Tag Archives: Just Coincidence

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

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

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

Act One, Scene 1

By Pierre Anton Taylor

The old neighborhood had changed for the worse. The high brick wall that had once been a part of his father’s factory was covered with ivy creepers, mottles of lichen, and faded graffiti. Sickly yellowing weeds grew between the cracks in the broken sidewalk. At the curb, obscured by plastic trash and piles of leaves,  stood an old sycamore whose roots has caused the cement to buckle, a last remnant of when the area had been tree shaded, thriving, catering to the employees from the battery works..

He stood in front of the candy store he had frequented as a youngster. It hadn’t changed much, just become a little shabbier. The white paint on the double front doors had bubbled and peeled. The storefront windows near the entrance, repaired with duct tape and cardboard, looked as if a hole  had been punched through it.

JCA1S2“That’s quite an antique.” A square shouldered black man on the step leading up into the store spoke the words. He was referring to the black sedan parked at the curb.

“It’s a 1960 Plymouth Fury. Fully restored.”

“I know that. I was about your age when I would have given my right arm for one of those.” He held up the stub of his right arm. “Instead I gave it for my country in Vietnam.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” The young man grimaced. He always felt uncomfortable saying it because it was such a cliche. “Thank you for your service.”

“Wasn’t your fault. I just got careless. Ripley’s the name, by the way. I didn’t catch yours.”

“Wayne, Wayne Bruce.” He felt a little awkward as he extended his hand, but the black man grasped it firmly with his left.

“And what brings you to this neighborhood, Mr. Bruce? Lost? Or looking to pick up some cheap real estate?”

Wayne Bruce shook his head and glanced around again, reorienting himself after so many years. Abandoned buildings and the apartment towers that used to teem with activity now appeared worn and past their use by date. The brick enclosure to the crumbling factory site he used to think of as towering had retained some of its respectability if not its height. The candy store abutting the wall emitting a faint single source amber light, the tavern on the corner across the street where Central teed into Battery, neon beer sign sputtering in the dark round window open for business.

Ripley kept his gaze fixed on the young man, a lithe six foot two, tangle of dark hair framing a square face and jaw, dark intense eyes under darker eyebrows, and with a deferential confidence to his manner. A tailored black gabardine three quarter length coat with attached cowl draped snugly across the broad shoulders. The crew collared dark gray jersey clung to the shape of the angular torso topping a pair of slim black slacks and casual half boots.

Bruce then smiled and indicated the candy shop. “I used to come here when I was a youngster. My favorite candy was a Chunky bar. Mr. Rick still the owner?”

Ripley showed a frown and squinted at the tall young man. “You know old Rick?”

“Sure, he made the best egg-cream around.”

Ripley’s frown intensified, taking a closer look at the white man who had just parked his antique Plymouth on one of the roughest streets on the east end of the city. “No, he don’t do that no more. Hasn’t done that in a real long time, make egg-creams. Kids today don’t know what egg-cream is. But you are right, he made the best.”

A stiff breeze rattled the branches of the sycamore and persuaded some of the last leaves to release their grip and float reluctantly to the concrete. Both men looked in the direction the wind had come, at the lead gray mass hovering over the tall spires and square silhouettes of the downtown district, the tawny streak of late afternoon sky crushed by darker clouds at the horizon.

“You say Bruce? That your name? Like this place here?” Ripley pointed to the grim shadows hovering above the wall and the sign that had been creatively overwritten.. “Bruce Battery Manufacturer? That you?”

Wayne nodded. “My father.”

candystore1“The Battery Man. I remember the billboards. Nobody Beats A Bruce! You that kid? I heard about you. Come on, come on in.” He pushed the door open and the hinge squeaked like a cry for help. “He’s in the back, come on.”

Bruce didn’t need urging to step up and in. The candy store was familiar though smaller than he remembered it. The counter with the white scale, now a nicotine yellow, atop the display case of penny candy, jaw breakers, licorice whips, and candy bars. A diagonal crack mended with yellowing translucent tape ran across the display glass. On the back wall by the cash register the slotted black shelves of tobacco products mostly empty. There were plastic toys and odds and ends household items, clothespins, wooden matches, boxes of plastic forks and knives on shelves along the opposite wall. A rack next to the shelves displayed an assortment of flimsy plastic Halloween costumes and masks from the holiday a few weeks past. Boxes, some unopened, some empty, were stacked on the floor toward the rear of the small space where a doorway was covered with a threadbare flowered green curtain stirred by the sound of shuffling behind it.

