Thursday, July 31, 2014

Meeting Mary Jane

In this unpublished fragment, Dana Unknown's pal, Jack Christian, meets Mary Jane Gallows:

"And Professor Moriarty," Vionna went on. "What happened to him, do you think?"

"I don't know. And then there's the Clay Man. I know he gives most people the creeps, but he's very useful, as you know from experience. Not to mention the fact that he cost Dana's dad 3.4 million dollars, and that was back in 1950. It would run you about thirty-three million today. Doc Unknown commissioned some freaky Kabbalist wizard with tax problems and a coke habit of biblical proportions to create the thing and imbue it with whatever it was imbued with."

"I wish I could afford expensive stuff like that," Vionna said wistfully.

"You're fine with what you have," said Mary Kelly.

At exactly three o'clock there was a knock at the door. The new client. Vionna went and answered the door, then escorted the client into the office. It was a woman-- very young, late teens, probably.

She looked familiar, but I couldn't place her. I knew she wasn't anybody I had ever met in any ordinary, everyday context. If I had seen that face before, it would have been in a photograph. And I had the impression that it must have been a very old one, in spite of the fact that she looked like a teenager. In my minds eye, I removed the color from her face, leaving only shades of black, white and gray. Yes, that looked better. I was on the right track. I tweaked my imaginary portrait further, adding a film grain effect and a bit of sepia tone. Better still. I almost had it now.

"I need help," she said, after Vionna had shown her to a chair, "much as it pains me to admit it. I am absolutely perplexed and I have heard a great many good things about your agency. This is exactly the sort of case where your talents will shine most brightly. Also, you have a sort of connection to this affair. That's why I requested that Mr. Christian be present."

"I know you," said Mary Kelly. "Forgive my impertinence, but I find it difficult to believe that your name is really Veronika QuiBono. The name is utterly absurd. And I have seen you before. A very long time ago."

"Yes," said the visitor, " that is true. We have brushed up against one another, so to speak, on two occasions; once in 1892, and again in 1933. This, however, is our first face-to-face meeting in the real word. I'm very sorry about what my father did to you. Though I disavowed him decades ago, I still feel a certain amount of responsibility. So I am pleased to find you doing so well."

"Okay, wait a second," I said. "Before this goes any further, let's clarify a couple of things that are bothering me." I made eye contact with our guest. "First off, 1892? Did I hear that right? And 1933 as well?"

She nodded. "That's right."

This gave me more fodder for my mental Photoshop. I deleted the clothes she was wearing and replaced them with something from the early 20th Century. Yes, I was getting there. The memory swam closer to the surface of my mind.

"You don't look like you're more than 18 years old," I went on. "How is it that you were in a position to be brushing up against people a hundred and twenty years ago? Are you some kind of time traveler or something?"

"Yes, I am. But I only travel forward, and it takes me approximately 365 days to advance one year into the future."

"That's cute," I said. "So, you're more than a hundred and twenty years old? You're very well preserved." I wasn't as skeptical as you might think, but I was wary, of course.

"Thank you," she said. "Yes, I just turned 121 last month."

"Okay, I've seen stranger things. Now, what's this about your father?

"Jack," Vionna piped up, "she came here to hire me and Mary, not you. Quit monotonizing her."

"Monopolizing, dear," Mary corrected her.

"Actually," said the prospective client, "I believe Miss Valis was correct. This young man is incredibly monotonous, and it's beginning to try my patience. Over the years I have managed to develop enough self-restraint to suffer fools like him without resorting to violence, but only up to a point. In fact, that's part of why I'm here."

"Now, look, Miss Whoever," I said with some indignation, "I don't know who you think..."

"Jack!" Mary Kelly interrupted me. "You have no idea who you're talking to, do you?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out," I said irritably. 

"No," said the visitor, "you're just fumbling. You wanted to know who my father was. Even I do not know his real name, but he called himself Jack the Ripper. It might also interest you to know that my mother was Lizzie Borden. Quite a pedigree, is it not? So. Knowing what you now know about my antecedents-- even if you know nothing at all of me-- you might naturally assume that I am one of the very last people on earth that you would want to screw with in any way, shape or form. Have you indeed made that assumption, young sir?"

I just nodded. She was extremely convincing. Her eyes were boring into mine, and I felt light-headed-- almost giddy-- and seemed to have momentarily forgotten how to communicate verbally. I have gazed into many an abyss in my day-- both literal and figurative-- and had never really understood Nietzsche's old saw about the abyss gazing also into you. It just didn't seem like anything to be alarmed about. I mean, who cares? Be my guest! Gaze all you want, even take a few Polaroids if you feel inclined. It seemed pretty passive.

