Category Archives: Steampunk Fiction

Contents Vol. 2 No. 8

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Eight of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Eight, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, continues with our two new pulp serials, Phyllis Haldursdottir’s global steampunk saga, Cheése Stands Alone, featuring Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”), and Pierre Anton Taylor’s  Just Coincidence, a familiar fiction of dynastic intrigue and the dark revenge of a masked crime crusader.

In Act One, Scene 3 of Just Coincidence, Wayne Bruce continues the investigation into his father’s death.  A chance encounter leads him on a motorcycle chase  in pursuit of mysterious abducted young woman. An emotional connection to an old mentor and an overwhelming nostalgia  move him to act against the injustice of social marginalization. That he is a dark prince as well as a dark knight is just coincidence.

It is the year Pax Victoriana180.  For Airship Commander Lydia Cheése, Victoriana rules the waves as well as the airship lanes. In the continuing saga of Cheése Stands Alone, Captain Lydia Cheése  has fallen down the rabbit hole and finds herself in the clutches of a herpetologist by the name of Serre-Pain and his traveling snake show, Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium. If she is to find her father, the notorious Commodore Jack Cheése, she must bide her time and masquerade as the snake enchantress, Madame Ophelia.

Number Ten of On The Road To Las Cruces reaches a crucial point in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman where memory becomes a dialogue with one’s self in the justification of a killing and a blind pride that leads to to death. As an echo from the abyss, the famous retelling is retold as a rebuttal as well as an oral chronical.

And last but not least, Installment 20 of the 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial),  hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask  continually thwarted by kidnapping, murder, attempted murder in his quest for stolen diamonds and the mysterious Empress’s Cucumber. Things not only get worse, but he has lost someone whose youthful energy had stolen his heart. And now the cops have him and they want answers.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 8

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—20


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Ten~


LCinset21In March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. Her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana has lasted 180  years maintaining as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to rapid advances in bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone III


Batman-Logo-1In Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One. Scene 3

Act One, Scene 3

by Pierre Anton Taylor

headlines s3The late afternoon sky, losing some of its color, was hastening toward dark. A barricade of clouds hemmed in a sinking autumn sun, scattering its light as feeble rays. The hazmat team from the BATS Lab had packed up after a forensic sampling of the soils at various depths of the contaminated area and a thorough scanning of the site with sniffers. He could expect results overnight. He folded and stowed his protective gear in the utility box in back of his ’79 Land Rover. It was a souvenir of his time in Mali. The thing he liked about the old rugged square cab Rovers, although they weren’t built for speed, was that they came in any color you wanted as long as it was green. As well, the bed was long enough to hold his matte black BMW R12 motorcycle in its canvas sheath. If he wanted to go fast. The beeping pager brought him out of his reverie.

land rover78Wayne Bruce retrieved the device from the pocket of his leather jacket and scrolled through the display. Uncle Harold had called multiple times. Everything was Urgent and ASAP with him. And a number he remembered as belonging to Detective Gordon James with Metro Homicide. There was a third number that he didn’t recognize. Very few people had his pager number and he was certain he knew all of them.

He could assume the reason for the panicky calls from his uncle. With Wallace Bruce’s death, the Defense Department’s Office of Acquisition and Development had called for a pause in the contract negotiations until the board of directors of Bruce Enterprises decided on the succession. No one doubted that it would be Wallace’s brother, Harold. Trish held the deciding vote and there was little chance she would vote otherwise. But that’s government for you, Old Dad had said more than once, cautious, inept, and wasteful, but what would you do without it. And then he’d go on about pirates, bandits, and spies. Harold was a worry wart. The negotiations would resume. That’s what they had lawyers for.

He had expected to hear from Detective James again. At their first meeting the day after the funeral, the homicide detective had explained that the medical examiner had turned over the body of the deceased to the family lawyer, Linus Pall, who, puzzling to him, was also the decedent’s personal physician. There was no medical report except for Pall’s signature on the death certificate. His own examination of the crime scene had been perfunctory, he’d made clear, as the assumption of his superiors was that it was a heart attack and that he was there merely as window dressing, which he was not terribly happy about. His case load had doubled with a recent spate of killings in an uptick of turf wars among dealers and gangs. He’d also noted that there was no video from the security camera on the penthouse elevator, a fact that Wayne had confirmed with the Legacy Arms management. All the elevators have cameras but it was a specific request from the penthouse lease, Bruce Enterprises, that the feed be disconnected. For privacy reasons. One other thing. There’d been a little vomit on the carpet exiting the elevator next to where Bruce’s head had hit. James had taken a sampling in case the death was deemed suspicious because he was a good detective and he was going to do his job even if he was just there as an official mannequin. But since the case was closed and out of his hands he was going to destroy the evidence. Unless, that is, young Bruce wanted to do it for him. It was pretty much a dead end Wayne realized, and he had thanked the detective for his time. And yes, he would take the carpet sampling off his hands.

Over the course of the week since the interment he’d turned his attention Old Dad’s last days, reaching out to the old man’s executive secretary, Rhona Samules, and obtained his father’s appointments and meetings calendar. The previous weeks had been a scattering of routine meetings with upper level staff, and with his brother, the Vice President of Operations. They were breaking ground on a new factory upstate. Almost in equal amounts of time were golf outings, one even to a country club out of state for which the company jet had been reserved. At a glance, the schedule might have given the impression that the old boy’s business was golfing.

Old Bruce had been staying at their country house in Bon Aire, chauffeured in regularly to the office on the top floor of Bruce Tower. For Trish, the country house, large and almost always empty was dull unless she was hosting a large charity event. She kept a town house in the city where she entertained. The week of his death, his father’s personal secretary of twenty years had been instructed to clear his calendar and informed that he would not be conducting any meetings at the Tower. Rhona had remarked that she thought it unusual because he had been intently focused on the merger project, and finalization of the new government contract. If need be, her boss had told her, he could be found either at the Country Club or at the company penthouse at the Legacy Arms. Wayne would have to give the schedule of appointments of the preceding weeks a more thorough going over when he returned to the penthouse where he was now staying.

The other number on the readout was unfamiliar yet something about the combination of numerals, maybe a locker combo when he had been in school, made him save it rather than delete. Other concerns nagged him as he scanned the deserted factory yard and tried to visualize how a classic car museum and community center could rise out of the crumbling brick structures. It would take a lot of money. But he had a lot of money. First step was converting the old brick office building into a temporary HQ for Bruce Advanced Tech.

Maybe it was just the late afternoon sun emerging from a break in the clouds, but he thought he caught a flash of movement in the shadow of a window looking out onto the parking lot. Curious, he stepped up the brick and cement steps bordered by wrought iron hand rails. The lock was broken and the door had been forced open. No surprise. How long had the company stepped away from the old Battery Works? Fac Ops had obviously placed the property low on its list of priorities.

BurgessBattery
He pushed the door open. The only resistance it met was layers of dust and loose floor tiles. Inside was deserted. The office furniture had either been hauled away or scavenged. Something else besides dust and mildew contributed to the closeness of the air. He noticed the fast food containers abandoned in a corner of the wide reception room. The gray dust of the floor showed obvious shoe and boot tracks, some appearing more recent than others. Someone had been living in the building or was still living there. Animal paw prints patterned the dust as well. He guessed cats. And rats. Most of the windows had been boarded up and his gaze led him down past the reception counter to the long hallway that connected to the offices and the staff kitchen at the rear. His father had had his offices at the far back with a sitting room where he often spent the night on the couch.

Everything in his head said it should have been so much more familiar yet now it was also strange and disorienting. He retrieved the mini flashlight in the utility pocket of his dark work pants and shined it ahead of him moving slowly down the corridor. Now the stench was overpowering the odor of dust and mildew. It was coming from ahead of him. He heard mewling and opened the door to what he remembered was the accounting office. He stepped back, startled at the scattering scramble of tiny paws. The reek of cat urine drove him back into the hallway as the flashlight played across the frantic melee of felines seeking shelter, their eyes glowing, startled, in the directed beam. A hole in the board over one window was allowing a line of raised agitated tails to flee the intrusion.

He heard the noise of the side door off the kitchen area slam shut. He reached the outside yard he remembered once being referred to as the “smoke pit” in time to see a lithe figure in black lift itself over the back wall of the compound. That someone had used stacked boxes and old lumber as a ladder to reach the top. He scaled the wall using the same path taken by the intruder, the similarity of the exertion reminiscent of the times he had competed in parkour tournaments. By the time he’d reached the top, whoever it was had disappeared. He dropped to the alleyway below and followed it around to where it exited on Battery Street and adjacent the candy store.

The old neighborhood might have been rundown and trash strewn, garbage piled at the curbs, but the front of the candy store was immaculate and swept debris free daily by the proprietor. Old Rick saw him advancing and waved with the broom in his hand. When Wayne inquired if he’d seen anyone run past, Rick couldn’t say that he had. And at the mention of the intruder and the office full of cats, he nodded sagely.

candystore2“I might have figured as much. Do you remember Laverne Early or was that after you were sent away to school?” At Wayne’s shrug, he continued. “When the battery business started booming and your old man began diversifying, they expanded the accounts department. That’s where Laverne worked for a couple of years. There was a rumor that she might have been seeing the boss’s brother, your uncle Harold. He was in charge of sales back then. He was quite the ladies’ man in his younger days I heard tell.

“Laverne had grown up in the neighborhood, tough family, no daddy, and too many new uncles. She did well in school apparently, and one of her teachers recommended her for an office job at the battery factory. And old Bruce, he liked to hire from the local community I’ll say that for him. Then she just up and left town, quit her job. Folks talking thought she might have met someone. I know she’d sometime come into the shop to buy a pack of chewing gum or some such. She was a skinny high strung young thing to begin with, all in a tizzy, scattered, excited, but in a happy way, you know. So I figured it was love or something close to it. About five years passed and she came back, kid in tow, girl, cute little thing.”

Rick shaded his eyes and gazed searchingly down the length of Battery with its weathered brick apartment blocks and empty lots where once had stood businesses that were only vague names barely remembered, now nothing but a dumping grounds for transient trash and broken appliances. “She tried to get her old job back but by then they were up to closing the old yard down and moving the manufacturing over there to Asia.” He shook his gray head at the folly. “The whole administration was moved to the new office building uptown. And Laverne, the new accounting office being staffed with uptown business school professionals, was always a downtown girl and wasn’t going to fit in. She worked odd jobs after that around here, waitressing when the Jewel Diner was still operating. And she did maid work at the Royal Hotel, cleaning up after hookers and junkies. Always pleasant when you run into her, but kept to herself. She had bad luck keeping a roof over her head, kept getting evicted from her apartments or rooming houses. It was tough on the kid too, and eventually she went into foster care I heard.

“And all because of her cats! She had to have her cats, and it just got harder and harder to find a place to rent with a dozen cats.” Rock gestured to the surrounding neighborhood. “She’s homeless now. You’re bound to see her if you’re going to set up shop in the old yard. I don’t know where she sleeps, maybe the shelter at St. Ursaline’s, but I’ll bet her cats ain’t welcome. Could be she’s bedding down in the old office building. But I can guarantee that wasn’t her leaping over the wall like you said.”

Locking up the gates to the Battery Works, Wayne reminded himself that he would have order a more effective means of securing the property in light of the contaminated soil. He decided to cruise the neighborhood on the off chance that he might encounter the cat loving trespasser. He had just turned off Battery onto Jefferson when he heard the scream, the call for help. He put the Land Rover in reverse, scanning doorways beyond the cyclone fenced enclosures of a couple of derelict warehouses. In the gap between the two large flat roofed  structures, he caught movement, signs of s struggle. Two figures each had an arm and a third was wrestling with the flailing legs and feet of a fourth and trying to avoid getting kicked in the face. Now the screaming had become an incomprehensible howl.

Braking to a stop, he jumped from the cab shouting out his own warning while rummaging through the toolbox in the pickup bed. The crowbar would do. Without a pause he ran toward the figures, three men he could now tell from their broad shouldered postures. They were dragging the fourth toward the open rear cargo doors of a black van, hurriedly, looking over their shoulders at the man racing toward them.

As he cleared the pedestrian access to the abandoned loading bay, the van gave a rough start and jerked forward before accelerating in the opposite direction, the unsecured rear doors flying open to reveal two men holding down a third. The yelps and shouts convinced him it was a female or a very young boy. They glared at him as one of them pulled the doors closed with a sadistic grin.

He raced back to the Rover, grabbing his helmet from the cab, and yanked the covering off the BMW, stowing the crowbar in the saddlebag. Dropping the tailgate he powered the R12 off the bed with a squeal of tires, skidding the rear wheel once he landed and veering back through the narrow gap to the loading bay of the old warehouse. At the far side of the lot, the gate access to the back street sagged on it hinges. The van no longer in sight, he had to considered going left or right, gunning the engine impatiently. There, close to the pavement off to the right, faintly visible, a narrow band of haze slowly drifted back to the dried mud of the asphalt from which it had been raised. To the left nothing stirred except for a grey rag caught on the cyclone fencing flapping in the late afternoon wind. Right also led to Grant which led to an onramp for the Arnold Expressway.

r121Once on Grant, the traffic was considerably heavier than in the old neighborhood it bordered. He weaved through traffic, stopping at the light before the freeway entrance. No sign of them. His choice was to continue down Grant or get on the freeway. But would they stick to surface streets considering that the raised four lane could take them further and faster? That was the question. He raced up the onramp at the change of the light and encountered the going home gridlock. No one was going to go anywhere fast. It was like a slow moving parking lot. There likely was an accident further down, but as far as he could see, it was a horizon of rooftops inching up the overpass incline. And there in the middle of it, in the number two lane, was the black box he was looking for.

