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BLACK CENTIPEDE CONFIDENTIAL
BOOK TWO OF THE MORIARTY, LORD OF THE VAMPIRES TRILOGY
©2015 Chuck Miller
From the Secret Archives of the Black Centipede
as told to
Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty and Dr. John H. Watson were created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
J. Alfred Prufrock was created by T.S. Eliot, and appears in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), a work in the Public Domain.
Gregor Samsa was created by Franz Kafka, and appears in "The Metamorphosis" (1915), a work in the Public Domain.
Dr. Herbert West was created by H.P. Lovecraft, and appears in "Herbert West, Reanimator," a work in the Public Domain.
FROM THE TIMES OF LONDON
Monday, November 13, 1933
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.
BOOK ONE: THE SUNLESS CIRCLE
And the like of us may never hope
For death to set us free
For the living are always after you
And the dead are after me
From "Billy the Kid and Clyde Barrow"
by Bonnie Parker
CHAPTER ONE: THE BANK JOB
Zenith First National Bank and Trust
November 17, 1933
"Are you sure it's Dillinger?" I asked.
"Hell no," replied Detective Lieutenant Stan Bartowski, my friend and unofficial liaison officer with the City of Zenith Police Department. "We got fifteen eyewitnesses who swear it's him, but of course none of them know Dillinger personally. They've seen him in the papers and on newsreels."
I was crouched down next to Stanley behind a bulky Ford police cruiser. He and a couple dozen other officers were in the middle of a tense standoff with a gang of armed robbers inside the bank. The street in front of the bank had been barricaded at both ends of the block, and was littered with cop cars. Officers were hunkered down behind them, aiming their weapons at the front doors of the building.
"So the identification is shaky," I said.
"It ain't even that good," Stanley replied. "It could be him, I guess. But it don't really matter. Somebody is robbing that bank, and now they've got a bunch of hostages they're threatening to kill."
"Well, that's pretty much de rigueur among armed bandits in dire straits," I observed.
"I don't know about that, but they all do it," Stanley said. "If it is Dillinger, this could be big."
"People see Dillinger everywhere these days," I said dismissively. "Either he has found a way around the laws of physics, or people are full of shit."
"Either way, it ain't important at this point," Stanley said grimly. "We have a bad hostage situation here, whether it's Dillinger or Adrian Countenance or Popeye the Sailor Man."
"So where does it stand as of this minute?" I asked. I had only just arrived on the scene, pinpointed Stanley, and joined him behind his Detroit steel barricade.
"Two cops badly wounded, and an unknown number of hostages inside, who are either still alive or not. Five gunmen, one of whom makes people think of Dillinger. They haven't made any demands yet, just threats."
I nodded. I'd heard about the standoff on the radio a few minutes earlier. They hadn't had very many details, other than the fact that several witnesses had identified one of the culprits as John Dillinger.
"The weird thing is," Stanley said, "these mugs carried something in with them when they entered the bank. A big wooden crate. About the same size and shape as a coffin, according to the witnesses."
"Huh," I said. "That seems ominous, but I can't really say why. What significance, sinister or otherwise, could a coffin have in the middle of a bank robbery? It's hardly necessary to bring one along just in case you kill somebody."
"I didn't say it was a coffin, just that it looked like one." He sighed and looked at his watch. "They've been quiet for more than an hour, now. We don't wanna rush the place. But we're gonna have to do something. It'll be dark soon.
He was right. The sun had already dipped below the city's skyline. Several members of the Zenith PD were trundling huge, gas-powered spotlights toward the bank, in anticipation of a long siege.
"We need to know what's going on in there," said Stanley.
"Maybe I can find out," I said jauntily.
"That's what I'm hoping."
"Hoping?" I repeated, aghast. "You should be certain, Stanley. We'll have to have a long talk about the state of your faith in me."
"Go justify it," he tossed back.
"Your wish is my command."
I melted into the shadows between two buildings. It took me just a moment to find the manhole I was looking for. The city of Zenith had a rather unique layout, large portions of which I had committed to memory. My grandfather had been, among many other less savory things, a great architect and builder. He'd had a hand in designing and constructing half the buildings in the downtown area, and most of the sewer system.
