Conquer Gets Crowned in Occult Detective Quarterly #3

Electric Pentacle has put out Occult Detective Quarterly #3 and with it, my character, cool 70’s blaxploitation occultist John Conquer returns, in Conquer Gets Crowned.

When a group of Harlem graffiti artists show up in Conquer’s office with a story about a monster prowling the subway tunnels where they practice their trade, Conquer is dubious, until one of the kids shows him a sketch of the thing in his notebook and he recognizes a mystic symbol emblazoned on its chest that no uninitiated kid with a spray can could possibly come up with on his own. Conquer hits the books and then hits the streets….time for Conquer to get crowned.

Here’s an excerpt, and the bee-you-tiful accompanying art from the talented Sebastian Cabrol.
conquergetscrowned

Somebody rapped on Conquer’s office door.

He groaned, kicked his shoes under the desk, and pulled his chair in. He wanted to tell whoever was outside to fuck off, but he couldn’t afford to turn anybody away or he wouldn’t be able to look at his pretty new receptionist for much longer. He’d already had to send her home for the day. The calls were just too few and far between.

“It’s open,” he muttered, hoping they didn’t hear him.

But they did.

He regretted answering at all at the first sight of the three ragged teenagers that shuffled in. Ripped jeans, hippy satchels, bomber jackets, black-smudged Converse. By the look of them, they had maybe a dime between them and they owed it to somebody. They smelled like they spent a lot of time in a garage, scooting under cars and inhaling car paint.

Two of them were young brothers, one big, black as a tire, hair in cornrows, the other tall and butter colored, so skinny his prodigious afro made him look like an oddball topiary.

The third was a heroin-scrawny, ludicrously smooth faced little white kid with dirty blonde angel curls and oversized blue eyes ready to melt at any minute. He was hugging himself like he’d just found out a pimp’s Cadillac had rolled over his puppy out on Lenox Avenue. His clothes and hair shrieked North Bronx.

“I gave to Helping Hand already this week, boys,” Conquer said, pushing back his chair again and relaxing a bit. “Shut the door behind you.”

“Yo,” said the tall one, who, Conquer noticed, was a bit cleaner and more Spanish than the other two, probably Puerto Rican, “is you the magic man?”

“Say what?”

“People say John Conquer the detective is a magic man. A doctor. Un brujo.”

Conquer lit a cigarette and looked down the length of it at the kid through a cloud of smoke.

“What people?”

“Mama Underwood. She said John Conquer takes care of a certain kinda trouble.”

“Yeah? What kind you got, kid?”

The Spanish kid turned to the white boy expectantly, but the kid just stared. That got to Conquer, that stare. He’d seen it in the eyes of kids in Quảng Ngãi Province in ’66. Kids who had seen shit they shouldn’t have.

The kid stepped gingerly past his friends, as if he was afraid Conquer would make a grab at him. He put a beat up notebook with a black cover on the desk, and his hand hovered over it.

Impatient, Conquer reached out and slid it closer, spinning it, flipping it open.

The notebook was full of that bubble letter rainbow squiggly shit that gave the Mayor and the pigs aneurysms and made every bus and train in the five boroughs a pastel-colored eyesore.

He paged through the nonsense quickly, disinterested.

“You want some free legal advice? Get rid of this thing. It’s incriminating –“

And then he cut himself off as he came to a startlingly weird picture. It was different than anything else in there, not stylized or colored with markers. This was done in pencil, various shades of gray. The kid had real talent, at least a future drawing those schlocky horror comics on the newsstand if he wanted it. The drawing was of a big-headed, long limbed thing ducking in the heavy shadows of a tunnel, cartoonishly big, black bug eyes shining out of the dark like a boogeyman. It gave him the creeps.

“That’s it!” exclaimed the Puerto Rican kid, stepping forward. “Yo, that’s the thing that killed Mad Bomber.”

“Who?”

