Wednesday, March 6, 2013


At this very moment, I am finishing up "A Confederacy of Devils," an early adventure of the Bay Phantom, set in 1931, in which we see him in his prime. I have no information on when it will be out. It'll probably be a while. In the meantime, here is the original unpublished Bay Phantom tale, set in the modern day, in which the 94-year-old Phantom, down on his luck, is befriended by a young college student named Janie Colson.

After a while, I realized I had no idea where I was. I had evidently set off in exactly the wrong direction, and ended up crashing though some foliage and finding myself in an old cemetery. It was vexing. I sat down on a tombstone in hopes that my head would clear sufficiently for my sense of direction to assert itself. 

     Before that could happen, I became aware that I was not alone among the dead. Two other warm bodies were present, and they seemed to have taken an unhealthy interest in me. 

     They were a couple of hoodlums from central casting, the kind of guys who show up in a movie to mug some poor girl, and end up getting their asses stomped by a superhero. But this wasn't Gotham City, nor was it a movie. I sighed. 

     "Hey, little bitch," one of them said, displaying the wit for which his kind is famous. "You got anything for us?"

     "No I don't," I said. "And if I were you, I'd just..."

     "Shut up! You ain't us! What you are is in the wrong place at the wrong time."

     Great, I thought, exactly the kind of thing I live for.  Mugged and probably raped in a graveyard. Well, I was not prepared to go gently into that bad night. I was bummed and disaffected, but a long way from suicidal. I wasn't really scared. First, I was shitfaced. Second, I know how to take care of myself and then some, and I was prepared to teach my attackers a lesson they'd never forget.

     Things didn't go that way. My confidence in myself would not have been misplaced had I been at all sober.  But the kind of self-defense that allows a woman just a shade over five feet tall to overpower two six-foot-plus men requires more concentration and coordination than I was capable of just then. I made my move. I went down. Fists and feet started bouncing off of me. I was trying to decide whether I should make my peace with God, or tell Him once and for all where He could stick it. It was, I thought, a pretty ignoble demise for someone as noble as me.

     Then things got quiet. I had my eyes closed, and was waiting patiently for the death blow, but it kept on not coming. I hissed in annoyance. "Come ON, goddammit!" I said. I didn't want to die, but if it was unavoidable, I didn't care to wait around half the night. 

     After a few more seconds, I realized I was hearing the sounds of a struggle, one that did not involve me. I opened my eyes and looked around.

     About ten feet to my right, my two erstwhile assailants appeared to have found someone they liked better. They had someone backed up against a twelve-foot marble gravestone and were applying their fists and feet with great vigor and industry. I hauled myself to my feet.

     "If you two have had enough," the new guy wheezed, in a voice that was naggingly familiar, "we can end it here and you can go home. I don't want to kill you boys, and if you assure me you have seen the error of your ways, I'll let you walk away, lesson learned."

     The two assholes laughed heartily at this and redoubled their efforts. Their victim had managed to drag a pistol out from somewhere inside the heavy black overcoat he wore, but one of the attackers slapped it out of his hand-- sending it flying in my direction. I picked it up as its owner repeated his generous offer to the two guys who were about to beat him to death. He didn't beg or even politely ask for mercy-- he just kept prattling on as though he had the upper hand and was just being indulgent.

     I admired that, and expressed my admiration by aiming at the nearest attacker's left knee and pulling the trigger.

     It made a wet, popping sound, and the guy yelped and fell to the ground. By the time the other one realized what was happening, I had clubbed Wounded Knee into unconsciousness and turned the weapon on him. I had found a means of defense that required no finesse at all. Asshole's eyes were filled with terror as I thumbed back the hammer. I gave him a nasty grin and said, "Who's the bitch now, eh?"

     He just stood there gawking. 

     "You need to answer when I ask you something, boy," I said. I pulled the trigger. Asshole flinched at the shot, but I had deliberately missed him, and the bullet whanged off of a large tombstone a few feet behind him.

     When he looked down and saw that he didn't have any more holes in him than what he'd come there with, he tried to say something. A bunch of noises tumbled out of his mouth, but they didn't add up to anything sensible. I had spent all of my bloodlust on Wounded Knee, so I decided to just throw a scare into Asshole. It had occurred to me that shots had been fired, and the police might become involved at any moment. I wasn't drunk enough not to care about that, and I figured one more shot wouldn't hurt, if it brought things to a swift conclusion and allowed me to go elsewhere with great haste. I aimed slightly away from his head and pulled the trigger.