He gunned the BMW and rode the line between the cars, cautiously making his way forward, ignoring the hostile stares of the exasperated drivers behind the steering wheels of their turtle paced rides. He had flipped down the dark visor of his helmet so that only his mouth and jaw were visible. In almost no time he had come in range of the black van, keeping his distance in the number three lane, using the groaningly slow traffic between them as a cover.

There were two of them in the front cab, the one in the passenger seat straining to say something to someone in the cargo hold, his broad back and shoulders to the window. The battered van was an older model with side cargo doors as well. It was missing a sideview mirror if the stub near the wing was any indication. The traffic continued to move slowly forward accompanied by the honking horns of frustrated drivers in a stagnant river of sheet metal  and glass on wheels. A police department helicopter flew overhead toward the head of the flow. Then the forward movement stopped altogether.

What were the risks going up against three men, possibly armed? They had abducted a girl, presumably against her will by the way she had fought them. He felt was compelled to act. And again a lethal calmness overtook him. So far his only advantage was surprise. He would need to change the odds. He had the crowbar in the saddlebag. That was one. In the saddlebag was also a tire repair kit that was original to the model. It came with a utility knife to cut and score the patches. That was two. And there was a packet of road flares that he had added to the emergency kit. That was three.

The traffic began rolling again, still at a snail’s pace, and he steered his way along the line adjacent the dark van. As it crept forward, he located the valve stem on the rear wheel. Bringing himself even with the slowly rotating tire, he severed the valve head releasing a gush of foul heated air. Maneuvering the motorcycle up to the passenger door he beat on the window with the side of his gloved fist. A scowling face turned to glare at him.

Wayne mouthed the words “tire” and pointed to the rear of the van. The rear wheel had deflated to the point that the driver was having difficulty controlling the van. He heard the driver curse angrily. The man in the passenger seat opened the door and poked his head out to put eyes on the problem. As he did, Wayne kicked the door, bouncing the man’s head against the door frame. Pulling the man out of the cab, he scraped the end of the flare on the pavement and tossed the orange red sparkler into the front seats.

Wayne pushed the door closed as the passenger fell to his knees on the pavement. He was reaching for something under his shirt. Using the crowbar he hooked the man’s wrist and sent the gun he was trying to grab from his waistband skittering into the number three lane. Just then the cargo doors exploded open with smoke as the third man threw himself out. The crook of the crowbar caught him behind the heel and with one swift uplifting motion flipped him onto his back.

Wayne dived into the van and found the young woman, mouth taped shut, hands bound. Her expression, if her eyes  were any indication, was of pure terror. The flare was burning between the front seats and had already caught some oily rags and fast food debris on fire. He dragged her out of the van and over to his BMW, placing her on the seat and slicing through her bindings with the utility knife. He yanked off the tape covering her mouth.

He didn’t see it coming and caught the blow from her fist on the side of his jaw. She kicked out with her feet, spitting and clawing, but he dodged them in time to catch the movement behind him. The driver had appeared around the front of the van with a lug wrench. Wayne felt the pain as it slammed into the arm he had put up to deflect the blow aimed at his head, the follow through glancing off the side of his dark visored helmet. He raised his booted foot and aimed a crushing blow at the driver’s right knee. The man sagged to one side dropping the wench as the display of pain contorted his face.

Wayne hopped on his motorcycle just as the traffic surged forward like an unclogged drain. The girl was gone. He caught a glimpse of her heading for the side of the freeway, hopping hoods and dodging screeching brakes. He gunned his bike to follow her but now the traffic was relentless and unpredictable and he lost sight of her as she leapt over the guard rail. He managed to gain the narrow shoulder off the number four lane and looked down on a maze of backstreets, back yards, and back alleys. He spied her at an intersection racing towards the shadows along the fence of a wrecking yard and the long succession of apartment blocks beyond. The drop from the overpass was considerable, but as he surveyed the ledges and angles he knew someone agile enough could make the descent without too much trouble. Like a cat, she had landed on her feet.


Next Time: Act One, Scene 4; The Stakes Are Raised

Cheése Stands Alone III

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter Five

Lydia awoke, eyes throbbing, temples pulsing, moaning through the dry stickiness in her throat. Even her eye sockets registered pain. And shifting on her back, her hips, her knees, as she pulled them in, warned her, creaking with ache, to be more tentative about her movements. It seemed safer where she had come from, a silky wispy world of subdued light, a tangerine streak on tattered clouds hovering over a severe dark blue horizon. A woman, parasol held over her head, dressed in a shimmering pearlescent tutu skipped along the ledge of a tall building overlooking the acute angles of a pastel cityscape vying with the colorful atmosphere. It could have been London except for the throbbing green of jungle beyond so it was probably São Paulo. A man in a white tunic with gold epaulets of the Admiralty Medical Corps stood with his back to them. He and the woman with the parasol. Who was he? Who was she?

A large rectangle of light hovered nearby and she turned her head toward it. It was a window set into the severe slant of an attic room. Now she was aware of the vague itching of her legs, her torso, into her armpits and around her breasts. She scratched at the tiny tingles of pain on her arm and cleared her throat again. She blinked, focusing on the light at the window. It was maddeningly indistinct. A shadow crossed the brightness and she tracked it, her head heavy as lead and painfully molten as she moved it.

“She’s awake” a high voice spoke and was answered by the scrape of a chair across a floor.

A taller shadow joined the original one accompanied by a bright object from which she felt the need to shield her eyes. Sensation returned to her body and she struggled against her covering.

“There, there,” a voice spoke soothingly, “let’s untangle you from the quilt.”

She stared at the gray bearded dark face uncomprehendingly, panic joining her renewed sensitivity. She tried to sit up but her body protested. Dimly, it was a familiar feeling, but the circumstances were shrouded in insubstantiality. Her self-awareness was missing something. Who was she?

The dark face frowned, the light source that no longer bothered her as much held closer to her face.

“Lydia? Lydia Cheése?”

It was clear he was speaking to her. Lydia was a name, her name perhaps. She tried answering but her tongue wouldn’t listen to her. It rattled against her teeth and allowed guttural air to pass unaffected.

“Serpina,” the dark face spoke, “Fetch me my bag, quickly.”

The urgency in the voice alarmed her. She struggled to sit up in the bed and managed it. The dark arms belonging to the dark face assisted.

“Lydia, it is Doctor Jean-Pierre Serre-Pain, Lydia, how are you feeling?”

She said the word this time, “Pain.”

“I understand, yes, that’s to be expected. You are experiencing nerve shock from the venom. But it was a very low dosage and you will recover.”

The smaller shadow returned. “Good, now Serpina, find Vlady and tell him to begin loading the barge immediately.”

 

Chapter Six

The River Loire lapped at the stone quay where the barge rocked gently in the wake of passing river traffic. In the harbor copper hulled transport ships bobbed at anchor. Clouds like a mountainous gray escarpment over the expanse of sea further out provided the backdrop for a horizon hyphenated by the oblong shapes of Navair traffic. Lydia, wrapped in a dark blue carriage cape with the hood pulled close around her face, struggled with her still reluctant muscles, putting one foot in front of the next. Serre-Pain hurried at her side and indicated the stone stairway down to the large barge moored at the quay. Serpina laid hold of her other arm as she swayed looking down.

The large man called Vlady hopped among the stacks of tarp covered containers on the deck of the barge securing them with ropes. He glanced up and gave his master a nod to indicate that things were proceeding as planned. Lydia turned her head back to the street they were leaving, fretful, as if she had left something behind. She had no past thus far, the hasty steps across the acid eaten cobble of Vieux Quartier Nantes accompanied by the furtive and cautious snake doctor, collar of his great coat pulled up around his ears. As if to get some sense of bearing she glanced at the street name, a corroded brass plate affixed to the side of the column leading to the quay, Boul Verne. The name like a shadow flitted away as she returned her gaze to the path ahead and her future. Ever since awakening in the attic bedroom she had been trying to reorient herself. It was difficult at first since she had still to get a grip on who she was. And then as if a mist thinning, but selectively with whole areas of identity obscured, she began fitting the pieces together.

Orinoco1Her name was Lydia Cheése, pronounced “chase,” and the butt of hilarity practically her entire life. She’d answered to it when the doctor spoke it. She was a senior pilot, captain for the Aerosud fleet of luxury airship liners. She was married to. Wait. She was married. Of course. To Seignior Professario Cornado de Belize Gutman, a member of the royal court in São Paulo. Nado. How long had it been since she’d seen him? Six months. Longer. Easily. But that was not so unusual. He was often ensconced at his research farm near the headwaters of the Orinoco. And she, even though she could have taken her place at his side as Doña Lydia de Belize Gutman-Cheése, loved to fly. As a child she had been fascinated by stories of the Admiralty Air Corps told by her father, Commadore Jack, and her grandfather, Harvey Thomas, stories about her great grandfather and hero of the First World Pandemic, Pandem I, in which nearly a quarter of the world’s population was wiped out by the persistent Black Mold virus. Colonel Bartholomew Cheése had been an army doctor on the front lines of the scourge that swept the world. Her ambition was to emulate and follow in the footsteps of her illustrious, and notorious, ancestors. And, yes, it was because of her father that she was in her present fix.

Mother always said that Lydia’s father was a soft-headed idealist. But what of mother’s life choices? Give up a promising career as a ballerina to become a trapeze artist in a flea bitten French circus? She had to face it, both parents were a little loony. And she had tried so hard to be normal. First as an air cadet, then her tour of service with the Admiralty Air Corps, her marriage to Nado, and her employment with Aerosud, thanks to Nado’s sister, La-la,  and her influence at the Brazilian Royal Aeronautic and Science Society. She would not allow herself to be a rogue as her parents had been. She would fly the course according to the flight plan. It was those odd instances of impulsive mischievousness that led her to worry about her self-control and brought her to the attention of her superiors, that and her intractability in the face of coercion even when confronted by her own error. She did not like to be wrong. Or be told what to do.

 

Chapter Seven

 barge2Lydia counted two days passed in confinement on the barge slowly being hauled up the River Loire toward Older Orleans. She could view from the round ports on the barge cabin the undulating hillsides shimmering with tentative purple hues of biocrops still struggling to take root long after the Great Mold Devastation early in the previous century. There were dead spots that would never regenerate, she knew, yet the Commonwealth spent untold Vicotorines in trying to regenerate vast areas of the continent that had been sanitized in a misguided effort to eradicate the Black Mold. The lethal unproven bactophagic bug did eradicate the black mold and large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere’s flora down to mineral soil as well. It was her great grandfather who had  pioneered the lactobacto that brought the bacterial scourge to a end. She remembered that one of her biostory professors in Pandem 101 at the Academy had said. “After Darwin came Mendal, and then the whole world changed.”

A pale haze hung low over the self-pollinating fields, the bee population almost nonexistent at this latitude. Tank farms and spinning turbines blazoned with the ubiquitous Freud Werke logo dotted the expanse. An old wood pulp powered steam six wheeler hauled the barge along the towpath from one lock to another on their slow progress up the river. They were in a line of barges and boats being pulled along by a variety of steam powered mules, some with the standard bio turbines or the newer bio batteries. All, loaded with wares, performers and sight-seers, were headed for the annual Victorianaissance Festival in the old regional capitol.

Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium and Traveling Medicine Show would be participating in the festivities. Lydia tried comprehend just what Doctor Serre-Pain was suggesting. When she first felt completely conscious in the darkened cabin after the venom had left her system and had regained her wits about her, he had been there to calm her and to explain her predicament. She had struggled at first but both Serre-Pain and Serpina were able to hold her down as the snake doctor, his soothing hypnotic voice earnest, convincing, had explained that she was now a fugitive. IOTA had broadcast an all points fugitive alert on the coney frequencies for one Lydia Cheése, Aerosud Airship Captain, also known as Doña Lydia de Belize Gutman-Cheése. They were monitoring all the NavAir terminals leaving Greater London as well as roadways, ports, and borders. It was imperative that she remain incognito until they had passed the next lock. And the inspection station, ordinarily a minor provincial obstacle easily bribed to look the other way, was swarming with Agents of IOTA. She really had no choice but to pose as Madame Ophelia if she did not want to be found out. Of course, she could refuse and she would be arrested, as would he and his associates, the snakes impounded and undoubtedly destroyed. They would all be taken off to Rouen for questioning. Nobody wanted to go to Rouen, even for the cathedral and the fact of Flaubert, as it was the central headquarters of the Admiralty’s World Intelligence Tactical Services and home of the infamous Beau Vary Interrogation Center, the BVIC, where all the dissidents, rebels, radical icers, doomers, and bio insurrectionists were held, and from whose confines very few left alive.

Justice under the Admiralty was the removal of obstacles to a smooth operation in the Clockwork Victoriana Commonwealth, and of its client and aligned states. One of those obstacles was her father, Commadore Jack Cheése, the outspoken ex-Admiralty Officer, vocal critic of the bio corporations and the nav industry, questioning the validity of the Holoqueen, and the succession to the throne by the Rejuvenates, and those who sailed under the black flag of IOTA.

Lydia knew that. She was a citizen of the Empire of Brazil, and although the Empire was one of the non-aligned nation states, their security apparatus and IOTA worked to each other’s advantage. In other words, she couldn’t count on the Empire’s intelligence service, the Royal Intelligence Bureau, the RIB, also known as the Liège, to get her out of this fix.

They had fed her because she had to regain her strength and because she was ravenous. She’d raised an eyebrow at the crude unprocessed nonsterile comestibles grown in natural organic materials. She had balked at first, remembering her first contact with unprocessed native grub for a festival for the villagers at Nado’s research station at the source of the Orinoco. The retching revulsion at the smell, the vomiting and cramps afterwards, all for the sake of diplomacy and propriety. The fare on board the barge was not as repellent and certainly much more flavorful than the bland biomeal that was an accepted standard for a civilized Victorian cuisine. It took some getting used to and she knew she would have to get a  thorough probiome purge at the first opportunity. But it gave her time to think. And to observe. And plot her escape.

