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.

truck-turner-poster1

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.

werewolf-by-a5c774120

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.

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Philopatry Appearing In Flesh Like Smoke from April Moon Books

April Moon Books’ latest anthology Flesh Like Smoke is out now.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0993718043/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_d0ZLvb1QTWDK9

wolfmanWerewolves are probably my favorite classic monster. I’ve been enthralled by them since Lon Chaney Jr’s two memorable turns as ‘the Wolfman.’ I was also a tremendous fan of Fox’s Werewolf TV series, especially Chuck Connors’ turn as Janos Skorzeny, a salty old one-eyed shapechanging sea captain who made the main character’s life a living hell.

Werewolf_by_Night_Vol_1_4In my middle school years of (appropriately?) middling grades my parents picked up a near complete run of Marvel Comics’ Werewolf By Night at a flea market and used the single issues as a kind of incentive to get me to do my homework. I eventually earned them all, so I guess it worked, but I’ve probably retained more about Jack and Lissa Russell, Topaz, and their best friend Buck and the Darkhold than I ever did about math or science.

When Neil Baker put out the call for a shapeshifter anthology, I whipped up Philopatry, a tale of a South Boston Irish priest who calls on a notorious hitman and ex-altar boy to take out a vicious serial murderer plaguing the neighborhood. The bare bones of this story originated way back in high school, when I wrote and lost a story called The Hit with a similar premise, though set in my native Chicago.

Yuhanna-MercuriusThe story draws inspiration from the hagiography of St. Philopater Mercurius, a Roman soldier who fought the Berbers under Emperor Decius. When Decius saw the numbers of the Berbers, he was afraid, but Mercurius prayed to God and saw a vision of the Archangel Michael bearing a sword, which he then gave to the saint. Mercurius wielded the sword to great affect and routed the Berbers utterly.

It also refers to the ancient Greek writings of the Cynocephalae, the Dog Heads, and proposes that what Michael gave to Mercurius was not a literal ‘sword’ at all.

It’s also a return of sorts to the Gate Of Heaven parish, which featured in my last published story, Thy Just Punishments, in Ragnarok’s That Hoodoo, Voodoo, That You Do.

Here’s an excerpt….

Outside it was still cold but the rain was dying off. The cars swished through the leavings and the gutters gurgled as they sucked the streets down to a tolerable level.

Their breath puffed out like fog as they talked.

“What do you know about the murders at Gate of Heaven last week?” Father Mike asked.

Terry had seen it on the news. A pair of teenaged girls had been found in the alley behind the church on East Fourth Street. The dee-techs were out all over asking questions. You could tell them from the real people by their cheap shoes and neat hair. They looked like wannabe FBI. A little too eager, or a little too old. Kid table feds. Anyway nobody knew enough to tell them.

“Couple of hoodies out after dark,” said Terry. “News said they got done same as that gook kid over on Washington two weeks ago.”

“Do you know what happened to that boy?”

“Somethin’ bad I heard. O’Malley says some sicko cut him up. I don’t know the particulars.”

They stopped at the traffic light, watching a Honda full of drunk townies swerve into the turn. A beer can rattled and spun in the gutter.

“He was torn to pieces, Terry,” said Father Mike, his lips trembling, and not just with the cold. “Like a piece of tissue paper somebody wiped their ass with. His liver and his heart were torn out. They were eaten.”

“Fuck,” said Terry, appreciatively.

Father Mike turned to him as the light changed, splashing his skin red as the Devil’s.

“And I know who the skid is that’s doin’ it, Terry. I know!”

Father Mike looked ready to blow his top. His fists came out of his pockets shaking. One gripped a little brown pill bottle, which he rattled and wrestled with for a minute before Terry reached over.

“Here lemme get that, Fadder.”

Elderly woman opening bottle of cholesterol pills medicationHe twisted the child proof cap. It was a bitch, even for him, let alone an old guy with failing bones in the cold and a weight like he had bearing down on him. He handed it back.

Father Mike turned the bottle over and shook a pill into his quivering palm. He slapped his hand to his mouth.

“What’s that, for your blood pressure, or something?”

“Yeah,” said Father Mike. “I gotta get out of this cold.”

They double timed it up the block to Dunkie’s. Terry sprang for a pair of regulars and skipped the honey dip, but got a box of munchkins for home. He didn’t think he’d have the appetite for it, but who knew what he’d feel like tomorrow.

