a Black Centipede mini-serial
by Chuck Miller
TWO: A PENNY DROPS, POSSIBLY
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.
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..."
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