     There was a click and nothing more. The goddamn gun was empty. Asshole seemed pleased, figuring that he had literally dodged a bullet. He smiled and started walking toward me. But adrenaline had sharpened my reflexes, and when he got close enough, I swung and broke his nose with the barrel of the gun. 

     By this time, Wounded Knee had managed to get vertical, and was hopping on his good leg. I suggested that Asshole render aid and comfort to his friend, and that both of them get the hell out of there before I did something else nasty to them. Asshole meekly complied.

     So off they went, and good riddance. I then turned to the man I had rescued from death or worse.

     "C'mon, get up," I said, grabbing a black-gloved hand. 

     "Mmm, yes, thanks," he drawled. His voice was familiar, but muffled by a black mask or hood which covered his entire head and face. I didn't think I cared much for that. When I had him on his feet, I took a cautious step backward. He glanced around, saw what he was looking for, and picked it up. It was a soggy, black, wide-brimmed hat, and he plopped it on top of his head.

     "Are you all right, miss?" he asked solicitously. "Quite fortunate that I happened along," he continued. His voice was thick and he was slurring his words a little.

     "You have a mask on," I remarked. I generally avoid stating the obvious, but this was an unusual situation, and I thought it needed to be addressed.

     "Indeed I do, young lady. In my line of work, I find it advantageous to keep my true identity concealed. Ah... Could I have my gun back, please?" 

     "Just a second," I said. "I gotta figure you out first. Are you like a cop or something?"

     "No, not exactly. I need that gun back." He made a grab for it, and almost pitched over onto the ground. When I grabbed his arm, I got a telltale whiff.

     "You're drunk," I said.

     "So are you," he shot back.

     "Granted," I said. "But I'm not wearing a mask and waving a gun."

     "You ARE waving a gun."

     He was right. 

    "Touche," I acknowledged, handing him back his firearm. "What the hell, it's not loaded anyhow."

     He stuffed it into a jacket pocket and said, "I must say, I would expect more gratitude from someone whose life I just saved. Your generation has no respect for common courtesy."

     "First, I don't have anything to do with my generation, and second, it looked to me like I was the one that saved your life. Those two were about to cave your goddamn skull in!"

     "It might have appeared that way," he said haughtily, "but they would have learned the folly of tangling with the Bay Phantom."

     "Who the hell is the Bay Phantom?"

     "I am! You couldn't glean that from the context?"

     "Okay, but what does it mean?"

     "You've never heard of me?"

     "Obviously. I'm Janie Colson. Have you ever heard of me?"

     "Are you famous?"

     "About as famous as you, it looks like."

     He glanced around. "We should get out of here," he said. "Thanks to your gunplay, we may find ourselves the objects of unwanted attention."

     "Thanks to my gunplay, you may have avoided finding yourself an object of attention in the county morgue," I pointed out.

     "We'd better get indoors," said my strange companion. "I think I hear sirens. Come on, I live just over there."

     My uncertainty about the Bay Phantom was overpowered by my certainty that I didn't want to get picked up by the cops for something that might turn out to be a felony. Besides, something about him was pushing my "trust him" button. Later on, I realized it was because he reminded me of my dad.

     I went with him to his apartment. The little complex was just over a small rise from the cemetery. The place was obviously cheap, but not quite shabby, yet another in the endless string of properties owned by CarterRents, which must have been one of the biggest real estate outfits on the Gulf Coast, since the name was everywhere you looked. I gathered that the tenants here were mainly students. The Phantom had a ground-floor apartment in a two-story block of four. He pulled out a ring of keys, unlocked about fifty locks, and we went in.

     The place was unimpressive. It looked worse than the lair of an average college student. The man's housekeeping skills were apparently nil. I flopped down onto a ratty sofa. My "rescuer" went into the little kitchenette and got a big bottle of cheap whiskey. Then he deposited himself in an armchair and removed his hat and mask.

     "Hey!" I said, "you're the old guy that tried to grope me back at the bar!"

      He shot me a look. "Don't flatter yourself, " he snapped. "I was trying to get to the can. You were planted right smack in my way."

     "Who the hell are you, anyhow?"

     "I'm the Bay Phantom! I thought we'd been over that. I am... Well, I was a crimefighter. A very long time ago." He had become wistful, bittersweet and melancholy, all at once. I softened up a bit.