But, as I say, Granddad was one of the most powerful, and easily the most corrupt, of the movers and shakers in Zenith during the Gilded Age and beyond. In those heady days, my ancestor's political machine made New York's Tammany Hall look like Hal Roach's Our Gang.
The bank building had been erected in 1901, and was one of those to which Granddad made sure he would have covert access. Having studied all of his "secret" blueprints, I knew the location of the hidden ingress. I was supremely confident that I would be inside the bank in a matter of minutes, and out very soon thereafter, having foiled maybe-Dillinger and his gang's attempted heist. I was already rehearsing my remarks to the press. I had a very clever double entendre I was itching to try out.
Now, at this point, I could caution my readership against overweening self-confidence, and lay down some platitudes about the best laid plans of centipedes and men. But the fact is, overweening self-confidence is my default state, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I get exactly what I bargain for.
Unfortunately, this happened to be a Number One Hundred scenario.
I couldn't get into the building. I made my way through the sewer to the point where the mouth of Granddad's old tunnel should have been, only to find that it had collapsed, and pretty recently, by the look of it.
And it hadn't collapsed on its own-- it had been blasted. I frowned behind my mask and kicked at the rubble. Nothing budged. Someone had planned this very thoroughly, and it seemed they had planned it with me in mind.
So, who was it? It was either someone I knew or someone I didn't. If the former, it was a short list. If the latter, who the hell knew? Neither prospect was comforting.
As I stood there underneath the street, contemplating the ruins, I felt a presence. Or a hint of one, anyhow. I was certain I was down there by myself, so I must have been picking up vibrations someone had left behind. Very recently, too. I had the idea they belonged to somebody I knew. They were familiar and alien at the same time, as though whoever had been here had tried to disguise them.
So there was nothing for it but to ascend from the netherworld and look for another way in. There was only one other possible route. If you want to get into a building unnoticed, you have two options: from below or from above. The former was preferable but not possible; the latter posed significant risks, but it was all I had.
I selected a building two doors down from the bank, and indulged in a spot of innocent breaking and entering. The place was a jewelry store, and it took me three minutes to circumvent the alarm system. Once inside, I climbed the stairs to the roof, then made my way across to the bank. Staying very low, I crept toward the front edge of the roof. Removing my hat, I peeked over the side at the uneventful tableau on the street below.
It didn't stay uneventful for long.
The very moment the sun sank completely below the western horizon, the bank's front doors erupted, as if on cue. There was a sudden crash, a sound like a huge hand slapping a flat surface. It wasn't an explosion; I saw no smoke or fire. Broken glass and bits of ceramic and chrome sprayed out over the street, sending several cops diving for cover.
Something had jumped from inside the bank, through the metal and glass, and was now crouched on the sidewalk. From where I stood, the bipedal projectile looked like a thin, stooped old man. The figure stood up straight and raised its arms. It was empty-handed, and appeared to be surrendering.
I heard Stanley yell, "Hold your fire!"
Two cops rushed the old man, each one grabbing a spindly arm. That should have been the end of it, but... The seemingly elderly, apparently frail figure picked up both of the cops-- one in each hand-- and flung them back across the street.
They were not lightweights, those cops. One of them, a solid-looking 220-pounder, went right through the windshield of a police car. The other one, hurled a second later, was headed straight for Stan Bartowski. To his credit, Stanley braced himself and tried to catch his brother officer. The irresistible force met the all-too-movable object, and the two of them sprawled across the pavement in a tangle of limbs.
One of the cops fired on the strange old man. The shot connected, but the man did not fall. Instead, he moved forward, wading into the cops massed along the perimeter. There were yells and curses and a shot or two.
I needed to get down there fast. It was a three story drop. Okay, this was not a problem. I moved to one corner of the roof and backed up a few yards. I unbuttoned my overcoat, held it wide open, took a deep breath, ran to the edge of the roof, and jumped.
Time slowed down. I flattened out to make the most of the air resistance as I dropped. When I was just a few feet from journey's end, I angled my body enough to grab a little bit of horizontal drag, then I curled up into a ball. I hit the ground that way and tumbled end over end for a few feet, before uncurling and allowing the last of my momentum to lift me to my feet right at the edge of the melee. I already knew this was going to be more than the cops could handle. I jumped into the tangle, and struggled to reach the wizened figure at its center.
