Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Holmes and...WHO?!?


Known for taking Genre Fiction in strange, twisted directions, award winning author Chuck Miller, creator of 'The Black Centipede', leads readers on a brand new 'Psychedelic Pulp' experience with his latest novel from Pro Se Productions- VIONNA AND THE VAMPIRES: Book One of the Moriarty, Lord of The Vampires Trilogy!

Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly are a pair of hard working psychic detectives experiencing a run of bad luck. A new detective agency, the Femmes Fatales, is taking most of their business. Things seem to change for the better in the form of a new client named Scudder Moran, a wealthy young man with a unique problem; He has been targeted by the very, very late Professor James Moriarty—the Napoleon of Crime in another century, now Lord of the Vampires! Unexpected help arrives in the ghostly person of the Great Detective himself, and they set about unraveling a tangled web of lies and secrecy that reaches deep into each of their lives. Can they find the light before Moriarty unleashes his final, most horrific scheme?


 As the dreadful events of the autumn of 1888 play out, Sherlock Holmes has his hands full with Professor Moriarty, Jack the Ripper, and a certain Transylvanian nobleman with an extended shelf life. And it seems that Doctor Watson has somehow been erased from history! But nothing is ever what it seems, and Holmes will not face his greatest challenge alone...



That night, after Mary and I got back home and I went to sleep, something happened.

I'm not going to call it a dream, because it wasn't.

I went to bed, nodded off to sleep, and all this weird stuff started happening. It was like a dream in some ways, but it wasn't a dream. It made more sense than a dream usually does, for one thing. But, like a dream, it seemed to me at the time that everything was the way it was supposed to be.

After I dropped off to sleep, the whole thing started up, just like a movie or a play or a Sherlock Holmes story told by Doctor Watson.

With one important difference.

You'll see what I mean.


Being a reprint from the reminiscences of Miss Vionna Vernet Valis, late of the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum 

It was a fine evening in the autumn of the year 1888, and Mister Sherlock Holmes, the big-deal genius consulting detective, with whom I shared rooms at 221B Baker Street, had been sitting in the same position for like hours and hours and hours without saying a word to me. He was crouched over a flask from his massive chemistry set, brewing up this horrible reeking glop. He was stinking up the whole house with it, but he didn't care. He always pretty much does whatever the heck he feels like, up to and including shooting holes in the wall with a pistol.

I'm totally serious, he did that one time. The holes are still there. In the shape of the Queen's initials. Honest.

If I did something like that, they'd put me away.

"So," said Holmes, suddenly, "you do not propose to invest in South African securities?"

I just sat there and looked at him for a few seconds. Holmes is always saying crazy stuff like that, and I hardly ever pay any attention to it. He seemed to be waiting for an answer, though, so I finally said, "I guess not. I've never even thought about doing anything like that."

He wheeled around on his little stool, holding his flask full of smelly crap, with a goofy gleam in his deep-set eyes. The gleam turned into a look of mild shock.

"What on earth..?" he said. "I could have sworn for a moment that you were... somebody else, Valis. Strange. I had the impression that you ought to be a... well, never mind." He shook his head. "Now, confess yourself utterly taken aback."

"Huh? I don't follow you."

"Confess yourself completely mystified, Valis," he said sharply. "And then ask me to explain how I could possibly know such a thing. Don't you want me to reveal to you the chain of reasoning by which I arrived at my conclusion?"

I shrugged again. "Not unless you're just dying to. Where the heck is Mrs. Hudson? She should have brought our dinner up by now. I'm starving."

“You remember,” he continued, “that some little time ago when I read you the passage in one of Poe’s sketches in which a close reasoner follows the unspoken thoughts of his companion, you were inclined to treat the matter as a mere tour-de-force of the author. On my remarking that I was constantly in the habit of doing the same thing you expressed incredulity.”

"Nope," I said truthfully. "I don't remember that at all."

Holmes scowled at me and said, "My dear Valis, I must insist that you demand an explanation from me. You must be curious about how I was able to divine your mental processes and come to the conclusion that you have decided not to invest in South African securities."

"Is that what I was thinking? I'm not saying you're wrong, but I don't remember thinking about anything like that. It must have been a fluke. If you say so, I believe you, but I don't even know what a South African security is. When did you learn how to read people's minds?"

"I cannot read people's minds," he replied, closing his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, and sounding a little peeved. "I deduced it in the same way Poe's character did, by... Oh, never mind. We'll just take it as read that I'm brilliant. I do, however, wish you could bring yourself to at least feign incredulity."

"If I knew what that word meant, I might."

Before Holmes or I could say anything else, we heard the sound of someone coming up the stairs. I was hoping for Mrs. Hudson and food, but whoever it was stopped and knocked on the door, which Mrs. Hudson hardly ever does without hollering to tell us who she is.

