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In this unpublished fragment, Dana Unknown's pal, Jack Christian, meets Mary Jane Gallows: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

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