 

Chapter Eight

Lydia not only had to escape the captivity of Serre-Pain’s snake show, but she also had to elude the notice of IOTA’s spies and informants she would undoubtedly encounter in the occupied countryside of Former Burgundy now under direct grip of Greater London. Her resources were limited. Her friends were mostly across the corrosive Atlantic on another continent in the uberburbs of Amazonia. And they were all intellectuals. They certainly could be counted on to write letters and demand her release from Admiralty custody, but beyond that, their activity did not venture far from the comfort of their domed tropical bubble.

snake-charmer1Lydia was the adventurous one, commanding double hulled luxury superships, flying to exotic locations such as Neumonrèal, the intellectual capital of the Joual Republic, the wild ocean coast of Newer New York and the Jersy badlands beyond, Alta Morocco, and of course the popular Islands of Birds and Bees with their lush exotic interior jungles of pre-Dev flora and fauna. Winged creature had been steadily declining in the northern latitudes if one were to believe the Ice Age prophets of doom. Flying insects and the birds that feed on them were scarce. The poles were cooling, they said, the icepack thicker and creeping down the latitudes from the frost encased wastelands.

For most of her youth at prestigious private schools in Rio, the exclusive enclaves of Lisbon, and in residence at the family home in Amazonia, she had never had to experience the discomfort of prolonged cold. And only upon her enrollment as a cadet in the Admiralty Aerocorps Academy, the AAA, did she suffer bitter mornings on the parade grounds of the Hansiatic Campus, coming and going to classes, bracing against the gusts of frozen cinders and ash blown by fierce winds off the Baltic. She’d had to acclimate as well to the numbing cold of the upper atmospheres during pilot training in ancient unheated helium dirigibles. It was merely the condition of the northern latitudes she knew, and she had come to appreciate the vigor that brisk weather often initiated by the nip in the air, if for no other reason than to find some place warmer. She would always be a Glosud,  or a lowcator, the warmth of days expected almost year round as opposed to a Glonor, or upcator, if you were of a vertical rather than a horizontal persuasion, and as they had taught in the Academy, Top Down Is The Only Way.

She had been warned not to seek her father. Still she persisted. She would bide her time, she decided, until the opportunity arose to make her move. Now they were approaching the locks and the inspection station and positioned next in queue. Serre-Pain had brought Serpina with him. From an oblong box they removed  a mass of diaphanous material glistening with sequins shaped like half-moons, stars, and of course coiled snakes, and held it up for her to see.

“If you are to be Madame Ophilia you must dress the part.” Serre-Pain gave a slight smile, one that Lydia recognized, in the few days she had spent in his presence, as his ironic smile. She had the opportunity to get a closer look at the chief of her captors, an almost ageless African with the grace of wisdom whose dark skin was creased and scarred. Once she resigned herself to the fact of her abduction she realized that she had nothing to fear from him. She admired instead his calm demeanor and his honest straightforward judgements. In exchange for her help as a pilot, he would provide her with the means to contact her father and perhaps precipitate a reunion.

Everything was in flux he had explained. It would require the right circumstances and timing. Once the festival was over in the next few day they would be in touch with the LBFS, League bousculer française  du sud, the anti-Victorian rebels, who would guide them on the next leg of their journey through the Massif Central. In the meantime, she had to dress the part and he would leave Serpina to help her on with the Madame Ophelia costume.

Serpina’s hostility was not disguised. The young flower girl no longer seemed as young or as girlish in a loose fitting rust colored rough shirt and dark trousers of a heavy canvas material, definitely not bugweave, whose bottoms were rolled up at the ankles above a pair of wooden sabots. The girl’s hair, close cropped and accentuating the shapeliness of her head, was blond enough as to be almost white and exposed her tiny shell-like ears. Her pale blue eyes narrowed in impatience as Lydia removed her outer garments. She smiled a thin lipped smile, tongue flicking out in sadistic pleasure, when the diaphanous chiffon caught in Lydia’s luxuriant though disheveled red tresses, yanking it roughly down along the shoulders.

tristan_0123The musty perfumed scent of the dress made Lydia sneeze as she pulled the sleeves down to her wrists and gave herself a cursory glance. The spangled costume had obviously belonged to someone a size larger than her, and reminded her of the times she dressed up in her mother’s old gowns as a child.

“What happened to the original Madame Ophelia?” she asked as she flounced the skirt and adjusted the waist.

Serpina seemed reluctant to answer, averting her eyes from Lydia’s questioning look. She had reached into a round hat box to extract a large dark wig. “She is dead,” she muttered finally, twisting Lydia’s hair in a colorless scarf and tying it up at the top of her head to allow the big hairpiece to fit over it. Her slender fingers expertly tucked stray strands under the bejeweled headpiece and she stepped back to examine her handy work.

“Oh,” Lydia said, “How did she die?”

Serpina’s lips tightened in a half smile grimace, a mischievous sparkle to her blues. “Snake bite.”

Lydia shivered, looking around and over her shoulder for any signs of slithereens.

Serpina opened another larger hat box, this one with little holes in the sides and top, and set it next to Lydia. Coiled inside the box was a large headed python. “Madame Ophelia is never seen without her snake, Ophy.”

Lydia drew back with an intake of breath, the tension of her body making her shake. “No,” she gasped, “I can’t, I can’t!”

Serpina’s grin was diabolical. “Ophy, like Madame Ophelia, is dead.” She picked up the coils of snake skin and held it out. “He is stuffed with wool and weighted with sand.” She uncoiled a length near the head. “It is against the law to have human endangered animal interactive displays. According to the Endangered Animal Autonomy Act of Pax Victoria 130, all animals under the jurisdiction of the Clockwork Commonwealth are entitled to the dignity of their nature and shall not be deprived of that dignity by their interaction with humans.”

peye1“Of course, so right!” Lydia cringed as the dummy snake was laid around her shoulders, the large head draped above her left beast. She was surprised by the weight and the peculiar clamminess of the skin exuding a rather moist earthy odor. Trying to get comfortable with the idea that she had to masquerade as a snake goddess to pass station inspection, she breathed a sigh to relax, taking a closer look at the imposingly powerful shape and intricate patterning of the scales of the python’s head. The large glistening orbs of its eyes, luminescent amber marbles bisected by vertical irises like cold cruel otherworldly suns, rolled awake. A thin naked tongue slithered out from the front lips and curled toward her, sensing the heat of her panic.


Next Time: Lydia And The Snakes

Better Than Dead—20

by Colin Deerwood

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I was looking down the barrels of half a dozen police specials while they slapped the cuffs on me. I don’t think they suspected me of causing the carnage but they were it playing safe. I had started to explain but a police sergeant with the shoulders of hod carrier and face like a splintered plank told me to shut my yap until the lieutenant got there. They’d called for an ambulance and the coroner’s meat wagon. The ambulance was for the hulk in pajamas from the Bombay gang. From what I’d seen, the Asp twins, Al, and Al’s sister, Della, all had an appointment with a slab at the morgue. Kovic’s boys hadn’t fared much better. The guy with the shovel and one other unlucky goon in a pinstriped suit would be joining them. Mr. K and whoever else of his mob had made their escape. The nurse with the ambulance looked me over and gave a shrug and smile. “He’ll live,” she told the sergeant, “Looks like his face knows its way around a knuckle or two.”

I was about to make my usual wise crack about she shoulda seen the other guy when I saw the detective coming up under a full head of steam. I might have guessed. It was Hogan.

“You!” He pointed a finger in my face. “Tell me you didn’t have anything to do with this, wisenheimer!” He was giving me that withering guilt inducing stare that cops and priests can do so well.

I had to tell him that I did and didn’t. He didn’t like what he was hearing so he dragged me over to the fender of a big Packard that I recognized as belonging to the Thieves. He had me repeat the first part again.

I told him I’d been kidnapped but in order to explain how I’d been kidnapped I had to explain about the explosion at the Serbian Social Club. I couldn’t talk about the explosion at the social club without saying why I was at the social club and I knew that I didn’t want to admit to why I was there so I had to say that I was rescuing a damsel in distress who unfortunately had been killed by the explosion or the fall that it had caused.

omalleyHogan was shaking his head all the time I was telling him. “You believe this bum, O’Malley?” he asked the sergeant who was nodding in agreement. “You gotta lay off the dime detective fare, pal. It’s turning your brain to pulp!”

“He’s right about the explosion at the social club down by the railyards, Lieutenant. We got a call early in the AM about an explosion and sent a squad car to investigate. They were told that it was a boiler blew up and that they didn’t need any cops, what they needed was a plumber. All the same the squad did a perimeter inspection and didn’t find anything suspicious except for some debris that appeared to come from four floors up.”

“They didn’t find the body!?” I blurted.

Hogan didn’t try to hide his disbelief. “A body? Whose body?”

“Becky! The girl I’d gone to, uh, save. She fell from the terrace when the bomb exploded.”

“Now there’s a bomb.” I could tell that Hogan was starting his predictable slow burn by how red the tips of his ears got.

“Uh, right, the bomb that was planted there to take out some of the fascist mob.”

Hogan raised his eyes as if imploring the heavens.

The sergeant shook his head. “We’ve been looking for you, Ask, in connection with the murder of Ralph Silver, a two bit ambulance chaser.”

“And they have crates of Tommy guns hidden in the attic!”

Now Hogan brought his face close to mine. “Tommy guns, you don’t say.”

“Right, and Kovic and his gang were planning something, something big. I saw the map of what they were planning,”

“A map.”

“Something is going to go down, I heard Kovic say that they were gonna do it soon. They had the custom shed and the federal building downtown staked out.”

Hogan frowned. “The Federal building? That’s where the grand jury’s meeting to indict Kovic for tax evasion. Today.” He turned to the sergeant, “Get Neckker and his boys on the horn. If this palooka’s right, Kovic is going to try to ice the jurors. And get a couple of squads to following me down to the docks and the customs shed.” And then to me, “You better be right.”

“How about you take me out of these cuffs?

The sergeant shook his head. “We’ve been looking for you, Ask, in connection with the murder of Ralph Silver, a two bit ambulance chaser.”

“Naw, you can’t pin that on me. That was Kovic’s doing. He had Ralphie killed and then waited for me to show up and discover the body. Ralphie and me, we go way back, I’d a never. Just ask Hogan, he knows.”

Hogan nodded and the sergeant reluctantly keyed the bracelets.

I was curious. “How did your guys know to find Kovic down here at the abandoned warehouse?”

O’Malley explained. “One of the squads spotted this Packard as fitting the description of a car involved in a robbery at the Eastside Post Office. When he got out to take a closer look, he heard the gunfire and called for reinforcements. By the time they got here the shooting had stopped.”

I glance into the backseat of the Thieves’ car, and there it was, the bundle the tailor, Rebecca’s father, had mailed to me. I yanked open the door and pulled it out.

“This is mine, it’s addressed to me. I’m taking it.” I insisted.

“No you’re not.” Hogan took it from me. “It’s evidence. Because if it is what I think it is, why would these guys hold up a post office on a Sunday to get a bundle of old clothes. You got a lot of explaining to do, Ask. You’re coming with me. And when we get this matter at the customs shed settled, you’re coming downtown and we’re going to have a talk, a real long talk about how you come to be involved with Kovic in the first place.”

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It was just like those crime shows you hear on the radio. They put out a Calling All Cars bulletin. The patrolmen jumped on the running boards and were hanging on to the door frames, cranking the sirens and lights blazing. The squad car took a corner on two wheels and everyone in the back shifted toward the center of gravity. Reaching for a grip, Hogan let loose of the bundle and it landed on the space at our feet. And then we were there. A police van pulled up behind and unloaded half a dozen guys with long guns. Hogan took charge and deployed his men. Before long the robbers who had been trying to bust into the customs shed were being led away with their hands over their heads.

They’d forgotten about me. And I was just as glad. I picked up the bundle from where it had fallen and made my exit from the cop car. There were still uniforms heading for the fray, pistols in hand. I tried to make myself invisible in the dawn’s early light.

calling all carsThe commotion was drawing a crowd of shipyard and dock workers just arriving to begin their shifts or leaving after a long uneventful night. Anything out of the ordinary was going to attract them like moths to a flame. Unfortunately I wasn’t invisible enough to get past the police line. They weren’t letting anybody in or anyone out. I scanned the faces of the crowd of workers being held back by the coppers. I recognized one of them, from Annie’s tug, The Narcissus, the tall one. I could tell from his expression that he recognized me, and he turned away quickly to disappear into the crowd. I lurked in the rapidly shrinking shadows dreading that Hogan would notice I had gone missing and raise the alarm. I did not at any cost want to go downtown to have a little chat and explain about Rebecca. Then I saw her, perfection in a sea of broken faces. It was Annie. Her mate had gone to fetch her. She caught my eye and gave a nod. She was up to something.

As they were marching the bad guys into the back of the black Mariah and the cops were wrapping up their operation, I could see Hogan by the side of the squad car looking around like he wanted to find something. Just then the crowd surged against the police line. A fight had started in the crowd and the cops on the line rushed in to break it up. That was my cue to fade into the melee. I felt a tug on my sleeve and looked down to see the short one of the Annie’s crew leading me to the opposite side and away from where the action had been. We skirted the cargo bins and piles of pallets. The next thing I knew Annie was striding alongside me. She was smiling. “First the cops were looking for you and now you’re working with them. Who are you, mystery man?”

“It’s a long story.”

“You can tell it to me over a cup of java.” She cast an appraising eye over me. “You look like you might need it.”

I handed the bundle of clothes to her. “I thought I’d return these to you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you or those rags again, but from the looks of you, I’d say you better hang on to them.”

Once below deck I settled behind the little table in the galley and sipped at the scalding hot brew. “Thanks for getting me out of that jam. Again.”

