Sunday, June 25, 2017

And one final preview of the new Bay Phantom



“It’s a shame you won’t be in town for Mardi Gras,” Joe Perrone said. 

“Not really,” Mirabelle Darcy replied. “I don’t like Mardi Gras. I never have.”

They were in the front room at Tull House, the strange old place Perrone had purchased the previous year, as both a home and a base of operations for Perrone’s activities as the Bay Phantom, Mobile’s one and only masked crime fighter. Mirabelle was dressed a bit more formally than usual, in a long skirt, gray blouse, and a brown jacket, a small hat pinned into her hair.  

“Yes, but have you seen this piece in the paper about the most popular costume this year? It should interest you.”


“Well, according to the society editor of the Press, all the smart young ladies will be dressed as Paper Bag Girl this year.”

“Aw shit!” Mirabelle exclaimed, horrified. “Tell me you’re joking!”

Paper Bag Girl was an impromptu identity Mirabelle had publicly adopted, very briefly, during the Battle of Cathedral Square the previous year. It had been a quick, disposable way to protect her own identity and the Bay Phantom’s secrets, but had, for some incomprehensible reason, caught the public’s imagination. 

Mirabelle was ostensibly Joe Perrone’s housekeeper, but in reality, she was both less and much, much more. She might occasionally turn her hand to cleaning or cooking, but such pursuits were on an as-needed basis. Most of her time was spent on arcane scientific research and the crafting of weapons and other devices for the Bay Phantom. 

“If it will make you feel better,” Perrone said, “I’m joking. But I’m not. Here it is, right here.”

He waved the newspaper at her.

“I don’t wanna see that bullshit,” she grumbled. 

Perrone sighed. “For heaven’s sake, Mirabelle, I thought we agreed you’d watch your language.”

You agreed it. I never said a goddamn word. You need to watch those unilateral ‘agreements’ of yours.”

Perrone sighed again.

“I suppose there are worse habits you could have,” he said philosophically. “Are you ready? We need to get you to the train station.”

“I’ve been ready all morning, Mister Perrone.”

“There’s another thing. I thought you were going to start calling me Joe.”

“I did, Mister Perrone. I may again one day, if the spirit moves me.”

Perrone sighed once more. “All right. I know old habits die hard.”

“Yes, well, this goes a little beyond folksy homilies. If you’re all for freedom and equality, why can’t I just call you what I want to call you, and leave it at that? And while we’re at it, I wish you’d quit sighing at me all the time. That is downright annoying.”

It was out of character for Mirabelle to go off on trips, and Joe Perrone took her impending vacation as a good sign. The events of the previous year could have traumatized the young woman, but they seemed instead to have energized her. It would be a bit difficult for him to get along without her, but the potential benefits to Mirabelle outweighed any such concerns. 

Though she seemed lighter and more cheerful most of the time, she had taken to spending increasingly long hours by herself, in her private rooms. She said she was working on a number of different experiments, and he had no doubt that she was, but she often emerged from her solitude looking weary and worn. Perrone wondered if she was having trouble assimilating some of the things she had learned and experienced. Perhaps her good cheer was a false front. It would be just like her to conceal any difficulties she might be having. 

Even so, something had changed, and he was optimistic enough to believe that it was for the better. But there could be... problems.


He drove her to the train station. Her trunk was handed off to a porter, and she kept a large satchel with her. 

Before leaving her in the concourse, Perrone bent and kissed Mirabelle on the cheek, and she returned the gesture, fully aware of the distasteful looks other travelers were giving them. Perrone didn’t care about that. Mirabelle shouldn’t have, but it got her goat just the same. What the hell business was it of theirs?

“I’ll see you soon,” she said. “Take care of yourself... Joe.”

He smiled broadly. “Will do, Miss Darcy.”

She laughed and waved at him as he walked away. He was awfully sweet, and she knew he meant well. But, like a lot of more liberal white people in the South and elsewhere, he seemed to think he understood more than he possibly could. 

Or maybe it was all her. She just didn’t know. Whatever genius she supposedly possessed, it could not penetrate the secrets of a human heart, not even her own. 

She was dubious about Sigmund Freud’s assertion that she was the “ninth smartest person in the world.” How could he possibly know that? Most likely, it was an estimate, possibly based on some kind of demographic research. Or else he just made it up. It sounded like something out of a comic strip. 

But she was not just smart, not merely a genius. Mirabelle Darcy was a super-genius. There was no getting around that. 

