Wednesday, December 30, 2015


As told to Chuck Miller

BOOK THREE in the Moriarty, Lord of the Vampires trilogy
get it HERE:


Perhaps the most famous correctional facility in history, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay has a history that goes back to before the American Civil War. In 1934, it was acquired by the U.S. Department of Justice and turned into a federal penitentiary.

It was shut down in 1963, and eventually became a popular tourist attraction.

A decade ago, the property was taken over once more by the federal government, and Alcatraz was refurbished and specially outfitted to house one single prisoner.

That prisoner was the most dangerous criminal mastermind, terrorist and mass killer the world has ever seen.

A decade ago, after an epic trial, she was sentenced to a total of seven thousand years in prison on multiple counts of murder, assault, theft, kidnapping, mayhem, terrorism and assorted other crimes, ranging from simple felonies to treason, sedition, and crimes against humanity.

She was taken to Alcatraz to begin serving her sentence two weeks after her ninth birthday. She has not aged a day since. Nobody knows why.

So ended the Little Precious Crisis. With Jessie Von Cosel safely locked away, the world buried its dead and tried to forget. The unanswered questions-- and they are legion-- were brushed aside by our leaders, who told us it was time to "look to the future."

But the questions remained, a herd of elephants in the world's living room. Jessie Von Cosel was only half of the entity called Little Precious. The other half was a mysterious robot, a small mechanical man whose origin and ultimate fate were never conclusively determined. Some "experts" maintain that the robot was destroyed during the final battle with Little Precious in the Nevada desert, but there is no proof of this.

Where did the robot come from and what happened to it? How did it enter the state of quantum entanglement with Jessie Von Cosel that gave birth to Little Precious?

Where did Little Precious get the super-weapons with which she nearly wiped out mankind?
How can we be sure Little Precious has really been neutralized forever?

If anyone knows the answers to these troubling questions, they haven't spoken them publicly. Though the government denies it, all information pertaining Little Precious is classified at a level so far above Top Secret that the President himself may not be privy to it. Conspiracy theories abound. The public record has been scrubbed clean of all but the most innocuous and least controversial data.

All of this is troubling enough, but the final unanswered question is the most troubling of all:

Did Little Precious Act Alone?

This reporter believes that she did not.

The Harrison Commission told the public that she did. But the Commission's proceedings were held behind closed doors, and no transcript has ever been released. Who testified before the Commission and to what did they testify?

This reporter is currently pursuing leads that may establish a link between Little Precious and one of the most respected and revered figures of the modern age, a man who, without explanation, disappeared from public life several years ago. There is credible evidence that this man acted in concert with one of the most notorious criminals of all time, and that, together, they at least abetted Little Precious' deadly rampage, and may have facilitated it up to a point. These individuals, working with a shadowy secret society, possibly connected with members of our own government, may have "pulled the plug" on Little Precious once her purpose-- whatever it might have been-- was accomplished. And there is also the clear implication that the aforementioned public figure worked in concert with the Harrison Commission to prevent the truth from becoming known to the public.

This reporter has chosen to go public with the existence of these leads, before they have been confirmed sufficiently for publication, as a means of safeguarding his own life. Copies of all the information and evidence thus far compiled have been placed with several individuals around the world, to be released to the public in the event of this reporter's untimely death.

From "Who Was Little Precious?"
by Garrison Knowles
National Watchdog Magazine


Well, I finally did that Flatwoods Monster story I've been talking about for a while. You can find it-- along with scores of other tales by some of the best and brightest writers and artists working today-- in LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION, a benefit anthology for Pro Se's Tommy Hancock. There's some great reading in there, and it's for a great cause. Get it on Amazon, print or Kindle NOW:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Super Swingin' Hero 1968 Special is out there!

(by Lee Houston, Junior)
And now, here's something I hope you'll REALLY like!

The Super Swingin' Hero 1968 Special has just been released for the Kindle by Mechanoid Press, with the print version soon to follow.

This anthology was a labor of love over most of the Spring as I helped Jim Beard assemble an all star cast of authors to create some of the most outlandish send-ups in all of comicdom, for one kooky prose collection of heroes straight from the flip side of that cherished time in comic book history known as the Silver Age. Under a cover by Scott McCullar...

Thrill to the afterlife adventures of Ghostman by comics legend David Michelinie!
Hang out with Beauty and the Beetle as they solve a mystery of Lovecraftian proportions by Sam Gafford!
Witness The Coming of Changeor by Erwin K. Roberts!
Discover how The Crawler Creeps with Chuck Miller.
Do you dare go adventuring with Fate's Four and Thomas Deja?
Soar with The Peregrine and the Pigeon with Bonnie J. Sterling as your co-pilot.
What enigmatic mystery has Mark Halegua created for the robot detectives of Automation Investigations, Inc.?
Will Hathor's Gift be of any H.E.L.P.? Only Lisa Collins knows.

And finally, Jim presents the latest adventure of The Go-Go Gears and I reveal the outrageous origin of The Substandard Quintet!

It was a blast helping to bring this volume from dream to reality, and Jim has already been discussing plans for a sequel!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Coming in February 2016! 

"Penny Dreadful" and "The Time Stalker"
by Chuck Miller
Cover by Woodrow Hinton lll
Coming February 2016
from Moonstone Books

In "Penny Dreadful," Carl Kolchak teams up with private eye Domino Patrick to investigate a series of murders that appear to be copycat crimes based on the 1969 Tate-LaBianca killings. The trail leads to one Penelope Anne Hilligloss, a former member of the Manson Family who now seems to have aligned herself with an even darker power. Kolchak's quest for the truth, and the means to stop "Penny Dreadful," takes him to San Quentin State Prison for a face-to-face meeting with the one man who might have the information he needs: Charles Manson himself.