She gave me that beatific smile that always spun my head. She had a lot of miles on her but she was still a beauty and I guess she got a hint of what I was thinking because she kinda blushed and said, “Always glad to help a sailor in distress.”

“I ain’t no sailor.”

“Don’t give up. You’re still young.”

I groaned. “After the last couple of days, I don’t feel that young.” And I had to tell her how I ended up with Rebecca and how I’d foolishly let her follow me when I went to get my revenge on Kovic. I left out the part about the diamonds, but I had to tell her about the Thieves of Bombay, and how my friend Alice had been attacked by goggle wearing bandits and was saved by a former Russian aristocrat peeping tom, and how Rebecca’s old man was an anti-fascist bomb maker and that it was his bomb that had caused her death even though I held myself partly if not completely responsible. And how I ended up at the docks and the customs shed because I had no idea what Kovic was planning there except that my alerting the cops had stuck a stick in his spokes.

ADS Annie21“Gold,” she said with a frown, “Gold and jewels. People are fleeing the war in Europe and sending their wealth abroad. It’s an open secret. Everybody on the docks knows about it. But it’s scum like Kovic that’s gonna try and heist it.”

I nodded. “Yeah, now all the more reason for me to lie low. I got the cops, the Thieves, and Mr. K all trying to get a piece of me.”

“You’re safe here, mystery man. Nobody needs to know you’re not part of my crew.”

I shook my head, “I don’t want to get you involved in this, it’s dangerous. I got people after me that want to fill me full of lead, fit me for a pair of cement socks, or lock me up and throw away the key. I need to go to ground till the heat blows over. And I just thought of a way to do that.”

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Maybe the blow on the head knocked some sense into me. I didn’t want let on about the rocks, but my plan was to go find them in the coalbin and I had to do that in a hurry. I looked into Annie’s eyes as I stepped from the gunwales and onto the dock. I waved this time. “I won’t forget you.”

She waved back. “I’m not counting on it. Good luck. You know where I live.”

I grabbed a trolley to my office on 9th. I waited outside for about an hour and no one looked out of place. I tripped up the steps and through the door. Half way up the flight to the second floor, I heard the super’s door creak open. When I got to my office there was a new padlock, and I didn’t have the key. I heard the shallow breathing behind me and turned to see Curtis peek his head above the railing.

“Why’s there a new padlock on my door, Curtis?”

When I didn’t scream at him he stepped up to the top of the stairs. “Yer behind on yer rent. So th’owner said. . . .”

“I don’t care what the owner said. Curtis. I have to get into my office. It’s my place of business. I have business to conduct so that I can get paid and in turn pay my rent. You don’t have to go to Yale to figure that out.” I’d lowered my voice partly because I was exasperated at another road block. But Curtis was interested in my argument because hardly anyone talked to Curtis—they just told him what to do or listened to his excuse. He cocked an ear and strayed closer.

“Listen, I got five bucks here in my pocket. I can put it toward the back rent or you could forget I gave it to you.” He gave me a baleful look considering the offer. I made like I was going to pull the money from my pants but instead snagged his skinny arm and slammed him against the wall, not hard, but enough to get his attention and let him know that I meant business. “You got the key, Curtis?” The ring of keys he carried on his belt made him feel important and he never went anywhere with them.

“No,” he said feeling his face where it had hit the wall.

I wrenched his arm and bumped him with my chest. “See this face? Yours is gonna look worse. I don’t have time to mess around and I won’t mess around.”

He got the hint and fumbled with his keyring. Once the door opened I shoved him in ahead of me. I looked around. I wasn’t going to miss the dump although it had kept the rain off my head and was not a sidewalk where I could pass out drunk. It wasn’t a place I’d bring a dolly to. More of a lair where I could go lick my wounds. There wasn’t anything that had any value to me in the jumble of junk except for the one item squirreled away under a blanket in the closet. That was Ted’s diorama.

I grabbed a handful of change from my pocket and threw it on the floor. “For your trouble.” I said as Curtis scrambled to gather the coins.

I made my way over to Alice’s studio with the art piece under my arm. She wasn’t home but I knew where she kept the key. Inside the smell of fresh brew coffee said she would be back soon. I stripped off the clothes I was wearing and put on the working clothes that Annie had insisted I keep. I found the satchel where I’d left it under the kitchen table and stuffed the suit, vest, and pants into it. The cement damaged shoes, too. I placed Ted’s art piece under his portrait on the wall and found a pencil and wrote on a scrap of paper “I’ll be back to pick up my things later today. We have to talk.” I looked up into Ted’s eyes. They didn’t move.

coalyardPulling the flat cap down over my eyes, I made my way over to the coal yard. There was a queue of coal wagons backed to the chutes and I figured the guy with the papers in his hand was the foreman. Holding a sheaf of papers was not a hard job but the scowl on his face wanted you think that it was. He didn’t like the look of my mug, either. I asked him if he knew the coal company that delivered to the address of the building where Rebecca’s old man had his used clothes store because I had to do some work in the basement and didn’t want to do it if they were going to dump a load in the bin. The foreman was distracted by a wagon that had not pulled close enough to the chutes and the ore was spilling onto the ground. “Oreville Coal Company!” he yelled as he ran to chew out the coal wagon driver.

The coal company was a few block over from where the used clothing shop was located. The secretary looked like she’d had a rough Sunday and could barely keep her eyes open. I had to repeat twice what I’d come in for, the coal delivery schedule. She grumbled at having to lift the heavy ledger covers and ran a meticulously manicured finger down a row of entries. She shook her permed thatch and muttered. “This time of year, we’re on call, no more than once a month, if that.” I was out the door before she finished.

I found the super sitting on a stool inside the doorway to the building. I told him that I was with Oreville Coal Company and that there’d been a complaint about the way the coal chute operated. That was a surprised to him but he agreed to let me take a look and fix the problem. I glanced at the door to the tailor shop. There was a government seal over the lock. The super had to tell me all about how the G-Men busted into the building after a crazy woman, girl, actually, and her father who were obviously some sort of criminals or saboteurs if the feds were after them. He led me through the closet and to the stairs down to the basement. It looked familiar and the overhead light worked. I made a bee line for the coal bin. It had been dark the last time I’d passed through just days ago but judging by the amount of coal in the bin, it didn’t appear to be any more or less, and the super confirmed that he hadn’t used but a couple shovels full to keep the furnace going being the weekend and all. I scanned the greasy smelling chunks but nothing looked anything faintly resembling the little white pouch the diamonds had been in. I got that sinking feeling. I wasn’t going to find the diamonds because they weren’t there.


Next Time: High Tailing It Out Of Town

Contents Vol. 2 No. 7

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Seven of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Seven, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, continues with our two new pulp serials, Phyllis Haldursdottir’s global steampunk saga, Cheése Stands Alone, featuring Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”), and Pierre Anton Taylor’s  Just Coincidence, a familiar fiction of dynastic intrigue and the dark revenge of a masked crime crusader.

In Act One, Scene 2 of Just Coincidence, at his father’s funeral, a privileged young man plots revenge on those he suspects of  his father’s murder.  An emotional connection to an old mentor and an overwhelming nostalgia  move him to act against the injustice of social marginalization. That he is a dark prince as well as a dark knight is just coincidence.

It is the year 180 of Pax Victoriana, one hundred and eighty years since Queen Victoria took the throne and whose persona if not the actual person, are kept alive as the paragon of world peace. For Airship Commander Lydia Cheése, Britannia still rules the waves as well as the airship lanes,  with the exception of  the carbon states of New Brazil and United Outlaw Africa. In the continuing saga of Cheése Stands Alone, Captain Lydia Cheése  has fallen down the rabbit hole and finds herself in the clutches of a herpetologist by the name of Serre-Pain and his traveling snake show, Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium. Then the agents for IOTA show up and things get (shudder) slithery. Lydia’s efforts to locate her fugitive father, the infamous Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése, have brought her to the attention of  the Investigative Office of The Admiralty and her flight from them will take her on an airship globetrotting adventure.

Number Nine of On The Road To Las Cruces reaches a crucial point in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman where memory becomes a dialogue with one’s self in the justification of a killing and a blind pride that leads to to death. As an echo from the abyss, the famous retelling is retold as a rebuttal as well as an oral chronical.

And last but not least, Installment 19 of The 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial), follows hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask through another tangle of tense circumstances as his quest for revenge and profit are continually thwarted by kidnapping, murder, attempted murder as well as stolen diamonds and the mysterious jade Empress’s Cucumber. Things only get worse when he loses someone close to him in an explosion and then finds himself being fit for a pair of cement overshoes.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 7

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—19


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Nine~


lydcirIn March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. The peace of her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana, despite some major environmental disasters, has lasted 180  years keeping as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone II


fury circle1fiIn Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One. Scene 2

Better Than Dead—19

by Colin Deerwood

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Then I had another think coming. My hands began to sweat. It wasn’t like I’d lost my nerve and even if I had, being suicidal wasn’t going to help me find it. Mister K’s operation looked like a little more than just controlling the waterfront action and trucking companies. The kind of firepower I was seeing here would outfit a small army. And that other think arrived to tell me that I had to get the hell out of there, fast. There was no going back the way I had come. Down the stairs and into the social club was the only way out. If we stuck to the stairwell we had the chance of cheese with a rat and the only hope was that the rat was on the cheese wagon.

“You still got your peashooter?”

She frowned obviously distracted by the same dilemma I found myself in. “A shooter of peas?”

“Your little Lady Remmington. Your piece.” I made my fist into a gun.

“No, Lack, I have left it at the loft. It was foolish. . . .”

“Never mind, these mugs would chew those slugs like licorice candy. We’re just going to have to take our chances. Like I said before, if there’s a dust up, run, I’ll hold ‘em off as long as I can.”

She gave me a smile that said I was her hero. “We are in this together, Lack. I will stay by you.”

I opened the door from the attic stairs to the top floor hallway. A globe fixture at the head of the stairway illuminated the next flight down. I peered cautiously over the banister to the further dark abyss of the interior stairwell. There were muffled sounds of laughter. Other voices drifted up and caught my ear because of the intensity of the conversation. I could only make out a few words, but I recognized the speaker, Yan Kovic. Out of the frying pan into the fire. I had him right where he wanted me. The indistinct dialogue seemed a few landings below, not inside one of the rooms where the raucous laughter was coming from.

“Why can you not find this weasel who has killed Milosh?” Kovic demanded.

The other voice sounded lower and all I got was “more important matters” and Kovic insisting that “everything taking care off.”

I knew we would never get past them and even though I would have loved to get my hands around Kovic’s neck, right now wasn’t the best opportunity. There had to be another way down, a fire escape or a back set of stairs. I went to the window at the end of the corridor and looked out. The rain was still pouring down. I lifted the sash and poked my head out. I saw my way out. A metal ladder out of reach from where I was standing reached from the roof to a small terrace one floor below. Off to one side of the terrace was a fire escape leading down to the back alley. All I had to do was descend one more floor without being noticed, make my way to the terrace and down the fire escape.

The treads were carpeted although each step held the potential of a riser’s groan, but the joint was a sturdy as a jail and my luck held. I crept to the end of the hallway where I judged the terrace would be. I could spy the edge of the parapet from the window and assumed that access would be through the large oak door set into the wall. There didn’t seem to be a lock and the brass knob turned easily. The hinge was as silent as the whisper of air being displaced. I found myself in a large room with a couple armchairs, a long table, a bar along one wall, and double glass doors leading out to the small terrace. The setup looked like it was a kind of meeting room. A map and a scattering of papers were spread out at one end of the table under the light of a green shaded banker’s lamp. An RCA tabletop radio sat on a side table between two leather armchairs.

Rebecca let out a gasp. She had one of the sheets of papers in her hand. “I am not very good reading Serbian but I think this is timetable for an attack!” She had moved to the map on the table and was studying the symbols. “Here with this symbol, where is this?”

It took a bit to swivel my head in the right direction but when I did I saw that I was looking at a map of the waterfront, and part of the downtown area. X marked the spot near the customs warehouses. I was familiar with the area. It was near where Annie Bassinger’s tug, The Narcissus, was berthed. The other was an arrow pointing to the district where the Federal Courthouse was located. I was trying to formulate a correlation of some criminal intent and about to give vent to my hunch when I saw the look on her face. Horror.

radio1She was pointing at the two armchairs and the table with the radio between them. She stumbled back with her hand held over her mouth and in doing so knocked the banker’s lamp off its perch with a shattering crash. “The radio!” she gasped.

I didn’t think she could blame the radio. It wasn’t even turned on. That wasn‘t my worry. I had a feeling that we might not have been the only two who heard the sound of glass breaking.

“Forget it. Let’s get out of here!” I caught her by the arm and led her to the double doors.

“But Lack, the radio! I know that radio! It is the one my father. . . .”

I didn’t let her finish. There were the sounds of fast approaching footsteps and voices, one of them saying loud enough, “It come from up here, try the smoking lounge!”

That’s what they called this place but I wasn’t gonna stick around to admire it. Outside the rain had let up and left behind a misty scrim in the warm night air. I made for the corner of the terrace near where the wrought iron scaffolding of the fire escape was attached to the bricks of the building. I had underestimated the distance between the parapet of the terrace and the iron rail. Only an acrobat was going to take that leap and make it, and it wasn’t me. Besides the racket was going to be a dead giveaway. There was a narrow ledge just below the parapet that ran along the façade but hardly wide enough for my size twelves.

He didn’t want to believe his eyes when he spotted me, but then his surprise grew grim before turning into a grin as he reached under his arm and unholstered the large pistol and took aim.

An overhead light switched on in the smoking lounge and threw a beam across the wet tiles of the terrace. I chanced a glance through the glass and saw the three bears, the one with the bald dome I knew was Kovic. I put my ear to the hinge to catch what they were saying.