“Yo! Rick! Hey! Old man! Somebody here to see you!” Ripley’s grin was mirthful, glee ringing his eyes.

A grave low voice answered, “If it’s Kerr, I already gave him my answer. What don’t he get about ‘shove it’? The curtain parted to a frown under a head of close cropped silver wool and a mean squint distorting the dark brown face. Pale framed thick lensed glasses held together at the bridge by a bulge of masking tape sat on a crooked nose, the tip of which appeared lighter than the rest of the ebony exterior.

The old man came to a stop, a walking cane in each hand, and craned his tall torso forward. “Who are you? You don’t look one of Kerr’s. . . ?” He gave a sidelong glance at Ripley who was trying to maintain his composure and not burst out laughing, and then turned to face the tall young man in black. A smile slowly cracked the harsh demeanor exposing red gums and missing teeth. “It’s you, ain’t it? I’d know that canary eating grin anywhere.” To Ripley, he snapped, “What you laughing at? I don’t see nothing funny!”

Easing himself behind the candy counter, Richard Richards, Mr. Rick to most of his customers, took up his iconic position in the eyes of the young man. “Lemme guess. A Chunky bar.” At the young man’s nod, he slide open the rear door to the display case and reached in. “You remember how much you used to pay for one of these?” he asked as he set the foil wrapped candy on the top of the counter.

chunky1Wayne paused to recall. “A quarter.” And then, “But I remember when they went up to fifty cents because I came in one day and all I had was twenty five cents, two dimes and a nickel, and you told me that the price had gone up. But you sold it to me anyway, that I could pay the rest next time.”

The old man chuckled. “That’s right. And you shoulda seen the look on your face when you realized you didn’t have the right amount. You mighta cried.”

“Did I ever pay you back? I don’t remember. I hope I did.”

“I don’t recall either. Not that it matters after all this time.” He held up the silver square. “Nowadays one of these will set you back five dollars! Think anyone can afford that?”

Ripley nodded in assent, “Not around here they can’t, that’s for damn sure!”

“This young man here used to keep track of my inventory. He knew every candy I carried and how much of it I had. He’d come in here with his daddy and name off everything I had in the case. I carried newspapers back then, and Mr. Bruce would come in for his morning and his afternoon edition. He always had this one in tow. Go straight to the glass and put his nose up against it.” He shook his head in recollection. “Time’s are gone.” And addressing young Bruce, “I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”

The tips of Wayne’s ear’s reddened, darkening them, and he twisted a grin in agreement and acceptance of the condolences. And as if to offset the tension of the emotion, he pointed to the soda vending machine’s garish edifice over to one side in the corner, the only thing that seemed out of place. “I remember the big red cooler you used to have there. It rattled whenever the compressor came on. The first time I heard it I nearly jumped out of my shorts. That and the treasure hoard of candy were my first impression of this place. And you used to have a comic book rack over there too. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor reading them. Those are good memories, Mr. Rick.”

“Aw, you were a pest, always asking questions, you were curious about everything. And then you went away to school, somewhere, some place foreign I heard. Your mother sent you off to get a proper education. And you’d come by every once in a while when you were home visiting, and I seen you were developing into a fine young man, taking more after your ma than your husky pop, though. She only come in here with you a couple times I can remember but I could tell she was high toned.” He lowered his eyes at the memory, “She doing well, is she?”

Wayne gazed out at the failing light of the darkening street. He nodded, “Yes,” as if to himself. “Mother is doing well as can be expected. Dad’s brother, Harold, is taking care of the details, managing the Bruce business empire.” A hint of bitterness in his attitude. “Life goes on even if not for Wallace W. Bruce.” He erased the frown with a bright smile as if it had never been there. “I thought that while I was in town for the funeral I’d see if I could still get a Chunky at the only place I know that sells them.”

Rick gave an appreciative guffaw. “Well, you are in luck, this is the last one! I stopped carrying them half a dozen years ago when the price went up to two dollars. I didn’t think anyone would ever want a square of chocolate, nuts, and raisins that bad. I kept this one as a souvenir of when candy was cheaper than crack.” He pointed to the shelves behind the display glass. “You see anything in here that reminds you of a Zagnut or Good & Plenty or a Clark Bar, Abba Zaba, Big Hunk, JuJuBes, Milk Duds, or Pay Day?”

