Mystery of the Blood Devils — Chapter Two — The Ruined Theater

Greetings, Paradegoers, this is the Grand Marshal here. Glad to see you’re back for more pulse-pounding adventures of the MERCURY MEN, a society of heroes out to bring light into a dark world. This is the second chapter of our story by John Simcoe. What you haven’t read the first? Well, check it out!

Mystery of the Blood Devils

Chapter Two – The Ruined Theater

A Mercury Society Yarn

By JOHN SIMCOE

Now I bet yer wondering,“If ole Mack wasn’t out there in the theater lobby, how’d he know all that was going on out there?”
Well, that does bear some explainin’.

You see, I’m a member of the Lawful Order of Mercury’s Lightbearers, a society that through auntie-que-ity, has gathered the world’s greatest men and women to fight against evil and injustice. We don’t even really call ourselves the Lawful Order of Mercury’s Lightbearers — that’s just on the letterhead. In everyday talk, we try an’ make it simple for regular folks. They call us the Mercury Men.… Yeah, I agree with ya, I wouldn’t consider myself one of the world’s greatest men. Just lookit me. I’m a big ole dope with cauliflower ears, tattoos and a mug so ugly the barmaids get in fistfights to take another table.

Compared to some of the other Joes in the society, I might as well be a first-grade dropout. An’ just to set the record straight – I made it to sixth before I sneaked aboard that steamer headed for Auckland.

Anyway, bein’ in the Mercury Men ain’t just about being smart. Just look at Monk. He’s a member, and he’s just a dumb monkey.

Naw, he ain’t gonna get mad at me for saying that. He don’t understand English all that well. Come to think of it, I don’t speak it so good m’self. He’s good with a few words and ideas, but after that, he don’t care if you call him smart, dumb or purple as a plum.

So, yeah, Monk’s in it and so am I.

I got in after I helped Air Ace when he was on a mission to the Bon-Heegi Atoll. He was there tracking down a treasure chest full of platinum. It had been buried there about 50 years ago, and I helped him figger that out because I have a way of getting information outta people.

Naw, I don’t mean that I slug ‘em or pull their fingernails out until they talk. It’s just that sometimes I can see what happened like it was playing out on a stage right in front of me.

They told me it was called post-ignition or something like that.

… No, that ain’t right. Ignition is how you start your car. It’s some dumb word that nobody uses unless your one-a them Swammies who hold seances. Anyway, I’ll try and remember to ask the hypnotist guy in the Mercury Men. He’s always bugging me to help him on stuff, so he owes me.

So, since I can see what happened in the past, I can sometimes help out.

Little Monk was once owned by a snake chamer.

It was a mission to Madagascar where we first ran into Monk. He wasn’t even in the jungle. He was the pet of a snake-charmer who also wanted to be a giant-monkey charmer. He figured the best way to do that was to use Monk in his little scheme.

Well, that didn’t turn out so well for him. I was able to convince Monk that I was gonna be his buddy, not someone who was gonna lock him up until showtime. It costs me a lotta bananas and kiwis, but he’s stuck with me.

Now it’s not that I can’t handle myself in a brawl – I can guarantee I’d be able to lick a page-turner like you – but Monk sure has saved my butt more’n once. He’s real good in a fight. People just aren’t used to seeing a monkey do what he can do.
Now just to show you how my power works, I already knew Andy Michaels’ name once I got down the stairwell in the theater. It just came to me outta the blue.

Some people are like that. I walk close enough to ‘em and their life is like an open book. I know all there is to know in just a few seconds. I guess those are the people that ain’t got nothing to hide. Those people are what they say they are.

Other folks, bad guys especially, have all sortsa corkscrews and knots in their thinkin’, so I can’t see much about them. Their visible past – the part I get to see — is only just a few minutes back or it’s all scattered. I can see the main details – like the little bit of info on a driver’s card – but the rest just leads to cloudy black spots.

The more I get to know them, the more spots I can peel away, but it takes a long time.

But someone like Andy? He’s an honest fella. Watch, I’ll prove it:

“Hey, Andy, where ya from? You said you came inta town for a baseball tryout.”

He’ll say he’s from Mount Wolf, Pennsylvania. His team is the Wolves, and a scout spotted him when they was playing next to the train depot.

“Yeah, I got here yesterday morning from Mount Wolf. The scout got stuck in town one afternoon on his way into Lancaster and watched us during practice. He bought me a ticket and told me to come up for a few practices here. He said the coach would probably like me a lot.”

“Mount Wolf? That’s in Pennsylvania, right?”

“You’ve heard of Mount Wolf?”

“Yeah, here and there.”