There was a lot of yelling and jostling, and three cops became airborne, sailing off in different directions. I caught a glimpse of the old man and lunged forward, gripping him by the throat with both hands. The man tossed a cop off of his back, grabbed me by the wrists, and yanked. My grip was broken instantly, my hands went numb, and it felt as though my right shoulder was being dislocated. Then my feet left the ground, and the next thing I knew, I was sailing across the street toward the front wall of the bank.
I flattened out, twisted, and struck the front of the building at an angle that minimized the impact, bouncing off and landing on the sidewalk. I had just gotten to my feet, having avoided any serious damage, when there was a new development:
A number of other figures were now piling out through the ruined doors. They were yelling and waving guns, complaining about all the broken glass. I counted seven of them. The cops, busy with the mysterious old man, either didn't see them or couldn't spare any attention just then. The four bringing up the rear were carrying large sacks. The three in the vanguard each held a hostage in the human shield position.
By this time, I had a gun in each hand, and I leveled them at the hostage-takers. "Over here, fellers!" I said.
"Aw, crap," one of them said as he whirled around and spotted me. "It's that damn Black Centipede. We're as good as dead!"
"Naw," said another. "He won't do nothing. We got hostages."
I smiled behind my mask and said, "That's true, up to a point. I could kill two of you very cleanly, but I couldn't nail the third before he had a chance to shoot his hostage. So he can do that-- but, meanwhile, the two dead goons, with their hostages, will have fallen to the ground. Then, I will open up on everyone who is still standing. So, we are all at a disadvantage."
"Just stay back and let us go," said one of the goons, "or we'll kill these dames."
I frowned and shook my head, more in sorrow than in anger.
"You're not paying attention to me," I said patiently. "I've already addressed that. I am more concerned about these young women than the contents of those sacks. Now, I know your philosophy is the opposite of mine. When two such radically opposed ideologies clash, the outcome can be bloody-- but it doesn't necessarily have to be."
I was running my mouth to keep the crooks distracted, because I had concocted a plan to negate the threat without any loss of innocent life-- if any of us is truly innocent in this vale of tears. It would have worked, too, if not for a projectile-- in the form of an overweight police officer-- that struck me in the back at that moment, sending me sprawling onto the pavement.
The bandits took off, leaving their hostages-- confused and distraught, but intact-- behind. They were halfway down the block by the time I got back to my feet, heading for the mouth of a dark alley that led right through to the next street over. I fired a shot and winged one of them. He just started running faster. I fired again, and the bag he was carrying burst apart. Money went everywhere.
One of the others slowed and looked back over his shoulder, squeezing off a shot at me. He missed. I did not. The shot I fired in return caught him in the side of the head and he went down in a cloud of blood, bone and brains. One of his pals saw what happened and ran back, stooping to scoop up the dead man in his arms. Such touching loyalty! I was drawing a bead on the altruist when I got knocked down yet again by another flying cop.
That was really starting to get on my nerves, and I resolved to put an end to it.
I had been given some food for thought that I was going to have to save to snack on later. I was just about as certain as I could be that the man I'd shot and killed was John Dillinger.
The knot of struggling bodies around the strange old man had been thinned out, and I had no trouble muscling my way to its core. I shoved cops out of my path, to the right and to the left. "Sorry, boys-- pardon me-- for your own good and all that-- 'scuse me." Finally, it was just me and the old man. He knew enough by now to be wary, anyhow. He didn't jump on me. He eyed me with what seemed to be more intellectual curiosity than anything. It must have been the mask. That tends to give people pause.
"Who the hell are you?" I asked, as we circled one another in the middle of the street. We were in shadow and I couldn't make out his features.
As I say, he was aware that I was something out of the ordinary, and he was exercising some care-- taking my measure, I guess. I backed him all the way to the curb, then up onto the sidewalk in front of the bank.
"Hold your men off, Stanley," I said, "and get a spotlight on him."
I moved toward the figure on the sidewalk. When the spotlight came on, I found myself looking at a strange and familiar face.