“Hey, wadya know, the lamp fell and broke.”

“Who broke it?” Kovic demanded, “who is up here!?

“Naw, boss, it just fell. Everybody’s down below playing cards.”

“That noise we heard earlier, Mr. K, they said it was from the hotel next door.”

“One moment! This radio, where is other radio?”

“Oh, yeah, guy, radio repairman, come by this morning. This is the loaner while he fixes the other one.”

“Radio is broken. No one tells me.”

“I didn’t know either, boss, but he said somebody called and said it was broken and that he should come fix it. Said he’d need to take it to his shop to do that.”

“Someone call? Who does this? Sammy, bring others up here. I want search of entire building.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, Mr. K, here let’s turn the radio on, maybe listen to a symphony broadcast.”

“Yeah, boss, maybe a ballgame, or Amos and Andy.”

“Has anyone think to look on terrace?”

That was my cue to make like a leaf and leave. I turned to see Rebecca standing on the edge of the parapet, fingers splayed clinging to the bricks and edging a bare foot onto the ledge and aiming to close the distance with the fire escape.

The door behind me opened and Kovic’s gorilla nonchalantly stepped out onto the terrace. He sniffed the air and glanced at the misty night drifting across the inky black of the dark alley below. He didn’t want to believe his eyes when he spotted me, but then his surprise grew grim before turning into a grin as he reached under his arm and unholstered the large pistol and took aim.

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The blast blew the double doors off their hinges, showering glass and splinters and knocking the goon with the gun off his feet and sending him flying across the narrow terrace like he was nothing but a dead leaf in a tornado. The building shuddered. The terrace tiles quaked. The glass-explosiondoorframe buckled, coughing out bits of brick and plaster. I dropped to one knee to keep from toppling over. My ears were ringing from the explosion. Dust and acrid smoke filled my nostrils. When I got over the initial shock I looked over at Rebecca. She was gone.

Coughing, I stumbled to the edge of the parapet. She had been trying to reach the fire escape. I stared over the edge focusing on the darkness below. Nothing, no sign of her. She had fallen forty feet and even if I could see her all I would have seen was her body sprawled on the pavement, dead.

A sinking gut churning sorrow overtook me. That little glow of hopefulness that had come into my life when I first met her, the sense that my crappy life might be worthwhile after Grace and I had split, was snuffed out like someone had just squelched the wick of a guttering candle between their two fingers. I let out a sob. It was an angry sob. I wanted to kill.

The palooka moaned and tried to sit up but couldn’t. He might have broken something. Amid the scattering of debris at his feet lay his pistol. I picked it up and hefted in my hand. My temples were pounding. He was going to be the first one and I pointed the gun at his head. I heard the crunch of broken glass behind me and a low howl of pain.

Kovic leaned against the blasted brick of the doorway with one hand, a bloody gash across the top of his bald pink dome and a smear of blood below an unfocused eye. He was trying to say something, but I wasn’t gonna let him. I raised the revolver and aimed for his head.

“I’m better than dead,” I spat back.

It was his fault. Everything was his fault. If he hadn’t tried to dun me out of my fee for finding his hophead daughter. And he did it over a lousy C note. Left me to rot in an upstate ditch. The guy had no class. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so set on getting mine back but if that’s what he thought of me I was gonna make him regret it. I’d tried once before. That ended me up in the drink. Along with the guy who had put me in the ditch who was too dead to swim. Kovic had my lawyer snuffed and put a hit out on me. And then Rebecca. Yeah, it was his fault. Here was my chance. He deserved to die.

My knee went numb and folded as pain shocked through me. I turned to find the cause and caught the brick full in the face. My arm went numb from another blow and the gun dropped from my hand. The next thing I knew I was laid out flat and Kovic’s ugly mug was dripping blood on my face.

“You!” he snarled, “You, the lousy private dick? You did this?” He grasped me by the front of my jacket and brought my face close to his. “You are as good as dead!” he spit.

“I’m better than dead,” I spat back.

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When I came to I was tied to a chair. My feet were sunk in a couple of large buckets. A bright spotlight shone in my face and lighted up the guy with the shovel as well. He was mixing something with sand and water in a large tub. He noticed when I raised my head.

“Hey boss, the pigeon just stirred.” He ladled a shovelful of cement into the bucket around one foot.

I heard a chair scrape across the wood floor and Kovic say, “Everything to go as planned. But first I have take care of this budala. He will swim with Milosh.” Then his hot breath on my throbbing face as he grasped a handful of hair and jerked my head back. His teeth shone in the light. He had a bandage over one eye and part of his dome. “Your death will give me great pleasure, American swine. You think you can kill me, Yan Kovic! I am a powerful man and you are nothing but bug I will crush.”

He landed a slap that numbed the other side of my face. “Hurry up with cement, I want to watch  when we drop him in river.”

The dankness of the air made sense. They had me in an abandoned warehouse along the river.

“Going as fast as I can, boss.”

“Make it hurry.”

“It still has to set before it’ll do any good.”

“Add big rocks! I must not have to be doing this work for you!”

Long shadows in abandoned factory building on sunny summer day.
Long shadows in abandoned factory building on sunny summer day.

“Boss! Hey!” The distant voice echoed in the large warehouse space. Then there was a gunshot, and then another. A muddle of gunfire from all directions followed. I felt a bullet whizz by an ear and tipped myself and the chair over, the half full buckets wrenching at my ankles. The guy with the shovel had a gun and was firing off into the shadows. Muzzle flashes sparked orange flames in the dark cavernous space. Kovic fired back as he scrambled away. His goons were holding their ground. There were screams and curses and more shots. The cement mixer went down with a groan and a big red hole in his neck. I heard movement near me and looked over to see my old pal, Al. He was crawling across the floor toward me with a pained look on his old drawn face. He had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other. He gave me a nod and dug the knife into the rope holding me to the chair. I tumbled free and worked to shake my feet out of the metal boots. A shot spit up near where I was and I lay still for a moment. Al snapped off a shot and got one in return. I heard him draw in a breath. The pained expression had left for one of surprise. I crawled over to him as the sides traded more gunfire. He was holding a hand over his chest and blood was leaking out between his fingers. He looked up at me as if asking why? I had my own questions I needed answering.

“Al, why are you here?”

“You pulled a fast one on us, Lack. You switched the postal slips.” He coughed and a little blood edged the corner of his mouth.

“The postal slip? What’s so important about that lousy postal slip?”

“You still have the slip from Della’s mailbox. That’s the one we want. We have to have it!” he tried to sit up and this time coughed up a lot of blood. “We followed you. We saw when they took you outta the building and brought you over here. You got the ticket and we want it back.”

Rebecca had the slip. Rebecca. She never gave it back to me. She still had it. But she was. “Rebecca” I breathed aloud.

Now Al’s expression grew curious. Even as he was fading, he had a question. “We saw you go into the hotel with her. Does she. . . ?” But there was no more.

The warehouse had grown silent. No one was popping off any shots and there were only the faint rustles and death rattles of the wounded and dying. Distantly there was the sound of sirens or it might have the wind vibrating the tin siding.

“He was dead when we got there. But I got what I wanted, the box with the Empress’s jade.

I got to my feet cautiously. I’d lost a shoe to the coagulated mess and had to pry it back out of the bucket. They were no longer the supple pair I had once worn. I pricked up my ears and swiveled my head. I could hear labored breathing in the shadows beyond the arc of light. I tilted the light in the direction of the sound.

Al’s sister had propped herself against a pocked stanchion, leaning one shoulder on the beam, head bent forward trying to catch a breath, an old dogleg Mauser in one hand and a snake of blood trailing down the inside of her other arm. She looked at me with blank eyes.

“What was so important about that postal slip?” I demanded.

A slight smile flexed her upper lip. “The Empress’s Cucumber.”

“The what?” I was about to ask and then I remembered Max’s story about the precious jade artifact that had belonged to the Chinese Empress. How it was key to the restoration of the Dynasty. “You had that hunk of jade?” Then it hit me. “You mailed it to yourself!”

“You don’t know,” she groaned, her body slumping forward. “We’re the Thieves of Bombay. That tattoo on the inside of Al’s arm, I have the same one on my shoulder blade. It’s a Sanskrit rosette that spells out our motto, ‘nothing too light, nothing too heavy for our diligent skills’. Al and the boys stole the jade from a prominent art collector in one of their penthouse heists, see. They gave it to me for safe keeping. Then my lousy boyfriend decides he’s gonna pawn it. He took it around a couple of places and musta realized that it was worth more than he thought. Someone probably told him he could get big money from the right people. So he hung on to it. That’s when you come into the picture.” Her eyes narrowed and brimmed with venom. Or maybe pain.

“You had me trace his new address and once you had it you went there ahead of me and bumped him off figuring I might get there around the same time as the cops and take the rap.”

“He was dead when we got there. But I got what I wanted, the box with the Empress’s jade. You’re the rat who stole the postal ticket from my mailbox. You thought you were smart by switching them and leaving me with a bundle of old clothes.”

The sirens grew closer and I could hear the screeching of tires and the loud thumping of vehicle doors being slammed shut. I watched Della stiffen as a pain tore through her. She wanted to point the Mauser at me but didn’t have the strength. “We’ll get you, you bastid, the Thieves is a worldwide organization. When they find out what happened to us, they’ll come after you and rub you out like the no good rat you are. You can count on that.” She tried to spit. “May the curse of Kali be upon your head. . . .” She gave what sounded like a little feminine giggle and a bubble of blood formed on one nostril before bursting. She closed her eyes.


Next Time: G-Men To The Rescue! (sort of)

Act One, Scene 2

by Pierre Anton Taylor

headlines S2The funeral was huge and, not surprisingly, resembled a business convention. The social occasion of old Bruce’s death itself required accommodations for those who had come to pay their respects. Politicians, local dignitaries from various denominations, prominent financiers and corporate honchos crowded the large assembly hall. Harold Bruce had made the arrangements with the exclusive Green Cove Country Club for the post interment reception which was beginning to have the air of a celebration on the verge of a cocktail party. Moderate words of tribute were spoken, tearfully, by Trish, his mother, huskily, by Harold, his uncle. Respectful, ardent words by others who had known and worked for and with him, a saint, a devoted father. When it came his turn, as the younger generation should have the final word, he had been as gracious as a psychopath, echoing their praise with a chorus of his own to the gathering of family, friends, and business associates, yet all the while considering that among them was his father’s murderer.

He had stepped away from the reception hall to a wide windowed alcove overlooking the golf course, uncomfortable with the glad handing and the humorous reminiscences of the old and well off, the condolence ballet that seemed so artificial and rehearsed. In the reflection of the glass he imagined the old man in his beige polo shirt standing beside his red roofed golf cart taking a practice swing before teeing off.

God, how he hated that game, a ludicrous spectacle of status played by amateur athletes that doubled as a de facto boardroom for corporate deal makers and politicians. What did the golfers have to gain from Wally Bruce’s death?

He felt anger with himself first of all. And then everyone else. He wanted to confront them. Accuse them.

Old Dad was a centerpiece in the local business community. They could point to him as their good guy, the peak of integrity even though most of them were out and out crooks and fraudsters. The Bruce name on committees and charitable organizations gave them a shiny legitimacy that signaled trust. Although most of that was Trish’s doing, the non-profits, and political committees to free or stop things. And then there was Trish. And Harold, six years younger and same age as mother. Old Dad’s opinion of his brother, “He’s a real fun guy, he’ll grow on you.” And he did, like a cancerous tumor. As vice president of Bruce Enterprises, he steps into the old man’s shoes before they’re even cold. And into the widow’s bed? Is it not what it seems? Now in hindsight, had there always been something between Trish and Harold, signs of undue affection, of favoritism, She was not known as the “Queen” for nothing. Her wish, her whimsy, was her command. She accepted the deference she thought she deserved, watchful for any indication of disaffection or reticence from her liege. He was her husband, father of her only son, although she seemed to treat that almost as an afterthought, and perhaps that was why the Bruce offices, the old Battery Works, held such nostalgic fascination. It had been his nursery. The difficulty of his birth had ruined her, caused her no end of physical ailment, and was an oft repeated litany that mercifully diminished after being installed in various boarding schools in the States and abroad. Now she shamelessly paraded with her brother-in-law, pretender to the throne, the head of the Bruce empire. He, unlike old Dad, would indulge her every whim.

He watched them appear behind him as reflections in the panoramic window

“There you are!” It was always like to Trish to state the obvious.

Harold maintained a grim bulldog visage, his ledge of eyebrow in a frown. The square cut glass in his right fist like an appendage, he leaned a shoulder in. “That was a very eloquent tribute to Wall.”

His father disliked being called Wall but since it was only his brother who dared called him that, he bore it with long suffering tolerance.

Trish put a ring spangled hand on his arm. “It was a powerful eulogy. Your father would be proud.”

He felt himself blush at the insincerity of it all. Maybe even on the verge of tears for the falsehoods he endured. He felt anger with himself first of all. And then everyone else. He wanted to confront them. Accuse them.

“Thank you. There was so much more I could have said. There is so much left unsaid. And to pass away like that. In his prime, some would say. There is so much we, I, don’t know about his last day, his last hours. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Wayne, he was not a well man, but he hid it from all of us. He had his pride, but as his wife I can say it was pride. He thought he was some kind of super human. Unfortunately he had the heart of a mere mortal. The negotiations were taking their toll on him.”

“But the circumstances. . . .”

“I know, I know, we’ve been through all this before.” Trish put on her practiced long-suffering face and sighed. “The doorman at the Legacy Tower saw him at around 11 that evening. He saw your father get into the penthouse elevator. Alone. He was the only one with a key. The trouble alarm sounded because the door to the elevator wouldn’t close after it arrived at the penthouse.”

“I think he panicked,” Harold offered.

