Wednesday, August 29, 2012


a Black Centipede web serial
by Chuck Miller


Fall, 1933

So Percy made his phone call, and I went about my business. DeMilby would arrive, Percy told me, two days hence, so I wouldn't have to worry about the Doctor Reverso nonsense for at least 48 hours. For a mayfly, that's two whole lifetimes.

I helped Stan Bartowski run down a gang of excruciatingly uninteresting counterfeiters, an operation that went down with a complete lack of bloodshed. A total bore. After that, I went out on my own in search of more entertaining prey. I'd been hearing a lot of tantalizing rumors that John Dillinger had been spotted in Zenith. Of course, Dillinger was the most famous outlaw in the world at that particular time, and he was "spotted" on a daily basis in every major city in America, and most of the minor ones. But I had come to suspect that Dillinger very well might be holed up in my hometown. I had what I considered some pretty solid leads. 

However, as I was on my way to check one of them out, I got sidetracked by a reanimated Aztec mummy that had been unleashed on the city by Adrian Countenance, one of the super-criminal masterminds that had been springing up like weeds in recent months. I reduced the mummy to dust, but Countenance got away. Poor Dillinger was forgotten in the excitement.

Once all of that was as squared away as it was going to get, I made my weary way back home, to my secret citadel in the top six floors of the stately Benway Building. The offices of the semi-mythical Unlimited Advantage Worldwide Corporation were the facade that hid from prying eyes my sanctum sanctorum, the Centipede's Lair.

No sooner had I walked through the door-- the sun had come up an hour earlier-- than one of my telephones rang. I had several lines coming into the office, each with its own number. I gave the numbers out now and then, to people I might want to hear from if they ever decided they needed to call me. One was dedicated to Stan Bartowski, another to Amelia Earhart, another to Doctor Unknown, and so on. Percival Doiley did not have one, nor did William Randolph Hearst-- the former because he had a tendency to make a nuisance of himself, and the latter... Well, because he was William Randolph Hearst.

When I saw which phone was ringing, I was mildly surprised. Several months earlier, I had given the number of this phone to an extraordinary group of youngsters who had rendered me some much-needed assistance. I had referred to them as my "Baker Street Irregulars," after the gang of urchins who had been employed as agents by Sherlock Holmes. The youngsters, however, had vetoed this and come up with a name of their own.

I removed my mask, lifted the receiver and said hello.

"Mister Centipede? Is that you?" came a youthful and very familiar voice-- familiar not only to me, but to most of the moviegoing public in 1933.

"Yes, it is," I said.

"Whew, thank goodness. I was afraid you'd be off on a case and I'd get a secretary or something. This is Matthew Beard calling. Do you remember me?"

 "Of course I do. Do you think I'd forget the President of the Junior Secret Centipede Club? How are you getting along, Stymie?"

Matthew "Stymie" Beard was a mainstay of Hal Roach's "Our Gang" two-reelers. I had met him and the rest of the regular cast members in Hollywood, during the filming of "Blood of the Centipede." I had a bit of legwork that needed doing around the studio, concerning a small matter I was investigating, and the kids had proven to be natural-born detectives, every bit as clever and resourceful in real life as they were on-screen.

Matthew Beard sounded remarkably mature over the phone, though he was only eight years old at the time. Considerably more articulate than Percival Doiley, for example. He had a good head on his shoulders, and a good heart to go with it. He was also willful, and would go his own way, regardless of the consequences. In fact, director Robert McGowan had given him the name "Stymie" because that was what Matthew tended to do to McGowan's efforts to keep the productions on schedule. The youngster had a habit of wandering off the set to indulge his curiosity about anything that happened to catch his attention.

He reminded me a great deal of myself.

"Where are you, Stymie?" I could hear crowd noises in the background.

"I'm there. I mean, I'm here, in Zenith, where you are, sir."

"Really? What are you doing here? Filming on location?"

"No, not exactly. I guess I sort of came out here on my own."

I frowned. "What? On your own? Are you insane? Are you aware of how young and vulnerable you are? You haven't run away from home, have you?"

"No. Not really. Temporary, I guess, but not just to be doing it. I need to talk to you right away. I have something to tell you. I think it's important. It's about Mister DeMilby. You remember him, don't you? Something funny's going on, and he's in it, and it has to do with you. I was sort of poking around the studio and I overheard him talking to somebody, and... Well, I need to tell you about it. I know it's important, REAL important. I can't even say it to anybody else but you." His voice had taken on an edge of near-desperation.

"Okay, calm down. Where are you right now? Are you safe?"

"I guess so. I'm down at the train depot. I kind of stowed away on the train Mister DeMilby was on. Crazy thing for me to do, I guess, but what I overheard back at the studio sounded pretty serious. I just followed him and when he got on the train, I snuck on, too. I didn't think too much about what I was doing."

"Sounds that way," I said. "You did a very rash thing, you know." I sighed. "Well, I've been guilty of that myself, more than once. I'll come get you and you can tell me all about it. Stay right where you are. Don't go wandering and don't talk to anybody, okay?"