But this woman's eyes were an abyss unlike any other. What I saw in them was just a hint of deep strangeness and great danger. I knew there were things in there that I could never fathom. I also knew at that moment that she did not have the same trouble with me. To her, I wasn't an abyss-- I was a shallow wading pool, barely worth the handful of seconds it took her to compile a complete inventory of my soul. And, somehow, I got the impression that she was unimpressed with what she found.

She stood up and moved toward me, extending her hand. I rose from my chair, and we shook. Her hand was cool and dry, while my own had generated some unpleasant perspiration. I knew who she was. She was practically a clone of Lizzie Borden, whose likeness I had seen countless times. But there were no surviving photographs of Lizzie as a teenager. That was what had thrown the monkey wrench into my supposedly-eidetic memory. Our visitor was an anachronism in more ways than one.

"My name," she said, "is Mary Jane Gallows, and I have come to hire your sister and Miss Kelly to do a job for me. And I also have business with you, which I will explain in detail later on."

You can meet her too, if you're feeling brave. Just go here and plunk down 99 cents:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Let us go then

From the private journal of the Black Centipede:

After a few more drinks, I made my weary way back to the upper reaches of the Benway Building, my sanctum in downtown Zenith. It was the tallest building in the city and it belonged to me. I inhabited the top six floors and rented out the rest.

At a reception desk in the center of the lobby sat a man. He was no longer young and not yet old, dressed in his morning coat, his collar mounting firmly to his chin. He wore a rich and modest necktie, asserted by a simple pin.

"Mister Centipede!" the man exclaimed-- not too loudly, though. His manner always seemed self-consciously subdued, as though he were afraid he might somehow disturb the universe if he accidentally became too raucous. "Good to see you, sir!"

Lately, the Unlimited Advantage Worldwide Company had diversified. Formerly an on-paper-only business entity, my corporation had recently made the jump into the real world. With the assistance of Doctor Unknown-- who was a CPA in addition to being a wizard-- I had transformed the empty shell of the UAWC into a valid business entity, with financial interests in a dozen or so enterprises. It soon became more than I could handle by myself.

What with my expansion, I had to have some sort of a staff at "corporate headquarters." At this particular time, I had two employees. One-- the man at the reception desk-- was J. Alfred Prufrock, a clerkish, expatriate Briton who had arrived at the threshold of middle age without ever having accomplished anything. That's how he saw it, anyhow, and, after reviewing his curriculum vitae, I was forced to agree.

My friend Amelia Earhart, who had recently taken it upon herself to oversee certain aspects of my life, had encountered Prufrock on one of her sojourns abroad, and had recommended him for the position of office manager. She had caught him late one night, apparently making a halfhearted attempt to jump from a bridge into the Thames. She subdued him; some mild violence was involved, she gave me to understand.

When Prufrock came to, Amelia-- remembering something she had read about a certain party who makes his home in New York City-- had informed him that she had saved his miserable life, so from that point on, he was beholden to her. She offered him a purposeful life of mystery and adventure as an agent of the awesome Black Centipede. (This was many years before the word "awesome" started making such a nuisance of itself.) Prufrock denied that he was suicidal, claiming he had only been trying to "hear a mermaid sing." However, he had heard of the Black Centipede, and he rather liked the idea of a purposeful life-- but he wondered if perhaps there were some position open that didn't involve quite so much in the way of mystery and adventure.

As an office manager, Prufrock was politic, cautious, and meticulous. On a personal level, he was deferential and glad to be of use.

J. Alfred Prufrock was created by T.S. Eliot, and appears in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), a work in the Public Domain. Look for him in BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL, coming your way soon. Relatively. Meanwhile, buy everything else I've written, from Amazon:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T.S. Eliot (1915)

  S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
  A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
  Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
  Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
  Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
  Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

. . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?. . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in 
upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the 

And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

. . . . .

No!I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How You Can Be a Hero!

I've noticed that in my preface to the first installment of The Journal of Bloody Mary Jane, I used the word approbation where I actually intended to say opprobrium, which is pretty much the exact opposite. A relatively minor error, and one I wouldn't lose any sleep over-- if I were working for anybody but Mary Jane Gallows. It is too much to hope that she won't notice it, so I am making a public mea culpa here, and will hope for the best. Maybe she'll be in a good mood, but I can't help looking over my shoulder. I suppose one inevitably runs certain risks when one agrees to act as the literary agent for a woman who is the immortal, indestructible, supernatural daughter of Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper, and has, over the past 122 years, killed more people than most of us have had hot dinners.