"The Time Stalker" finds Kolchak in Las Vegas, the city where he once destroyed a vampire named Janos Skorzeny-- or did he? When Skorzeny reappears and begins another murderous rampage, Kolchak must solve the riddle of the vampire's impossible return. Does a mysterious, accidental time-traveler named Zero hold the key? Can Carl put Skorzeny back where he belongs without being arrested by the Vegas P.D. or fired by Tony Vincenzo? With the help of an old, estranged friend from his original Vegas days, and a conspiracy-minded young reporter named Gail Karen, Kolchak once again tackles his first, most terrifying supernatural foe!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What's next?

Excerpt from THE RETURN OF LITTLE PRECIOUS , the first DOCTOR UNKNOWN JUNIOR novel, coming soon from Pro Se Press!

The bizarre super-terrorist known as Little Precious has attacked the city of Zenith by unleashing a horde of werewolves. Narrator Jack Christian (former super-hero sidekick Kid Mercury), Dana Unknown (the future Doctor Unknown Junior) and young Vionna Valis are making their way through the treacherous urban landscape when they run into...

The Black Centipede.

I had never met him, but I'd heard plenty of stories. Everybody had, and none of them were good ones. He had been a crime-fighter many, many years ago. Way before my time and Captain Mercury's. The Black Centipede had been a wanted man since 1972.

I had never met him. He was said to be cold and aloof. He did not suffer anyone—fools or sages—gladly. Or, indeed, at all. Nobody knew who he really was. Most people had the impression that there was nothing in him they wanted to know.

As far as his profession, or avocation, went, the Centipede was cast more in the mold of the mysterious and daring do-gooders that flourished for a time during the 1930s than that of the modern superhero. In fact, it was said that he had actually started out during the Great Depression, though few people took that seriously. Everybody figured the current Centipede was his son or grandson or nephew or totally unrelated. He never shared any of his personal history with anyone that I was aware of.

He was wanted by any number of law enforcement agencies here and abroad. Vigilantism was illegal in most places around the country and the world. Back during the salad days in Zenith, these laws were almost never enforced. Once the superhero scene withered away, though, that changed. Well before that, however, the Centipede had abused even the wide latitude given by city officials to our kind, and what happened in 1972 had snapped the camel's spine.


And now-- here he was.

I swallowed hard, wondering what I could do if he proved hostile. I tried to protectively push the girls back behind me, but they gave me indignant looks and slapped my hands away.

The Centipede's appearance was not reassuring. He was tall and solidly-built, but didn't appear to be muscle-bound-- more like a gymnast than a weight-lifter. As for his outfit, the color scheme was limited. He was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt, a black tie, and a black cloak that hung to below his knees. His head was completely covered by a black mask with a silver centipede emblazoned on the front, and he wore a wide-brimmed black hat. Two black .45 automatics held in his black-gloved hands completed the ensemble.

"What the hell are you kids doing out here?" he asked. "Did you know there are werewolves running around everywhere? I guess you'd better stick close to me until I can deliver you somewhere."

He didn't sound happy about it. He didn't sound like he ever sounded happy about anything.

Dana was glaring at him. "We don't have to listen to you," she snapped. "You're a criminal."

"Maybe so," he said. "But I'm a criminal who has several guns loaded with silver bullets." He held up one of his guns and jiggled it. "I've got six more of these."

"We don't associate with criminals," Dana insisted.

I grabbed her by the arm and said, "Speak for yourself! I think we could associate with criminals who have silver bullets when the city is infested with werewolves."

She transferred her glare to me. "You have absolutely no morals," she accused.

"I never said I did!"

"You used to at least act like you did. Some of the time."

Meanwhile, Vionna had approached the masked man and was subjecting him to a head-to-toe scrutiny.

"What's that thing on your mask?" she asked him. "A worm?"

"No, it's a centipede," he said sharply. "I'm the Black Centipede, and this is a centipede."

"It's silver," Vionna pointed out. "It isn't black."

He gave a hiss of irritation, pointed at his chest, and said, "I'm the Black Centipede." Then he pointed at his mask. "This is just a symbol. It's a stylized rendering of a centipede. It isn't meant to be taken literally."

"Huh," Vionna said. "It still looks like a worm. Or a very sloppy letter 'S.' It doesn't look like you gave it much thought, to be honest. Did you make it yourself?"

I moved to her side, clapped a hand over her mouth, and whispered in her ear: "Let it go, Vionna. We don't know what this guy's capable of. Don't get him angry."

By way of reply, she bit my hand. Not hard, but enough to make me reopen the floodgate.

"Because if you did," she picked up her thread, "you might want to think about getting a professional to do the next one. I'm not trying to be mean, honest. I'm just saying."

"Don't talk to him, Vionna," Dana interrupted.

The Centipede said nothing. I had no way of knowing how he was taking all of this, but I was nervous. He had a reputation as someone whose feathers you didn't want to ruffle.

I cleared my throat to get his attention, plastered a rueful smile on my face, shrugged expansively, and said, "Women! What are ya gonna do, huh?"

He was silent for a moment, then he seemed to relax a little.

"You seem like you've got a little bit of sense," he said to me. "Can you use a gun?"

"Pretty much, yeah, kind of," I said. I may have been exaggerating a little. Captain Mercury didn't believe in using guns, so I had never had much occasion to fool with them. But I was good at video games.

He tossed me one of his .45s, which I snagged adroitly enough to make it look like I knew what I was doing.

"Can I have a gun?" Vionna asked.

"I don't know if..." I began.

"Don't you dare give..." Dana started.

"Sure, kid," the Centipede said. He reached into a pocket and produced a little Derringer. "This was supposed to be for my last gasp, should it come to that," he said. "But if it gets to that point, I'm screwed anyhow."

He handed the minuscule firearm to Vionna, who clasped it to her bosom like it was a bouquet of flowers.

