After the two strange young women vanished, I sank into a near-torpor. This current adventure was beginning to get on my nerves. There were plot threads all over the place, and we seemed to be getting further and further from any sort of resolution. I had started hoping that Bloody Mary Jane would pop up out of nowhere and tie the whole thing up neatly, as was her custom, but I knew how unrealistic it was. Anyhow, there were too many characters in the damn thing already. My dear deus ex machina would likely just get lost in the shuffle.
No, if this mess were ever to be brought to an end, I would have to take strong unilateral action.
The first thing I would need to do would be to finish off the entire bottle of whiskey. This I did, in record time. Thus fortified, I made my rather unsteady but absolutely determined way back down to my nerve center.
"Are you all right?" Anonymoushka asked. "You seem a bit wobbly."
"I am absolutely shitfaced," I said with my customary forthrightness. "And it's time to start cleaning house. That process starts with you, my fine faceless filly. I want you to vacate these premises immediately, if not sooner. You are nothing but a distraction, a pointless plot device whose purpose is beyond my ability to imagine."
"Ah!" she exclaimed brightly. "So sweet reason finally dawns in your excuse for a mind! Delightful! Show our lazy and capricious god that you will tolerate no more of his random string-pulling! It is wonderful to see you behaving like a man instead of a sickly gerbil of ill repute! Storm the fourth wall, my preposterous knight erroneous, and show the bastards that they won't have the Black Centipede to kick around any more!"
I grabbed her by an elbow and pointed her toward the door. "Be on your way," I said, "and don't come back until your presence makes some kind of sense."
"Absolutely! I do have a rather major role in Black Centipede Confidential, and a bit of recreation now would not come amiss. See you between the covers! Of the book, I mean..."
She went. I can be very masterful when intoxicated. I turned to Doctor Unknown.
"Is Almanac still at the bottom of the elevator shaft?" I demanded.
"Yes, he is," was the reply. "I think he may be waking up."
"Then he's going to wish he hadn't. Tell me, Raoul, what do you think the net effect would be if someone were to dump roughly 80 gallons of sulfuric acid down onto him?"
"Sweet Hecate," he said, going a bit pale. "I think the effect would be exactly what you'd expect. I don't believe there would be very much left."
I nodded. "I knew that stuff would come in handy one day. I realize you have certain notions about the intentional infliction of suffering and cruelty to even the most vile and obnoxious specimens of animal life, so please just forget I ever asked. I do believe that if I were to twist their arms sufficiently, Patience and Prudence could be persuaded to help me with such a project."
Broad grins appeared on the faces of both girls. This wasn't going to be a hard sell. They had absolutely no love for Doctor Almanac, who had, among other things, ordered the brutal removal of both of their tongues. By allowing them to actually do the deed, I would make lifelong friends of two people whose enemy I would never, ever want to be.
"What do you think?" I said to them. "Can you force yourselves to assist in this heinous operation? For the greater good, of course."
They jumped up and down and clapped their hands. Since the girls were usually the very definition of taciturnity, it was rather like seeing the late Calvin Coolidge strip to his boxers and perform a Cossack dance in the middle of Times Square.
Unknown cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I'm just going to go over here and sort of, ah, pretend that, you know... I don't know anything about this."
And so it came to pass that Patience and Prudence, with minimal assistance from me, committed a truly dreadful act against a truly deserving target. I'll spare you the details, to which I could not do justice anyhow. (Of course, like any villain worth his salt, Almanac managed to survive his ghastly immolation, but I wouldn't learn of that for several more months. As far as we were concerned that day, it was good riddance.) The girls actually kissed me on my masked cheeks after it was accomplished. Perhaps they also silently pledged their fealty to me, so long as my interests did not conflict with those of their boss, the Stiff. Or perhaps they didn't.
They probably didn't. But they were happy. I sent them home in a state of pure homicidal bliss.
I was whittling it down. But I still had Stymie Beard, Percival Doiley, Crusher Cranium, Mag DeMilby, and probably one or two other players whose identities were unknown to me on my plate. Someone had been using Doctor Almanac to get at me, but I had thrown a monkey wrench into their plans by ruthlessly removing him the playing field. It was probably one of those things that would come back to bite me at some point, but I wasn't worried about that. I had changed the rules in an unexpected way, and even if it ultimately worked to my disadvantage, it had given me the illusion of control, a franchise I was eager to expand.
I sent Raoul home too, in case I needed to commit any more atrocities. He had more of a conscience than I did in those days, which was a damn good thing, considering some of the powerful forces he had at his command. And he could turn only so many blind eyes to my excesses.
Next, I called Percy at home, to confirm that we were still "on" for the next morning. He seemed pleased to receive this confirmation-- so much so that he did not complain about the lateness of the hour. I smiled as I hung up the phone. The combination of liquor and sadistic mayhem had truly unleashed my diabolical creativity. I had a very clear and daring plan in mind-- God help us all.
I checked in with Proofy and Gregor, who were busy pumping an odor-suppressing foam down into the elevator shaft that was-- so I believed at the time-- the final resting place of the noxious remnants of the insidious Doctor Almanac. Stymie had been put to bed earlier, and I spoke with Proofy about arrangements to return the lad safely to the bosom of his family once the current unpleasantness was settled.
Then I went up to my own bedchamber for a few hours' sleep, secure in the knowledge that I would soon bring this puzzling affair to a close-- or die in the attempt.
Either way, I wouldn't have to fret over it any longer...
...TO BE CONCLUDED...