"I won't," he promised. "Both of those things I won't do."

"Good. I'll be there as soon as I can. It seems like you've done a very foolish thing, but I'll reserve judgement on that until I hear what you have to say. See you in a few minutes."

The mask went back on, and I took my express elevator to my private garage in the basement. I could be at the depot in less than five minutes. Once I collected Stymie, the first order of business would be to notify his parents and anyone else who might be looking for him. Then I would hear what he had to tell me. I knew that if he had done this thing, he believed he had good reason. And if he believed he had good reason, chances were that he did.

And after I heard him out, I would make arrangements to ship him securely back home.

I have no clue why I expected it to be that easy...




Saturday, August 25, 2012

Centipede Sneak Preview

I've got several projects coming up in the near future, and announcements will be made at the appropriate time. I'm very excited about all of it.

Now, I know I shouldn't be doing this-- the publisher isn't going to like it-- but I just can't contain myself any longer. So I'm giving you-- right here, right now-- a sneak peek at a page from the most eagerly awaited of those projects.

As I say, I know this is a violation of policy, but I can't help it. I have to share some of it with you-- and, of course, it will serve to whet your appetite for what is to come in the months ahead.

At the same time-- though I abhor censorship in any form-- I don't want to give too much away. So I have redacted a couple of minor words and phrases that might constitute spoilers.


Monday, August 20, 2012


a Black Centipede mini-serial
by Chuck Miller

FALL, 1933


As it happened, I was experiencing a lull in the endless procession of super-criminals. I had finally managed, two days previously, to put paid to the absurdist antics of Doctor Duchamp and the Dada Gang. I had no idea what they'd been trying to accomplish. For their first great coup, they had managed to steal every urinal in the Zenith Department of Public Works building, some fifty in all. The following morning, the missing pissoirs were found affixed in rows to the imposing facade of the Sanhedrin Museum of Art. Though it was technically a felony, I regarded it as little more than malicious mischief, and felt inclined to give the whole thing a pass.

But they made the mistake of staging their next impromptu exhibition at the Benway Building. I don't know about art, but I know what I don't like, and a mob of pretentious whackos defacing the building I own is at the top of that list. The Benway is the closest thing in the city of Zenith to a world-class cultural icon, so it was a tempting target. The gang painted a huge mustache and goatee on the front of the building. Harmless enough, you might say, but they accidentally killed two window washers in the process. I lamented the deaths, but appreciated the fact that the gang had provided me with a moral justification for what I did next.

I tracked them to their bolthole and confronted them. Duchamp informed me that he and his cohorts were non-criminals who had committed a series of non-crimes, therefore any attempt on my part to arrest them would be-- like life itself-- utterly meaningless. It was the lamest attempt at sophistry I had ever heard, and did nothing to improve my mood. I told him that was just fine, since I was there to un-arrest them. I never cared for the surrealists, or whatever they were supposed to be, so I gave the doctor and his gang a quick lesson in hot lead existentialism. In the process, I foreshadowed future developments in the field of modern art--Jackson Pollock would have loved what I'd done with the floor of the Dada Gang's hideout...

Since then, things had been quiet.

I figured that whatever lunacy Percy had plotted might at least clear my palate in readiness for the next diabolical mastermind. And, of course, it would give me the opportunity to ferret out any shocking truths he might be hiding from me.

"Well," he said, rubbing his hands together and smiling, his earlier nervousness forgotten, "I'm thinking we go with Doctor Reverso. He's in the movie, which is still doing good business. So if you and him was to mix it up in some high-profile location, and a reporter and a shutterbug just happened to be right there..."

"Yes, yes," I said, "I'm sure you have it all figured out and ready to go. I don't need to be privy to the inner workings of your Machiavellian mind. Frankly, it's just too much for a rube like me. You're the Napoleon of publicity stunts, Percy. Wherever you lead, I shall follow-- no questions asked."

He gave me a skeptical look. "Are you feeling okay?"

"If I felt any better, I wouldn't be able to stand it. I'm just eager to watch your plan unfold. You came up with it on your own, right? Hearst didn't suggest it to you?"

"Hell, no!" Percy shot back. "The Boss is a clever guy and all that, but I'm the idea man. That's what he hired me for. What did you think, I got this job because of my looks?"

"Certainly not. Hearst isn't charitable enough to employ someone based on an infirmity. Obviously, you caught his eye for other reasons."

"Well, yeah. I'm a smart cookie, no matter what you think, and Hearst knows that. He said I..." Percy stopped short and gave me a fishy eye. "Hey, did you just insult me?"

The remark I'd launched into his ear a few moments ago had finally reached the dock.

"Certainly not," I assured him. "I was using Socratic irony." I figured that would put me on safe ground, since there was no way in hell Percy knew what Socratic irony was. I wasn't entirely sure, myself.

"Oh," he said, mollified. "Well, uh, gosh, thanks."

"Not at all. You've earned it. Now, tell me about your plan."