"Wow, thank you!" she gushed. "My own gun! I can't believe it!"

Dana was fuming. "You can't give her a gun," she said. "She's a child!"

"I'll be sure and tell the werewolves that," the Centipede shot back.

Dana turned to me-- for support I guess-- but she wasn't going to get any.

"Don't push it!" I said, jabbing a finger at her. "Just don't. It makes sense for us to have these guns if there are werewolves loose-- especially Vionna, since she's the most vulnerable."

Dana clammed up and I turned my attention to the conversation Vionna was having with the Centipede.

"Now I remember you," the masked man was saying to her. "I met you a long time ago, but you were older than you are now."

That made no sense whatsoever, but Vionna nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes," she said. "That makes perfect sense. It hasn't happened yet, as far as I'm concerned right now. It won't happen to me for a few more years. I have this thing in my head that tells me stuff, and it's telling me that right now."

The Centipede shook his head. "I shouldn't have said anything. What was I thinking? I'm getting sloppy."

Vionna laughed. "It's okay," she said. "If you're worried about a... Oh, what is it called..?" She closed her eyes, and seemed to be listening to something none of the rest of us could hear. "Really? Yeah, okay." She opened her eyes again. "If you're worried about a temporal paradox, don't. It won't matter that you said that to me and made me know about the whole thing right now. Once this that we're doing here today is over, I won't remember any of it anyhow."

The Centipede had cocked his head like a puzzled dog. I couldn't imagine what was going through his mind. I couldn't imagine what ought to be going through my own mind after all that.


And be sure to read Jack and Dana's first adventure, "The Abominable Myra Linsky Rises Again," in PRO SE PRESENTS #13, just 99 cents on Amazon Kindle:

Friday, October 23, 2015

FEBRUARY 2016: Kolchak times five!

KolchakDoubleSM100 Moonstone releases Feb ‘16

Kolchak/Dan Shamble: Zombie PI,
color comic, 48pgs , $4.99
Story: Kevin J. Anderson, Richard Dean Starr
Art-Colors: Sergio Ibanez
Covers: (A)Dennis Calero,(B) Woodrow Hinton lll
Superstar author Kevin J Anderson pens the first ever comic appearance of his Zombie PI character, Dan Shamble!
Be careful what you wish for! Kolchak, the irrepressible Night Stalker, wants proof that monsters exist—and Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., lives in a world where he solves all sorts of everyday crimes among monsters. And when a rogue trio of hoodlum genies decides to use dimensional doorways to dump magical toxic waste, and an unwitting nerdy werewolf kid as their bagman, Kolchak and Shamble find themselves in a hilariously confused situation.
**RETAILER INCENTIVE: retailers ordering 4 or more of the regular cover(A) of Kolchak/Dan Shamble, can order any amount of Cover B by Woodrow Hinton lll they want.

Kolchak: Dawn of the Demons,
90pgs, 7” 10”, gray, = $9.99
ISBN: 978-1-944017-00-2(5999)
Story: Ed Gorman, Ricky Sprague
Art: Dennis Chacon, Aaron Felizmenio
Superstar author Ed Gorman (of Dean Koontz’s “Frankenstein”) pens this demonic tale!
The country is slipping away.
The signs are all around you: Mass surveillance. Police militarization. Income inequality. Drugs. While investigating an explosion at a street protest, journalist Carl Kolchak uncovers the hidden, demonic origins of modern America. Can he get the story before the country is lost forever? And even if he does—will anyone care? Learn the answers in Kolchak: City of Angels & Demons

Kolchak: Edgar Allan Poe Crimes
108pgs, 7” x 10”, gray, retail $10.99
ISBN: 978-1-944017-01-9(51099)
Story: James Chambers
Art: Pepe Luis, Felipe Kroll
From tell-tale hearts and premature burials to black cats and the Red Death, reporter Carl Kolchak grapples with deepening horror and madness as events from Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of mystery and imagination come to life in modern-day Baltimore. Kolchak teams with a street magician who performs tricks and escapes inspired by Poe to expose the supernatural power bringing the author’s deadly visions to life and solve a series of terrifying occurrences, disappearances, and murders.

Kolchak : Penny Dreadful novel
Author: Chuck Miller
Cover: Woodrow Hinton lll
6” x 9”, 166pgs, retail = $10.99
ISBN: 978-1-944017-02-6(51099)
A double feature novel!

In "Penny Dreadful," Carl Kolchak teams up with private eye Domino Patrick to investigate a series of murders that appear to be copycat crimes based on the 1969 Tate-LaBianca killings. The trail leads to one Penelope Anne Hilligloss, a former member of the Manson Family who now seems to have aligned herself with an even darker power. Kolchak's quest for the truth, and the means to stop "Penny Dreadful," takes him to San Quentin State Prison for a face-to-face meeting with the one man who might have the information he needs: Charles Manson himself."The Time Stalker" finds Kolchak in Las Vegas, the city where he once destroyed a vampire named Janos Skorzeny-- or did he? When Skorzeny reappears and begins another murderous rampage, Kolchak must solve the mystery of the vampire's impossible return. Does a mysterious, accidental time-traveler named Zero hold the key? Can Carl put Skorzeny back where he belongs without being arrested by the Vegas P.D. or fired by Tony Vincenzo? With the help of an old, estranged friend from his original Vegas days, and a conspiracy-minded young reporter named Gail Karen, Kolchak once again tackles his first, most terrifying supernatural foe!

Kolchak: The Phoenix Rising
7” x 10”, gray, comic, 40pgs, $3.99
Story: Paul Kupperberg
Art: David Bryant
Strange visitor from another planet, Bennu, and Kolchak investigate a murder case where the main suspect’s alibi is alien abduction! Kolchak doesn’t believe the suspect and has no idea who or what Bennu is, or why he wants to solve this murder!
kolchak demon cover100  KolchakPhoenix100 kolchakpoeEM KolchakShamB100 KolShamA100

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Free Mary Jane Gallows!