He stood there in the glare of the spotlight. I couldn't help but notice that he cast no shadow on the wall of the bank building behind him.
"I believe I know who you are," I said. "And not only who, but what." If I was truly seeing what I thought I was seeing, a tall tale I'd heard months before had just been confirmed.
"Bully for you," snarled the man, giving me a baleful glare.
He had an English accent. His pronunciation was subtly archaic, some forty or fifty years behind the times, as near as I could figure.
I hesitated. Why? I am not known for timidity or uncertainty in the face of danger. What was it about this stooped and cadaverously thin old man that gave pause to the mighty Black Centipede?
Well, his canine teeth were a factor. They were approximately two inches long, and curled down over his lower lip, tapering down to wicked-looking points. His eyes seemed luminous, and the pupils were bright red. Little details like that tend to raise caution flags with me.
I backed off a few yards, wondering how best to handle such a situation. Glancing over at the police line, I spotted a cop I knew, and I got an idea.
I did several things, very quickly.
First, I popped the clip out of my gun and let it fall to the street.
Then I yelled, "O'Malley! You still carry that rosary?"
"Yeah, I do," said the reliable Irish Catholic cop, patting a jacket pocket.
I flung the unloaded gun at the old man's fanged kisser. It was just a distraction, but that was all I wanted.
"Toss it here," I said to O'Malley. "I'll explain later. This is important."
"Sure thing, Centipede," said O'Malley. He seemed puzzled, but he knew me well enough to comply without delay. He dug it out and lobbed it in my direction. I caught it and smiled behind my mask at the little crucifix hanging from it.
The old man, meanwhile, had ducked the flying firearm, then turned and stooped to pick it up. It took him a few seconds to regain his bearings, by which time I had moved in closer with my prize.
"Here," I said, thrusting the rosary in his direction. "Chew on this, Professor."
The creature made an alarming noise and recoiled. He raised my gun, pointed it at me, and squeezed the trigger-- wasting another second or two of his time, and allowing me to press my new-found advantage and move in closer.
"Put that blasted cross away," he rasped, flinging my gun back at me. I caught it with my free hand and stowed it away in my jacket.
"I have no real incentive to do that," I pointed out. "Your goals and mine are incompatible. What the hell are you doing here, anyhow?"
"I should think that would be obvious even to an idiot," he said with some asperity. "I'm robbing a bank!"
"Touché, Professor. Let me try again. Why in the hell would a vampire want to rob a bank?"
There. I had said the word. It was good to get it out of the way.
I knew vampires really existed, having encountered one during the summer of my nineteenth year. They weren't common, but they did turn up now and again. I'd heard some things about them-- and this one in particular-- from Doctor Unknown.
"Why does anybody rob a bank, cretin?" the vampire spat. "To get money!"
I sighed. This was going to be like pulling teeth. Or fangs.
"If you're going to be difficult," I said, "I'll just shove this rosary down your throat and see what it does to your esophagus. In a spirit of scientific inquiry, of course."
"You're very crude," he said, making a sour face. "The Great Detective never resorted to that kind of trashy rhetoric."
"Write a letter to the editor," I suggested. "I'm not interested. Why do you need money?"
"My condition comes with certain inconvenient limitations. I need minions, and minions want to be paid for their services. Not unreasonable at all."
"Why not just mesmerize them? Isn't that the fashion among your kind?"
"I believe in a day's pay for a day's work," he said. "And, apart from that, a mesmerized workforce is more trouble than it's worth. And now this operation is finished. I know who you are, too, and you shouldn't have become involved in this."
Then he moved. Did he ever! Just pick your favorite cliché. Greased lightning, a striking cobra, a speeding bullet. He was fast. In less than half a second, he vaulted across the ten-foot gap between us and slapped the rosary out of my hand. He had ignored my other hand, which was a mistake, because it had time to dip into my jacket and come out with a fresh, fully-loaded .45 automatic. The Professor had bared his fangs and was lunging for my throat, but what he got was a mouthful of gun barrel. I squeezed the trigger, knowing it wouldn't kill him-- but it would throw him off balance for a second or two.
