BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL: THE FIGHT CARD
(Some names appear on both lists. They aren't typos-- they're just fickle.)
Patience and Prudence
Patience and Prudence
J. Alfred Prufrock
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Walter B. Gibson
Mary Jane Gallows
Dr. Wilhelm Reich
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Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd
Kate "Ma" Barker
Dr. Herbert West, Re-Animator
Dr. Hawley Crippen
Mary Jane Gallows
The Loch Ness Monster
The Bell Witch
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So, to renew your acquaintance and/or whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from BLOOD OF THE CENTIPEDE:
CHAPTER TEN: FISHING TRIP
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.
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