“You had those little wax bottles with fruit syrup in them. . . .”

“Yeah, Nickle-A-Nips, go for over a dollar now. I can’t get a lot of those old candies anymore. It’s my distributor, he carries all these off brands. You ever hear of a Ball Park? it’s shaped like a frankfurter, made mostly of sawdust as near as I can tell, and held together with a chocolate tasting glue. Bigga Jigga? I don’t even want to think what it’s made of, but I heard somebody lost a tooth biting into one, pulled it clean out of his gums. And Plenty Good? Just a box of hard candy pieces swept up off the candy factory floor. O’Hara’s? Some kind of high fructose soybean glop, and Dummies, just little pills of color flavored chalk. This Wacky Wax? It’s just artificially sweetened wax. That can’t be good for your gut.”

Ripley nodded vigorously, “Eat enough of that, stick a wick up your butt and call you a candle.”

“You might need a new distributor.” Wayne offered with an understated chuckle.

Rick shook his head. “No, can’t, Kerr controls the East Central District. He has a say in just about everything that gets bought and sold in this neighborhood. His guy makes me carry these knockoffs and threatens me when they don’t sell! He made me install that drink vender. It’s expensive, besides. Has to stay plugged in all the time, uses more lectricity than the rest of the shop! Usta carry his girly magazines but it just attracted the kids, and they’d want to shoplift something, sometimes because they thought they needed it, other times just because they thought they could. Sell ‘em under the counter now, you gotta ask to see ‘em, and if you’re asking, you buying one.”

“Kerr? Where have I seen that name, from around here?”

“Joeseph Kerr. That’s his warehouse down the block, in the old garment factory, you mighta seen the sign painted on the side of the building when you turned down Central coming into the neighborhood.”

“I did. Kerr Novelty, Inc. Big letters.”

“Big crook, if you ask me. Came from out east about ten years ago. He’s got his fingers in other pots, too, buying up real estate. He owns Quinn’s, the tavern across the street, and the old folks apartment building next door. I heard he was partnering with some developers for a project down at the other end of Battery. Bound to be a boondoggle like most projects in this town.”

“Calling the cops ain’t gonna do no good. They take forever to get to this end of town. Kerr’s probably paying off somebody at the precinct to lay off in his turf.”

“And he’s been looking at the old factory site, your pop’s place.” Ripley spoke up. “Heard he wants to move his operation to over there.”

Rick threw him a quick glance. “B, you know that’s just a rumor. Ain’t no truth to that.”

“Yeah, that’s what I overheard at Q’s. And you know why that’s bad news for you.”

“Yes I know, but no need to talk about something ain’t gonna happen until after I’m dead.”

“You see, man, this building, old Rick’s crib in back, the candy store, they all on the factory property. Somebody buy that factory, they get the candy store in the deal.”

Wayne cocked his head to one side, “Is that true? I’d have to look up the property deed in the company archives.”

“No, no, Bion is right. This is part of the factory property. It had been the foundry foreman’s residence before the site was converted to  Bruce Battery Works. I was one of your old man’s original employees back when he started out. Then after the accident, well, he helped me. . . .”

“Here, here,” Ripley was pointing out the window as the streetlights sparked to life at the encroaching gray, “The Up To No Good gang, I’Van and J’Van. I haven’t seen them in a while. Somebody musta bailed them out.”

Rick concurred. “They on the prowl early, looking for a stray bird. They must be desperate.”

“You know them?”

Ripley nodded solemnly, “We had occasion to get close.”

Rick chuckled, “Bion ripped open a case of whupass on those boys. They know not to mess with him.”

Bion pointed with his stub. “The redhead? That’s I’Van. He’s a nasty piece of work. The other one, the kid, J’Van, he’s dangerous because he doesn’t know how strong he is. But he’s a follower, not a leader. They do muscle for the local numbers guy, and strong arm the unwary for their nickels and dimes. They try to intimidate everyone else. Those that cross them usually end up in the hospital.”

“The bookie is in Kerr’s pocket. He couldn’t operate without his say so. His boys are the neighborhood pit bulls.” Rick added.

“And they’re taking a close look at your Plymouth at the curb. Might not be too wise to leave it parked there for long. I can go stand by it. They’ll know enough to steer wide.”