No, she hasn't been arrested. What we mean is that Chapter One of the incredible adventures of the Black Centipede's... whatever, Bloody Mary Jane Gallows, supernatural "daughter" of Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper is now FREE on Amazon Kindle! That's right, I said FREE. That's as cheap as it gets without us actually paying you to read it! So GO!!!

By L. Columbus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 1, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm so glad the author provided this first volume as a free ebook. I've been burned too many times trying a new writer, only to discover their writing leaves much to be desired. Not the case here I'm happy to say! Mr. Miller is the real deal and as of right now, the best author working in the new pulp genre that I've come across. I found the story engaging, the main character fascinating and the plot exciting. A quick, but throughly satisfying read. I will certainly be seeking out more Bloody Mary and The Black Centipede. Thank you Chuck Miller!

Friday, September 11, 2015


A Timeline of the Black Centipede's World (contains spoilers)
Here is my partial timeline, as it stands now, of the history of the Black Centipede's world:

1852: November 27-- Apparent death of Ada Lovelace (Daughter of Lord Byron and reigning White Centipede.)

1860: Jack the Ripper discovers the mysterious Order of the Centipede, and sets into motion his plans to subvert and take control of the organization.

1871: October 18--  Death of Charles Babbage; Jack the Ripper takes possession of Babbage's advanced designs for his Analytical Engine, and begins construction on his own machine.

1885: Alice Crook aka Vionna Moriarty born  April 18.

1888: The Ripper performs a powerful blood ritual, murdering five woman in London, including Mary Jane Kelly.
A time-traveling Vionna Valis helps Sherlock Holmes investigate the Ripper murders.
Professor Moriarty makes a deal with Dracula.

1891: Death and vampiric rebirth of Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes presumed dead.

1892: Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper create Bloody Mary Jane; Andrew and Abby Borden murdered.
Bloody Mary Jane travels to Florida, where she meets Juan Ponce de Leon, Cotton Mather, the fugitive Ada Lovelace, and the vampire Moriarty.
Later in the year, Bloody Mary Jane accompanies Moriarty's daughter Vionna to Russia, where she will live with the family of  Tsarevich Nicholas.

1894:  Tsarevich Nicholas becomes Tsar Nicholas II.

1897: A mysterious alien craft crashes in Aurora Texas. Jack the Ripper takes possession of the pilot's remains.

1903: Under the direction of Jack the Ripper, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin becomes the new White Centipede.

1905:  Rasputin is introduced to Nicholas II and Alexandra.

1908: Professor Moriarty assassinates Count Dracula in Tunguska and becomes Lord of the Undead.

1911: Feb. 5-- Birth of William ---------, the future Black Centipede.

1920s: William befriends writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

1927: "Forty Whacks" William meets Lizzie Borden and Bloody Mary Jane; becomes the Black Centipede.

1927-1932: William goes to work for his grandfather, then travels the world to pursue his self-training. William encounters the faceless Russian assassin Anonymoushka, and has many other adventures. He jousts on several occasions with Bloody Mary Jane. Meets Doctor Raoul Unknown.

1932: William returns to Zenith.

1932-1933: "Creeping Dawn" - The Black Centipede begins his career in Zenith, meets Frank Nitti, Percival Doiley, Baron Samedi, Stanley Bartowski and William Randolph Hearst. The origins of Doctor Almanac and the Stiff.

"Funeral for a Fiend" - Ties up a loose end from Ceeping Dawn

1933: "Blood of the Centipede" - The Black Centipede meets Amelia Earhart and travels to Hollywood to consult on the Hearst-financed motion picture "Blood of the Centipede." There, he encounters the Black Centipede Eater, the White Centipede, and Jack the Ripper.

"The Plague's the Thing" - Standalone story featuring Amelia Earhart and the diabolical Rev. Dr. Theobald Schadelhaus.

"The Return of Doctor Reverso"
Doctor Almanac makes a brief return. Anonymoushka shows up again.

"Black Centipede Confidential."
Moriarty descends on Zenith, intent on possessing the Analytical Engine.

Actor Lancelot Cromwell, star of the movie "Blood of the Centipede" decides to fight crime in the guise of the Red Dagger. Things do not go swimmingly.

1934: The Centipede's first recorded battle with super-criminal Adrian Countenance; the Centipede meets William S. Burroughs.

1937: March 1-- The Centipede is visited by Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly from the year 2012, and Dana Unknown from the year 2112. March 15-- Death of H.P. Lovecraft July 2-- Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

1940: Elena Milagro de Hoyos is resurrected by Carl Von Cosel. Elena is infected with a mutant strain of bubonic plague; she is stopped by the Centipede and Doctor Unknown before she can contaminate a large portion of the United States.

1942: Moriarty escapes from Area 51.

1952: "Gasp, Choke Good Lord!" The Centipede meets Dr. Frederic Wertham, William M. Gaines and Albert Fish.

1957: "Wisconsin Death Trip." The Centipede encounters Ed Gein and his mother.

1963: John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.

1972: The Black Centipede uncovers the horrible plot being hatched by Richard Nixon, who is really [REDACTED] and J. Edgar Hoover.

May 2-- Death of J. Edgar Hoover; the Centipede, wanted for his murder, becomes a fugitive. Hoover's death ruins [REDACTED]'s immediate plans. Thinking it unwise at this point to assassinate the President of the United States, the Centipede decides to keep Nixon too busy to regroup.

Late 1972 through 1973-- Working undercover, the Centipede makes the acquaintance of G. Gordon Liddy and the inner circle of White House henchmen. He suggests, plans and helps orchestrate the Watergate break-in. He makes sure the burglars are caught. He continues to gather information, then begins leaking it to reporters Woodward and Bernstein.

1974: August 8-- Nixon resigns.