They took a quiet corner booth and sat holding the coffees between their hands, feeling the warmth radiate. It was bright white in there, like a hospital.

“You zooin’ on me about this, Fadder?”

“God’s honest truth,” Father Mike replied, staring into his coffee but not drinking.

“How you figure you know who the nutjob is doin’ this?”

13_12_20_confessionalThe old man’s eyes flitted up, the steam ascending from the bottom of his face, dissipating in his white hair, a wispy mask of fog.

“The bastard told me as much in the confessional this past Saturday. He told me everything. How he follows them, stalks them, like an animal. What he….does to them.”

He made a rapid sign of the cross, put the hot coffee to his lips. He winced, but kept drinking.

Terry leaned back in his chair.

“Ain’t it a sin for you to be tellin’ me this? I mean, ain’t you got some kinda confidentiality rule about the booth? Like a lawyer?”

“Don’t you think it’s a sin to just let it to go on?” he said, putting the half empty cup down.

“So don’t I,” Terry said, nodding, rubbing his eyes. “So don’t I.”

“Terry,” whispered Father Mike, leaning across the table. “I was told….I asked around. And I was told that you….that you’re….”

Terry gave him a stony look and held up his hand.

Everybody knew Terry Dunne around the parish.

They knew about the shootout in Mattapan back in the 90’s, where four trigger happy micks who’d robbed an armored car and killed the guards under the nose of the Winter Hill outfit had been left bleeding in the gutters and how Terry Dunne started driving a Lincoln after that. Everybody knew who put the body of the wiseguy in the shipping container at Conley’s yard; the one that rotted in there all summer, froze, and blew up in the spring, so the cops had to pour what was left through a colander to find the bullet.

southbayThey knew how Pat Lonnigan, who’d stuck up a Cumbie’s just to get pinched so he wouldn’t have to pay all the horse money he owed Mickey O’Callahan, had somehow rolled out of the top bunk in the cell he shared with Terry at South Bay and busted his head wide open on the floor in the middle of the night. Everybody knew about the Jamaican nurse that had moved into Terry’s ma’s place that week and took care of her till they carried her out.

“If you’re gonna preach to me now….”

“I wouldn’t Terry,” Father Mike said. “Bless you, I wouldn’t. But somebody’s got to put a stop to this.”

Terry shifted in his seat.

fleshlikesmoke

Art by Neil Smith

Art by Neil Smith

My Love For Comics Has A Giant Sized Origin

I’m a comic book fan from waayyy back. I can trace my interest in funnybooks directly back to four big oversized comic books my parents bought for me back in the day. This was a couple years before I could read, so I used to make up the story and dialogue as I followed along with the pictures, running to grab an adult when something particularly interesting to me came up and I just HAD to know what was going on.

Marvel Treasury Edition #18

Marvel Treasury Edition #18 featured Werewolf By Night, whose standalone series is the only complete run I’ve ever hunted down and purchased. There was also an Iron Fist story about a guy who was born old and aged backwards, the X-Men (out of costume, so I had no idea who they were) and Morbius the Living Vampire, and a Ghost Rider story with a bad guy cyclist called The Orb, who wore a big blue eyeball motorcycle helmet for a very good reason. He had ditched his bike during a race and crossed the finish line ON HIS FACE. Leaving me with this indelible image (I think I might’ve been four)…

The Orb Unmasked

Gah! No wonder my interests went the way they did. I covered my eyes through the climactic unmasking in Return of The Jedi because I imagined Vader would look much like The Orb….but Anakin had nothing on him.

Marvel Treasury Edition #25  – Spider-Man vs. The Hulk at The Winter Olympics. I remember The Mole Man created a machine to lift the Olympic village out of reach. Peter Parker was there covering the games. I don’t remember why the Hulk was there. I think the Mole Man’s guys competed against the Olympians for some reason, and I don’t remember if they were actual real life Olympians. All I remember about this is there was a lady with a bubble head space helmet which got cracked and made her rapidly age. The Mole Man carried her off and The Hulk pounded the village back to ground level with his fists.