“Father?”

“No, the doorman. He wasn’t the regular on that shift, but Ronald, who normally manned those hours had called in sick earlier that evening and so this other man who was actually a trainee didn’t know the procedure.”

“Which was?” Wayne had heard the official oft repeated version and they were all remarkably the same which should have allayed suspicion, but still he doubted and his doubt required reassurances.

“Why are we replaying the morbid details? We’ve been over them a thousand times,” Trish exaggerated.

Harold continued as if recounting someone else’s mistakes would give him satisfaction. “So he called the fire department.”

“Shouldn’t he have?” Wayne knew that here was where the details became rather vague.

“He should have called the night manager who has the key to the service elevator that would open to the penthouse. That was the protocol.”

legacy towers“But wasn’t it an emergency?”

Harold offered a placating gesture. “He didn’t know that. It could have been merely a mechanical problem. He did call up to the penthouse. And when no one answered he called the fire department.”

“So the police tagged along as well. And that only complicated matters,” Trish added with a tone of disgust.

“The commotion roused the night manager and they were able to get to the penthouse where they found. . . .”

“Oh, I don’t want to hear this. It is so undignified. Why couldn’t he have died in bed, alone or not, befitting a man of his stature!” Trish was on the verge of real tears not so much at the death of her husband but at the indignity of it all.

Harold shrugged and set his jaw with resolve to finish the story. “Wall had fallen, must have happened just as the door to the elevator opened, and wedged in the doorframe, triggered the alarm. The police should never had been called, Trish is right, it was a medical emergency. But because he was who he was, the cops at the scene called downtown, and downtown sent a detective, and because they sent a detective, they had to alert the medical examiner. . . .”

“They were going to take him to the morgue! Fortunately our lawyer, Dr. Linus Pall, and your father’s physician, put a stop to that.” Trish became clearly agitated.

“But the cause of death, it seems rather vague.”

“Death is vague, darling boy. It was his heart, your father had a bad heart. You’ll have to accept that.”

“He had a good heart, Mother. That I can guarantee. And I am my father’s son.”

“I hope you’re not going to make trouble now, are you, Wayne? Do something silly like call for an autopsy?” Harold squared his shoulders and became very grim along the jaw line where pink tinged the skin under his five o’clock shadow.

Wayne waited out the silence before giving a smile and a shrug. “No, of course not. Life goes on, open for business. I have my life, he had his. I have a new project I’m pursuing.”

“Oh mountain climbing again, Mount Everest, was it?”

“K2, Mother.”

“That as well. Black belting in some tournament or other? Sky diving? Jumping off bridges on a rubber band. I can never keep track.”

“No, actually, it’s something I’m quite excited about. It is local. I had been thinking about doing it before Dad died. We had talked about it briefly several times and he seemed in agreement.” Wayne inclined his head to each of them. “I will be renovating the old battery works and restoring it as a local landmark named in memory of Dad and at the same time preserving some of the history of that area.”

Harold arched his eyebrows in a show of interest. “You’re suggesting a gentrification project?”

“That’s a horribly depressed side of the city, dear. I heard the city council wants to bulldoze the entire area. That old foundry is in a high crime district. I read in the paper just this morning that yesterday or maybe the day before, three citizens were assaulted by a crazy masked man! There are daylight robberies!”

“My project would address the poverty in that area by hiring local labor and artisans to do the restoration work and maintenance thereby giving them a stake in their community.”

“Oh, dear, you’re starting to sound like a communist.”

Harold cleared his throat. “A good idea, my boy, but I’m afraid that will be impossible. We are in the middle of negotiating with a toxic cleanup fund contractor to comply with the federal. . . .”

“I’ve read the suit, and our inhouse analysis. I’m having my lab at Bruce Advanced Technical Systems review the soil samples from the Environmental Impact Report. I can bring the cost in lower than the big contractors by hiring locally. . . .”

“It’s a losing proposition,” Harold insisted, shaking his head and glaring fiercely, a family trait. “You’re crazy if you think you’ll get any decent returns, even after the entire issue of liability. . . .”

“Yes, listen to Harold, dear boy, how will you ever recoup your returns on your investment. What bank. . . ?”

Harold cleared his throat. “The funding for the new Defense Department contract is in the pipeline and everything is on track?”

“Once the toxic issue is settled, the old factory site will be turned into a historical park in memory of Dad’s civic contributions to the culture of the city.”

“A park? Those old brick relics? And for free. Harold is right, you are mad.”

“There’ll be a museum.”

“Of old batteries?”

“There would an historical display, of course, but primarily it will house my world renowned collection of classic cars.”

“Of course,” Harold nodded appreciatively, “they were part of the big auto show in Vagas a few years back.”

“Another one of your hobbies. When are you going to settle down, get married. Lotte has been asking after you.”

Wayne ignored his mother addressing Harold instead “Collectors and car enthusiasts the world over will flock to the museum just to be photographed alongside a favorite classic by a professional staff. For a fee, of course.”

Harold had shifted his eyes to the side making a calculation. “That’s a rather large parcel of land for a museum. What are you going to do with the rest of it? Parking lot?

“For some of it I’m sure. We’ll have to accommodate visitors. And much of it can be landscaped as a park. The old brick sheds will house the museum with certain alterations and additions. Perhaps an art gallery and a community center. I’m having one of our architects prepare a feasibility study and I’ll be taking over the old administration building as a satellite office of Bruce Advanced Technical Systems. That way I can keep an eye on the reconstruction of the old battery works while managing the research firm.”

Harold cleared his throat. “The funding for the new Defense Department contract is in the pipeline and everything is on track?”

“Red Ball.”

Trish sighed. “He would always say that when a plan of his was top priority. That, ‘going great guns” whatever that supposed to mean.” She smiled at her son. “Spoken like a true captain of industry!” She was turning away as she made the proclamation. The conversation had become boring and not a little impertinent.

Harold followed, a muttered “We have to talk” as he strode away.

Wayne returned his gaze to the wide window panorama and the fading day rendering the glass all the more opaque. Another shadow loomed behind him and was reflected in the glass. He turned, smiling, extending his hand.

“Ray Tso! It has been a long while! How many years?”

Ray returned the smile and the handshake. “I had to come and pay my respects. Your old man was one of those unique adults you knew you could trust.”

“Thanks, Ray, that’s good of you to say. And how about you? More kids? Still working for the District Attorney?”

“No and yes.”

“I’m glad you came. I have a favor to ask of you. I have to see the medical report of when they brought my father in.”

“I don’t think I can do that, Wayne. Why? Is something suspicious about his death? I would have heard.”

“No, no, just curiosity, and grief, I suppose. It feels so unresolved. I had talked to him on the phone not more than a week ago.”

“You’re not going to ask for an autopsy are you?”

Wayne gave a wan smile. “No, but you are the second person who’s mentioned it.”

Ray nodded in understanding. “Let me put you in touch with the detective who handled the case. His name is Gordon James. He might be able to help you.”

“Ok, put in a good word for me.”

“No problem,” Ray answered scribbling on the back of his business card and handing it to Wayne. “You know, when I walked up behind you I could see your reflection in the window and you looked just like your old dad.”

redroof gc“Crazy,” Wayne smiled, tucking the card into his inside jacket pocket, and glanced back at the tee box now in darkness and imagined the red canvas roof of the golf cart dropping down behind the mound and heading for the fairway. A silent vow welled up and tightened his jaw. Justice. Justice for old Dad. If it’s the last thing.

He accompanied Ray Tso back to the reception hall and stopped to view the thinning crowd of attendees from the top of the steps leading down. The black clad and somber gathered in clusters exchanging reminiscences and business cards, nodding gravely over their cocktails.

Off to one side where a shrouded grand piano sat unattended by the large floor to ceiling doors leading out to the terrace, Charlotte and her brother, Lawrence Taste, heirs to the vast Taste fortune, and Doctor Linus Pall appeared to be having a purposeful conversation. Charlotte, tall, willowy, blonde, a perfect example of privilege and beauty that even her subdued yet stylish mourning outfit could not suppress. Her long blond hair piled atop her head beneath a black lace doily, she was listening intently to something Linus Pall was saying. She must have sensed his gaze as she turned her head toward him and gave a weak smile. She lay a slender hand on Pall’s arm and said something to her brother before leaving them and walking his way. Larry Taste frowned at her departure and followed it with a scowl directed at Wayne. There was no love lost between them. Like Charlotte, her brother was a carefully sculpted specimen of the handsome aristocrat with a full crop of disheveled sun bleached hair breaching the collar of his casually tailored dark suit, fashionable sideburns and a moustache over a mouth of perfect teeth.

Charlotte had the same perfect teeth as she greeted him with a slight smile and a sad downturn to her beautiful blue eyes.

“Wayne, I’m so sorry,” she started but he shook his head. It was an emotional moment for both of them, her eyes welling up with tears and he trying to tamp down the sorrow and anger rising in his chest.

She instead threw her arms around him and sobbed into his lapel. As she caught her breath she pulled her head back and stared into his eyes. “I, I think I understand,” she said as if the words were strangling her, “You’re right, of course, to postpone the engagement. It’s not a good time. You have so much to deal with now.”

She was repeating back the message he had left on her answering machine almost word for word. It made him doubt the sincerity of her words.

“I thought the occasion should be put on hold considering the circumstances. Business has imposed impossible demands with Dad’s passing and I have to step in more actively now. The company is vulnerable to corporate raiders and ripe for a hostile takeover. Bruce Enterprises has to be prepared for that. I knew you’d understand.”

Larry Taste had followed his sister and wasn’t as contrite. “I ought to punch you in the face, Bruce! What kind of ill-mannered asshole calls off an engagement on the telephone? She’s lucky to be rid of you!” Taste had aggressively placed his face directly in Wayne’s line of sight to make his point.

A great calmness overcame him and deflected the rage with disarming acquiescence. “You’re right, she is lucky to be rid of me. I am cursed by an insane constancy that demands a balance be restored, wrongs righted, justice meted. It will not allow me to rest and it would not be reasonable to inflict my dark obsession on someone I love ”

Charlotte tugged on her brother’s arm, eyes agog at Wayne’s admission. “Larry, no!”

“You’re a psycho!” Larry spat.

“I am mad.”


End, Scene 2, Cue Scene 3

Cheése Stands Alone II

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter Three

The large hairy beast pinned Lydia’s arms to her side before she could take evasive action, crushing her face into a chest of greasy smelling fur. She brought her leg up and kicked at the bear’s instep with the heel of her boot. The thought occurred to her, do bears have insteps? The bear spun her into the middle of a low ceilinged room and let her go as if she were a dancer given a twirl.

bear1Lydia crouched in a defensive stance, the training she had received as a young officer in the Admiralty’s Aerocorps returning to her tensed body like a remembered presence. She faced the bear, turning warily, sensing others in the shadows of the oil lamp’s mute orange glow. The flower girl sat on a very large ornately decorated trunk, feet dangling in picturesque innocence. She was the one Lydia wanted. About to demand her wallet back, she caught a third figure at the periphery, moving toward her. Tall, muscular, a dark skinned man with a crop of white hair and narrow, also white, iron jaw whiskers held his hand palm up in the universal gesture of no harm. On her guard, she turned to keep all three of them in her field of vision.

The bear did indeed have an instep, large blocky brogans, and appeared only half dressed not to mention headless. The head had been set aside on a large colorful round hat box. The bear costume pantaloons flopped like thigh high furry boots next to it. The large man, still wearing the bear fur shirt, had a head of shaggy gray hair and a silver tinged beard that covered his entire face except for the coal black eyes and the red tip of his large square nose. From the way his beard uplifted at the cheeks he appeared to be smiling. The girl too appeared to be smiling, a pale oval face with the sketchiest of features.

And now the tall man spoke. “Please forgive Vlady, he is such a playful child at times.”  Lydia understood Vlady to be the bear man and that he was harmless. “And Serpina, please return Captain Cheése her property.”

The young girl extended the wallet and Lydia snatched it, returning quickly to her guarded posture. She searched the tall man’s dark eyes and gauged the frankness of his serene gaze. “At least you know how to pronounce my name. I demand to know the meaning of this.”

“No need to be alarmed, Captain Cheése. . .I am Doctor Jean-Pierre Serre-Pain, herpetology is my profession,” he said indicating what Lydia now saw as rows of glass faced enclosures in which writhed long narrow beady-eyed shadows, “and may I presume to call you Lydia?”

Lydia swallowed. She could handle two legged creatures, maybe even four legged creatures, but cold blooded no legged critters transfixed her with uncertainty. In other words, snakes gave her the creeps.

“I don’t care for any of your presumptions, Doctor, an explanation is what I require in these circumstances.”  At least the slithereens were behind glass. For the moment. Now the cool, faintly acrid dankness revealed its source.

“Surely you know why you are here, don’t you?”

The man she now realized was the African she had seen with the trained bear currently removing the remainder of his costume and seeming to be chuckling to himself over something he deemed frightfully funny.

“Please have a seat at the table,” Doctor Serre-Pain spoke leading the way to the small table from which the oil lamp radiated its dim flicker of light. It and the vague green light from the piping on her sleeve comprised much if not all of the visible spectrum.

Cautiously, Lydia approached the low wooden chair, tracking the bear man and the young girl and then settling on the African. “What do you want with me?”

Serre-Pain smiled, sitting, indicating that Lydia do the same. “Are you not seeking your father, Commodore Jack Cheése?

Lydia sat slowly, throwing a glance of caution at the other two. “Yes, I am looking for my father. How did you know?”

“I, like anyone else who reads the personal advertisements in The Greater London Tines, the faux food gourmet magazine, would have come upon your notice. You thought to disguise your quest by placing a notice in an obscure publication read only by gastronomists, bacteriologists, yoghurt culture specialist, and possibly the pathologically curious. Would that be to keep your search from coming to the attention of IOTA?”