Now watch this. His pop works at the local factory where they make screens for doors. And his mom, she cooks up a real good shepherd’s pie most every Wednesday night.

“I bet it’s a big change from Mount Wolf to here. Your parents must be scared outta their wits for ya.”

“Aw, heck no. I been to Harrisburg and Philadelphia before. They ain’t much different than here.”

“What are you gonna do if this don’t work out with the Giants?”

“Just go back home, I guess. Dad says he can get me a job on the line with him.”

“The line?” Apologies. Sometimes it takes a little to guide the conversation.

“Yeah, that’s where you probably heard of Mount Wolf! You ever hear of Mount Wolf Wire? That’s where Dad works.”

“Mount Wolf Wire?”

Yeah, they make ‘wire fabric’ — the kind of stuff you use to make a screen door. They ship it all over the place. There’s probably a million screen doors in New York City that were made in my little town.”

“I bet you’re missing mom’s home cooking though. Out here, you spend every penny on hash. Nothing like sitting down at the table to a hot plate o’ –”

“Shepherd’s pie. My momma makes the best shepherd’s pie. If you’re ever in Mount Wolf, you look me up and I’ll have her make some up for us.”

“You can bet I will,” I say with a smile. Yeah, like I said, it just comes to me.

+++

We had all the time in the world for that conversation because I didn’t know there was any crime scene in the room next door. I figured the big clunker of a robot was all the Alliance had sent out for this doctor fella. I also figured he either wasn’t at the theater in the first place or had high-tailed it at the first sign of trouble. There was no sense chasing after phantoms.

Instead, the first thing I did when all the dust settled was call the Mercury Men headquarters.

You can do it yourself if you want to. We’re always ready to help. Just call your operator and tell her to ring up 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1. That’s 15 ones if you don’t want to count. She’ll tell you there’s no such number. You just go ahead and tell her to plug it in anyway.

It eventually patches into our headquarters here in New York, and we’ll see what we can do for ya — but only use it in emergencies, not if your kitty’s stuck in a tree.

Anyway, I dialed up HQ and they patched me through to Ten, and he promised to get there right away. Now no matter what you do, going 40 blocks in NYC ain’t something you do “right away,” so I chatted up Andy while the police was looking around too.

They were on the scene just a minute or two after Andy socked the robot, which helped us keep gawkers away. The only problem is the police are just as bad about gawkin’ sometimes – and it ain’t every day you get a big old robot showing up on your beat.

One of the flatfoots kicked through the mess, a pad of paper in his hand.

“Say, did you guys see all this? What happened here?” the cop asked.

“King Kong” is a movie about a big, dumb gorilla. I’m glad Monk never seen it.

“That big metal knight pushed in the wall and tore the place up,” I said as I dug through my trouser pocket.

“A big metal knight? C’mon. This ain’t ‘King Kong’ you was watching,” the cop said. “Was this a bomb? Did the furnace explode? What’s all this junk here?” He pointed to the heap.

I fished in my pocket a little more until I pulled my gold card out and showed it to the cop. I always lose that thing. I need more pockets. All the stuff for Monk. Just not enough room, I tell ya.

The cop took the card and mouthed the words to himself:

LAWFUL ORDER OF MERCURY’S LIGHTBEARERS

Seamus MacCarrol

United States

Member No. 442

And it had our emblem on it. The same emblem you’ll see on a dime, by the way.

“You?” the cop said and then got even more suspicious. “You got some more ID? Where’d you get this?” he added with furrowed brow.

“Ah, blow it, buddy,” I snapped. “The Mercury Men ain’t all eggheads and millionaires. I’m just a working stiff like you.”

The cop scratched his neck with his pencil and stepped back a pace, trying to size up the pile of junk before him. He eyed me again and continued. “A knight? Like King Arthur? Kinda big to be riding a horse isn’t it? Where’s the guy inside the armor then?”

“There wasn’t a person inside. It’s a machine that looked like a person. Just ask the kid here.”

“Yeah, it was a robot. Like in that movie,” Andy chimed in.

“What movie? ‘King Kong?’” the cop asked. I was beginnin’ to think that he’s only ever seen one movie.

“No, the one with the robot lady, only she wasn’t a person, she was a machine shaped like a person.” He paused. “It was a silent one. ‘Annapolis’ or something like that.”

“’Annapolis?’ Are you kidding me?”

“Metropolis” is some movie about a robot. Andy’s seen it, but not me. I only like detective flicks.

Andy was still thinking, not even looking at the guy. “No, it’s not that. ‘Metropolis?’ Yeah, that’s it.”

“Lissen, that don’t matter,” I jumped back in.