Holmes threw open the door-- he always does even the smallest things in a dramatic way-- and there stood good old Inspector Lestrade. He's a police detective, and he is constantly bugging Holmes with problems and cases he isn't able to solve by himself.

Lestrade is kind of small for a man, and he looks sort of like a rat in the face, but I don't mean that in bad way. Well, I don't guess there's any good way to mean that, but I'm not trying to insult him, that's just how he looks. He has big front teeth that protrude a little, and his eyes are sort of beady.

"Do come in, Inspector," Holmes said," and have a seat. I fancy a small drop of something wouldn't come amiss?"

"Normally, I would say not while I'm on duty," said Lestrade, taking a seat in the basket chair. "But since I am at present on duty around the clock, I believe I can make an exception."

"You have come to consult me," Holmes said as he whipped up a tumbler of whiskey and soda, "with regard to these Whitechapel killings, I believe."

Lestrade looked at me, smiling and shaking his head. "How does he do it, Miss Valis?"

"Well," I said, "in this case, he probably figured it out from the fact that you have some mud on the cuffs of your trousers that came from where they're digging up the road in front of the post office. Also from the calluses on your right thumb and forefinger."

He looked at his right hand for a couple seconds, then said, "Why, I don't have any..."

"Never mind that, Inspector," Holmes interrupted, giving me a look. "Valis imagines she has a sense of humor now and then. It's best to pay her no mind."

I made a noise, but Holmes paid me no mind.

"It was actually a very elementary deduction on my part," he continued. "The murders are the reason you, and many of your fellow officers, are on round-the-clock duty."

"Then you know we are up against the wall."

Holmes nodded. "I have heard that careers may be at stake. It is too often the case among police officials that the danger to their standing is cause for more concern than the fate of a killer and his victims. Your lack of blinkered personal ambition does you credit, Lestrade."

The inspector nodded. "Warren himself may be in jeopardy if the killer is not brought to book. So he is making life difficult for his subordinates. Most have been feeding him spurious reassurances. I, on the other hand, have admitted that the case defies everything I have learned about criminal investigation. I cannot suggest a course of action.”

“Dear me, Inspector,” Holmes said. “In all your years on the force, you have not mastered the art of telling your superiors what they wish to hear, rather than what you know to be true?”

Lestrade came up with a grim little smile and said, “Toadying has never been my strong suit. I tell my superiors the truth, because the only way to get to the bottom of these outrages is to clearly establish just how much we do not know.”

“Excellent! I flatter myself that some of my own hard-won wisdom has rubbed off on you. I may have done you a disservice, though. Your intelligence and experience, combined with your customary forthrightness, could serve to make you expendable."

“Perhaps," Lestrade said, "But that isn't why I've come to you. I am here because I am utterly stumped and because I cannot bear the thought of that butcher having his way with even one more poor woman. I will see this Jack the Ripper hang for what he has done."

What he was talking about was a series of murders that had recently been committed in the East End of London, which is a dangerous, impoverished place. Somebody that called himself Jack the Ripper had been slaughtering prostitutes in an area called Whitechapel. The murders were totally heinous, some of the most gruesome stuff I had ever heard of. Four women had been killed so far.

"Jack the Ripper," Holmes repeated slowly. "The name he has signed to his correspondence. He seems quite adept at spreading terror with a pen as well as with a knife. The name is just jocular enough to be truly chilling in the context of his deeds. And it raises the shade of another nocturnal bogeyman, the legendary Spring-Heel Jack. Devilishly clever, eh, Valis?"

I shrugged. "If you say so."

Lestrade cleared his throat. "Well,” he said, “we are not at all sure, Mister Holmes, that the letter received by the Central News Agency, claiming credit for the murders and giving that 'trade name,' was in fact written by the killer. There is a rumor we are striving to track to its source to the effect that a journalist produced the thing to create further sensationalism around the case."

"Not an untenable hypothesis,” Holmes said. "It's a great pity that Warren ordered the graffiti found in Goulston Street on the night of the 'Double Event' to be rubbed out before it could be photographed. That might have provided some grist for the deductive mill."

During the early morning of September 30, Jack the Ripper had killed two women, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. Shortly after the second murder, a police constable found a blood-soaked piece of an apron at the entrance to a tenement in Goulston Street. On the wall above the spot where the piece of apron-- which turned out to have belonged to Catherine Eddowes-- had been found, somebody had written a strange message in chalk: "The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing." It didn't seem to have any real meaning, and nobody knew if "Juwes" referred to Jews or something else entirely. It wasn't even for sure that the Ripper had written it. But it could have been important. Which is why it was strange that Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had personally ordered that it be erased before the sun came up-- without it being photographed.

Lestrade shook his head sadly and said, "Isn't that the truth, sir? A criminal act in itself, if you ask me. Warren's conduct throughout this Ripper affair has been odd. And it isn't just him. A great many of the higher-ups have behaved like fools or children. They have made a difficult job nearly impossible with their dithering and bickering."

