Jumping to a Hasty Conclusion
"Marginally Better Than Not Finishing It At All"
From the Musty Chronicles of the Black Centipede
As told to
START AT THE BEGINNING:
In the end, it went a lot more smoothly than I had any right to expect. So much so, in fact, that coming on top of all this buildup, it amounts to a rather staggering anticlimax. You probably won't like it, but I don't make this stuff up, I just report it.
My grandfather was very fond of cliches like "Let the buyer beware," and, "You get what you pay for." I used to roll my eyes at such platitudes, but now I would ask my readers to keep them in mind. This internet web serial costs you nothing to read. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome, I will gladly return your money in full. Hell, I'll double it. Can't say more fair than that.
I showed up at a certain street corner at an appointed hour to meet with Percy and carry out whatever harebrained scheme he had concocted. Whatever it proved to be, I had my end covered. I had a plan so bold and brilliant that it was absolutely foolproof, no matter what happened. I had planned for absolutely any imaginable contingency.
Except for the one that actually happened.
Percy and I waited until half an hour beyond the point at which Mag DeMilby Junior was supposed to show up, in full Doctor Reverso regalia, pretend to attempt to rob a bank, then pretend to get his ass stomped into the pavement by the astonishing Black Centipede. Except I wasn't planning on pretending. I was going to deliver a comeuppance to the villain that was so brilliant, so shocking, so ironic, that....
I'm sorry, I can't even bear to think of it now, much less relate it to you. Such a shameful waste! Because, you see, Cruel and capricious fate had stepped in and taken the matter out of my hands.
Mag DeMilby Junior, unremarkable character actor, arch-fiend, would-be killer of the Black Centipede, was dead.
He had been taken in the night by a heart attack. It seemed he had been nursing a bum ticker for years, and the poor, overworked organ had finally called it quits, no doubt egged on by the prodigious amount of booze and cocaine that constituted 90 percent of DeMilby's regular diet. Rumor has it that, the night before the morning he was found dead in his bed at one of Zenith's finer rat-trap hotels, his suite had been visited by no fewer that eight ladies of the evening. Rumor further has it that the corpse's mouth was frozen in a wide grin that the undertaker had been unable to remove.
And that wasn't all. A journal was discovered among his effects. There aren't many criminals above a certain level who can resist the urge to brag about how clever and ruthless they are. They often do this verbally while they have the hero trussed up and helpless, instead of just killing him and enjoying the fruits of their labors. And if they don't get a chance to do that, you can bet there's a journal lying around somewhere. DeMilby's was most enlightening.
Doctor Herbert West, whose bizarre career had been reported on by my friend Howard Lovecraft, had been working with Jack the Ripper and the White Centipede while I was in Hollywood. Since I was proving difficult to kill, they had intended to throw the resurrected Doctor Almanac at me after they pumped the cadaver full of the hellish combination of the Invisible Man's serum, Crusher Cranium's vile brew, and West's own reanimation reagent. They had approached Mag DeMilby, whose lifestyle made him a prime target for blackmail, and were using him as a source of information on the production schedule of "Blood of the Centipede." DeMilby was so enthusiastic about the project that he swiftly moved up from blackmail victim to paid accomplice.
However, I had been able, with the help of Amelia Earhart and Mary Jane Gallows, to eliminate the Ripper and his henchman before this scheme could come to fruition. (Blood of the Centipede, Pro Se Press, 2012) With their patrons removed from the game, DeMilby kept his mouth shut and West went even further underground than he already was. But they both hated me for derailing their gravy train, and decided to go ahead with the Almanac resurrection after I returned to Zenith. There was still some money and muscle left over from the White Centipede's Hollywood reign, and they used it to set their revenge in motion.
DeMilby hinted in his journal that he and West might have received further sponsorship from a shadowy mastermind whose identity he did not know. Keep that in mind, it will come up again later.
And that, as they say, was that. I should have been happy, but I felt a keen sense of disappointment and annoyance, as though I had been shortchanged somehow. It was as though Claudius had kicked the bucket from natural causes shortly after Hamlet's return to Elsinore, Gertrude had spilled the beans, the Ghost had gone on to his eternal reward, and the melancholy prince had ascended smoothly to the throne. It would have been a good outcome if you were Hamlet, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencranz, Guildenstern, or any of the other casualties-- but the average Globe Theatre patron would have demanded his money back, and rightly so.
In the event, I had virtually no opportunities for clever quips or daring stunts. I had anticipated a battle royal with the forces of evil, a convoluted contest with plenty of harrowing twists and turns. I figured that I would be helpless at some point, facing sure death, and young Stymie would come up with a bold and clever solution, as he so often did in the "Our Gang" comedies. That would have been good storytelling. But no. Not even close. I thought perhaps one of my little band would be killed, making the whole business that much more poignant. And if you think that's callous of me, you obviously haven't noticed that virtually nobody in these memoirs ever stays dead for long.
