Thursday, May 23, 2013

DOCTOR UNKNOWN'S first appearance in print, from SEPTEMBER 2011

Published September 15, 2011


“So there I am. Big chunks of the Gold Exchange building scattered all over the place. The one truck still burning a little bit. Dead German hoods strewn all over the landscape. It’s like I’m king of the hill, but there ain’t nobody left to play with.

“Then I remember something. Almanac.

“He’s still laying in the middle of the street, where I put him with that slug. I go over and poke at him. I can’t tell if he’s alive or not, but there he is, the man himself. Most wanted guy in Zenith, apart from you. I start thinking maybe this could be good.

“That’s when this kid picks his way through all the junk scattered everywhere. Says he’s a reporter, comes up with the name Percival Doiley, if you can believe that. Tells me he was on his way to catch the el when the front of the Gold Exchange came down. So he hid himself in an alley and watched. Saw the whole thing, and got pictures to boot. He wants to interview me, says I‘m the hero of the day. I talk with him a few more minutes, totally forgetting that I ought to be calling this in.

“But I guess someone else did. Eventually, a small army of cops arrive. The Commissioner himself shows up, and so does the Chief. I get pulled over to one side, and the Commissioner starts asking me questions.

“The first thing they do is draw up a cordon around the section of the street where Almanac’s body is lying. Nobody goes near it until this limo pulls up. Two guys get out of the back and I notice one of them is a priest and the other is a rabbi. Weird. Then a third guy gets out, and it turns weirder still.

“I recognize this mug because I saw him perform at a show in Middle Park a couple years ago. It’s that magician, Doctor Unknown! He had a lousy stage show, no wonder he didn’t last long. Then he got on the radio for a while, which also didn’t do anything for anybody. Why the hell would you have a magician on the damn radio, anyhow? Finally, I heard he started up a CPA firm somewhere, and I guess he must have found his whattayacallit,  niche. But here he was, and I later find out it’s by order of the mayor. Myself, I can’t see any call for either an accountant or a crummy magic show in the present circumstance, y’know?

“Anyhow, the cops let this third-rate Houdini and his holy pals pass through. He gets down on his knees and gives Almanac the once-over. Then he looks up and nods and the priest and the rabbi both whip out their holy books and start jabbering away, in Latin and I guess Hebrew. My first thought is that they’re giving Almanac the last rites, which I know doesn’t make any sense. Unknown stands up and waves to a couple of cops standing by the limo. They reach into the backseat and come out with their arms full of all kinds of junk, which they carry over to Unknown.

“He unfolds this straitjacket with all kinds of weird symbols painted all over it. They lift Almanac up and put it on him and strap it up tight. When this is done, Unknown pulls a hypodermic out of his pocket and draws some blood outta Almanac’s neck. Then come the chains and shackles. They wind about five miles of iron all around Almanac’s body. It takes nine guys to lift him up and schlep him over to what looks like a hearse. In he goes, and the hearse pulls out, with four squad cars escorting it.

“And, of course, you know what happened after that.”

I did indeed. Doctor Unknown had been unable to determine whether or not Almanac was still alive. Unknown, in spite of his shortcomings as a performer, was a very genuine and very skilled practitioner of the mystic arts, regarded very highly in certain arcane circles. It was plain that Almanac had been throwing some pretty heavy magic around that day, so they didn’t want to take any chances. Somebody somewhere must have seen the fight and understood what they were looking at. Word got to police headquarters pretty fast, then to the mayor’s office. The mayor addressed the situation with uncharacteristic alacrity. He called in Doctor Unknown.

The cops and the doctor wrapped up the corpus and sealed it with umpteen different mystical signs and sigils, and transported it to an undisclosed secure location.

At least, that was how it was supposed to have happened.

There were conflicting stories about what, exactly, happened en route to that not-so-secure location. But the bottom line was the same; Almanac was alive, and he got away. For him, it was a clean getaway. For his escorts, not so much. Doctor Unknown was in a coma. The priest and the rabbi were dead. Eighteen cops had apparently ceased to exist. Everyone else was in a blind panic that would last for a week.

Twelve pounds of miscellaneous unidentifiable human biological material scattered over a square quarter-mile was all they found afterward. There were no bones and no blood that could be typed. Whether the badly-damaged tissue belonged to any or all of the cops could not be determined.

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