She can be volatile at times, but I think she has mellowed a bit over the last 60 or 70 years. As she mentioned to me recently, decapitating Hitler with her bare hands was very cathartic and relieved her of a great deal of free-floating hostility.

So, I am taking this opportunity to publicly acknowledge my error and to offer my sincere apologies to the reading public and also to... uh, one of the most dangerous creatures ever to walk the earth, who also happens to be a stickler for detail and has never been known to tolerate even the slightest blunder from anybody in her employ.


If this turns out to be my final post, I feel certain that my body will never be found. So please make a memorial contribution to the charity of your choice, in lieu of flowers. And do not investigate my disappearance if you want to keep the body count down to one...

Hey, I just got an idea! I probably shouldn't ask, but... Gosh, it strikes me that the more copies we sell, the less likely Miss Gallows is to vent her spleen or anything else on me. So... Could you go buy one right now? They're just 99 cents, you know. Surely that isn't too much for you to pay to help save a man's life, is it? You... may be my only hope. And not only that, but you get a swell story, too! 

Did I mention that she once lifted a grown man above her head and propelled him through a cinder block wall? Head first. With one hand. 

She did that. He got the words inferred and implied mixed up.

So... Think about it, will you? Don't think for too long, though... I thought I heard something at the door just now... 

Yours Uncertainly,
Chuck Miller 
Remember, even if you don't have a Kindle, there are several different free Kindle reading apps available.


Available right now! Bloody Mary Jane-- the inside story.

Remember, even if you don't have a Kindle, there are several different free Kindle reading apps available.


Friday, July 11, 2014




The Liverpool Scene was a poetry band, which included Adrian Henri, Andy Roberts, Mike Evans, Mike Hart, Percy Jones and Brian Dodson. It grew out of the success of The Incredible New Liverpool Scene, a CBS LP featuring Henri and McGough reading their work, with accompaniment by the guitarist Roberts. Liverpool DJ John Peel, who was then working on the pirate radio station Radio London, picked up on the LP and featured it on his influential late-night Perfumed Garden show. After Radio London closed down, Peel visited Liverpool and met the band; as a consequence, they were featured in session on his BBC Top Gear and Night Ride shows, and in 1968 he produced their first LP. Four LPs were issued with Henri’s poetry heavily featured. (Wikipedia)

Monday, July 7, 2014

They're coming!

The Black Centipede and his friend and partner, Amelia Earhart, will return this Fall in Black Centipede Confidential, facing off against Professor Moriarty, Lord of the Vampires, and his diabolical Order of the Sunless Circle. The stakes are higher than ever this time around, and our heroes will be sorely pressed. But they will not fight alone. Joining them will be the members of the Black Centipede's Invisible Round Table.


(Some names appear on both lists. They aren't typos-- they're just fickle.)


Amelia Earhart
Gregor Samsa
Patience and Prudence
J. Alfred Prufrock
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Percival Doiley
Resurrection Mary
Lester Dent
Walter B. Gibson
Bela Lugosi
John Dillinger
Mary Jane Gallows
Dr. Wilhelm Reich
Frank Nitti
and a



Bonnie Parker
Clyde Barrow
Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd
John Dillinger
Kate "Ma" Barker
Max Schreck
Dr. Herbert West, Re-Animator
Zelda Fitzgerald
Dr. Hawley Crippen
Mary Jane Gallows
Judith DeCortez
Stagger Lee
The Loch Ness Monster
The Bell Witch
and a

So, to renew your acquaintance and/or whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from BLOOD OF THE CENTIPEDE:


Frank Nitti had been as good as his word-- a relatively new experience for him, I imagined-- and Amelia and I went out on another fact-finding mission, armed with the list of speakeasies. I went unmasked, dressed in something other than one of my customary suits of solemn black. Amelia, very wisely, had donned a suit of men's clothes and had her hair stuffed up under a newsboy cap.

I had taken possession of my car that afternoon-- I had made arrangements for it to be shipped out on a freight train when it started looking like I might need it.  Amelia and I visited one dive after another, and we played it very low-key.  We sat and drank and listened to conversations around us. We identified the drunkest and most questionable-looking patrons and struck up acquaintances, paying for drinks, listening to stories, asking very discreet questions. We learned the same rumors over and over again, about an unknown new crime boss who was trying to set up shop, and about the mad Judith DeCortez, who was thought to be working for him.