He did. It was actually pretty straightforward. Not very clever or devious at all. It was an ethical disaster, to be sure, but it lacked the baroque quality of the Roosevelt operation.

"I'm sure glad you agreed to this," he said, "because I've already got the ball rolling. Mag DeMilby Junior will be on his way here as soon as I give the word."

Mag DeMilby Junior was one of those nameless faces that are as familiar to moviegoers as members of their their own families. As a character actor, he had appeared in dozens-- if not hundreds-- of movies, beginning in the salad days of the silents. He was the crooked cop, the heroic cop, the cruel dogcatcher that tormented the Our Gang kids, the gangster who took a pot shot at Cagney, the newspaper editor, the small-town judge, the doctor who couldn't fathom the meaning of the tiny bite marks on the neck of his deceased patient, the depraved henchman, and so on. His mug was as ubiquitous as those of Lionel Atwill, Vernon Dent, George Zucco, Edward Van Sloan, and scores of other actors whose names you can never think of when you see them. 

And, most recently, he had been Doctor Reverso, in "Blood of the Centipede." In fact, it was the first film in which his name appeared right up there with the stars, instead of being tossed  indifferently into the closing credits. Now his resume boasted a rather more impressive role than "Man in phone booth" or "irate desk clerk."

And DeMilby was, like most of his Tinseltown comrades, an inveterate boozer and skirt chaser. 

And this is not just gratuitous character assassination on my part. His proclivities played a large role in the catastrophe that lay just ahead...


Sunday, August 19, 2012


a Black Centipede mini-serial

by Chuck Miller

FALL, 1933


"For one thing, it's an incredibly stupid idea-- even for you."

He became indignant. "Well, I like that. Fine way to talk to the man who made you a star."

"Oh, you played your part," I magnanimously allowed. "I'm not denying that. But it was Hearst that got the ball rolling. No-- Actually, it was me that got the ball rolling, just by existing in the first place."

"Right, and you saved Roosevelt all by yourself," he said, with the merest hint of a sneer in his voice.Then he stopped short. His eyes got wide and his jaw dropped slightly,  as though he'd been startled by what he had just said. As well he might.

I had never learned just how much-- if anything-- Percy knew about the assassination attempt charade back in February.
(Note: See Creeping Dawn: the Rise of the Black Centipede by Chuck Miller, Pro Se Press, 2011-- look to your right, effendi.) William Randolph Hearst had orchestrated the whole thing, and done at least some of the legwork himself. I had never stopped to consider that Percy might have played a more important role than that of ignorant lackey. It seemed to suit him so well.

Percy had jumped through hoops to get a certain mysterious note into my hands, a note that led me to the right place at the right time to save President-elect Roosevelt from a maniacal sniper-- or so it had appeared. Once I had figured out the truth, I had assumed that Hearst had given the order and Percy had obeyed without knowing exactly what he was delivering or why. He had never given any indication of guilty knowledge.

But I had begun to question my perception of Percival Doiley earlier that year, when were were in California for the filming of "Blood of the Centipede." I had my suspicions that he may have been up to some foolhardy and dangerous mischief-- things I would not have thought him capable of. And I had begun to wonder if Percy had hidden depths.

And now, it looked as though he had inadvertently put his foot into something. He stayed silent, waiting to see how I would react. It took me three seconds to decide on an approach.

"I'm sorry, Percy," I said absently, shaking my head as though emerging from a daze, "what did you just say? I'm afraid my mind wandered."

He got a look of relief on his face for a moment, then quickly replaced it with one of annoyance. It wasn't very convincing. "Gosh," he said quickly, "you could pay attention, at least. I said you saved Roosevelt's life. I was agreeing with you. You're right, you did, I didn't have nothing to do with that. Not a thing in this world. I... ah, I'm sorry I got on a high horse with you, I mean, I just, you know..."

"Yes, yes," I said, in my customary curmudgeonly manner. (I imagine Percy thought of me as a cranky old man, though I was actually two years his junior. For my part, I had always seen him as a moderately bright, rather willful eight-year-old, one who had more need of the stick than the carrot.) "There's no need trying to suck up to me. My mind is made up."

Percy, evidently emboldened by his narrow escape, started to berate me, but I held up a hand and spoke over his protests.

"I'll go along with your scheme, Percy," I said.

As far as getting Percy to come clean was concerned, I knew that a frontal assault would be worthless. If I wanted to learn just how much Percy knew, I would have to keep him off balance and strike when the time was ripe. I was determined to find out whether or not I had nourished a viper in my bosom by showing Percival Doiley the slight bit of trust that I had. If I was dealing with a cunning young mastermind rather than a piece of light comic relief, I wanted to know.

"You will?"

I nodded. "You make a good point. It could be that I owe you a great deal. If so, I want to be sure you get what you've got coming."

He pondered this with an expression on his face that I would not associate with a mastermind, or even an individual of normal intelligence. After a few moments, he smiled.

"Well, then. Hey, that's mighty big of you, Centipede. Okay. Here's what I have in mind..."