This knight – this heap right here – it came bustin’ in the wall. It ain’t no blowed-up furnace. Look, there’s its hand.”

I kicked at its big spiked paw.

“It started sayin’ it wanted some professor. ‘Dr. Emil Freidrich,’ it said.”

“.. And …” I waited to make sure the cop was writing it down, “… it said that it was part of the Anathema Alliance!”

“Oh, geez,” he said, underlining “Anathema Alliance” twice.

“But before it got any further, the kid whacked it. Now we got The Detective on his way.”

“Ten?” the cop asked with a smile. “Ten’s coming here?”

“He’ll be able to figure it out.”

“Do you think he’ll use his belt?” the cop said, his eyes widening.

“If another one of them robots shows up, he just might.”

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Mystery of the Blood Devils — Chapter One — The Scientist’s Secret

Greetings, Oaradegoers, this is the Grand Marshal here. Welcome to our first foray into the unknown. I want to introduce you to the MERCURY MEN, a society of heroes out to bring light into a dark world. Their first tale is by John Simcoe and called “Mystery of the Blood Devils,” and we hope the first chapter makes your heart pound!


MYSTERY OF THE BLOOD DEVILS

Chapter One – The Scientist’s Secret

A Mercury Society Yarn

By JOHN SIMCOE

She was so close to kissin’ him. Or maybe she was gonna slug him. I ain’t exactly sure.

All I know is that this was some good popcorn entertainment.
It was one of those detective stories – you know – the kind that really gets you going.
The dick and a dame was getting into a bit of an argument. You could tell she liked him, but she just wasn’t admittin’ it to herself.

You know the way girls always are in movies – all bluster and spitfire – and you know the detective was gettin’ steamed.

Of course, my ever-present companion, Monk, wasn’t the least bit interested in the flick. Instead, he spent most of his time sucking up moldy popcorn from the floor and chittering whenever the music got loud.

He never bothered me when he did that stuff, but he did manage to clear out three rows in every direction. People never knew what to think of a monkey, even in New York City.
Well, like I said – the movie was getting pretty good. He was just about ta put her in her place — and then it all went to pieces.

Not the movie, but the whole dang movie house.

I heard a couple of thumps outside. They musta been big fer me to hear it in there. And after the third, the whole place shook and a hiss of dust came rainin’ down on us. A mist of dirt and mortar cascaded from the ceiling and made the whole picture get all cloudy.

I don’t think anyone else noticed the thumps outside, but once specks of the ceiling started landing in people’s popcorn then they got all stirred up.

At first it was just a murmur of annoyance — stuff in their hair, grit falling into their candy.
And then there was another thump and it was followed by a long groan from inside the guts of the theater. It wasn’t a person groaning … it was the building. The wall was buckling and splitting. A few drapes popped their tacks and spilled to the floor.

Then the wall behind spat out a brick or two.

By that time, the murmur had melted into panic.

That’s me, your everlovin’ narrator!

“The wall!” a guy howled, and the girls – maybe some men too – started to scream.

Me and Monk were up in the balcony as people started to bolt for the door. As the first group of them burst through the door, the wall gave inta the pull against gravity. It thundered down with debris and ruin, and that was enough to get everyone else on their feet – me included.

You woulda thought it was an earthquake, but we was in Brooklyn, not San Francisco.
“Maybe we’re getting shelled?” I thought as another “thump!” from outside shook the building. When another came, I wondered if wasn’t such a crazy idea.

Monk gave a nervous chitter and dove underneath my seat. Something bad was coming – he knew it.

Another rumble shook the theater, and bricks, dust and wood came down like a gypsy rain. The insides – barely lighted from the dying flickers of the detective flying through the streets in a car chase — went from murky to light as the sun beamed in through a hole in the wall the size of a milk truck.

From where I was sittin’ on the balcony, I saw … well … I couldn’t believe it.

Loomin’ on the other side of the hole was the silhouette of a man – and he was tall as the theater itself. Squintin’ I could see he had a suit’a armor on or something. Maybe not a man at all, but man-shaped, I reassessed, ‘cause I could hear the sound of gears rolling and electricity buzzing. It was a giant-size mechanical knight, I decided and as if it had been waiting for me to finally sort things out, it smashed at the wall again with its spiked glove.

By this time, the flick had gone off track. All that was left of the Bogie wannabe was brown, wigglin’ smudge on the silver screen – and even that was havin’ trouble staying hooked to the wall.

Just about everybody had panicked and made for the doors in back. The ones left were running out like jack rabbits with some 12-gauge shot in their behinds. About the only thing left I could see were the picture and abandoned boxes of popcorn.