In recent months, confronting certain memories that had been retrieved during hypnosis sessions with Doctor Freud, she wondered if she might not have some cause to doubt her sanity. But she decided that wouldn’t be practical, so she denied herself the luxury. 

But some of the things she had learned demanded action. And that was the real reason for her trip.

She had told Perrone she would be visiting relatives in Zenith. In fact, so far as she knew, none of her extended family lived in that most peculiar of American cities. Once she was certain Perrone was gone, she spoke briefly with the porter, then purchased a ticket to Kansas City. She had no relatives there. But she did have a purpose. 

With just a little bit of luck--or, rather, with the absence of any catastrophically bad luck-- she ought to be able to sneak right into the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bay Phantom Sneak Peek 2 from "Feast of the Cannibal Guild"

Louis Rickert did not consider himself a “good person,” though he knew for a fact that he was far from the worst that humanity had to offer. He had been a criminal almost since he learned how to walk. 

And now, here he was, working for a mysterious crime fighter! Life did indeed throw some curve balls at times. 

Well, you don’t necessarily have to be good to do some good. He would never be a genuinely honest man, he knew, but his work for the Bay Phantom seemed to him to mitigate some of his other activities. 

Anyway, he wouldn’t be much use to the masked man if he didn’t occupy a modest position in Mobile’s criminal underworld. He couldn’t do that and keep his nose totally clean at the same time. That just stood to reason. 

He was in a bar, a speakeasy on the fringe of Mobile’s criminal underworld. It wasn’t the sort of place an ordinary fellow would take a date, but it wasn’t packed to the rafters with murderous hardcore gangsters either. Had Rickert been a bit more knowledgeable about religious doctrine, he might have thought of the joint as a sort of limbo. 

Louis was drinking with a man who should have been one of his most feared natural enemies, a shark who could pick off a bottom feeder like Louis Rickert without any effort at all. 

Shorty Red, who was close to seven feet tall and almost as colorless as an albino, sipped at a glass of club soda, while Louis consumed one shot of whiskey after another. Both Shorty and the Bay Phantom had cautioned Louis about his drinking, but he was a grown man and could do whatever he pleased. One of the few things he had never been arrested for was public intoxication, or any other kind of alcohol-related infraction. Anyhow, it had never once interfered with his ability to perform his duties for the Phantom-- except for three or four isolated incidents spread out over a period of several weeks.

“Something’s going on,” Shorty was saying, “and the Phantom wants us to look into it.”

“What’s the big deal?” asked Louis. “Sounds like an ordinary protection racket to me. What does he care about that?”

Shorty sighed. “He cares about everything, and he’s right to do so. You’ve got a bad attitude, Louis. We’ve talked about that before. If you don’t like the job, you should stop taking his money.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna do it,” Rickert replied indignantly. “I just wonder about it. Is that against the law? What am I, a zombie?”

“No, you aren’t a zombie,” Shorty said, turning his cold, colorless eyes on Rickert. “Are you implying that I am?”

Rickert flinched, even though he knew by now that Shorty Red did not and would not ever represent a physical threat to him. The hulking ex-enforcer for the Carter crime family had undergone some kind of transformation over the past few months. Shorty had been one of the most violent and unpredictable criminals on the Gulf Coast-- before he met the Bay Phantom. Though he wasn’t exactly a pussycat these days, he seemed a lot more thoughtful and sensitive, which was a good thing for Rickert, who had quite recently beaten the living hell out of Shorty with a crowbar. The giant didn’t seem to carry a grudge over it, and Rickert knew full well that the Bay Phantom was the reason for that.

“Hell no, Shorty, I ain’t implying nothing,” Rickert said. “All’s I’m doing is... Oh, never mind.”

“I won’t. Listen, this is serious business, Louis. The Carter family has been in disarray since Caleb disappeared and Penny resurfaced. They’re pulling it together, but there was a vacuum for a while. It was brief, but a few unknown factions moved in to fill it. They’re being dealt with, for the most part, But one small and mysterious group managed to gain a minor foothold. They’ve been strong-arming restaurants, but we don’t know what for, and nobody wants to talk about it. Could be protection, could be something else. Most of them are completely legit-- not speakeasies or gambling fronts. They’re frightened, that much is certain. The Phantom wants to know what’s going on and what they’re so afraid of.”