West was out there somewhere. I figured he'd turn up again sooner or later. I was right, and it was the former. My next encounter with him was, in fact, just around the corner.
Anonymoushka disappeared, but I'd also be seeing her again very soon.
Crusher Cranium, wherever he was, drew no more attention to himself for a few months. I did not know at the time whether his mysterious liberators had been remnants of the White Centipede's organization or something else entirely. I would, in due course, find out.
The State Police found the small airfield where Almanac had been keeping his dirigibles. The Army took charge of them and moved them to a military airfield near Zenith. The government also took charge of a well-fortified laboratory where Almanac had been busy making more giant, invisible, unkillable monsters out of people. I wasn't happy about that, and resolved to covertly destroy the place at some point in the near future-- just to be on the safe side. Not that I don't trust our government, but I don't trust our government.
Stymie Beard was finally returned to his family and career. He went back to California on a train, with Patience and Prudence as volunteer bodyguards. I saw him off at the station and promised him a part in the sequel to "Blood of the Centipede," if William Randolph Hearst should choose to perpetrate such an abomination. Film historians, of course, know exactly what happened with that, so I need not go into it here.
And that, dear friends, is my story. If you have noticed any contradictions, omissions, or perilous leaps of logic, keep in mind that I am 105 years old.
A few days later, I was back at my headquarters, bent on a little relaxation.
"Miss Earhart phoned here and left you a message," J. Alfred Prufrock informed me, as I was making myself comfortable in an armchair with the latest edition of the Zenith Orator. "She told me to tell you to expect her at any time. She is looking into one or two matters that might interest you, she said."
"Excellent," I said. "After what I've been through, it will be a pleasure to see her. Actually, it would be a pleasure even if I hadn't been through anything at all."
"You're quite fond of her, aren't you, sir?"
"You would not be wrong in saying so. Be sure and lay in plenty of anything she might need or want, whatever those things might be."
Proofy went on his way and I opened up the newspaper and started reading. An item on an inside page caught my attention. It was a reprint from Monday's London Times, and it went like this:
MR. S. HOLMES
News was received in London this morning of the death of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the celebrated consulting detective, at the age of 79. According to his friend and physician, Dr. John H. Watson, Mr. Holmes passed away on Sunday after a protracted illness, at his home on the Sussex Downs.
Mr. Holmes was born in London in 1854 and was educated at Oxford and Cambridge. In 1881 he established a practice in London as "the world's first consulting detective," and soon became known for his brilliant and unorthodox solutions to the most perplexing of crimes. In this capacity, he frequently worked alongside the police. He became famous in the last century through the efforts of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who collaborated with Mr. Holmes' friend and partner, the aforementioned Dr. Watson, on a series of biographical books and magazine articles based upon the detective's more notable cases. Mr. Holmes himself, in addition to numerous monographs on a wide variety of subjects, published his magnum opus, The Whole Art Of Detection, in 1926.
Mr. Holmes retired from active practice in 1903, at the relatively young age of 49, and took up residence on the Sussex Downs. After his retirement, he became an avid beekeeper, authoring a specialized apiculturist handbook under the title Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.
Mr. Holmes was preceded in death by his parents, Siger and Violet Holmes, and his brother, Mr. Mycroft Holmes. Another brother, Sherrinford Holmes, failed to return home from a mountain-climbing expedition to Switzerland in 1865, and is believed to have perished, along with the other members of his party, in an avalanche.
I felt a pang. I had always wanted to meet the Great Detective, but had never gotten around to making it happen. And now it would never be.
That's what I thought at the time, anyhow. But I've been wrong before.
I was about to clip the obituary out for one of my scrapbooks when Proofy came bustling back into the room.
"Sir!" he said, his voice betraying some excitement, "there was a bulletin over the wireless just now. It seems that a bank robbery is in progress at Zenith First National Bank and Trust."
"And?" I said languidly. "Zenith does have a police force, you know, and it does them good to earn their pay every now and then. Builds character. I cannot be expected to do everything for them pro bono. You'll notice I don't hand out traffic citations, nor do I raid gambling parlors. Of course, neither do the cops in this town, but that's hardly the point. I..."
"Sir," he interrupted, "they're saying that one of the robbers is John Dillinger!"
"Well!" I exclaimed, fairly leaping from my seat. "Why didn't you say so? I'm on the case, Proofy! Oh, please go ahead and start getting supper ready. This shouldn't take long at all, and I may work up an appetite."
At the time, I believed that. Dillinger may have been able to run roughshod over hick sheriffs out in the boondocks, but he would soon learn that the Black Centipede was something else again. I embarked on this new errand with a sense of self-confidence that only the weak and timid would call hubris. I'd have Dillinger in the city jail in less than an hour.
I'm glad I didn't bet any money on that...
What happens next? Find out in Black Centipede Confidential, on sale NOW!!!