Well, except me and Monk — And there was also this kid. Blond hair. Just outta high school, I’d bet, and wearing a grubby ball cap. He sat to one side on the bottom level. It kinda looked like he was determined to finish his popcorn.

What was that kid thinkin’? He needed to get out of there.

Before I could yell a warning, the mechanical man, it was probably 18 feet tall, tugged at some more wall, and shoved it aside with some cracks of wood. It reached across the seats with a galvanized fist as big as I was. I heard a click and then a crackly whine as a loudspeaker came to power.

“Dr. Emil Freidrich!” the mechanical man said. “You are hereby ordered to surrender under the authority of the Anathema Alliance.”

My fists tightened with that. Those Alliance bums again.

“What are they up to this time, Monk?” I whispered as I tried to remember anything about them using giant knights.

Monk immediately sensed my anger, squeaked and grabbed at my trouser pockets.
“Not yet, li’l pal.” I said, patting him on the head. “We gotta get outta here ‘fore the whole place comes down. I’ll give you a banana later, how’s about that?”

The machine-man wasn’t waitin’ for me and the monkey, though. It was halfway inside and digging its hands into the aisles. It wanted something – hoped they left something behind, I guess.

It tore up a row of seats and tossed it away like a Coke bottle. It snatched another, studied it for a second and threw it aside too.

The speaker crackled to life again. “Freidrich! Present yourself now. Don’t make us hurt anyone.”

+++

Now I didn’t know this until later, but out in the lobby, Dr. Emil Freidrich, a chemistry and life sciences professor at New York University — and the very person the mechanical knight was looking for – along with a dozen other moviegoers were making a run for the front exit just past the box office.

Freidrich didn’t have any popcorn. No soda either. He was just clutching a briefcase in one hand and his hat in the other. He was nearly through the door when a woman stopped him.

That’s Brandish. She’s part viper, part tiger.

She had skin the color of an old pear and hair as dark as raven’s eye.

“You!” she said, clawing his forearm. “You’re him aren’t you? Dr. Freidrich?”

She pulled a small paper-clipped photo from her coat pocket. “This is you, right?”

“Uh …” he started and met her eyes. She relaxed him with a tiny, almost friendly smile. “Yes, I’m … uh … me.”

“Good. The name’s Brandish. You’re coming with me!”

+++

Back inside, the giant picked up two stragglers who hadn’t got away – pulling them right out from under the balcony, it studied them and hurled them against the wall with a muffled popping of bones.

“That’s enough!” I said. “Monk? You ready?”

Monk sprang ahead of me, clapping his hands. His tail bobbed and went into a curl. He froze with eagerness as I dug into my pocket.

I studied the monster for a second more.

“He’s a big one … Better take two,” I said finally fishing out the medicine bottle.
I dumped out a handful of pills and plucked two from the pile.

“Catch!”

Monk made a darting leap to the top of a seat, jumped from there and snatched the pills in a mid-air twist.

Just as he was about to send ‘em down the hatch, something amazing unrolled before me.

It was the kid – the one with the grubby old ball cap. He got up and walked over to the mechanical man.

I grabbed Monk’s furry little hand and cupped it closed and watched. I was sure the kid was gonna get slaughtered.

Monk didn’t like that I stopped him and let out a blistering growl. He was gonna make more of a fuss until he turned his head and saw what I was seeing: The kid broke into a charge. He was going after the mechanical knight with his baseball bat.

He wound up and swung at the knight’s barrel-sized shin. The bat connected and set off a blast like a stick of TNT.

With that one hit, the knight buckled.

It rocked a little, then teetered some, and finally collapsed headfirst into the first six rows.

“Whoa, Monk!” I said, coaxing the little guy back to my shoulder “Looks like we can save it for later. Didja see that?”

Monk grunted his disapproval.

Andy Michaels

The kid with the thunderin’ bat.

“Here, here,” I said, and he dropped the pills back into my hand. “Remember, there’s a banana out there with your name on it.”

I flashed down the stairs.

“Hey, slugger!” I called from the staircase and began to snake through the debris.

The kid looked up at me with a frown.

“He ruined the picture!” he said, thumbing at the screen.

His gaze turned down to the beast as it spat out its last few sparks of life. “What is that, anyway?”

“I dunno. The loudspeaker said something about the Anathema Alliance. They’re bad news.”

“Yeah, I read about them all the time in the paper. Just as bad as the Nazis, if you ask me.”
I laughed. “Just as bad? They’re actually best buds. The Alliance works for them, the Japs and anyone else who’ll pay them.”

I reached out my hand. “The name’s Mackerel. The furry guy here is Monk.”