Nothing we didn't already know.

"The important thing about an iron fist in a velvet glove," I observed at one point, "is that it has an iron fist in it. We're getting nowhere fast using the glove by itself."

"I'm just not comfortable with all that violence."

"Nobody is. That's how come it works."

She heaved a heavy sigh. "Maybe you're right."

"Of course I am. I don't see how you ever could have doubted it. I am, after all, an expert. Whoever this guy is-- whether he's this so-called White Centipede or not-- he is ruthless. Judith DeCortez is ruthless. That means whoever goes up against them has got to be ruthless, too. He has to be more ruthless than they are, or he will not win. And if he doesn't win, he is dead. Very straightforward."

Amelia stood up. "Well, in any event, I think I've had enough of this. Let's go."


"I don't know. Anywhere. I could really use some fresh air."

So we hit the street and walked around aimlessly for the better part of an hour. We were dressed rather roughly, and I had plastered an expression on my face that was an unmistakable warning to anyone who thought he might like to try any rough stuff on us. I wasn't worried about ordinary muggers and sex perverts. I almost wished somebody would get big ideas-- the exercise would have done me some good.

As we crossed a street at the corner, something caught Amelia's eye. She peered up the cross street and said, "Isn't that Roscoe Arbuckle?"


"Ducking into that alley, there." I looked in the direction she was pointing her finger, and saw a figure that certainly matched Fatty in terms of height and girth.

"Could be," I said. "Wonder what he's doing down here."

"So do I. Let's find out."

I shrugged and followed her toward the mouth of the alley. I didn't have anything better to do. And if Fatty was a habitué of this kind of neighborhood, he might be of some help.

We reached the alley and peeped around the corner. I saw someone slip around the corner at the other end of the alley, but whoever it was was too tall and slender to be Arbuckle. From where I was, I could not see any doorways into which Fatty might have ducked. Motioning for Amelia to remain where she was, I crept around the corner and made my way toward the opposite end of the alley. There were no convenient doorways, and I figured Fatty-- or whoever it was-- had simply cut through to the next street. I was on my way back to Amelia when something caught my eye.

Someone had chalked a few words onto the brick wall roughly at the halfway point of the alley. They were as high up as the shoulders of an average man, and they looked fresh:

The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing

If not for the fact that I have nerves of steel and ice water in my veins, I would no doubt have felt an icy talon clutching my heart just then. I recognized that sentence. And what was chalked onto the wall just below it, in smaller letters, gave me considerable pause:

It Begins Again

"What's that?" Amelia asked, peering over my shoulder, apparently having trotted up while I was in deep contemplation.

"This?" I replied. "It's nothing. Just some silly graffiti."

She gave it a look. "Huh. Crazy. Is that some kind of anti-Semitic screed?"

"I guess." I didn't tell her where, and under what circumstances, the odd message with the curious spelling had famously appeared many years earlier.  It had been found scrawled on a wall in London, England, some 44 years before, in close proximity to two very extraordinary murders. Many believed that the message had been written by the faceless jackal known as Jack the Ripper.

You know, the guy they never caught...
But it probably didn't mean anything here. I filed it away in my brain. I had bigger things to worry about.

"Gosh," Amelia said, "there are a lot of Jews in the movie business. I hope nobody's trying to start some of that Nazi crap over here."

"So do I," I said.

"No Fatty?" she asked.

"No Fatty," I affirmed.

We decided to call it a night.

Back in my room, I went through the motions of another fruitless attempt to analyze the material I had obtained from the rubber-suited woman. None of it made sense. I crawled into bed and glanced through the newspaper.

The first of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps facilities had just opened in Michigan. In Scotland, someone claimed to have spotted a huge aquatic monster in Loch Ness. Adolf Hitler had eliminated all of the labor unions in Germany. Someone calling himself the Blue Candiru had foiled a bank robbery in Los Angeles. Another new masked avenger, evidently. Hooray.

I tossed the paper onto the floor, turned off the light, and went to sleep.

Now BUY it already!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 13, 2014: The Day of Two Things

One week from today, Sunday, July 13, 2014, will be a day of two things for me. One is that I will be on Pulpcast, a podcast you can find at the above link -- at 6 p.m. EDT. The other is that the first installment of THE FABULOUS WORLD OF ZENITH will become available for download at Amazon and several other outlets (see below). This new series will kick off with part one of THE JOURNAL OF BLOODY MARY JANE.

These are two things you won't want to miss. I sure don't. Let's all agree now that we won't.