Sweet

Hulk, MODOK and The Harpy

Marvel Treasury Edition #26: The Rampaging Hulk. My impressions of this one as a kid are hard to put to words as an adult. I remember being fascinated and repelled by MODOK, the leader of AIM. The guy is just a huge head and face with relatively spindly mechanical arms. Freakish. There was also The Harpy, who was a hot chick (apparently Betty Ross) that seemed to have the same problem as The Hulk, except she turned into a green skinned half bird woman, which again, freaked me out (and yet was also titillating, because her clothes tore off).

What is it with me and green chicks? Later there was the Orion girl, She-Hulk, and Oola, but first there was Harpy...

The thing I remember clearest though was the little story in the back which featured Hercules getting into a barfight with a trucker looking guy with nails that came out of his fists. I think the fight started over Hercules hording all the chicks in the place. At the end, their tremendous fight cleared out the bar. I had no idea who Wolverine was till years and years later. This story confused the heck out of me as a kid because I thought the trucker guy was a bad guy and couldn’t figure out why they got along in the end.

It also introduced me to the term ‘skirts’ as a word for women.

Finally, there was the magnum opus of my collection, which I wish to God I could find. Thankfully DC put this one out again recently in a nifty hardcover edition which my lovely wife got me for Christmas.

Oh yeah.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

It’s as awesome as it sounds and not nearly as bad. The Neil Adams art is great, the story line killer. An alien fleet appears in orbit and demands to fight Earth’s greatest champion over the fate of the planet. Superman steps up to the challenge, but Muhammad Ali argues that as a native earthling, HE’S Earth’s greatest champion.

They decide to settle it with an exhibition bout, battling it out under a simulated red sun. Ali OWNS Supes, apparently putting him in traction.

Ali goes toe to toe with the massive alien boxer, but sensing the alien commander’s duplicitous nature, Ali and Superman had previously formed a plan. Bundini Brown (Ali’s real life cornerman) is in reality Superman in disguise. He goes off to cripple the alien fleet while Ali takes a pounding in the ring. What happens next is best left to the actual panels…I think by the time I got a hold of this one I could read a little bit, so imagine a six or seven year old little white kid speaking Ali’s dialogue in his best Mr. T voice.

BAD-ASS

Meanwhile, don’t think Superman has been slouching all this time either….

SEE ABOVE

And the real kicker at the end, which was a stipulation Muhammad Ali demanded before he allowed DC to use his likeness…

Haw! Yeah, Ali figures out in a single issue what it took decades for Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to learn. That’s why he’s the greatest, I guess.

Anyway, in retrospect, these four comics likely informed my own storytelling for years to come. I’ve always been attracted to old fashioned stories transplanted or retold with weird concepts.

Jack Russell’s (AKA Werewolf By Night – yeah, like the terrier) appearance in #18 probably went a long way towards fostering my love for werewolves, which I expounded on in my pirate horror novella Red Sails.

Bizarre, oddly sympathetic villains like The Mole Man, MODOK, and The Orb have always appealed to me. My first encounter with martial arts was probably the Iron Fist story in #18.

My professional Star Wars story was a boxing tale, and part of the Chevin cornerman’s name, Eedund Cus, was just Dundee (ie Ali cornerman Angelo Dundee) backwards.  My appreciation for Muhammad Ali no doubt sprang from reading his exploits with Superman at a young age.

Of course, my tastes changed over the years. In the 80’s, like most kids, I was reading The Punisher (but enjoying DC’s illicit modern day continuation of The Shadow with Howard Chaykin, Bill Scienkiewicz and Kyle Baker more) X-Men, and Wolverine, with an early stint through Marvel’s fantastic GI Joe and Transformers comics. That was probably the peak of my collecting days, when I built up my boxes, finding little gem titles I continue to return to every so often like Milk and Cheese, Groo The Wanderer, Hellboy, and Marshall Law. Then came The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and all the heavy stuff that followed.  I don’t pick up monthlies anymore, relying mainly on word of mouth and wikipedia to keep up with what’s going on there. I still go to Comic Con every year, pick up the occasional funnybook or trade paperback.

But I look back on these (and probably a giant sized Shazam/Captain Marvel edition I can’t even begin to remember enough to seek out) early, slightly goofy but genuinely great books as the beginning of my comics education. I lost them all a long time ago. Read them so many times the covers disappeared followed by the title splash pages, and finally the whole shebang.

Think I know what I’ll shop for at Comic Con this year.