1978: The Centipede is captured by authorities in California and committed to the Napa State Mental Hospital. The hospital's new administrator turns out to be Adrian Countenance, who has a sinister agenda. With the help of a rock band called the Cramps, the Centipede defeats Countenance and escapes.

Twenty - Fifteen Years Ago: Zenith experiences a brief but very unpleasant super-heroic age. Commander Power, Captain Ultra-Superior Man, Captain Triangle, the New Red Dagger, Doctor Unknown, Captain Mercury and others form a new Legion of Law and Order, which limps along for a little over three years. The group self-destructs when their quest to bring the Black Centipede to justice turns into an unmitigated catastrophe.

Twelve Years Ago:
Captain Ultra-Superior Man disappears, and Commander Power and Captain Mercury are killed by Professor Ulysses Ubik. Jack Christian, the former Kid Mercury, goes off the deep end.

Eleven Years Ago: More than two million people die worldwide during the Little Precious Crisis. The bizarre cybernetic super-terrorist goes on a four-day rampage of destruction. Jessie Von Cosel, the eight-year-old human half of the binary consciousness known as Little Precious is tried and imprisoned on a refurbished Alcatraz Island. The robot that was the other half of the Little Precious organism is not found. (Rumors of the involvement of Professor James Moriarty, Lord of the Vampires, are addressed in "The Return of Little Precious.")

Seven Years Ago: Doctor Unknown Senior accidentally destroys the world. Though he and his daughter, Dana Unknown, are able to reboot the timestream and erase the episode from history, he is a broken man. He retires and slips into alcoholic obscurity. Dana takes over his duties, as Doctor Unknown Junior.

2011- Present: "The Optimist" Jack Christian returns to Zenith, where a shadowy crime lord called Melmoth has been consolidating his power. The Black Centipede is trying to track Melmoth down. Mary Jane Kelly and the Ripper's other victims are resurrected in the Black Centipede's Orgone Superaccumulator.

"Close Encounters of a Kind We'd Rather Not Think About" Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly incorporate the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee Psychic Detective Agency.

"The Abominable Myra Linsky Rises Again" Jack goes to work with Dana Unknown. This story is both prequel and sequel to "Blood of the Centipede." The White Centipede is resurrected.

"Vionna and the Vampires" Moriarty makes his last stand. Or does he?

"The Return of Little Precious." Jack and Dana battle Little Precious and the White Centipede. NOW AVAILABLE:

A young Vionna Valis, ready for action.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Excerpts from stories and links to where you can get them




One hour later, I was at the rendezvous point Proofy had relayed to Amelia's contact.

There he was, standing on the sidewalk in front of the drugstore where he had been instructed to meet me. He was bundled up in an overcoat-- an expensive bit of merchandise that was beginning to run to seed. He was hatless, but had a scarf wound around the lower part of his face, and he was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.

I pulled the Duesenberg up to the curb, rolled down the window, and in a low, mysterious voice, delivered the first part of the code I had relayed to him via Prufrock:

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too...”

He glanced up and down the street, stepped up to the curb, and said, “Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted high-bouncing lover, I must have you!’”

I nodded and reached over to open the passenger door. “Get in.” He climbed into the seat beside me, fumbling and stumbling a bit as he did so. I gave no indication that I had noticed it.

Safely inside, with the door closed, he pulled down the scarf and whispered, “You’re the Black Centipede?”

I nodded again. “F. Scott Fitzgerald, I presume?”

Corny, I know, but I couldn’t resist. The city really is like a jungle sometimes, and Fitzgerald did look a bit like a long-lost explorer. In fact, he looked shell-shocked.

Ten minutes after I picked him up, we were in my office in the Benway Building. I had gone through an appropriately melodramatic bit of rigmarole, instructing him to don a black blindfold for the trip to my "super-secret headquarters." He had eagerly complied, seemingly delighted with my pointless skullduggery. I had taken a roundabout route back to the Benway, then pulled into one of my concealed entrances in the back alley. The secret freight elevator had hauled the Duesenberg, and us with it, up to the 66th floor. J. Alfred Prufrock had taken F. Scott Fitzgerald's coat and scarf, ushered us into my private sanctum, and made himself scarce.

"Have a seat, Mister Fitzgerald," I said as I moved around behind my desk. I got comfortable in my chair, and my visitor got uncomfortable in his.

"So you've heard of me?" he said with a sickly smile on his face.

"Well, of course I've heard of you," I said. "Who hasn't? The Great Gatsby is one of the five best novels I've ever read."

"What are the other four?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. "Are any of them mine?"

I laughed. "Learn how to accept a compliment, Mr. Fitzgerald. You've produced a genuine masterpiece. That's more than most people ever do."

He shrugged. "I suppose so. But the public has a short memory. Gatsby was eight years ago. You're only as good as your last big hit, and it has to have been last week, or nobody gives a shit about you."

"You've spent too much time in Hollywood," I said.

"Probably. In fact, in a roundabout way, that's why I've come to you. I knew Roscoe Arbuckle from some of my earlier trips to Hollywood. I talked to him the day before he died, in fact. He told me about what you did for him."

I sighed. "I'm afraid all I did was help him into an early grave."

Scott Fitzgerald shook his head. "It wasn't early. If anything, it was twelve years late. He'd have gotten there with or without you. He was just that kind of person. He never got over what happened with... you know. He'd been dead since 1921. There are some things you just can't come back from."

I sensed that this was a man who knew exactly what he was talking about. I wondered if Fitzgerald had something he could never come back from. I had a feeling that if he didn't already, he'd find one sooner or later.

"Well, anyhow," he continued, "after the thing I'm here to tell you about happened, I remembered what Roscoe had said about you. I looked up Big Jack Matteo-- he has a pretty high opinion of you, by the way-- and he suggested I get in touch with Amelia Earhart."