“Monk and Mackerel?” the kid exclaimed. “I should have known! I’ve seen you in the the newsreels! I even got a few of your magazines!”

He delivered a puzzling look at Monk. “Boy, I sure thought your monkey-friend was supposed to be bigger.”

I gave out another chuckle. “Well, he’s big in spirit,” I said, yankin’ on Monk’s tail.
Monk gave out an angry squeak and clambered out of my reach.

“What’s yer name?”

“Andy. Andy Michaels. I’m in town trying out for the Giants,” he said. He bobbed his hat down and pointed to the team emblem. “Those Giants — not the metal monster version.”

I rapped on the thing’s inert metal foot.

“What do you suppose this is?” I asked, noticin’ the tight seams and rivet job on its outer casing.

“It’s a robot I guess,” he said. “I read about them in the story magazines all the time. The stories say they come from outer space … or a mad scientist makes them.”

“Well, whatever. You really creamed it with your bat there!”

“I call her Mighty Lightning. She comes through for me, I’ll say,” Michaels said, admiring the bat.

It looked regular enough. A nice sheen. Good grain. As he spun it around, a single darkened grain came into view and he pointed to it.

“That’s her secret. She was made from a tree that got blasted by lighting. I guess it supercharged the wood.”

He pointed back to the robot. “I’ve been able to do stuff like that ever since I made her in dad’s wood shop.”

“A magic bat? Sure, I’ll buy it.” I smiled. “I’ve seen enough crazy things to last a lifetime.”

“Say… What do you suppose that robot wanted with ‘Dr. Friedrich’? And who is that anyway?” Michaels looked around, as if he hoped the Doc would just show up.

“I dunno,” I said scratching my head. “I guess the folks at the society might know of him.”

“The society?” Michaels said with a grin. “You mean the Mercury Society?”

+++

While we yammered on about that, Brandish was busy just a dozen yards away.

Now in case you never hearda her, she’s bad news — one of the Anathema Alliance’s elite operatives. Normally, she works as an assassin. Being an expert in guns, poison and all forms of sneakery, that’s a perfect job for her. But today, she had a different mission:
Snatch Dr. Emil Freidrich and all his research and return him to Thule, the home base of the alliance.

“I said move it, Doctor,” she coolly demanded. “You’re coming with me.”

The doctor pushed his glasses up and dropped his hat on his head in one motion. “I hardly think you should be ordering me anywhere,” he said boldly.

From her purse, she pulled a black steel automatic. “I hardly think you should be refusing,” she replied.

He pulled his briefcase up to his chest defensively.

“Oh, I know better than to fill that or your head with holes.” Brandish said. “I’ll be aiming for your knees first. It doesn’t matter to us if you can’t walk.”

She prodded him forward with a point of her pistol. “Out the door!”

She gun lowered to aim at his legs when he failed to muster a response. “You can walk out on your own, or I can drag you. Your choice.”

“I don’t like either!” he managed with a surge of bravery as he swung his briefcase in an arc toward Brandish. It smashed into her hand, but she was professional enough to keep a hold of her piece. She even managed to avoid setting off a shot.

“You little flea!” she hissed, and bashed his face with the butt of her pistol. The force popped his hat off like a cork.

Freidrich clutched at his face in shock, and his briefcase bounced to the floor and spilled open.

Tiny bottles rattled out. The flasks had no more than a few ounces of bright pink liquid inside each.

“Ohhhh!” Freidrich cried as blood speckled out of his nose.

“Dammit! Pick those up! Now!”

“You broke my nose, you witch!”

She hammered him in the shin with her foot, and this time the pain sent him tumbling to the floor. “Pick ‘em up!”

Using one hand to seal his nose shut, he grabbed at the bottles spinning on the carpet.

Carefully, he set each of them back into their foam safety cushioning.

She edged closer and surveyed the contents.
“There’s two missing! Where are they?” Brandish demanded.

“I only had enough to make 10!” he whimpered as he clawed at the carpet. “That’s all there is!”

Brandish leaned down and scanned underneath the theater counters, her raven hair sweeping just above the carpet. She frowned and straightened.

“Fine! Now get up and get out of here,” she ordered and accentuated her demand with a high-heel to his ribs.

Freidrich let out a bellow of pain and achingly pulled himself upright, his head spinning as the blood poured from his nose.

Outside, a black sedan pulled up to the door. “Our ride is here,” Brandish said. “Let’s go!”

The pair stumbled out the door. Behind them was an uncorked flask hidden under his fedora. Freidrich hadn’t been wallowing on the floor after all. He had emptied it out right into a pool of his own blood.

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