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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.