frank, that's nuts."

"Sure it is!" he shot back. "But it happened. And that ain't all. You wanna know what this Sheriff Sarton really died of?"

"Sarber."

"Absolutely. He died from blood loss! This screwy old guy didn't just bite Sarton, he drained almost all of his blood! Drank it! Hand to God, Centipede! That's what I was told, and I believe it. I believe it on account of the guy that told it to me. He's been looking for Dillinger, too. He ain't a cop. He ain't exactly a private eye, either, if you see what I'm getting at. He works for me sometimes, but he ain't on the payroll. He's one of those whattayacallits-- an independent contractor. Dillinger's been a pain in my ass, I don't mind telling ya. He blows in and out of Chicago and raises pure hell every time-- the kind of hell that brings down all kinds of heat, state and federal. Do I need that, Centipede? No, I do not.

"Anyhow, this guy, he's kinda like you, he don't make mistakes. He looked into it himself, in person. Talked to both of the witnesses-- Saber's wife, she saw the whole damn thing, and so did this deputy called Wilbur Sharp."

I was astonished. Frank had actually gotten the deputy's name right.

"Now, this deputy seen something that never made it into the papers. According to my associate, there was a getaway car waiting outside the sheriff's office, and this blood-drinking mug and the others piled into it with Dillinger. According to Sharp, there were a couple of dames in the front seat. One of 'em was driving, the other one was covering the street with a Tommy gun. And who do you think them two broads were?"

"No clue, Frank. Come on, now."

"Okay, okay! The driver was Bonnie Parker and the Tommy gunner was Ma Barker."

Something was going on, all right. I could not yet see what it was.

I finished my conversation with Nitti, hung up the phone and turned my attention to the small stack of mail on my desk. I needed to avoid thinking about Dillinger and Moriarty until I had more concrete information.

I was pleased to see that I had a letter from one of my more colorful acquaintances, the already-notorious-- and destined to become even more so-- Doctor Wilhelm Reich.

Reich was a psychoanalyst, one of the second generation that had begun to run riot along the trails blazed by Freud. Many of the new breed were considered radical. Reich was something else again. His researches took him places where tenured professors feared to tread.

He had, for some time, been working on his theory of orgone energy-- and searching for practical applications. I had become aware of his researches in 1928, long before he dared to go public with any of his work. I had been actively involved in it for about three years at this point, mostly by way of financial support. I had a bit of creative input, but Reich was the scientist-- I was merely a talented and insightful dilettante.

Orgone energy was, according to Reich, nothing less than the universal life force, akin to Mesmer's animal magnetism, or Bergson's √©lan vital; a massless, omnipresent substance closely associated with living energy rather than inert matter. It could coalesce to create organization on all scales, from the smallest microscopic units—called bions in orgone theory—to macroscopic structures like organisms, clouds, or even galaxies

Reich hadn't yet made his orgone theories public-- he had, with financial and logistical support from me, been working to construct a device that could collect and concentrate orgone radiation. The possibilities were vast. Reich was more on the ball than most people knew.

Somewhere in the Nevada desert, Reich was building a massive orgone accumulator-- it was in a cave of sorts, he said-- a hollowed-out area in the ground, open to the sky to facilitate the orgone collection. And I was keenly interested.

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."

He was referring to Percival Doiley, the young reporter for the Zenith Orator who did double duty as my pulp magazine biographer.

"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?"

"Percy..."

"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 moustache 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.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kolchak is back!

Now available for pre-order on Amazon. Kolchak the Night Stalker Double Feature by Chuck Miller, from MOONSTONE BOOKS.

In "Penny Dreadful," Carl Kolchak teams up with private eye Domino Patrick to investigate a series of murders that appear to be copycat crimes based on the 1969 Tate-LaBianca killings. The trail leads to one Penelope Anne Hilligloss, a former member of the Manson Family who now seems to have aligned herself with an even darker power. Kolchak's quest for the truth, and the means to stop "Penny Dreadful," takes him to San Quentin State Prison for a face-to-face meeting with the one man who might have the information he needs: Charles Manson himself.