The poor man looked rough, as though the talking he'd just done had been an ordeal. The tremors I had noticed in his hands told me everything I needed to know.

I very casually opened a desk drawer and got out two thick glass tumblers and a bottle of scotch. As I placed them on the blotter, Fitzgerald underwent a transformation. His agitation had changed from pure distress to quivering anticipation. Without saying a word, I opened the bottle, filled the glasses, and pushed one of them in his direction. He accepted it as nonchalantly as I had offered it, and slowly raised the glass to his lips. The beatific look that spread over his face after he gulped down half of its contents told the story.

"Go ahead and finish it," I said gently. "There's plenty more, and you can have all you want. There is no judgment here."

With that, I pushed my mask up over my nose, drained my own glass, put it down, and filled it again. Smiling tentatively, Fitzgerald polished off the rest of the scotch in his tumbler. When he put it back on the desk, I filled it again.

He sipped his second drink almost languidly, free of his earlier quiet desperation. "Call me Scott," he said, leaning back and crossing his legs.

"Very well, Scott," I said. "Now, Tell me why you wanted to talk to me."

"It's my wife. Zelda. She's... missing."

"I see. Surely this is a matter for the police."

He shook his head. "No. There are... circumstances. It's hard to explain. She's gotten... involved with someone."

"I sympathize, Scott," I said, "but I'm not a private detective. If it's a divorce action, I'm afraid I..."

I knew better than that, of course, but I wanted to prod him, draw him out. I could tell he was having trouble with this, and little indignation can be a wonderful tongue-loosener.

"No, no, no," he said, in a voice that was morose and urgent in equal measure-- almost a wail. "I'm not an idiot. Not in that way, anyhow. You don't think I'd come to you with... This isn't anything as normal as an affair. That's why I can't go to the police or anybody else. That's why I thought of you... Listen, I don't know any way to say this that doesn't sound crazy, so I'll just say it:

"Zelda has taken up with a vampire."

There it was. He sat back in his chair, looking exhausted but hopeful, waiting for my response.

"Dear me," I said. "Let me refill your glass."

His face fell. "You think I'm nuts."

I shrugged. "You may well be, for all I know. It's relative, of course. But I'm not dismissing what you're saying."

"No? That's refreshing. I have a reputation as a drinker, you know."

I nodded. "My understanding is that you come by it honestly."

He laughed. "You don't mince words, Centipede... and I appreciate that, actually. So many people just try to dance around it. Yes, I drink. Therefore, any sensational story I tell people is taken with an entire salt mine, and assumed to be drunken raving. Fitzgerald is a drunkard, so Fitzgerald is seeing things."

"Being drunk," I said, "does not typically cause hallucinations. Delirium tremens do, but those are caused by the absence of alcohol in a system accustomed to it."

"Which mine is," he said with the strange, rueful pride of the alcoholic who has resigned himself to his fate, and finds a certain perverse satisfaction in it.

"The story, Scott," I gently prompted. He nodded and took a deep breath.




The Bay Phantom had arrived downtown a few minutes earlier, having taken a tunnel that came out in the living room of a vacant house on Royal Street. Smoke hung in the air from all the explosions, and sirens wailed in every direction. He questioned a couple of passers-by, who told him of the ominous gathering at Cathedral Plaza. The Phantom proceeded to the little speakeasy that seemed to have become Louis Rickert's second home. Sure enough, there was Rickert, sitting at the bar, sipping a highball.

"Louis, it's mid-afternoon," the Phantom scolded, "and I need your help. Are you too intoxicated to accompany me?"

"Hell, you act like I'm a damn alcoholic," Rickert said indignantly, barely slurring his words at all. "I'm always fit and ready to serve, Boss."

They headed west on Dauphin Street, bound for Cathedral Plaza. The Bay Phantom was appalled at what he saw.

This was a war between two factions, one represented by the KKK, the other by the Black Embalmers. There were skirmishes going on all over downtown. The Phantom imagined that most of  the Klansmen weren't genuine members, but hired hands. The same went for the Black Embalmers. Here were the missing bully boys he'd been seeking.

Ordinary citizens, too, had entered into the chaos, becoming involved in the wild melees. Some of them fought Klansmen, some fought Black Embalmers, and some fought one another. Old grudges had resurfaced to take advantage of the atmosphere of sudden, lawless violence. There were looters at work, too. The Phantom shook his head at this, more in sorrow than in anger.

"Attention, looters!" he said loudly as he made his way along Dauphin Street. "Many of you are no doubt caught up in the heat of the moment and are allowing yourselves to be carried away by your emotions! But a critical situation exists in this city, and your actions are not going to help restore order!"

There was a commotion in front of the little peanut shop that had been a fixture of the downtown area for many years. The proprietor of the shop had pursued a young man into the middle of the street, and was menacing him with a shotgun.

"What is this?" the Phantom asked.

"This little bastard snatched a handful of money out of my cash register, that's what!"

The Phantom looked at the youngster and said, "Is that true?"

The boy shook his head. "He's lying, mister. He must be crazy or something."

"I'm gonna blow his goddamn head off!" said the shop owner. "That'll teach all these punks a lesson!"

"I'm sorry," said the Phantom, "but I cannot allow bloodshed over crimes against mere property. And that language hardly does credit to a merchant whose clientele includes women and children."

"Then stop me," the man said defiantly, raising the gun and drawing a bead on the young thief. his finger tightening on the trigger.

"Very well," said the Phantom. "You're just too excitable right now. I'm sorry I have to do this."

He threw a short right jab at a spot just underneath and behind the merchant's ear, instantly rendering the man unconscious.

"Now," he said, turning to the young man, "I would appreciate it if you would give me the money you stole. You may go about your business, but I hope you've learned a lesson. I don't want to find you causing any more problems."