“Our boy, Mike Bermudez, Mad Bomber. That’s what we called him.”

Mike Bermudez. That name sounded familiar.

“It got him in the One Tunnel,” said the black kid.

“What one tunnel?”

“Nah man, the One. On the 1 line? Between 137th and 145th? The station yard.”

The subway line. Then he remembered.

“That kid that got hit by a train a couple days ago?”

He had read about in the paper. These graffiti kids congregated in the underground train yards, where the city stored the cars overnight and off peak hours on the weekends, vandalizing the parked rolling stock in the dead of night. Apparently this Bermudez kid had slipped and fallen on the rail, knocked himself out, then got chewed up when the 1’s and 3’s rolled out for duty, before anybody noticed he was on the tracks.

“It wasn’t no train,” said the Puerto Rican kid, tapping the grotesque drawing in the graffiti book. “It was that. Baby Face seen it happen.”

Baby Face, obviously the quiet white boy. Mad Bomber.

“What are you all, some kinda gang?”

“Naw man, we don’t fuck with that shit,” said the dark one with the cornrows. “We All-city. NBA crew.”

He raised his eyebrows and glanced at their feet.

“Not with them shoes.”

“C’mon. We’re writers, man,” said the Puerto Rican. “We don’t flex, just bomb. That’s us,” he said, tapping one of the designs in the book, a jumble of letters incomprehensible to Conquer. “N-B-A. Notorious Bombs Away.”

“This is Rockwell 145, yo! W-A-R.” The dark one said, hyping his Puerto Rican friend, as though that should have made Conquer put his shoes back on. “And I sign Presto 125. They’re sellin’ our pieces at Franklin Furnace downtown, man. Sellin’ ‘em, you dig?”

“So what the hell does all that mean?” Conquer said, folding his hands.

“It means we can pay you, man,” said Rockwell, reaching into his school bag and taking out a brick of cash that made Conquer toe his shoes a little under the desk.

The kid set the brick down on the desk. It must have been a couple hundred bucks in small bills. It reeked of spray paint from the bag, but that would be the Freedom National Bank’s problem.

“What’s the job, kid?” said Conquer.

“Go down in the tunnel and get this motherfuckin’ thing that killed our friend.”

Conquer looked down at the book of doodling again, and took a good long look at the thing in question.  He was half-ready to write this off as some crazy ghetto bugaboo story when he saw the faint design etched on its naked chest. A circle with some harrowingly familiar characters. There was something in the middle of it, a jagged mark, like a wound.

He looked at Baby Face, who only stared at that picture.

“Baby Face,” he said, getting his attention with a snap of his fingers that made the poor kid flinch. He touched the mark in the center of the shadowy thing’s chest. “You really see this?”

“I seen it,” the kid said quietly, unable to keep the tremble out of his voice. “I really seen it. It come at us outta the dark. Picked up Mike like nothin’ and…”

“I mean this,” Conquer interrupted, tapping the symbol. “This right here. You saw this on its chest?”

Baby Face nodded.

“It had a cut in the middle even, like my uncle’s pacemaker scar.”

Conquer bit his lip and frowned. He looked at the others.

“You saw it too?”

Rockwell and Presto exchanged glances then shook their heads.

“It’s real, man!” Baby Face asserted.

“Yo, if Baby Face says it’s real, it’s real,” Rockwell said defiantly, but Presto pursed his lips and looked doubtful.

“Ease up, man, I believe you,” said Conquer. He stood up and slipped into his shoes.

The fact was, there was no way some kid from the Bronx could come up with an actual magic symbol like this outside of fucking around in Horrible Herman’s book shop on West 19th in Chelsea. Maybe not even there. If Baby Face’s drawing was accurate, this was weird, experimental shit; a mish mash of complex Abramelin ritual, obscure, dark necromancy, and Thai black magic he had seen on I&I in Bangkok during the war. It was like somebody was skimming from a pretty expansive black library, picking what they wanted from it, making something new and possibly way worse than any of its elements.