"The Time Stalker" finds Kolchak in Las Vegas, the city where he once destroyed a vampire named Janos Skorzeny-- or did he? When Skorzeny reappears and begins another murderous rampage, Kolchak must solve the riddle of the vampire's impossible return. Does a mysterious, accidental time-traveler named Zero hold the key? Can Carl put Skorzeny back where he belongs without being arrested by the Vegas P.D. or fired by Tony Vincenzo? With the help of an old, estranged friend from his original Vegas days, and a conspiracy-minded young reporter named Gail Karen, Kolchak once again tackles his first, most terrifying supernatural foe!


Pre-order HERE:

http://www.amazon.com/Kolchak-Penny-Dreadful-Double-Feature/dp/194401702X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1454243176&sr=1-1&keywords=Kolchak%3A+Penny+Dreadful+Double+Feature


Saturday, January 30, 2016

From BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL

(Our hero, the Black Centipede has temporarily swapped bodies with bank robber John Dillinger to infiltrate Professor Moriarty's criminal gang. It seems that Johnny has been taking liberties with another member of the crew.)

***

Herbert West switched off the radio set that had, presumably, relayed the proceedings to the Loch Ness Monster. The hovering "Bell Witch" nameplate suddenly dropped, clattering onto the table. Clyde Barrow and Ma Barker cleared away the glasses. Bonnie Parker stood and watched her boyfriend leave the room, then turned to me and gave me a look that I supposed was meant to be enticing. I wondered just what the hell Dillinger and Bonnie had been up to, and hoped I would not be expected to pinch hit.

Not in a million years, I thought. Not to save my very soul from the Devil himself.

I was heading for the door the Professor had just used. And before I could take two steps, I felt a small but very firm hand on my shoulder.

Forcing a lopsided smile-- I didn't have the stomach to go for lecherous-- onto my borrowed face, turned to confront the ghastly Bonnie Parker.

There is a famous photograph of Bonnie with her foot up on the bumper of a car, a pistol in her right hand and a cigar in her mouth. It had been reproduced countless times in books and magazines, and now the internet. A good one-word description of Bonnie's aspect in that photo would be "haglike," if that's an actual word.

Having viewed her at close quarters, I can say that the famous snapshot is unflattering. Bonnie Parker was not that ugly. In fact, it could be said that she wasn't ugly at all, depending on what you're accustomed to. She was no Faye Dunaway, but very few women are.

Whatever it was about Bonnie that made my skin crawl, it had nothing to do with her appearance, as such. It was something in her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, something darkly sinister that could not be captured on film.

"I need something to eat," I said. I realized that I was foolishly trying to imitate John Dillinger's voice, even though I was speaking through his own vocal apparatus and needn't have bothered.

"Yeah," Bonnie said, smiling in a way that was probably meant to be flirtatious, but put me in mind of a predatory reptile. "The hash houses will still be there later on. I got something that needs a little attention from you."

I saw in this nauseating turn of events an opportunity to have a better look over the premises, if I could keep my lunch down. I wondered what Dillinger had eaten that day. Numbly, like a man being led to a place of execution, I followed Bonnie down a narrow corridor toward the front of the building.

We stepped into the room at the end of the corridor. Judith DeCortez and Zelda Fitzgerald were already in there, sitting at a small table, drinking coffee.

"Hey!" Zelda exclaimed, pointing at me. "That isn't John Dillinger. He looks like Dillinger, but he's not."

"What?" said Bonnie and DeCortez in unison.

"It isn't him," Zelda declared.

"There's one way to find out," said Bonnie Parker, seemingly amused by this. She smiled at me in an exquisitely nauseating manner. "Johnnie's got a cute little mole in a certain spot," she purred. "Let's just have a look, shall we? And maybe I can find something else to do while I'm down there."

She moved closer, and started to reach for my belt buckle.

