(Our hero, the Black Centipede, has temporarily swapped bodies with bank robber John Dillinger to infiltrate Professor Moriarty's criminal gang. It seems that Johnny has been taking liberties with another member of the crew.)
Herbert West switched off the radio set that had, presumably, relayed the proceedings to the Loch Ness Monster. The hovering "Bell Witch" nameplate suddenly dropped, clattering onto the table. Clyde Barrow and Ma Barker cleared away the glasses. Bonnie Parker stood and watched her boyfriend leave the room, then turned to me and gave me a look that I supposed was meant to be enticing. I wondered just what the hell Dillinger and Bonnie had been up to, and hoped I would not be expected to pinch hit.
Not in a million years, I thought. Not to save my very soul from the Devil himself.
I was heading for the door the Professor had just used. And before I could take two steps, I felt a small but very firm hand on my shoulder.
Forcing a lopsided smile-- I didn't have the stomach to go for lecherous-- onto my borrowed face, I turned to confront the ghastly Bonnie Parker.
There is a famous photograph of Bonnie with her foot up on the bumper of a car, a pistol in her right hand and a cigar in her mouth. It had been reproduced countless times in books and magazines, and now the internet. A good one-word description of Bonnie's aspect in that photo would be "haglike," if that's an actual word.
Having viewed her at close quarters, I can say that the famous snapshot is unflattering. Bonnie Parker was not that ugly. In fact, it could be said that she wasn't ugly at all, depending on what you're accustomed to. She was no Faye Dunaway, but very few women are.
Whatever it was about Bonnie that made my skin crawl, it had nothing to do with her appearance, as such. It was something in her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, something darkly sinister that could not be captured on film.
"I need something to eat," I said. I realized that I was foolishly trying to imitate John Dillinger's voice, even though I was speaking through his own vocal apparatus and needn't have bothered.
"Yeah," Bonnie said, smiling in a way that was probably meant to be flirtatious, but put me in mind of a predatory reptile. "The hash houses will still be there later on. I got something that needs a little attention from you."
I saw in this nauseating turn of events an opportunity to have a better look over the premises, if I could keep my lunch down. I wondered what Dillinger had eaten that day. Numbly, like a man being led to a place of execution, I followed Bonnie down a narrow corridor toward the front of the building.
We stepped into the room at the end of the corridor. Judith DeCortez and Zelda Fitzgerald were already in there, sitting at a small table, drinking coffee.
"Hey!" Zelda exclaimed, pointing at me. "That isn't John Dillinger. He looks like Dillinger, but he's not."
"What?" said Bonnie and DeCortez in unison.
"It isn't him," Zelda declared.
"There's one way to find out," said Bonnie Parker, seemingly amused by this. She smiled at me in an exquisitely nauseating manner. "Johnnie's got a cute little mole in a certain spot," she purred. "Let's just have a look, shall we? And maybe I can find something else to do while I'm down there."
She moved closer, and started to reach for my belt buckle.
Mission be damned, I thought, and punched Bonnie Parker in the face. I heard her nose break, which was all well and good, but I'd been trying to do a lot more damage than that. Dillinger was in decent shape, but he wasn't as strong as I was. I had knocked her off her feet, but the damage was minimal.
"Gobdabbit!" she blubbered as she struggled to get up, one hand clapped over her nose, blood pouring out over her fingers. "Ged dad subbababidge!"
Judith DeCortez turned her head to shout down the hallway for help. "Hey, you guys! Get down here! Dillinger isn't Dillinger, he's a spy!" This provided me with an excellent opportunity to take care of some unfinished business. I whipped out a revolver, aimed at the side of her head, and fired.
My intention was to get La DeCortez in the temple, thus closing the books on her for good. But my depth perception was off on account of being in an unfamiliar body, and all I ended up doing was clipping off most of her nose.
"Shit!" she shrieked. "Not again!"
My cover was absolutely blown, but I had no regrets. I'd learned a few things I didn't know before, and had avoided a fate worse than death. Now it was time to get the hell out.
I heard angry shouts coming from the main hall, and Zelda started running in that direction. To conserve ammo, I clubbed Judith over the head with the butt of the gun. I tossed a pair of blackout grenades ahead of me as I dashed up the corridor. They were meant to blind my opponents, which they did. And I was meant to be able to see clearly through the cloud, thanks to my unique body chemistry.
Don't even say it. I know, it was a terrible slip-up. I had, of course, left my unique body chemistry back at the Benway. Dillinger's eyes were of no use. My plan to grab Zelda and take her out of there was no longer viable. I couldn't see a damn thing.
But I heard plenty. Moving quietly down the hallway, I heard Kate Barker raising hell. I followed the trail of obscenities all the way to Ma's fat mouth, and put a fist into it, hard. That didn't quite do it, and she grabbed my wrist and twisted. My pistol slipped out of my hand and I heard it hit the floor and slide away. I gave Ma a blow to the temple that did what I wanted it to do. As she went down, I heard Clyde Barrow-- who must have heard the loud smack and Ma's pitiful groan-- yell, "What the hell's happening?"
I subscribe to the "don't tell it, show it" philosophy, so I aimed a fist in the direction his voice came from and gave him a helping of the stuff I'd served Ma. He said a dirty word and fell to his knees. Groping blindly, I managed to get my hand on his rifle. I relieved him of it and put him the rest of the way down with a kick to the head.
That was five of them down or severely damaged. I didn't think Crippen would be a problem, and I was sure I wouldn't have to worry about the Loch Ness Monster. That left Pretty Boy Floyd, Herbert West, Zelda Fitzgerald, Stagger Lee and the Bell Witch. West and Zelda posed no more of a physical threat than Crippen did. Floyd and Lee needed to be dealt with quickly. As for the Witch, all I could do was hope she'd stay out of it.
"What did she mean Dillinger ain't Dillinger?" Floyd bellowed.
"What the hell you think she meant?" Stagger Lee replied. "If he ain't Dillinger, he's somebody else! Where the hell is all this black smoke coming from?"
The two of them were standing still, in the darkness brought down upon their heads by my blackout grenade, waiting for some kind of cue. I had one for them. I tiptoed silently in Floyd's direction, stopping when I sensed that he was less than a foot in front of me.
"Where you at, man?" Lee shouted. "Tell me where you are, you pansy!"
I turned my head and yelled, "Screw you, nancy boy!" through Dillinger's vocal cords. Then I dropped to the floor.
Stagger Lee's .44 went off. Pretty Boy Floyd let out a scream that dropped off quickly into a wet gurgle. Sounded to me like he'd taken a slug to the gut. Good enough for him.
"Ha!" crowed Stagger Lee. "Got you, you stupid mother..."
"Shut your mouth," I said through clenched teeth, cutting him off in mid-vulgarity with a blast from Clyde Barrow's shotgun. I heard his body hit the floor and he made no further remarks. I got upright and started moving toward the door. I was almost there when I bumped into someone and felt a hand like a wet rag wrap itself around my left wrist.
"I got him, I got him!" Crippen bleated with delight. "Over here!" I figured a shotgun blast at this range would totally obliterate his head, so that's what I gave him.
Resurrect THAT, West!
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