Sometimes he felt himself directed, put into the path of unrighteous things by old forces he couldn’t name but which expected him to correct them. Maybe old gods, maybe his busybody Dahomeyan ancestors. Maybe in this case it was just the old Hoodoo lady Mama Underwood, recognizing something beyond her understanding and pointing these kids in his direction.

Maybe.

But it wasn’t how he wanted to kick off his weekend.

Get Conquer and ODQ #3 right here and check out the mag’s other offerings from weird sleuthing  aficionados Brian M Sammons, Alice Loweecy, The Ever Lovin’ Willie Meikle and more.

https://www.amazon.com/Occult-Detective-Quarterly-Issue-3/dp/1979113343/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509638355&sr=8-1&keywords=occult+detective+quarterly&dpID=51kG8ErSOGL&preST=_SX218_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

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Published in: on November 2, 2017 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Conquer Comes Calling In Occult Detective Quarterly #2

I’m pleased to announce the appearance of my story Conquer Comes Calling in the latest issue of Occult Detective Quarterly.

You can pick it up here –


https://www.amazon.com/Occult-Detective-Quarterly-Electric-Pentacle/dp/1546562370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496273691&sr=8-1&keywords=occult+detective+quarterly

My late cousin got me into the electric Shaft movies from the 70’s, which was my gateway to top notch blaxploitation fare like Blacula, Truck Turner, Superfly, and The Mack.

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It also led to my collecting and enjoying the criminally forgotten series of novels by Ernest Tidyman. They’re notoriously hard to find, so seriously, if anyone has a line on Goodbye Mr. Shaft or The Last Shaft, let me know. They’re the only two I need.

Shaft.1

I’ve also got a long abiding, completely fannish love for Len Wein and Gene Colan’s Marvel Comics character Jericho Drumm AKA Brother Voodoo which I share with about two other people I personally know of. I was thrilled when Daniel Drumm showed up briefly in the Dr. Strange movie.

I think my affection for BV began in an issue of Werewolf By Night, and was cemented by his reappearance (while afflicted with zombie-ism) in Marc Spector’s Moon Knight in the late 80’s.  I’ve always liked the fighting scholar types, and the more obscure knowledge they commanded the better. For a white suburban kid in Illinois, there was nothing more obscure than Haitian Vodoun.

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My character John Conquer is a fusion of the two, a street smart Harlem PI steeped in Hoodoo and West African shamanism.

He’s the cool black cat the Man calls when the cases get too far out.

The NYPD pays a call on a fortune telling numbers banker, and they’re taken aback when they find a miniaturized corpse floating in a lava lamp.

Only one man to call….

Here’s an excerpt. This is isn’t the last you’ll see of John Conquer.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

“Hang up, Carmody. You’ll wake up my secretary,” said Conquer, pulling the metal door shut behind him.

Carmody couldn’t have been more surprised if his own gun had jumped from its holster and shot him.

“John!” Lazzeroni stammered.

Lazzeroni was the quintessential NPYD gumshoe with a donut sack belly and bloodhound eyes from too many stakeouts, his tobacco yellow teeth hid by a bushy mustache, the remainder of his hair regulated to the back of his head and crannies of his drooping body Conquer didn’t care to dwell on.

“Easy boys,” Conquer said. “You’re in Harlem, remember? You’re bound to see more of us.”

“How’d you know….?” Carmody began.

Conquer plucked his business card from the cop’s fingers.

“Don’t need you callin’ me at all hours and hangin’ up,” he said.

“What brings you here, John?” Lazzeroni said, eyeing him sideways. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood?”

That was why Lazzeroni had bars on his collar, whereas Carmody just had dandruff.

“Serendipity, man. That’s my business.”

Carmody snorted, making a show of being unimpressed.

“Go watch the stairs, Mike,” Lou said to Carmody.