Lydia directed her full attention at the snake doctor. “Yes, you have read the advertisement correctly, and my intent to keep my undertaking from coming to the attention of the Investigative Office of The Admiralty. Since my father’s disappearance a dozen years ago, I have been preoccupied with finding out what became of him.”  She took a breath and dropped her guard down a notch. “Only recently have I decided to become more aggressive in my pursuit of an answer. At first I made public notice of my intention. As a result I was paid a visit by the gentlemen in the dark hats from the Investigative Office. Much to my surprise, rather than assist me they sought to hinder me. My employment as a Captain with Aerosud’s passenger fleet was put under a cloud. I have been placed on disciplinary probation for trumped up infractions, my command of airships is under scrutiny and my flights are regularly canceled. I believe that someone high up in World Air Power Operations is trying to thwart my efforts. I have had to consider going underground.”  Even as she said it, she realized that she was underground.

“As I said, I am a herpetologist. I deal primarily in the venomous variety, cobras, mambas, North American rattlers.”

“Your father, Commodore Cheése, was outspoken about the abuses of bacto-research by the big air power companies. He sounded the alarm that there were not enough industry safeguards against virulent strains of energy life. He warned of another Chordin that might possibly eat whole swaths of the planet down to its mineral base before self-devouring. Unrestrained heat energy from selfdev bacteria is as wasteful as it is dangerous. What if the breach had occurred in a populated area as they believe happened at Sunyata Station? What became of the inhabitants there has never been completely revealed. Certainly the relocation camps have never been open to public scrutiny. If they even exist.”

“Everything you have said is merely idle speculation, the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theorists. My father is a misguided delusional man. His claims are based on nothing concrete and fed to him by those who wish to disrupt Her Majesty’s government— anarchist, revolutionaries, anti-bacterialists and icers, with the aim to undermine the Pax Victoriana that has been in effect these last one hundred and eighty years. My purpose in finding my father is to provide him with a caring safe environment where he can live the remainder of his days free of the anxieties that afflict him.”

Serre-Pain’s chuckle was low and melodious. “You father is indeed fortunate to have such a devoted daughter. But what of IOTA? They may well have an abiding interest in finding The World Order’s most vocal critic. Even now, tracts, pamphlets, voice box cylinders ostensibly by Commodore Cheése continue to circulate and criticize TWO and its cooperators among the commonwealths. If you found him, how could you ensure his safety?”

“I have the means to keep him incommunicado if that should prove necessary. Once his mental state has been officially declared diminished, I can apply to have him cared for by a staff of trained professionals on my husband’s plantation near the source of the Orinoco. We have friends in high places at the palace in Sao Paulo.”

“A worthy project, and ambitious, though not one I’m sure Commodore Jack and his followers would approve of. How can you expect to accomplish this rather grandiose plan?”

“That is none of your concern, Doctor. If you can aid me in discovering the whereabouts of my father, I am prepared to authorize payment of the advertised reward. Otherwise, I must conclude that our discussion is over.”

“Please, Captain Cheése, don’t be hasty. I have information.”

“Then speak up, Doctor. Tell me and I will make the authorization as soon as I can access a World Bank kiosk.”

“I’m afraid it is not all that simple. For one thing, monetary remuneration is not what I am asking for in exchange.”

Lydia noticed that the young girl had dropped from her perch on the large trunk and was busying herself with packing things into a large carpet bag as if she were getting ready to leave. Also that her limp was no longer discernible. The large man called Vlady was stacking the long glass faced boxes into a brightly decorated double door cupboard with wheels. She could see that there were several such containers of different sizes, some with wheels and some without.

“What do you want, then? My resources at present are limited.”

“I need your assistance. It would require your skills as a pilot.”

“What, you want me to fly you somewhere? Unauthorized flight would draw the attention of IOTA in a zygote. You would be intercepted before the last guy wire dropped. Impossible! Not to mention that I risk my pilot’s license being revoked. If you have information, I will pay with coin of the realm, Victorines. Otherwise, I will seek my answers elsewhere.”  She stood to leave though the only exit she could fathom was the way she had entered and a large trunk had been wedged in front of it by Vlady. A spark of panic made her catch her breath. She had been in tighter situations, especially at the siege of the Bushwackers, but then she had been with compatriots of her Aerocorps Intel Battalion.

“Please, Lydia, hear me out.”

She read the earnestness in his bearing and again, despite her agitation, lowered her guard.

“As I said, I am a herpetologist. I deal primarily in the venomous variety, cobras, mambas, North American rattlers.”

Lydia gave a shudder at the mere mention of their names.

“I travel the world collecting specimens for the expressed purpose of making anti-venom to counteract the deadly effect of snake bites. My anti-venom can save lives, Lydia. There has been an infestation of poisonous adders in the Horn of Africa Republic. . . .”

“HOAR? HOAR is a non-aligned state, Doctor, are you mad? It is a country overrun by pirates, revolutionaries, subversives, and worst of all, icers and their preposterous coming of the Ice Age creed. I have no intention of going there and. . . .”

She was interrupted by the sound of heavy boots clambering on the floor above them. The footsteps were accompanied by loud voices announcing themselves as Agents Of The Admiralty, AOTA, IOTA’s para-military enforcement arm.

Serre-Pain was now standing, alert. “We appear to have visitors, Serpina. You know what to do.”

The young girl started across the room toward Lydia who immediately crouched in a defensive stance though how much of a threat could a tiny girl present. Distracted for that moment she felt Serre-Pain’s hand brush her neck. She turned to focus on him as the greater threat. The blow was entirely ineffectual yet something was wrong. Her lips began to tingle as did her neck where he had touched her. Her legs itched and her vision blurred. She realized she was falling.

“Quickly, quickly now,” she heard Serre-Pain say. “Vlady, hold her up. Serpina, the lid. Now gently, gently, lower her down.”

snakesxpLydia was immobile, paralyzed, her entire body coursed with a fiery itch yet conscious of being lowered into a musty smelling box and a mesh cloth placed over her. Then snakes, a tangle of slithering vipers, were dumped on top of her prostrate form. She tried to scream but her vocal cords were affected as well. She heard Serre-Pain’s voice, a soft soothing whisper, “Please forgive me, Lydia, but it was necessary to prick you with a small dose of octopus venom. You will be immobilized for about twelve hours. You will remain conscious but unable to speak though you will be able to move your eyes. Don’t fret about the snakes. Since you can’t move, they won’t bother you though they will be attracted to your body heat. The mesh will protect you. Now I must deal with our visitors.”

Chapter Four

Livid, Lydia lay limp as soggy linguini unable to lift a limb. Her anger was causing her heart rate to soar and claustrophobia was making her hyperventilate. To someone accustomed to freedom of movement, her present situation was intolerable. As an airship pilot, soaring among the clouds had become almost second nature. Yet she was confined underground in a vile airless snake pit. Her skin felt aflame with a burning itch as if she were enveloped in a cocoon of raw home spun wool, or worse, biofiber.

She calmed herself with a thought. She thought of her mother. Her mother, Adeline, a child prodigy gymnast who had run off to join the circus to become a trapeze artist, calmed herself before each performance with a breathing exercise. Lydia had learned it at her knee as a young child. She concentrated, regulating her breath blocking out all other distractions, the shouts, the threats, the stomping of big boots on the floor planks, the slithering of scales rubbing up against the mesh of her protective veil. She visualized herself outside the gaily decorated main tent, its multi colored pennants and streamers snapping in the ocean breeze, and nearby the hissing garishly painted steam calliope, the crews of men and women setting up stalls and positioning wagons in the vacant field at the edge of a village on the Normandy coast, a pale sun emerging from the dark clouds and splashing streaks of gold onto the undulating metallic gray waves. Her breathing fell into sync with the rolling rhythm of the sea. Eyes closed, she would have drifted off but for the harshness of the voice pulling her back, a demanding voice.

“Where is she? She has to be here somewhere! Search the place!”  It was an unpleasant voice, a voice used to giving orders and making demands, a woman’s voice.

Then Serre-Pain’s voice, soothingly, answered. “Please, Chief Inspector, I beg you to be careful with my specimens. If you would just tell me what, who you are looking for, perhaps I can be of some assistance.”

aotaChief Inspector? Lydia’s eyes snapped open. IOTA! IOTA was out there beyond the glass. Bright biotorches cast large shadows flickering at her peripheral vision. She could hear the scrapping and shuffling of large objects being moved around accompanied by Serre-Pain’s pleas for caution.

The woman’s voice again. “I will need to see all your papers as well as your captive creature permits.”

“Of course, of course, Chief Inspector, I assure you that they are all in order. But please advise your men to be careful. Some of these snakes can become very excitable when disturbed, and some are quite venomous.”

That voice, Lydia thought, I know that voice. She tried to move her head but her body would not obey. It had been quite a while since she had heard the voice. Then it was in the Academy gymnasium in her last year there. She was leader of the Aerosud team as each of the big Navair companies sponsored their future officers in the Admiralty Air Academy, Triple A as it was known to most, even though they would be required to serve the Admiralty as junior officers for a requisite two years of service. Once they were released from active duty they would be reemployed by their sponsors. The occasion had been a martial arts competition. The underdog Aerosud team had bested all the others and was slated to go against the Aeroskya team, the favored defending Academy champions. The bleacher seats were crammed with cheering rowdy cadets and high officials from all of the competing Navair companies. Their top combatant was a tall blonde woman with high cheek bones and narrow intensely electric blue eyes. Everyone who had gone up against her had been resoundingly defeated. The Aerosud trainer, Master Mo Han Yan, had more or less hinted that they resign themselves to a silver medal in the competition.

Lydia remembered stepping to the mat to face her. The hubbub of the crowd settled to a low murmur as their names were announced, and finally, after four years, they finally got hers right. That was a victory in itself. As she circled her opponent, taking her measure, looking for the opening, she was taunted by the blonde woman with the merciless eyes. That voice, those same arrogant tones, belonged to the same woman. Her name was Karla Kola.

Chief Inspector Karla Kola of the Investigative Office of The Admiralty. When they were both assigned their compulsory service, Kola had been given a post in the Investigative Division at headquarters in Greater London. Ensign Lydia Cheése had been posted to Alamo Station in Greater Houllas, in the Republic of Texas, capital of the United Slave State Republics. Her cover was Transportation Officer, in charge of the dirigible pens as well as securing modes of ground transportation for the Embassy. In reality she was a junior intelligence officer. ROT, as the Republic was known, and the USSR were not affiliated with TWO, The World Order..  They were responsible for the hostilities that had led to the PanAm Wars. She was lucky to be alive after the siege of the Bbushwhackers.

“Where is the woman?” that same voice demanded.

“I’m sorry, Chief Inspector, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”

“She came to an appointment at 221B Baker Street. This I know.”

“Excuse me, who? This is 221C, B is upstairs and over one.”

“Lydia Cheesecake!”

“Cheesecake? You’ll see that we have no cake here. Only my collection of herpetological specimens. We were just packing up my samples. I have an engagement in Old Orleans and it will take a few days travel what with my wagon and equipment.”

“You keep snakes? What useless creatures. What can you possibly do with them?”

“I extract their poisons.”

Lydia detected hesitance in the pause.

“And these poisons, you use them how?”

“I use it to make anti-venom medicine. I milk them of their poisons.”

A gruff voice interjected, “You must have to sit on a very tiny stool, then.”  A titter of laughter spread through a number of the assembled agents.

“Enough, Cogan. Have your men completed their search?

“Yes Guv, everything except for the large trunk in the corner.”

“Careful, please.”  It was Serre-Pain. “That contains the Marimba mamba, even more venomous than its black relative.”

Lydia could see the shadow of the torchlight pass over her. Then the lid slapped shut. She was trapped in a box with the most dangerous snake in the world and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Nothing but snakes in there, Guv, big ‘uns.”

Madame O“Interesting. I see by your papers you are proprietor of Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium and Traveling Medicine Show.”

“Yes, chief inspector, we are, my associates and I, an educational enterprise, traveling the countryside and providing education and entertainment. I am Doctor Jean- Pierre Serre-Pain, at your service.”

“Doctor Pain, is it?”

“Yes, it is pronounced payn, the n is barely vocalized. It means bread in my native language.”

“And in World Wide Standard it means exactly what it says, Pain. Tell me, Doctor Pain. Have you ever been bitten by your poisonous pets.”

“Yes, I have several times.”

“Yet you are still alive.”

“Fortunately I had the anti-venom at hand. Or I was very lucky.”

“I would think you would need to be more than just lucky with these lethal overgrown worms.”


Next Time: A Motley Crew

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Nine~

by Pat Nolan

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“Let’s begin the proceedings. How does the defendant plead?”

Billy Brazil stared blankly at the magistrate. Then, as if startled, answered, “What’s that?”

His lawyer, Abe Falk, leaned over and whispered into his client’s ear.

“How does the defendant plead?” the judge repeated.

“Not guilty, your Honor,” Brazil replied quietly.

“Very well, Mr. Prosecutor, call your witness.

“I call Mr. Adams to the stand.”

courtroomAdams, his green bowler clutched to his chest, took his seat in the chair next to the magistrate’s table.

“Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do.”

“State your full name for the record.”

“Charles Adams.”

“To the best of your recollection, what took place on the road to Las Cruces?”

“I stopped the buggy to urinate, and while I was standing there, I heard the old man say ‘Well, damn you, if I don’t get you off one way, I will another,’ or something like that.”

“Where were these people in relation to you?”

“The old man was in the buggy and Brazil was on his horse. They were at my back.”

“So you did not see the deceased standing upright at all?”

“I think when I seen him, the first shot had been fired and he was staggering.”

“Did he fall to the side, to the front, or to the rear of the buggy?”

“About two feet to the side.”

“Where was the defendant at the time?”