“I got no problem with that,” Rickert said. “My problem is that I could use some more money. Especially if I’m gonna be doing dangerous duties, you know? Hazard pay, I think they call it.”

Here was the crux of Louis’ current dilemma. He had quite a knack for keeping his own best interests at the forefront of his mind, no matter what was going on around him. And what was bugging him now was money. It preoccupied his thoughts to the near-exclusion of everything else. 

But money was not an end in itself. It was only the means by which he believed he could achieve his true goal.

Gladys Turnbull. 

Gladys’ interest in Louis had lasted for all of ten minutes. Her current indifference was not reciprocated. Louis was still interested in her, and it was making him crazy. 

He couldn’t figure out what had made her turn on him. He wasn’t even slightly balding, and he had almost all of his teeth. 

It had to be about money, he reasoned. That’s what it was always about with women. It was a real shame, but that’s how the world worked. 

Shorty Red had suggested to him that perhaps a woman like Gladys, who was well-educated and held a responsible, respectable job as a newspaper editor, might not have very much in common with a semi-literate petty crook. That was just plain nuts. The rules of attraction didn’t pay attention to stuff like that. 

It was money. Had to be. 


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Bay Phantom Will Return!

THE BAY PHANTOM BOOK TWO: FEAST OF THE CANNIBAL GUILD nears completion! Here's a little peek at a scene in which the Phantom's right hand, Mirabelle Darcy, has slipped into Leavenworth Penitentiary to confront the diabolical Doctor Piranha:


“I know you,” said Doctor Piranha, cocking his head to one side and studying her. “You used to be Mirabelle Darcy, did you not?”

“What a queer thing to say,” she replied. “I still am Mirabelle Darcy, of course.”

He nodded. “My apologies. I sometimes forget that other people are real.”

Mirabelle frowned. “Another peculiar remark. You’re just full of them, aren’t you? So, how do you recognize me? We’ve never met before-- have we? You don’t look familiar, but it appears that you’ve had something done to your face. Very good work. Impossibly good, I’d almost say. Who did it?”

“I did.”

“You... You performed plastic surgery on yourself?”

He nodded. “When I was still a teenager.”

“Damn. It must have been painful.”

“I suppose it was. I ignored that part of it.”

“Ignored it,” Mirabelle repeated.

Piranha nodded again. “Blocked it out. I had to, otherwise my hands would have shaken, and I’d have made a hash of it. You’ve performed surgical procedures before, you know they require a calm and steady hand.”

“How do you know what I’ve done?”

He shrugged and smiled at her. It wasn’t much of a smile-- just an upward curling of the corners of his mouth. His strange, cold eyes did not participate.

“Okay,” Mirabelle said after almost a minute of the ghastly silent smile, “let’s just cut the bullshit, shall we? You know who I am, and I know who you are. And you know that I know. You haven’t killed me, and I don’t believe you intend to. You must know why I came here, what I want to talk about.”

“Joe,” he said flatly.

Joseph Perrone,” Mirabelle said pointedly. “Your brother. Don’t worry, I’m the only one who knows that. What I don’t know is what you did to him.”

More silence. The smile had slipped away. Mirabelle forced herself to keep looking him in the eye. She was damned if she’d be the first one to look away. This went on for quite some time.

“Joe doesn’t know?” Piranha finally said.

“He does not. Nor will he ever, if I have anything to say about it.”

“It wouldn’t do him much good, would it?”

“It would destroy him.”

“You’re very brave, aren’t you?” Piranha said, apropos of nothing, or so it seemed to Mirabelle. She thought for a moment, then spoke:

“Are you kidding me? I’m scared shitless. Any sane person would be. I have broken into one of the most secure prisons in the world, and I’m in a room, alone, with the most dangerous man in the world. That’s what they call you. They say you can kill a person without even thinking about it.”

“And yet here you are.”

“And yet here I am. I’m not brave; I may just be stupid. But here I am.”

“You care about him.”

“That’s obvious. And I think you do too. Whatever you did to him, you thought it was for his own good. I figured that much out. But how do you know? How do you know that whatever you did won’t kill him in the long run, or screw him up in some way you can’t imagine? You’re a mean, ruthless sonofabitch, but something in you cares about your little brother. You ran some heavy risks to make sure he’d be all right. You played God with him is what you did, but I still think that whatever you use for a heart was more or less in the right place when you did it. And now I want to know what it was. I’m smart enough to understand it, don’t worry about that.”


Friday, June 2, 2017

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