"No! I mean, yes, yes I won't cause no more nothing!" he dug down in his pants pocket and extracted two wads of bills. "Here, take it, Your Honor! Please don't hit me."

"I'm not going to hit you," said the Phantom, "but I want you to go right home and stay out of trouble."

The young man nodded wildly and swore to God he'd never even think of stealing again. He spun on his heel and dashed away.

The Phantom stopped down and took a ring of keys from the unconscious proprietor's belt.

"Louis, please go put this money back into the cash register, and lock the door when you come back out. And drag this poor fellow inside, where he'll be relatively safe."

As Rickert moved to obey, the Phantom addressed the crowd at large:

"I understand the seductive nature of temptation, especially at a time like this, and I'm not condemning any of you! Nor do I have time to stop you. But I urge you to do the right thing! If you are unable to stop yourself now, please give it some thought in the days to come! If you need to, please consult a clergyman or some other respected authority!"

Rickert had dragged the shop owner back into his shop and tucked him away behind the counter. While the Phantom was too busy orating to pay any attention to him, Rickert pocketed the money he had been entrusted with, then helped himself to what was left in the cash register. For good measure, he stuffed two bags of roasted peanuts into his jacket pockets.

And then the gunfire started.

"Dear Lord," said the Phantom, "that's coming from Cathedral Plaza."


When the boy who had fired the first shot saw what he had done, he screamed, threw his shotgun down on the sidewalk, and took off running. Most of the other Klansmen in the Plaza produced firearms of various kinds and opened up on the line of Black Embalmers in front of the Cathedral. The Embalmers returned fire. A few of them held the line, while the others retreated into the building.

The Embalmers were all equipped with bullet-proof undergarments, while the Klansmen were not. Several of the latter went down in the first barrage, white robes marred by large splotches of red. A couple of them realized what was going on and concentrated on the heads of the Embalmers. Two of them were killed, and the rest retreated into the Cathedral.

Meanwhile, running gun battles and brutal fistfights between Klansmen and Black Embalmers raged for blocks in every direction around the Plaza. The Embalmers had the upper hand in most cases, and a number of them broke off from their satellite conflicts and headed for the Cathedral.

A line of Embalmers quickly assembled on a side street and crept up behind the Klansmen who were still firing on the Cathedral, their bullets knocking chips out of the front steps and punching holes in the doors. They raised their weapons and were about to cut the sheeted men down when one of the Daughters of the Confederacy spotted them. She yelled at her sisters, and they all turned to face the would-be ambushers.

Three of them reached under their hoop skirts and produced sawed-off shotguns. One of the girls, an attractive redhead, took aim at the nearest Black Embalmer and fired, hitting the macabre mask dead-center. The Embalmer went down, his head exploding in a cloud of red-tinted plaster dust.


"What the hell!" Rickert exclaimed.

He and the Bay Phantom had reached Cathedral Plaza, and they were both having trouble believing their eyes.

"It's a proxy war," said the Phantom. "The real generals are hidden away safely somewhere, while their minions decimate one another's ranks."

The gunfire had petered out for the time being. Several Klansmen, Black Embalmers, and hapless citizens lay dead or dying.

"Very well!" yelled the real Embalmer from atop the Cathedral. "If these miserable would-be dictators want war, then war they shall have!"

With that, the Embalmer disappeared from view. Ten seconds later, one last transport arrived at the plaza, stopping in the middle of Dauphin Street. Two Klansmen jumped out of the cab and ran to the rear of the vehicle. They jerked the doors open and stood back.

A bulky, furry apparition jumped from the truck.

The Werewolf had arrived.

The monster bounded into the middle of a group of Black Embalmers and started shredding everything within reach. Ribbons of shredded lab coats and gouts of blood went sailing into the air. People started screaming.

And then the situation got worse.

 Something stirred in the windows of both of the Cathedral's towers. Then came the sound and fury, in the form of a horrible, explosive chattering sound and a hail of hot lead. There were two machine-gunners up there, one in each of the twin towers. They had the high ground, and were taking ruthless advantage of it.

"Two more of those missing machine guns, I'd wager." the Phantom said. He was trying to formulate a quick plan when he saw something that instantly became his top priority.

Two children, a boy and a girl, had somehow managed to wander into the middle of the Plaza. They were standing stock-still and obviously terrified. The trail of bullet impacts from one of the machine guns was moving along the ground, kicking up grass and dirt, heading straight for them.

The Bay Phantom sprang into action. He ran toward the children, dodging Klansmen, Black Embalmers and bullets. He snatched up the children and ran to the end of the Plaza furthest from the Cathedral. There was a good-sized gazebo there, a few feet from the sidewalk. The Phantom raced around behind it and lowered the children to the ground. He instructed them to crawl under the gazebo, which was raised a couple of feet off the ground, and stay there until he came back for them.

The Werewolf went down under a hail of machine-gun fire. The Phantom didn't think any of the bullets had penetrated his armor, but the impacts would have caused a great deal of distress. The gunners were concentrating their fire on the huddled figure. Bullets were ricocheting every which way. Six Klansmen and four Black Embalmers went down with obviously fatal head wounds.

Patches of the Werewolf's fur had caught on fire from the sparks struck from his armor by the bullets. He heaved himself upright, howled, then dropped again and rolled across the grass, evading the gunfire and extinguishing the flames at the same time. He rolled behind the gazebo, out of the line of fire.

One of the Daughters of the Confederacy dashed around the other side of the structure and placed the barrel of her shotgun against the nape of the monster's neck. Evidently, she didn't know whose side he was on. Either that, or she decided it would be a good idea to eliminate him regardless of affiliation. But before she could fire, the Werewolf lashed out. The first swipe of his claws shredded her pink hoop-skirt. The second laid her abdomen open from breastbone to groin. But she had hung on to the gun, and she used up what little life was left to her by trying to take a shot at her killer. It was a valiant effort, but her shot went wide. The Werewolf, on his feet again, kicked her in the face. She went staggering backward, leaving a trail of spilled entrails in her wake, before collapsing into a lifeless heap of blood, guts and ruined crinoline. The Phantom hoped those children hadn't witnessed that.

