CONQUER: Calm, Cool, Collected…

In 1976 Harlem, he’s the cat you call when your hair stands up….

December 22nd will see the release of my collection CONQUER, featuring my occult detective character John Conquer, a cross between John Shaft and Brother Voodoo. The Conquer stories are my homage to the blaxploitation horror movies of the 70’s – bona fide classics like Blacula, JD’s Revenge, and Sugar Hill as well as the novels of Ernest Tidyman.

Three previously appeared in the pages of Occult Detective Quarterly – Conquer Comes Calling, Conquer Comes Correct, and Conquer Gets Crowned. In these stories Conquer faces off against a Hoodoo hitman, solves the mystery of a skinned and decapitated gorilla lying in the Bronx, and investigates a creature stalking graffiti taggers in the NYC subways.

Included in this collection are four previously unpublished stories – the short introductory story, Who The Hell Is John Conquer? Conquer And The Queen of Crown Heights, and Keep Cool, Conquer. The e-version includes an exclusive preview of Conquer: Fear Of A Black Cat, the full length novel coming next year.

Here’s Who The Hell Is John Conquer in its entirety.

Lenox Lounge - Harlem, authentic jazz bar, unchanged since 1939. Miles  Davis, Thelonius Monk and other jazz greats used t… | Jazz bar, Zebra lounge,  The incredibles

The zebra striped walls had heard Billie Holiday sing You’re My Thrill in their mutual heyday, and Coltrane had blown Giant Steps once to a packed house. James Baldwin had celebrated his birthday here, on the anniversary of the riot kicked off by Margie Polite and Officer Collins in 1943, and Alex Haley had interviewed Malcolm at one of the tables only ten years ago.

Now the dingy, tiled dance floor was crowded with cheap red pleather seats and scarred, liquor stained tables. The stage stood empty and absurd on a Wednesday afternoon, the heavy air filled with Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic cranking out of an ugly old Wurlitzer Zodiac parked in a corner. The machine hadn’t seen a new record since Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and as Isaac’s platter wound down, Superstition came on to prove it.

Each table was an island, and bore a squat, ugly candle in a textured glass holder, glowing like an irradiated pineapple in the thick fog of swirling bar smoke. The dark patrons gathered as though around campfires, when they leaned back in their chairs, as indiscernible as nocturnal fauna, the glint of their watches and jewelry, the glow of their cigarette ends were like the shine of predatory eyes in the dark.

The owner shoved some of the table aside and brought in a three piece on Fridays and Saturdays, but nobody much felt like dancing during the week anymore.

Behind the bar was an old man in a purple bowling shirt, who’d bussed tables at Baldwin’s birthday party and would tell you way too much of what he knew about him and Bayard Rustin if you were foolish enough to get him going. On the business end of the bar there perched a broad-shouldered, stoic cat in an oxblood leather coat, and a young brother in blue jeans and a t-shirt pawing at the stack of business cards next to the register while he waited for his beer, reading each one and replacing them in disarray, to the old man’s annoyance.

“Who in the hell is John Conquer?” the young customer chuckled.

“Boy, give me that,” the old bartender said, snatching the red and gold business card from the young man’s hand and putting it back on the stack. “Where you breeze in from?”

“Center Point, Alabama.”

“Cen-ter Point, A-la-bama!” the bartender announced, loudly.

There were whistles and jeers from the men in the dimness, all except the quiet one on the newcomer’s left, sipping Black Label and smoking a Kool.

“Hey, you know how you know you in a hotel in Center Point, Alabama?” the bartender asked the room. “When you call the desk and say ‘I got a leak in the sink’ and they answer ‘well, go ahead.’”

There were a couple of laughs.

The newcomer shook his head.

“Well, Country, you need to be told,” the old man said, fixing his sights back on his young captive audience. “You in New York City now. This is the center of the world. The very best and very worst of everything, right here. This is the crossroads of eyes and ears and hearts and souls. It is nineteen hundred seventy six and we in a time of bankers and gangsters, liars and fools, con men and kings. You livin’ with the ghouls and ghosts, wizards and witches of the real N-Y-C now.”