Lestrade closed his eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, and drank some whiskey before he spoke again.

"The Ripper has been quiet for a few weeks now," he said, "but I cannot kid myself that he is finished. I have the awful feeling that he is planning on an outrage that will eclipse his previous crimes. I am not officially empowered to ask you to take on the case. It isn't your usual line of country, I know. The Ripper seems to be a random madman. But I believe you can do it. I implore you, sir."

"Alas, Lestrade, I cannot."

The inspector looked stunned. So did I.

"And why not, if I may ask?" Lestrade's mood, which was not very chipper to begin with, had just changed for the worse.

"Prior commitments," Holmes said flatly.

"Now, see here! If locating some old dowager's diamond tiara, or..."

"I'm sorry, Inspector," Holmes said gently but firmly, but more firmly than gently, "but I cannot undertake to assist you. I am sorry."

"At least four women have died. How many more are doomed? I implore you, sir."

"I cannot."

"And that is your final word?"

"I'm afraid it is."

Lestrade was fuming. "Well! A fine thing! A very good day to you, Mister Sherlock Holmes!" He said it in a tone that made it clear he actually hoped Holmes would have a very bad day; maybe a week or a month of nothing but bad days. He nodded at me and said "Miss Valis," in a snotty voice, even though all I did was sit and mind my own business.

"He was pretty ticked off," I observed, after the inspector had stormed out of the room, stomped down the seventeen steps to the ground floor, and slammed out through the door onto the street, cursing the whole way.

"Yes," Holmes said calmly, "but I imagine his condition will improve when I deliver the Ripper into his hands, along with sufficient evidence to send the fiend to the gallows."

"Huh? You just told him you wouldn't take the case!"

"True enough," he said, frowning at me." But what I did not tell him is that I cannot take on the case for him, because it would be unethical."

"What?" I said, giving him back his frown with interest. "How the heck is it not unethical to refuse to help the police catch a murderer? Especially this one! Jack the Ripper has cut four women to bits, pulled their guts out, and tossed them around all over the public streets!"

"The entrails were not tossed around, Valis. They were very deliberately draped, in two cases, over the victims' shoulders. And Elizabeth Stride merely had her throat cut. She was not disemboweled."

"That doesn't make it any better," I pointed out.

"I know that. But I cannot investigate the case for Lestrade for the simple reason that I am already investigating it for someone else."

That surprised me. "Who?"

"My client has resources the police do not, and has agreed to put them at my disposal. The Ripper has drawn a great deal of official attention to the East End, and my client finds the increased police presence most inconvenient."

"Which totally does not answer my question," I pointed out. "And how would all of that stuff be true? I mean, unless he's a criminal himself."

Holmes said nothing, just looked at me and smiled.

"He is!" I exclaimed. "You're working for a criminal!"

"You're right, Valis. I'll not mince words. I am climbing into bed with the devil I know, that I may put paid to the one I do not."

 "Who?" I pressed.

"Have you ever heard me speak of Professor James Moriarty?" Holmes replied.

I shook my head.

"Of course not," he said, "because I have never spoken of him. But for years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organizing power which forever stands in the way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrong-doer. Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts—forgery cases, robberies, murders—I have felt the presence of this force, and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted. I have not spoken of it because it was so nebulous. But that has changed."

Holmes paused in his spiel, which was my cue to say something.

"I'll be danged!" I exclaimed. "How 'bout that!"

He nodded. "Quite. I have spent a great deal of time striving to put a name and a face to this power. I confess I found myself baffled. So imagine my surprise when this shadowy Organizing Power presented himself to me one evening in these rooms."

"How 'bout that!" I exclaimed. "I'll be danged!"

Holmes gave me a look, and I started trying to think of some different exclamations.

"You were not here, of course. I was occupied with some notes pertaining to a monograph I intend to write on the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus-- please, Valis, do not ask me what those are-- when there was a knock at the door.

"I opened it, to behold a most singular individual standing at our threshold. It was a man who might be an old-looking forty or a young-looking sixty. He was extremely tall and thin. His forehead domed out in a white curve, and his two eyes were deeply sunken in his head."

"He has two of them," I said. "That's good. And this is that Professor Moriarty you're talking about now?" Just getting it straight in my head.

"Of course," said Holmes. He was beginning to sound very annoyed. "He is clean-shaven, pale, and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. His shoulders are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward and is forever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion.

" 'May I help you, sir?' I asked him.

" 'You are Mister Sherlock Holmes,' he informed me, as though I might somehow be unaware of the fact. I nodded my acknowledgement.

" 'I have come,' said he, 'to consult you on a matter of the utmost gravity. Lives are at stake. Indeed, lives have already been lost. I will not pretend that those lives are of any great consequence to me, but there are other matters involved, which do affect me personally. May I come in, or do you make a practice of interviewing potential clients while standing in your doorway?'

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