Mission be damned, I thought, and punched Bonnie Parker in the face. I heard her nose break, which was all well and good, but I'd been trying to do a lot more damage than that. Dillinger was in decent shape, but he wasn't as strong as I was. I had knocked her off her feet, but the damage was minimal.

"Gobdabbit!" she blubbered as she struggled to get up, one hand clapped over her nose, blood pouring out over her fingers. "Ged dad subbababidge!"


GET IT HERE:
http://www.amazon.com/Black-Centipede-Confidential-Chuck-Miller-ebook/dp/B00SP5W6QI/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1422837327

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

COMING SOON!

"THE RETURN OF LITTLE PRECIOUS"
From the MYSTIC FILES of DOCTOR UNKNOWN JUNIOR
As told to Chuck Miller

BOOK THREE in the Moriarty, Lord of the Vampires trilogy


PREFACE

Perhaps the most famous correctional facility in history, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay has a history that goes back to before the American Civil War. In 1934, it was acquired by the U.S. Department of Justice and turned into a federal penitentiary.

It was shut down in 1963, and eventually became a popular tourist attraction.

A decade ago, the property was taken over once more by the federal government, and Alcatraz was refurbished and specially outfitted to house one single prisoner.

That prisoner was the most dangerous criminal mastermind, terrorist and mass killer the world has ever seen.

A decade ago, after an epic trial, she was sentenced to a total of seven thousand years in prison on multiple counts of murder, assault, theft, kidnapping, mayhem, terrorism and assorted other crimes, ranging from simple felonies to treason, sedition, and crimes against humanity.

She was taken to Alcatraz to begin serving her sentence two weeks after her ninth birthday. She has not aged a day since. Nobody knows why.

So ended the Little Precious Crisis. With Jessie Von Cosel safely locked away, the world buried its dead and tried to forget. The unanswered questions-- and they are legion-- were brushed aside by our leaders, who told us it was time to "look to the future."

But the questions remained, a herd of elephants in the world's living room. Jessie Von Cosel was only half of the entity called Little Precious. The other half was a mysterious robot, a small mechanical man whose origin and ultimate fate were never conclusively determined. Some "experts" maintain that the robot was destroyed during the final battle with Little Precious in the Nevada desert, but there is no proof of this.

Where did the robot come from and what happened to it? How did it enter the state of quantum entanglement with Jessie Von Cosel that gave birth to Little Precious?

Where did Little Precious get the super-weapons with which she nearly wiped out mankind?
How can we be sure Little Precious has really been neutralized forever?

If anyone knows the answers to these troubling questions, they haven't spoken them publicly. Though the government denies it, all information pertaining Little Precious is classified at a level so far above Top Secret that the President himself may not be privy to it. Conspiracy theories abound. The public record has been scrubbed clean of all but the most innocuous and least controversial data.

All of this is troubling enough, but the final unanswered question is the most troubling of all:

Did Little Precious Act Alone?


This reporter believes that she did not.

The Harrison Commission told the public that she did. But the Commission's proceedings were held behind closed doors, and no transcript has ever been released. Who testified before the Commission and to what did they testify?

This reporter is currently pursuing leads that may establish a link between Little Precious and one of the most respected and revered figures of the modern age, a man who, without explanation, disappeared from public life several years ago. There is credible evidence that this man acted in concert with one of the most notorious criminals of all time, and that, together, they at least abetted Little Precious' deadly rampage, and may have facilitated it up to a point. These individuals, working with a shadowy secret society, possibly connected with members of our own government, may have "pulled the plug" on Little Precious once her purpose-- whatever it might have been-- was accomplished. And there is also the clear implication that the aforementioned public figure worked in concert with the Harrison Commission to prevent the truth from becoming known to the public.

This reporter has chosen to go public with the existence of these leads, before they have been confirmed sufficiently for publication, as a means of safeguarding his own life. Copies of all the information and evidence thus far compiled have been placed with several individuals around the world, to be released to the public in the event of this reporter's untimely death.


From "Who Was Little Precious?"
by Garrison Knowles
National Watchdog Magazine