The Werewolf scampered off around the perimeter of the battle zone, slowing down now and then to disembowel one of the counterfeit Black Embalmers.

The Phantom wanted to pursue the monster, but the gunners in the towers were a much bigger problem. They were killing indiscriminately-- their enemies, their comrades, and the handful of innocent bystanders who hadn't made it to safety were all fair game, it seemed. He needed a few seconds to think, so he ran over to the gazebo and ducked around behind it. Crouching down he peered beneath the structure and saw that the children seemed to be unharmed.

Rickert was already back there, crouched down, popping up now and then to take a potshot at an Embalmer or a Klansman.

The machine guns in the towers fell silent, but he knew they were likely just switching out belts. Handing him a loaded automatic, the Phantom told Rickert to try to circle around and get as close as he could to the tower on the left. Rickert nodded and took off.

The Phantom was steeling himself for a suicide run at the right-hand tower when he heard someone call his name. Whirling, he saw Mirabelle standing at the mouth of a narrow alley just across the street, not twenty feet away. She had on the black stealth suit she'd worn in New Orleans. A long, tubular apparatus was slung over her shoulder by a strap, and she carried a paper bag in one hand.

"Mirabelle!" the Phantom exclaimed. "What on..."

"Shush!" she interrupted. "Don't use my name! You don't want people to know I know the Bay Phantom. Hang on one second. I have an idea."

She put the bag on the ground and removed from it two odd-looking objects, which she shoved into her belt. She took a jackknife from a front pocket and cut two small holes in the paper bag, then pulled it over her head, adjusting it so she could see through the holes. That done, she dashed across the street, joining the Phantom behind the ruined gazebo.

"How did you get here?" the Phantom asked.

"One of your tunnels comes out under the Saenger Theater, remember?" She took the large, tubular apparatus off of her shoulder and handed it to him. "This is that thing I was working on, the rocket launcher. I'll load it for you. I only brought two of the projectiles, so make 'em count."

"How did you know I'd need this?" he asked.

"How the hell would you not? Let's do it."

The Phantom stood up and balanced the weapon on his shoulder. "I hate to do this to such a storied old building," he said, "and a cathedral at that. Those towers have been there since the 1890s. But this has got to stop."

He took aim at the right-hand tower and depressed the trigger. The projectile disappeared into the gloom behind the machine gun, then there was a flash and a terrific explosion. A plume of smoke rose into the air, and debris rained down onto the street and sidewalk.

Mirabelle reloaded the launcher as the remaining machine gun opened up again.

"Forgive me," the Phantom said sorrowfully as he fired on the right-hand tower. It reacted exactly as its twin had.

The children crawled out from under the gazebo.

"Hey!" said the boy. "Ain't you the Bay Phantom?"

"Aren't I the Bay Phantom," the masked man corrected him.

"You mean you don't know?"

"Who are you?" the girl asked Mirabelle, who was slinging the rocket launcher back over her shoulder.

She seemed startled by the question. "Me? I'm, uh... I'm Paper Bag Girl. This thing on my head is a paper bag, see?"

"I know what it is,” the girl replied smartly. She appeared to be about six or seven years old, but there was something in her eyes that belonged to a much older person. “It says 'Piggly Wiggly' on the back. Are you the Bay Phantom's loyal assistant?"

"No," she said dryly, "I'm his boss."

The children looked at one another.

“He lets a dame boss him around,” the boy said with a snicker.

"So what?" said the girl.

"It's still dangerous out here, Mir... ah, Paper Bag Girl," the Phantom said. "Perhaps you should take these young people to a place of safety."

"Come on," said Mirabelle, taking each of them by the hand, "you can be my loyal assistants."

"Can I shoot off that big gun?" the girl asked eagerly.

"Hell, no!" said Mirabelle.

"Please, Paper Bag Girl... language," the Bay Phantom admonished her.





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?'

" 'Of course, please forgive me.' I stood back and let him come into the room. As you know, I am a man who prides himself on being a strict disciple of sweet reason and logic. There was nothing about this man to suggest that he was in any way sinister. Nothing observable. And yet, I felt certain that he was. It may be that there is a subterranean chamber in my mind that employs my methods, and produces results without sharing details of the process with my conscious awareness. Whatever the case, I had the sudden, strong impression that I was in the presence of a very dangerous man.

"He walked past me, advanced a few feet into this room, then turned around and eyed me appraisingly. This went on for perhaps a minute, and made me feel rather uncomfortable. I fancied I could feel his eyes boring into me. His face was unreadable, and his head never ceased in its oscillation. Finally, he spoke.

" 'You have less frontal development than I should have expected,' said he."

"What does that mean?" I asked. "Frontal development? Is it something dirty?"

Holmes closed his eyes. "This will go a great deal more smoothly, Valis, if you can bring yourself to omit your customary questions and observations. The last time I attempted to relate a series of events to you, you interrupted me a total of one hundred and forty-four times. And if any of your interruptions were remotely relevant to the subject at hand, it was by sheer chance."

"Okay, okay, I'll shut up," I promised. "But was that question he asked you something dirty?" I couldn't just let it go.

"It was not. The Professor was referring to the size and shape of my skull, particularly the forehead. He evidently places some stock in anthropometry, which I myself regard as a dubious science at best. Basically, the Professor was saying that a man of my obvious intellect ought to have a bigger head."

"Oh. I thought maybe he was talking about..."

"No, Valis. Not at all."

I nodded. "Okay. Shutting up, sir. Go ahead."

"My sincerest thanks, Valis," he said.

By Chuck Miller

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