Wayne held up his hand. “No, please, I don’t think that will be necessary. Thanks for the offer, Bion, is it? An unusual name if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Naw, man, that’s cool, everybody trips over it. I got it in Nam. It’s because of my last name, Ripley. The guys in the platoon used to call me Believe It Or Not, and it got shortened to BION, and then just B, what most folks knows me calls me.”

“I don’t believe it!” Rick was leaning forward on his canes glaring out the window. “Just this minute, coming down the steps, it’s old lady Winslow, I’m sure of it.”

“Her daughter musta forgot to lock the apartment door again,” Ripley said, a trace of concern in his voice.

“She thinks she’s going shopping, got her purse and her shopping bag. . . .”

“Wait till she gets around the corner to find that the market been closed for two years now.”

“If she gets that far. I didn’t think they’d do that. They are lower than scum. Knocked her down, one of them has got her purse, laughing.”

“Call the cops!” Wayne had started toward the door.

“Calling the cops ain’t gonna do no good. They take forever to get to this end of town. Kerr’s probably paying off somebody at the precinct to lay off in his turf.”

“She might be hurt!” Ripley raced through the door, “Call for an ambulance!”

Rick replied to Wayne’s questioning look, “He was a medic in Nam. He’ll see to her till the meat wagon arrives.”

“The men, they’re gone, where. . . ?”

The old man looked up from dialing the phone, “Can’t have gone far, mighta ducked into Q’s to divvy up the loot.”

Wayne became very quiet, overcome by an ominous calm. He glanced at the Halloween display, the black domino mask with peacock feather eyebrows in its cellophane bag. He unclipped it from the rack and held it up. “How much?”

Rick shook his head. “Try it on first. See if it fits.”

Wayne ripped open the bag and plucked off the feathered decorations and slipping the mask over his eyes. “Better call for a second ambulance.”

He strode down the steps, skirted the rear fins of the Plymouth Fury and stepped quickly across the darkening street pulling the cowl up over his head as the first of the rain began to fall.

quinnsWet occupied the air and chilled it. In the yellow-brown light of the doorway to Quinn’s Tavern, the rain striking the concrete jumped like sparks off a hot griddle. The door opened quietly, disturbing neither the wide shouldered man with the bar towel over his shoulder, gaze intent on the square of color TV mounted above the bar, who laughed along with the track, a rheumy asthmatic rasp, or the other two hunched over in the shadows of a back booth, laughing, giggling, but not at the TV, a sitcom about people who frequent a bar similar to this one although certainly less sinister.

The young one looked up, questioning at first and then frowning his face into a growl at the perceived threat. The redhead jerk his eyes up from the emptied contents of the purse like a dog guarding a bone. He was about to raise his head and bark when two rigid fingers jabbed the larynx causing a choking spasm gasp for breath at the same time the base of a palm slammed into the apex of his nose with enough force to render him unconscious. As the dark haired man boy rose to defend his partner, a well-placed kick to the sternum knocked him back into the sitting position with his head bouncing against the tall booth, an open target for the elbow that struck him full face and broke his nose. The man behind the bar had just brought up the shotgun as the round glass ashtray that had been between the two unconscious thugs struck him on the bridge of the nose knocking him down.

A black gloved hand gathered the pile of belongings in the middle of the table and returned them to the purse. There wasn’t much to the loot: a change purse, a wallet stuffed with grocery coupons but no legal tender or credit cards, a lipstick tube, hair pins, an empty pack of spearmint gum, a sheaf of letters held together by a ribbon, the scent of lilac.

No one paid attention to him as he set the purse on the stoop to the apartment house where a few neighbors had gathered with umbrellas to shield the old woman who was sitting up now, looking around bewildered, rubbing the elbow she had hit after being pushed down by the hoodlums. A siren sounded close.

Ripley glanced up once to see the tall cowled figure, eyes shadowed by the black mask before the ambulance’s flashing red and ambers saturated the rain dark street. After the medics had taken over, he stood in the soaking downpour and stared at the empty curb in front of the candy store. He sensed that it was just the beginning, a perfect storm of coincidences gathering at the horizon that would rain down justice and injustice alike, and transform the lives of those who lived in the decaying industrial fringe of the city, a city whose name had always resonated as a cesspit of crime and corruption.


Next Time: Unfortunate Son