“He was on horseback, about even with the buggy. He had a six-shooter in his hand.”

“Who fired the second shot?”

“My horse bolted and I had to grab the lines and wrap them around the hub of the wheel to stop him from running. Then I went over to where the old man lay.”

“What about the defendant?”

“He was still on his horse and about in the same place.”

“Did the deceased speak?”

“When I got to him he was just stretching out. He did groan a little, and he might have said something. It sounded Mexican.”

“And what was that?”

“I can’t be sure.”

“Could you venture a guess?”

“It sounded like he might have said quien es?”

“What about the defendant, what did he say after all this had transpired?”

“He did not say much. He said, ‘This is hell.’ and he handed me his six-shooter.”

“Your Honor, I have no further questions.”

“Very well, Mr. Adams, you may step down. Mr. Prosecutor, call your next witness.”

“I call the Dona Ana County medical examiner, Doctor Fields, to the stand.”

A large man with a wide intelligent brow and graying muttonchops removed himself from the chair behind the prosecuting attorney’s table and strode to the witness stand.

“Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do.”

“State your full name for the record.”

“Walter Charles Fields.”

“You are the medical examiner for the County, is that correct?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can you describe what you found when you arrived at the scene of the crime?”

“I found the deceased in a six-inch sand drift about four miles from town on the road to Las Cruces in an area known as Alameda Arroyo.”

“And what was the disposition of the body?”

“The deceased had been shot twice, once in the head and once in the body. He was lying flat on his back, one knee was drawn up. His trousers were unbuttoned and his male organ was visible which would indicate that he had been urinating at the time he was killed.”

“Was there a weapon at the scene?”

“Yes, there was. A shotgun identified as belonging to the deceased lay parallel to his body about three feet away. It lay on top of the ground without any sand kicked around it.”

“And what were the findings of your autopsy?”

“The deceased had been shot twice, one shot hitting him in the back of the head and emerging just over the right eye. The second shot was fired when the deceased was on the ground, the bullet striking the region of the stomach and ranging upward.”

“Thank you, Doctor Fields.”

“When a man is shot in the back of the head, he does one of two things with what he has in his hand. Either he clutches it convulsively tight or he throws it wide. There were no signs in the sand that the gun had been violently thrown. I would therefore conclude that this could not possibly be a case of self-defense as claimed by the defendant, but murder in the first degree.”

Abe Falk leaped to his feet. “I object! The witness offered conclusions that go beyond the scope of the original question!”

“Mr. Falk, this is not a trial, merely a hearing to determine the circumstances. . . .”

“All the same, your Honor, I respectfully request that the last comment by the witness be struck from the record.”

“Very well. Objection sustained. Doctor Fields please restrict your answers to questions asked by the prosecutor. Mr. Prosecutor, you may continue.”

“No further questions, your Honor.”

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“Quien es?”

“That’s all he said?”

“Near as I can recollect, yes.”

“Could you see his expression?”

“No, he was pretty much just a shadow.”

“So you couldn’t tell if he saw you.”

“No, I don’t think he saw me.”

“Then why did he ask, ‘Who is it?’”

“He was asking Pete who the boys on the front porch were.”

MaxwellHouseCimarron-500“And Pete was in his bed.”

“That’s right, and I was crouched down in the dark next to him.”

“How did you know it was him?”

“Pete said, ‘That’s him!’”

“Then what happened?”

“I shot him.”

“How many shots were fired?”

“Two.”

“He fired back then.”

“No, both shots were mine.”

“What did you do after you shot him?”

“I got the hell out of there. I didn’t know if I’d killed him or just wounded him.”

“He was armed, though.”

“I couldn’t tell at the time that I shot him. Later, after I was sure that he was dead, I saw that he had a butcher knife in his hand.”

“I find it hard to believe that a desperado of his reputation would be walking about without a firearm.”

“He did favor that self-cocking revolver.”

“He didn’t have it on him?”

“I didn’t see it if he did.”

“Did you look for it?”

“No, once he was dead, I figured that no amount of pistols were going to make him any more dangerous.”

“Pat, I’d hate to think that you shot an unarmed man.”

“I had no way of knowing if he was armed or not, Ash. I wasn’t going to take the chance that he was and ask him.”

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“You had a chance to see how cool and calculating he could be, when you were operating Beaver Smith’s saloon over in Fort Sumner, didn’t you?”

“He had come in with some of his compadres. That lot had been in there a few times before. They generally behaved, hoisted a few and played cards like most of the regulars.”

“I’ll wager he did like to belly up to the bar.”

“Can’t say that I ever saw him take a drink of liquor. He was partial to the paste boards, though.”

“Yes sir, he was adept at cards from a very early age. I should know, I boarded at his mother’s establishment in Silver City. He was quite a handful even in those days.”

“As I was saying, I was engaged in a game of chance at a nearby table and I had a good view of the goings-on.”

“Some hold that poker is more of a game of skill than chance, Pat.”

“Ash, you know as well as I do that when I play poker, it’s a game of chance. . .there’s always a chance I might win!”

poker party“Sir, your wit is like prairie lightning, bright and dry. Allow me to top your glass off with another jolt. But, please, please, continue. . .I apologize for my interjections.”

“One of their bunch, an hombre with the go-by of Grant looked to be getting pretty damn drunk pretty damn fast. He yanked a six-shooter out from an old saddle tramp’s scabbard at the bar. He waved it around, keeping it away from the old man, teasing him. He was an accident waiting to happen.”

“Certainly, that gun could have easily gone off and pelted somebody with a lead plum.”

“The boy came over to Grant, laid his hand on the pistol, said a few quiet words to him, and got Grant to let go of it.”

“That should have been the end of it.”

“Well yes, but no sooner had he gone back to his game, Grant snatched up the revolver again, walked be-hind the bar, and began breaking bottles and smashing glasses. I’d about had it with him by then.”

“I’ll say. He’d made himself pretty unwelcome.”

“But before I could get to him, little Jimmy Chisum collared Grant and was about to do my job for me.”

“Jimmy Chisum, now there’s a rooster.”

“Grant turned on him like a snake caught by the tail. He threw down on him with that old tramp’s six-shooter and cocked the hammer back.”

“That sounds like a mighty close situation.”

“Things got very quiet right about then. But as I said, the boy was a cool customer. He walked right over to Grant and said to him ‘why don’t he put that gun down and get the hell out of here before someone gets hurt.’”

“Now Grant was not a greenhorn desperado, was he?”

“That’s right, and he was on the prod!”

“But the kid was cool as the shade.”

“He didn’t take his eyes off Grant. And Grant, who had the look of a man gone too long to the bottle, was suddenly as sober as a country Baptist. What’s more, he had the drop on him. Then he said something like ‘now, you little bucktoothed sonofabitch, I got you!’ and he pulled the trigger.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing. The gun misfired.”

“You don’t say.”

“And they weren’t any further apart than you and me.”

“What did he do?”

“He blew the man’s head off. I was finding bits of brain behind the bar for weeks!”

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“Last week you talked about how you couldn’t scare up a posse to go out after him and his gang. How did you manage to secure the assistance of the Canadian River boys?”

“The Panhandle Cattlemen’s Association had charged them with locating and bringing back stock that had supposedly been rustled by the men we were after.”

“So just who were those Canadian River boys?”

“Damn it, you know as well as I do who they were, Ash!”

“Refresh my memory, Pat. For the purposes of our narrative and the eventual readers of this book, it’s important that we get the details right.”

“Let’s see. Frank Stewart, of course, Lee Halls, Jim East, Lon Chambers, a character they called ‘The Animal,’ Poker Tom, and Tenderfoot Bob. Charlie Siringo was among that bunch, but he and a couple of others declined to take up the manhunt. I didn’t blame them, they were mostly cowhands. That was not what they had hired on to do.”

“Stewart must have understood that if you captured those boys, the stock depredations would most likely stop.”

“I had developed information that the men we were after had been seen in the vicinity of Fort Sumner.”

“Yes, you might say that Sumner had a fatal attraction for him, like a moth for a flame.”

“Once there, I had the men lie low and keep their presence concealed. I took a turn around the Plaza. There I ran into old man Wilcox’s son-in-law, Juan. I had suspicions that he might have information I was after. I was right. He had been sent to town by the gang with instructions to return and report on the lay of the land.”

“All right. Hold up while I get all this down. This was in December of ’80, am I correct?”

“That’s right. The weather had been particularly bad. A blizzard had blown through just the day before. There was a foot of snow on the ground if there was an inch. ”

“Good, good, weather conditions are important. They set the scene for the events about to transpire.”

“Juan confirmed that the men I wanted were at his father-in-law’s place. I knew Wilcox was a law-abiding citizen, but had he betrayed them, they would have killed him without second thoughts.”

“They were nothing if not cold blooded and ruth-less.”

“It seems that they had planned to come into town the following day with a load of beef. They learned that I was on my way to Sumner and so Juan had been sent in to size up the number of my force.

“I asked Juan if he would work with me to set a trap. He agreed immediately. I hunted up someone I knew to be sympathetic to these men and forced him to write a note saying that my party and I had left for Roswell and there was no danger. I also wrote a note to Wilcox stating that I was in Fort Sumner with my men, that I was on the trail of the gang, and that I would not let up until I got them. I gave the two notes to Juan. I warned him not to mix them up as his father-in-law’s safety depended on it.”

“You were confident that if those boys took the bait that they would ride for Fort Sumner that night.”

“That is so. I also knew he would be leading his gang. . .”

“Consisting of. . .”

DaveRudabaugh-500“Dirty Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson. . .”

“A wanted murderer and a counterfeiter.”

“Tom Pickett, Tom Folliard, and Charlie Bowdre.”

“Guilty by association.”

“The old military hospital building was on the east side of the Plaza, the direction I expected them to come in from. Bowdre’s wife also occupied a room in that building. I figured that they would pay her a visit first. I took my posse there, placed a guard about the house, and awaited the game.”

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“The boys got the cards out and engaged in a little prairie pastime while we waited. It was getting on dark and we had secured a room in another part of the old hospital to keep out of the cold. Snow was lying on the ground increasing the light from the full moon outside.

“Around eight o’clock, one of the guards called from the door, ‘Someone is coming!’  They were two hours earlier than I had expected them. ‘Get your guns, boys,’ I said, ‘None but the men we want are riding tonight!’

“Lon Chambers and I stepped out onto the verandah. The rest of the men went round the building to intercept them should they aim to pass on into the Plaza. The gang was in full sight approaching. Folliard and Pickett rode in front. I was close against the adobe wall hidden by the harnesses hanging there. Chambers was next to me. They rode up until Folliard’s horse poked its head under the porch. I called out ‘Halt!’

“Folliard reached for his pistol. Lon and I both fired. His horse wheeled and ran. I fired at Pickett but the muzzle flash from Lon’s rifle had blinded me and so I missed him.”

“I’ll bet he was taken aback.”

“You would have thought by the way he ran and yelped that he had a dozen balls in him.”

“What about Tom?”

O_Folliard-1-1“Folliard was crying and moaning. He had received his death. He managed to wheel his horse and ride back toward me. He called out, ‘Don’t shoot me, Garrett, I’m killed!’  One of my men ran out toward him, yelling, ‘Take your medicine, old boy, take your medicine.’  I warned him off. ‘He may be killed but he’s still heeled and liable to spit lead!’ I stuck to the shadows. ‘Throw up your hands, Tom, I’m not going to give you the chance to shoot me,’ I said. His horse stopped right in front of where I was standing.”

“Did he say something like ‘I’m dying, goddamn it’?”

“He moaned some. He was doubled up in the saddle.”

“I’ll wager he said something like, ‘I can’t even lift my head!’ and ‘It hurts, it hurts.’ And finally ‘help me down, let me die as easy as possible, boys.’”

“I don’t recall his exact words if he even spoke any. He was in a world of pain.”

“What happened to the rest of the gang? How did they fare under the onslaught?”

“During the encounter with Folliard and Pickett, the party on the other side had engaged the rest of the gang, had fired on them, and killed Rudabaugh’s horse. I learned later that it ran twelve miles under him, to Wilcox’s ranch, before it died. Soon as my men fired, the remaining outlaws ran off like a bunch of wild cattle. They were completely surprised and demoralized.”

“But Tom Folliard’s luck had run out.”

“That it had. We unhorsed him and disarmed him and laid him out on a blanket on the floor of the hospital. He begged me to end his misery. ‘Kill me,’ he said, ‘if you was ever a friend of mine, Garrett, you’ll kill me and end this torture.’

“‘I have no sympathy for you, Tom,’ I replied, ‘I called for you to halt and you went for your sidearm instead. I’m no friend of a man who would shoot me simply because I was doing my duty. Besides,’ I said, ‘I would never shoot a friend as bad as you have been shot.’

“Now when one of my men came up to where we were, he changed his tune. ‘Don’t shoot anymore, for God’s sake, I’m already killed.’”

“Who would that be?”

“It was Barney Mason who, along with Tip McKinney, was part of my original posse.”

“Married to Polly’s sister.”

“That’s correct.”

“And a notorious horse thief.”

“So some claim, but he proved invaluable in tracking down these desperados.”

“What did he say to Folliard?”

“Oh, he said something like ‘take your medicine like a man, you ain’t got much of a choice.’  And Tom answered, ‘It’s the best medicine I ever took, pard, but it hurts like Hell.’  He asked, ‘Could you have McKinney write my old grandma in Fort Worth and tell her that I died, can you do that, old chum?’ Barney answered him, ‘Hell, you’d kill your old grandma if she found out that you died with your boots on, Tom, it’s best that she didn’t know.’

“At one point he exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, is it possible that I must die?’  I said to him ‘Tom, your time is short.’ and he replied, ‘the sooner the better. I will be out of pain.’  He expired soon after that.”


Next Time: The Trail To Stinking Springs