Friday, August 17, 2012


a Black Centipede mini-serial 60
by Chuck Miller

FALL, 1933


"You've got villain problems," said Percival Doiley. "Frankly, they won't be easy to tackle. But I have a few ideas, if you'll just listen to me for five minutes."

"Percy," I replied, "I do appreciate your concern, but of the last six criminal masterminds I've faced, three of them are no longer with us, two of them are going to be in prison for a very long time, whether or not they ever walk again, and one of them... Well, the less said about that the better. It might tend to incriminate me. So if you have any wild ideas about becoming my kid sidekick or something, I just..."

"No! That ain't what I'm talking about. Not that kind of problem. You never listen to anybody. Jesus, Centipede, is it gonna kill you to be quiet for five minutes? After everything I've done for you?"

I sighed. I supposed I did owe Percy a debt of gratitude, but what he was asking was unreasonable. It would try the patience of a saint to sit and listen to him for one minute, and here he was asking for five. What kind of lunatic would volunteer for such cruel and unusual punishment?

Granted, Percy had had a major hand in shaping my public image, and he'd done a fairly decent job. People no longer ran screaming from me in the streets, which was a plus. As the regular writer for the "Tales of the Black Centipede" monthly pulp magazine, and the screenwriter (and fill-in director) of the hugely successful "Blood of the Centipede" motion picture, Percy had created almost from whole cloth the humble, industrious, courageous Champion of Justice that everyone who didn't know me personally believed in. He was my counterfeit Boswell. Everything he wrote about me was fabricated. And, I had to admit, the public ate it up. He was a mendacious little sonofabitch, and he turned it into pure gold.

But the boy just got on my nerves something fierce. He was fingernails raking a chalkboard, or an itch in the exact spot on your back that you cannot reach. Still, I had an iron will, and a sense of fair play that was known to rear its head at odd moments. This, for some unfathomable reason, was one of those moments.

"Okay," I said. "I'll give you three minutes, and that is going way above and beyond the call of duty. Fair enough?"

He glared at me. "No it isn't, but I guess I'm lucky to get anything."

We were sitting in a tiny conference area at the Zenith Orator building, just off the City Room. I could see various reporters and editors stealing glances at us through the little window. Percy claimed that his coworkers were jealous of his relationship with me. Perhaps they were. None of them appeared to be very bright.

"Very lucky," I agreed. "I'm glad you realize it. Well, then. If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. Proceed."

He gave me a halfhearted Bronx cheer. I informed him that he had just used up ten seconds. He got down to brass tacks.

"As you know," he said, "all of these criminal masterminds of yours have one thing in common. They're all real people. Some of them have lawyers. Lots of 'em haven't even come to trial yet. Now, news reports are one thing, but we can't use any of these guys in the magazine. We have to go with the ones I've made up. Now, some of those are pretty popular. Johnny Doubledeath, for instance. And Doctor Reverso, from the movie. The public wants to see more of them."

"Then what's the problem?" I asked. "Write more about them."

"You said you'd pipe down and listen. Which is not what you're doing. You're using up my three minutes."

"Okay, the meter's not running while I'm talking. See how reasonable I'm being?"

"Never mind that," Percy said sourly. "Just hear me out. The public wants to see you fight these guys from the magazine. In real life."

"I have no idea where you're going with this."

"I know you don't," he shot back, exasperated. "That's why I'm trying to tell it to you. Jeez! The public wants to see you fight them in real life, like I say, so that's what you ought to do."

"Okay, now I see where you're going. Count me out, Percy. I'm not getting into a staged battle for some kind of publicity stunt."

"Why the hell not?"




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