His head snapped back, and I sprang away from him, pumping a few more bullets in his direction just for the hell of it. He laughed harshly and spat out the bullet I had put into his throat, as he strolled casually toward me. It looked pretty dire.
Then I got an idea. I reasoned that the mind behind those burning eyes was at least as twisted and treacherous as my own, and probably every bit as prone to paranoia. As he got closer, I threw down my gun and yanked up the bottom edge of my mask, baring my throat.
"Go ahead," I said. "Bite me."
He stopped short and narrowed his eyes at me. I pulled my mask up higher so he could see the grin on my face.
"Come on," I urged. "What are you waiting for?"
Cocking his head, he said, "What are you trying to pull?"
"Nothing," I said calmly. "I'm just surrendering to the inevitable. Go ahead and get it over with. I'm sure you've got plenty of other things to do tonight."
He stared at me for ten seconds, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, considering. Then he let out a sharp sound of disgust, turned on his heel, and jumped up onto the roof of the bank. He turned and gave me a final murderous glare, then disappeared into the night.
I realized I'd been holding my breath. I let it out, gulped in some fresh air, pulled my mask back down, and might have just gone ahead and fallen down in the street, if Stanley hadn't come up behind me and put an arm around my shoulder.
"You okay?" he asked.
"What do you think?" I replied. My body was rigid, and I was fighting to get my breathing under control. It wasn't fear, though. It was the overpowering sense of excitement and dark euphoria that took hold of me every time I flirted with death and came through it alive.
"It's okay, man," Stanley said. "You'll be fine."
He was genuinely concerned, which I found touching. And I was glad I was wearing a mask, so he couldn't see that the grin I had shown the vampire was still plastered across my face.
"I'm fine, Stanley," I said, in a voice intended to convey a sense of great courage in the face of sheer terror.
He nodded and turned to the cops who were still gathered behind the barricades. "Get in there," he said. "And be careful!"
To me, he said, "Centipede, please tell me that wasn't what it looked like it was."
"If it looked like anything other than a vampire, Stanley, I can't accommodate you."
"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of," he said forlornly. "Goddammit! Vampires now! This job gets crazier every day. All the years I was a beat cop, I never ran across one goddamn vampire or walking corpse or mad scientist. Now that's all we get!"
"I think you've done a remarkable job of adapting," I said.
He shook his head. "Well, let's go see what we can see."
I followed Stanley into the bank and had a look around. There wasn't much to see. Uniformed cops, plainclothes detectives and crime scene techs went about their business, interviewing witnesses, dusting for prints-- futile though it was-- and collecting what little evidence they could find.
I should mention here that Zenith was the first major city in America to employ full-time crime scene investigators of the kind that are, thanks to a relentless stream of popular television programs, so familiar today. There's a reason for that: Me. During my six-year odyssey around the world, after I left Fall River and before I settled down in Zenith, I had been a busy centipede. I had invented and/or developed a wide variety of investigative techniques and equipment that were decades ahead of anything any police agency in the world had at their disposal.
When I became a national hero and respected member of the establishment, I generously shared all of this with the Zenith P.D. Not that I was a natural-born philanthropist or selfless public benefactor in those days. Frankly, I had realized that detective work of that kind bored me to tears; I preferred to conserve my energies for epic battles with the likes of Doctor Almanac, Professor Necrosis, Adrian Countenance, and so on. So I donated every bit of my equipment to the city-- retaining only a few particularly exotic devices-- along with instruction manuals sufficiently detailed to make me proof against technical inquiries from the users. The more grunt work I could dump on the local constabulary, the better.
I spotted the only thing likely to yield any interesting information, and, asking Stanley to accompany me, I made a beeline for it.
"Here's the crate," I said, and so it was. An ordinary packing crate about the size and shape of a standard casket. "It could certainly serve as a coffin. And look, Stanley. Dirt."
There was a layer of dry soil, an inch or two deep, in the bottom of the crate.
"What the hell?" Stanley squatted down on his haunches and examined the wooden box and its contents. "What's this for? A planter or something?"
"Vampire spoor," I said. "Remember, the sun was still up when they entered the bank. That box was used to transport the creature we just saw. A vampire has to line his coffin with soil from his native land."