Carmody scowled and replaced the receiver. He went to stand on the landing, slamming the heavy metal door behind him. He coughed a few times.

“I get the feeling he doesn’t like you,” Lazzeroni quipped.

“You could fill a phonebook with folks Carmody don’t like. All the area codes would be 706 or 762.”

“We got word this fortune teller was running a numbers bank for King Solomon,” Lazzeroni went on. “We were on our way to talk to him when dispatch calls in a 10-71 at this address. Now you show me yours.”

“Maybe later,” said Conquer. “What’s the story? You wouldn’t call me just to say hi.”

“Aw, don’t be needy. Receptionist said somebody charged in here as they were about to close. She heard ‘em arguing and called it in. Then she heard shooting, so she ran out. Locked the security door out of habit.”

Lazzeroni went to the inner door and opened it.

A single barred window illuminated the space beyond, and the hunched shadow of a cat hissed on the sill, arched its back, and scrambled somewhere into the shadows growling lowly.

Conquer followed Lazzeroni in and shut the door behind him.

This was apartment space converted to office, or vice versa. The living room had been done up in fake gypsy crap the kind of sucker who shelled out his welfare check to a cat like Genie Jones would expect to see; a cheap table draped in a cloth festooned with magically delicious stars and moons, astronomy charts on the walls, astrological signs. A sparkling red and green beaded curtain led to where the all-knowing Genie kicked up his slippers after hours to watch Charlie’s Angels or roll a joint on the toilet, by the skunky scent just beneath the odor of patchouli smoldering in the ceramic Hotei Buddha incense burner, probably lifted from the counter of some Chinese restaurant.

It was a mess. The chairs were overturned, and the requisite crystal ball lay on the floor, cracked. Tarot cards were strewn everywhere, like somebody had busted up the world’s strangest poker game.

“So who caught a bullet?”

“Nobody, so far as I can tell,” said Lazzeroni.

“No stiff?”

Lazzeroni reached over and took a trilby that matched his raincoat off a lava lamp on a table next to the door and set it on his balding head. Why was it there?

“I didn’t say that.”

He snapped the light on, and the dim room was bathed in slow moving red amoebas that slid across the walls and ceiling like oversized blood cells out of Fantastic Voyage.  Projected on the walls, suspended among the amorphous red blots, floated the ghostly black silhouette of a man.

Conquer looked from the walls to the lamp itself. Bobbing in the glowing cylinder of the lamp like a buoy among the islands of molten wax was a tiny naked body. Some kind of fetish? He didn’t think so.

“I saw it before Mike did,” said Lazzeroni.

Conquer found the light switch on the wall, but nothing came on. He took a mini TeknaLite from his pocket and shined the thin beam up, saw broken glass and bullet holes.

“Found your shooting victim, Lou,” he said, then turned back to the lamp.

“Be serious, man. Is that real?”

Conquer pulled the plug on the lava lamp. The red blobs and the black ghost vanished.

“Give me something to hold this with. These things get hot.”

Lazzeroni gave him a pocket handkerchief. Conquer grimaced. With all the coughing he and Carmody were doing, he didn’t want to catch anything going around the stationhouse. Still, he carefully lifted the top. The bottlecap opening had been popped off and the miniscule figure had apparently been stuffed down through the opening. One of the elbows was bent the wrong way.

“How do we get it out?”

Conquer turned and dropped the lamp on the floor. It smashed.

“Jesus,” said Lazzeroni, flinching back as the wax splattered the shag throw rug and wood floor.

Conquer hunkered down, directing the light at the swollen little figure lying amid the wreckage.

The boiled flesh bubbled with blisters, the poached eyes bulged from the balloon face. If it was a model, it was a ghastly masterwork.

He took the spindly little arm between his two fingers. It was warm from the lamp. Gently squeezing, he felt the little toothpick bones grinding beneath the loose skin. It was like handling a broken chicken wing.

“It’s real,” he muttered, and took his penknife from his coat.