     "You were a superhero?" I asked.

     He made a sour face. "I despise that term," he said. "I was a masked adventurer, or a mystery man. 'Superhero' is a trite vulgarism."

       “I have never, ever heard of you."

       "Well, I haven't been very active for the past few years."

       "How many years?"

        He sighed deeply. "Ah... forty or so. I'm sort of semi-retired. Mostly... Ah, mostly I drink. No family. Friends-- and enemies-- all dead. But I do the occasional good deed, like I did just now. I'm always ready. Never leave home without the mask and gun in my pocket."

     "Uh-huh. What did you do back before you were semi-retired?”

     "What do you think? I fought crime and evil."

     "Did you just go door-to-door, or what?"

     "Good grief, you certainly are impertinent."

     "Is that what it's called? Listen, I'm just asking questions. I'm unfamiliar with the whole masked mystery schtick, okay?"

     He seemed a bit mollified by this. "Well, basically I would wait around until some fiendish criminal mastermind or other would rear his head, then I'd slap him down. I never had long to wait. They were coming out of the woodwork in those days."

     He fell silent, probably overwhelmed by the pageant of glorious memories our conversation had called up.

     "You had lots of enemies?" I pressed.

     "Oh, they were legion, dear girl. One right after another, all through the 30s. Seemingly endless. No sooner would I see one of them in prison or six feet under than another would pop up. Captain Demonicus, The Black Embalmer, Little Miss Sunburn, The Bloody Brain, Professor Necrosis, the diabolical Legion of the Silent... And on and on and on." He sighed and poured more whiskey. "They're all, dead now, of course. Just like I ought to be."

     "I get it that you feel sorry for yourself," I said. "You don't have to keep piling it on. I'm too young and vibrant to have to listen to that maudlin crap. From now on, every time you say something, I'll just mentally tack on that you ought to be dead, okay?"

     He scowled at me. "You, young woman, are nothing but a smartass."

     "Oh, I'm much more than that, though I'll admit it is one of my main attractions. I think it's absolutely goddamn charming."

     "I'm glad you do," he said sourly. "It would be a shame if you loathed yourself as much as everyone else must."

     I pooh-poohed that and snatched the whiskey bottle from him, over his rather feeble protest. Rather than hunt for a clean tumbler in his disaster area of a kitchenette, I took a slug right from the bottle, then handed it back.

     "Which one was the worst?" I asked, as he primly wiped the neck of the bottle with his sleeve. "Of all those old enemies, I mean."

     He was silent for a few moments, staring at the wall. He had an odd look in his eye, and I knew he was gazing at something a long way off in both space and time.

     "Doctor Piranha," he finally said, with a visible shudder. "Doctor Piranha. Janie, he was the worst of the worst."

     "What did he do?"

     "I... don't want to talk about it."

     "You don't remember, do you?"

     "Of course I remember!" he snapped indignantly. "I may be 94 years old, but I assure you my mind is just as sharp as it ever was. I'm not suffering from... ah... that disease that makes you forget things."

     "That's good. So, what did your Doctor Pinata do?"

     "It's Piranha, and he wasn't mine, and he was guilty of... atrocities. Lots and lots of really... atrocious... atrocities."

     "Drink some more whiskey," I suggested. "Maybe it'll shake something loose."

     He shook his head. "Nothing needs loosening. I assure you, I remember it all, in great detail. I just prefer to keep it to myself." 

     "Well... you must have had a lot of other adventures besides that," I said. "You ever thought about writing your memoirs?"


     "Yes. You think back over your life and write down shit that seems important. Then you put it in a book and sell it to people and you get rich."

     "Oh, it's as simple as that, is it?"

     "More or less, yeah. I might have left out one or two minor steps, but, essentially, yeah."

     "If that were true, everyone would do it."

     "No. For one thing, everyone is too incredibly boring to have enough interesting shit to fill a postcard, much less a book. For another, everyone does not have a father who is a very respected best-selling author with publishing connections out the ass. But I do."

     Ah. That created a ripple. He shifted in his seat and looked interested for the first time. "Has he written anything I'd have heard of?" I named three or four of Dad's books, and the Phantom had heard of every one of them. He'd even read a couple. I had him hooked.

We hashed out a tentative agreement and notarized it with the rest of the fifth.



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