And when he said those letters, he jabbed each one at the newcomer on the end of his finger.

“OK,” said the new man. “But who is John Conquer?”

“Let me finish,” the old man snapped, sliding him his beer in a smudged glass. “In the heart of this city you got the red bricks of Harlem. The home of the boogie woogie rumble, dig? God put Harlem on the map to give colored folks a place to go in a snowstorm, and He put John Conquer in Harlem with a shovel to keep back all that white the Devil throws our way.”

“How come it says on that card he a detective and he stay in the East Village, then?”

“He’s a detective, yes. Elliot Ness, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and Charlie Chan ain’t got nothin’ on him. You don’t need to stay in Harlem to be of Harlem. Do Nina Simone live in Harlem? Do Sammy Davis Jr.? Lena Horne? Sugar Ray Robinson?”

“Sugar Ray Robinson’s from Georgia,” said the Alabaman, sipping his beer.

“His ass is from Georgia, but his heart belongs to Harlem. You stay here a little while, ‘Bama, maybe you understand some day. Now where was I?”

“In Harlem. With a shovel,” said the Alabaman dryly.

The old man poured himself a cold one and nodded.

“Maybe his ancestor was St. Malo, or Gaspar Yanga, or Dutty Bookman, or maybe the blood of all of ‘em and more soaked so long and so deep in the earth that John Conquer sprouted up from it. But he come to us armed with love and laughter, the son of Voodoo Queens and two-headed Hoodoo doctors, so tall he gets his hair cut in Heaven and his shoes shined in Hell.”

“Hoodoo,” the Alabaman grumbled. “Ain’t no such thing as no hoodoo.”

The old man looked like he would spit his beer across the bar top.

“Ain’t no such….? ‘Bama, what do you know about it? They is Hoodoo, they is Voodoo, and they’s other things besides. Plat-Eyes and haints, demons and saints. And when the Devil hisself comes knockin’ at your door, boy, that’s when you call John Conquer. Ask Big Bob!” he said, pointing suddenly to a bespectacled figure huddled with a beer in the dim corner booth, who raised his hand at the sound of his name. “Big Bob was DJ at the Empire Roller Disco in Crown Heights the night John Conquer rexed with a fine ass big-tittied vampire out in the middle of the floor till the sun come up and she crumbled to dust in front of everybody. Ain’t that so, Big Bob?”

Big Bob nodded, unsmiling in the candlelight, and there were words of assent all around the bar.

“Shit, man!” The old man said, and spat on the floor. “I seen John Conquer kill a werewolf in the street right outside that door with the silver hood ornament on his brand new Cadillac.”

“Yup! I seen that too!” someone called out.

The old man’s blood was up now, and he testified like a preacher, the other denizens of the bar affirming like a congregation between each testimony.

 “And didn’t he kung fu Frankenstein off the marquee of the Apollo, and bust him to pieces with John Henry’s hammer? And didn’t he come out the Victoria showing of Cleopatra Jones with the actual Cleopatra on his arm? He went fishin’ at the Meer and hooked the Creature From The Black Lagoon and thew him back ‘cause he was too small! John Conquer beat the Devil at spades in front of St. Andrew’s church and then went up 125th with the ghosts of Malcolm X and Dr. King! He played ball with Dr. J in Rucker Park and he let him win! He put Superman in a full Nelson and made that honky buy him lunch at Sylvia’s!”

By now the bar was in a fit of laughter again, and the Alabaman was laughing along.

The dude in the oxblood coat had had enough, though. He got up, slapped down his money, and said;


“Say what, blood?” the old bartender said, sweeping his money off the bar.

“First off, that wasn’t no vampire that night at the Empire. Second, silver don’t do shit to werewolves,” he said, slapping his pack of Kools and sliding one out. “That’s just the movies.”

“How the hell you know that?”

“Cause I’m John Conquer,” he said, lighting another Kool as he went out the door, the bell jangling. “And if I had me a brand new Cadillac I wouldn’t be drinkin’ here, blood.”

Published in: on December 7, 2020 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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