Stanley scratched his head. "Why?"
I shrugged. "Why is the sky blue?"
He looked up at me and said, "It's on account of the way sunlight reflects off of air molecules, is how I understand it."
I frowned. "Bad example. Just replace it with your favorite unanswerable rhetorical question. I don't know why they do it, but they do it. Since it's supernatural, there probably isn't any reason that would make scientific sense."
"I hate stuff that don't make scientific sense," he said sourly.
"I have a sort of love/hate relationship with it myself," I admitted.
Stanley assigned a couple of the uniforms to secure the crate and take it to the crime lab. It was pretty much the only thing we found in the way of physical evidence.
"I'll have to get back to the office," Stanley said, stretching his arms. "But first I'm gonna go get a drink. You want to join me?"
I did. We walked two and a half blocks to a speakeasy that was frequented by Zenith cops. Payoffs and free drinks had enabled it to sail through the reign of the Volstead Act without encountering any squalls.
Stanley and I got our drinks at the bar and went to a little table in the back. This was a place where we frequently discussed enterprises of great pith and moment.
"So," I said once we got settled, "What else is up aside from vampires?"
"We've had a rash of peeping toms lately. Funny thing is, one of them is a dame!"
"You don't say. Odd. Women do not generally seem to be drawn to that kind of activity.”
“Yeah. Technically, I guess it ought to be the responsibility of the vice squad. But we've never had what you could call an organized gang of peepers before, so they dumped it on Unusual Crimes, like we don't have enough to worry about already. There’s also been a huge spike in breaking and entering. And there’s a funny thing there, too-- in most cases, nothing has been stolen!”
“No kidding? What kind of places? Stores or private homes?”
“Both. Churches, too. Schools, factories, warehouses, you name it. Not only that, but actual theft has been down. We got dozens of break-ins every day, and in all but a couple cases, nothing is taken.”
“Any connection with the peepers?”
“I wondered the same thing," Stanley said. "There has been a lot of overlap as far as certain buildings being hit by both, but it just don’t make sense. If the peepers are casing these joints, they ain’t doing a very good job."
"Well, what about organized crime?" I asked. "The Stiff? Baron Samedi?"
Stanley made a face. "I never know what's going on with that bunch. Lucky for me, it ain't my responsibility. You know they keep it low-key, and they've got the fix in with City Hall and everything-- of course. I mean, this is Zenith, after all. Y'know, all this crap Mayor Dietrich has been spouting about getting tough on organized crime, that's just eyewash. You remember, they did the same thing after ADA Melchoir got killed."
I let out a meaningless "Hmmmm," and nodded. I knew a lot more about Zenith's reigning crime czars than Stanley did, starting with the fact that Assistant District Attorney J. Russell Melchoir was not dead. He had, in fact, undergone a peculiar transformation, and was now one of the city's new crime czars-- he called himself the Stiff. He had formed a partnership with the redoubtable Baron Samedi, a formidable Voodoo practitioner and gangster. I had an interesting, rather cordial relationship with them.
But I had heard nothing from them in weeks, and it was a cause for concern. Especially now. I'd been trying, but could go only so far up the chain and no further. There were rumors of a shakeup, but I didn't think there was anything to that. Samedi and the Stiff had no serious competition.
"There ain't any more gang wars since this new outfit took over," Stanley was saying. "Things are quiet, no gun fights in the streets, no civilians getting killed. There just ain't any public outcry over organized crime. I dunno why the mayor's so gung-ho about it. Or your buddy Hearst, for that matter, since it was the Orator that started all this crap. We been having way more trouble out of the super-criminal freaks than we have out of the mob."
"Well, you just answered your own question. The super-criminal madmen are too unpredictable. Nobody can really do anything about them-- the mayor certainly can't. It makes people antsy, and when people get antsy, they demand action. It doesn't necessarily have to be the right kind of action."
Things were a lot stranger than usual in the city of Zenith. It reminded me of an apparent madman roaming around London smashing busts of Napoleon for no discernible reason. It made sense to whoever was doing it. There just aren't that many random madmen out there. Someone was looking for a hidden pearl.
END OF THE FREE. NOW GO HERE: