Thu
Apr 23 2015 9:00am

Day of the Destroyers: Exclusive Excerpt

Gary Phillips

Read an exclusive excerpt of Chapter 1 of Day of the Destroyers, a linked-prose anthology starring Jimmie Flint, Agent X-11 (available April 28, 2015). Comment to enter for a chance to win a signed copy!

Based on a real historical event during the Roosevelt administration! Guest starring pulp heroes The Green Lama, The Phantom Detective, and The Black Bat! Day of the Destroyers is an all-original, linked-prose anthology; each story is part of a larger arc wherein Jimmie Flint, Secret Agent X-11 of the Intelligence Service Command, battles to prevent the seditionist Medusa Council from engineering a bloody coup overthrowing our democracy. Written by pulp fictioneers Ron Fortier, Adam Lance Garcia, Gary Phillips, Paul Bishop, Jeri Westerson, Eric Fein, Tommy Hancock, Aaron Shaps, and Joe Gentile.

THE ZYBRISKI REPORT

Abraham Zybriski fell on all fours, doing his best to make his way over the sand dune.  He got up and kept ascending.  It was a cold, moonless night in California’s Mohave Desert, though the sand had retained some of the heat of the day.  The temperature had crested 110 degrees then, now it was in the low forties.  He swallowed but his mouth and throat were dry.  He was tired and alone, but he kept going. 

Zybriski, his sweaty hair boot camp short, was dressed in dark blue fatigues, the legs tucked into black boots.  Somewhere out there in the dark, he’d lost his purple beret.  The two bullets grinding in his side, the blood loss, the fight and escape, well, attempted escape, across the empty landscape had greatly drained him.  Dropping to a knee, he could faintly hear the motorcycles and the growl of the four-wheel drive truck nearing.  He was out of clever weapons like the gas propelled exploding nib of his fountain pens and the poison gas contained in his signet ring.  Four of the enemy was dead due to his efforts but even if he had another magazine for his field-issued Colt .38 super automatic, and could take out a few of their headlights, he knew they’d still be able to cut him down.  There was no cover save for clumps of cacti and their lights would be on him any moment. 

He took out his silver-plated Zippo lighter from his pants’ pocket   He wasn’t preparing for a condemned man’s last smoke as he flipped the top open and thumbed a catch release.  The inner sleeve on the lighter rose about half an inch revealing the mesh grill of the compact, disguised two-way radio.  A wondrous gadget created by Professor Sven Marlin, head of the Intelligence Service Command’s Q Section. 

It took seconds he didn’t have for the signal to come in and he was keenly aware that his pursuers were getting closer.  He would have run and talked over the radio, but was fearful in his weakening condition he’d trip and lose the device.  This, his last communiqué with headquarters, was going to be his most important.

“Headquarters,” he began, “this is X-19, repeat this is X-19.  Come in.  Over.”  There was crackle and buzz and the secret agent panicked then calmed down when he heard a reply.

“This is headquarters, 19.  Report.”

“I am under attack.  No time for reinforcements.  Starliss and the Medusa Council are, as General Butler informed us, holding secret maneuvers with military-type personnel here in the Mojave.  It is my analysis they are planning a coup and capable of succeeding.  Over.”

Even the hardened individual on the other end had pause.  “Say again, X-19.”

“A coup,” he repeated, controlling his fear, being professional.  “They’re plotting to overthrow our government from within,” he emphasized.   Zybriski looked off and could see the headlights of the vehicles not too far below bouncing toward him and the yells of the armed men. 

“Internally the Council has taken a more fascist caste.  They’ve amassed funds and resources from moneyed and religious zealot interests who feel the New Deal has gone too far.”  A bullet zipped by his head and he bolted to his feet and ran down the dune on the other side as he continued.  “I was able to unearth a name of one of the plotters, Ransom Sherridan.  I repeat, the late Ransom Sherridan of Plimco Coal and Oil.”  The nearing engines of the vehicles vibrated through him.  “Do you copy?  Over.” 

“Roger, X-19.  Give us your location.  I repeat, agent, give us your location for extraction.”  Another pause, the voice on the other end almost breaking.  “Now you must hold on, agent, Z-7 is coming on the line, standby,”

Abraham Zybriski knew there was no time left to standby. 

“X-19?”

“X-19 out,” he said. 

Zybriski then pulled the disguised radio apart.  As he did this the device shorted out, causing crackles of electricity to singe his fingers.  He ignored this and threw the pieces as far away from him as he could into the gloom.  His form trapped in their lights, he turned and rather than waste energy on a futile last dash, ran toward his pursuers.  He was shot again, but Zybriski kept going and fell on one of the would-be usurpers, surprising the man.  A chop to the soldier’s neck loosened his grip on his .45 and Zybriski took it and shot him in the face. 

The dead man’s body dropping to the sand, Zybriski squeezed off more rounds as a machine gun opened up, causing his body to jerk uncontrollably before he collapsed, also dead .  This even though a tall tangy man had detached himself from the Ford truck, who’d yelled at the same moment for no one to fire.  Sitting in the passenger seat of the open air truck was a hawk-nosed, stoop-shouldered man.  He didn’t get out.

“Sorry sir,” the machine gunner said.  “I was trying to prevent him from killing anyone else.”

The man he addressed was in his fifties.  He had brush cut white hair and a matching trim goatee.  He was exactly six foot-three inches and had the muscular build of an aging light heavyweight.  He also had a fully functional robotic metal hand, connected to a fully functional robotic metal arm.  The flesh and blood original had been destroyed by a grenade in World War I.  The mechanized arm and hand contained the strength of three men in its series of gears and pulleys.  He could reach out and easily crush the subordinate’s windpipe.  He merely said though, “I can’t question a dead man…can I, Private?  I can’t very well hold a séance and summon his ghost to find out how much he reported to his agency.”    

“No, no you can’t, Colonel.” The others were gathered about as well, all eyes on their commander. Each was dressed as the infiltrator Zybriski had been, only the colonel’s beret was black.

“You do want to take back your country, don’t you, Private?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Then we can only do that by thinking ahead, not simply reacting to any one situation. The colonel shifted his grey eyes from the one he was dressing down to the others, raising his voice, putting the command in it. “Let this be a lesson none of you forget today. Let this be a lesson you tell your fellow soldiers that we will win this effort because we are the true patriots and we have heard the call. We will win this struggle because we will out fight and out think the treasonous breed currently occupying the White House.”

He raised his arm with a fist at the end of it at an angle. “We are the Medusa Council and we will rescue our fellow citizens from the thrall of socialist tyranny. We are the future.”

The soldiers echoed his words and his salute. “We are the Medusa Council.  We are the future.”

On the ground before them, the corpse of Abraham Zybriski, the once X-19, cooled despite the warm sand.

. . .

“Hello, I’m Carleton Victor,” the man said, briefly shaking the offered hand of his hostess, Bell Sherridan.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Victor,” the handsome older woman said, fanning herself with a colorful silk folding fan, “I believe I’ve heard Eustace Pomeroy mention you a time or two.  Seems I recall you and he played together in the charity golf tournament at Amherst earlier this year.”

“Ha, ol’ Eustace and I have indeed enjoyed each other’s company on the links and at hands of cribbage,” he replied, smiling.  Idly he fingered a fob on his watch chain, a small gold skull with ruby eyes.  Victor wore a charcoal grey suit, complimented by a black vest, black tie and black pocket square.  His dark hair was combed straight back.  He wasn’t handsome in a matinee idol sort of way.  His jaw was square enough, but there were tiny scars crisscrossing parts of his face, his cheek bones were pronounced and there was a brooding, ruthless look to him though offset by his stark blue eyes.

“Well do make yourself at home and hopefully we’ll get a cross breeze as this ghastly heat is upon us again. “ She nodded curtly and walked away, fanning herself and dispensing supercilious instructions to the waiters.

The polite smile faded from the rugged face of the man calling himself Carleton Victor.  He idly sipped from the wine he held, strolling about the gathered in the Sherridan townhouse located in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, D.C.   Bell Sherridan was the recent widow of Ransom Sherridan, who’d died two months ago when his private plane encountered an unexpected storm in the Pacific Northwest.   Ostensibly today was a celebration being thrown in honor of Major General Adolphus Greely who’d recently received the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Now in ill health, in 1884 the then Lieutenant Greely led an expedition of 25 men into the Arctic.  Eighteen of those soldiers died and the remaining ones left alive, including Greely, were rumored to have engaged in cannibalism to survive.  Over the years this charge had lost purchase, due in part to the efforts of Mrs. Sherridan, a distant relation to Greely.

“Jesus Christ,” a man was saying to another, “Roosevelt has enlisted that Bolshevik Hopkins to head his, what does he call this new effort?”

“Works Progress Administration,” his companion added, holding a tumbler of whisky and puffing on a thick cigar.  He thrust his glass at the other man, sloshing its liquid about.  “But look here, Ted, anything that gets fellas turning a wrench or digging a ditch means less time they got to sit around, sopping up soup and getting riled up by street corner agitators.”

“Huh,” the other one huffed, “ they get enough agitation from that red cripple in the White House.”  He looked over at the supposed Carleton Victor who’d paused to listen to the two.  “What do you think, friend?  Am I right?”

He hunched broad shoulders.  “Sorry, gentlemen, I’m afraid politics don’t interest me.”

The one called Ted made a dismissive gesture with his hand.  “Pa-shaw,” he groused.  “Well when the mighty workers led by Negro menaces like A. Philip Randolph come to your door for your tailored suits like the one you’re wearing shaking their hammers and sickles, it’ll be too damn late for you to suddenly get interested then.”  A black waiter carrying a tray of tea sandwiches passed behind the man as he said this, no expression on his face.

“I hardly think it’ll come to that,” Victor said.

Ted with the whisky and cigar was about to respond when a clear-eyed brunette in a blue skirt and matching bolero jacket and wide-brimmed hat came up and put an arm through the crook of the third man. 

“Mr. Victor,” she beamed, “fancy running into you here.”

“Miss Eastland,” he said.   “Always a pleasure.”  Then to the other two.  “Gentlemen, this is the intrepid reporter Kara Elliot of the Amalgamated Press out of New York.  She’s in print and on radio, so you might want to watch what you say.” 

The woman gave him a narrow-eyed sideways sneer.

He added, “I realize I’ve yet to introduce myself though.”

“Carleton Victor of the polo set,” Kara Eastland quipped.

“I’m Ted Harrison,” the heavyset man said, putting out a beefy hand she shook.  “I’m in shirt manufacturing.”

“I know Wilbur,” the one with the cigar said.  He was referring to Wilbur Mulgrave, the owner of the Amalgamated Press’ newspaper and radio stations.  “I’m Hubert Spradling.”

“Spradling Tire and Rubber,” Eastland finished.

He bowed his head slightly, “Guilty as charged.”

The conversation shifted into a discussion about Greely and how Kara Eastland had come to D.C. to do what would probably be the explorer’s last interview.  Soon Harrison excused himself to whet his whistle at the bar, and Spradling was called over by a senator he played poker with regularly.

“So, Jimmie,” Kara Eastland said sotto, “I bet the two of us are really here for the same reason.”  She knew that Carleton Victor was the playboy identity of Jimmie Flint, code named X-11 of the Intelligence Service Command. 

“You know, maybe Uncle Joe Stalin is right about sending away nosy reporters to a gulag,” he cracked.

She smiled invitingly.  “Maybe you could spank me later for being a bad girl.”

“There’s a thought.”

They resisted kissing each other and she wandered off, aware he was on the hunt — as was she.   Flint made another stop to keep up the small talk.  He then turned to the black waiter who’d been carrying the tea sandwiches.  He now carried an empty tray back to the kitchen.

“Pardon me, my good man, but could you tell me where the gentlemen’s room is?”

“Yes sir,” the waiter answered pointing, “Right through that door and to your right.”

“Thank you.”  Flint walked off and once out of the large receiving room, read the note the waiter had slipped to him.  On it were several words of instruction.  The secret agent quickly committed the information to memory, then rubbing the slip together, a form of flash paper, it vaporized in a blink as he walked along.  There were a few people about and waiting until he could do it un-noticed, he ascended the stairs to the third level.

He quickly went along a carpeted hallway to an upstairs study.  The paneled door was locked.  Flint inserted a lock pick from his ring of what he called his skeleton keys.  Deftly probing the lock mechanism, he got the door open quickly   Good thing for as soon as he got inside the room, he heard the voices of a man and woman coming along too.   The two laughed and giggled as they went by.  The man from ISC was already across the space at a large wooden globe suspended in its own housing.  He probed it with his fingers.  He found the seam, carefully hidden as a longitudinal line.  He opened a portion of the globe and pressed the recessed button in there.  This in turn powered a radio-controlled switch that activated mechanisms to slide back a hidden doorway in the wall.

Jimmie Flint stepped inside the hidden room.  On a side table was a long range two-way radio and headphones.  He studied it a moment, noting the dial setting.  There were several file cabinets and desks and chairs, including a couple of plush ones. He slid back a curtain, revealing a window looking out onto the brick wall of the townhouse next door separated by a narrow passageway.  He took a few moments to quickly scan the various files, extracting a few folders and briefly studying their contents.  He noted names such as the American Integrity League.  He then replaced the files.  There was also an ash tray and he took from it a cigar band he smiled at thinly, recognizing the brand.  Additionally there was a standing cast iron Baum safe in the corner.  It looked to be of 1908 vintage he surmised as he bent down and examined its Yale lock and dial.  He then took out a gold-plated cigarette case monogrammed with the initials ‘CV’ in script.  He opened this and removing the tray holding his cigarettes by depressing a hidden spring catch, he revealed a small glass rectangle, rounded on its ends, set in the supposed cigarette case.  There was a vertical row of small round knobs off to one side beneath the small window. 

Flint pulled an electrical cord out from the device and plugged it into an outlet that fortunately was near the safe.  This powered up the unit, including its electro-magnet.  He then clamped the device against the door of the safe and making some adjustments with the buttons, he began to turning the safe’s dial slowly. There was a green vertical line going across the tiny screen.  But when a tumbler fell into place, there was a blip in the current line.  In this way he discerned the combination of the safe and opened it. 

The safe cracking doohickey had been devised by the brains in Q Section, the gadget boys.  It was built with miniature tubes in it and could only be used once as the tubes would burn out due to their compact size.  He’d unplugged it just as it began to sizzle and crackle from the inside and the apparatus fell off the safe. Unlatching the door open he sensed a disturbance about him and reacting, reached for his Colt. 38 underneath his coat as he stood and came around.

But fast as he was, his attackers were already in motion.  The radio set was thrown at him and putting up his arms to block it, he lost his grip on the gun.  Then another one swung at his head with a kama, a short-handled scythe.  He ducked and in his crouched position, rapidly and repeatedly punched into this man’s stomach.  He backed up and Flint got into a wing chun stance, his martial arts learned, in part, from grand master Ip Man in his travels in the Orient after World War I.

There were three others in the room now.  One man was in a slouch hat and workingman’s clothes, he wielded the kama.  The second was in a pin-striped suit and loud tie.  He was at least 260 pounds of solid muscle, Flint estimated.  Six-four, with a cestus fitted on each hand.  Essentially this was a leather wrap with metal spikes sticking out like what gladiators used to dispense hurt in ancient Rome.  Incongruously, the third member of the trio was in the white tunic of an M.D. or pharmacist, complete with a long, sallow face and owlish glasses.  He carried a satchel as well.

They weren’t using guns because they wanted him alive to torture and interrogate,  Flint concluded as he immediately spun, coming up high with the side of his foot..  He was aiming at the jaw of the man in the hat but his target anticipated the action and deflected the blow with his scythe.    X-11 countered with the point of his elbow into the side of the man’s face.  He reared back slightly but counter attacked with his blade, slicing the secret agent in the shoulder, but not deeply.  This man was also versed in a martial art – hapkido — Flint determined. 

In addition to Asian fighting skills, in his varied travels in the ‘20s, World War I vet Jimmie Flint, part of the Lost Generation they’d been termed,  also studied other close combat methods such as bangaran, developed by the Maroon warriors in Jamaica and hikuta, a type of boxing practiced in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.  The two exchanged a flurry of blows and strikes which culminated in Flint dropping to the floor and using a leg sweep that caused the other man to fall over on his backside with a thud.

“Enough of this ching chong malarkey,” the big man growled and swung a meaty fist that Flint, coming back up in a crouch, had to suddenly go prone to miss getting plastered by those spikes..  He rolled on the floor as his larger opponent stomped forward and kicking out his legs and arching his back, instantly got to his feet in time to block a jab and deliver his own punch to the other man’s unshaven face

“Huh,” the spike man said, momentarily grasping his chin between finger and thumb.  “Guess you know a few fighting styles, don’t you?”

“Why don’t you find out, ya big ox,” Flint taunted, smiling crookedly.

He also grinned and charged forward, hands outstretched.  Flint went up, using his hands on the bigger man’s shoulder as leverage, he leaped over him and simultaneously, planted the sole of his shoe in the face of the man in the hat.  The large man crashed into the file cabinets, upsetting them.  Angry, he reached for one of the cabinets while Flint was trading more closely delivered elbows and kicks with the man with the scythe.  Grabbing the kama pole, Flint brought the other man around as the large one threw the filing cabinet.  He took the brunt of the impact and went down.  His grip on the weapon went slack and now X-11 had it in his hands.  He twirled it expertly, closing in on the big man when an invisible hand suddenly squeezed his brain.  Involuntarily he dropped to both knees, letting the kama go. He gritted his teeth and grimaced in pain.  Try as he might, he couldn’t grab the staff again.  The window looking out was behind him.

“This is an interesting device,” the one in the tunic said.  He had on a wide metal headband festooned on one side of it with two slender rectangular boxes side-by-side.  There were three blinking lights on it too.  The headband had a black cord leading to a battery unit in the satchel.  “It’s based on the work of a Bruno Meinhof, and directs and broadcasts mental energy.”

Jimmie Flint’s agony was plain on his contorted face.  He remained immobile on his knees.

“Yeah, yeah,” the large man groused, “enough of the mad scientist hooey too.”  He made a big fist, a smirk on his face.  “The colonel says we got to deliver him.  He didn’t say he couldn’t have a busted jaw.”

He moved in.  Flint had gone still to concentrate his will.  He was nauseous and near to passing out but using the techniques of transcending pain and focusing the mind learned among the gurus in India, visualizing his one goal like silver dust poured through a small funnel, he plucked free his throwing knife, the hilt disguised as his belt buckle.  An underhand throw sent the blade true into the bespectacled man’s heart.  He gulped in surprise, trying to pull the knife out, his hands fluttering uncontrollably.  There was little blood as the organ quit functioning.  He fell over dead. 

“That’s it,” the big one bellowed and this time he was successful in tackling Flint who’d gotten to his feet but hadn’t fully recovered.  His sizable arms wrapped around him, the large man’s momentum smashed them through the window, ripping the curtains loose as well.  A glissando of glass tinkled about them while they dropped, grappling as they fell across the space of the narrow passageway.  The combatants plowed through a lower window of the townhouse next door and fell into a bedroom.

“Oh my, Harold,” a pretty redhead declared in her see-through negligee.  The Harold she addressed in the ornate poster bed with her was thirty some years her senior and, X-11 noted absently, a federal judge he recognized.  He was pretty sure the young woman wasn’t his wife but that was of no concern to him at the moment.

“Gonna take you apart, smiling boy,” and with that the bruiser waded in swinging.

Even though he tried to get out of the way, the spikes caught Flint a glancing blow and opened up a gash on the side of his face. 

“We better summon the police,” Harold the judge said, scrambling out of bed in his silk pajamas.  The couple exited the room in a hurry as the other two fought.

Flint hit the bigger one in the stomach but he was in top form, little flab.  A haymaker nearly tapped him flush but the agent went low and a chop with the edge of hand on his opponent’s knee made him buckle.  But the bigger one struck out and embedded the spike on his right hand in the secret agent’s shoulder.  The pain distracted him and another blow sent Flint into the dresser, cracking its mirror and spilling perfume bottles to the floor.  The mauler lunged at Flint but he kicked him in the jaw, stunning the large man.  A mixture of Eastern and Western boxing unleashed in a flurry of hand and arm movements had the big man staggering back, crimson staining his gaping mouth. 

“This...this, ain’t over,” he managed between heavy breathing.  He straightened up.  His fists positioned in classic defense posture, shuffled forward.  Jimmie Flint dropped him with a roundhouse kick to the side of his head and for good measure, a chop to the carotid artery in his neck to make sure he stayed down.

X-11 was also sucking in air when he looked out a corner window of the bedroom and could see a familiar forest green Duesenberg pulling up.  Quickly he pulled free the .45 he’d spotted in a shoulder holster on the unconscious man and ran out.  He leaped over descending steps and was in the street in seconds, the judge and his paramour in hiding.  Colonel Lucien Starliss in a black suit, a lit cigar in his mechanical hand, was just being let out the rear of the fancy car by his driver, a man in a chauffer’s uniform.  The vehicle idled in front of the Sheridan townhouse.

Starliss’ eyes went wide upon spotting Flint and his driver wheeled about, shooting.

A bullet whizzed by the spy man’s head and another clipped the side of his thigh.  But having slowed his heart rate and centering himself, X-11 was as calm as snow falling from bamboo as the samurais would say.  Left hand bracing his gun hand, though he was adept at shooting with either hand, his first shot struck dead center in the driver’s forehead.  Starliss he needed to take alive.

“Jimmie, you’re one hell of a soldier, you do your father proud.” The hero of bloody Verdun said as he tossed a grenade underhanded, like how Flint had dispatched the brain attacker.

But he had faster reflexes than the thrower.  Jimmie Flint dove behind a Packard as the thing went off.  The explosion blew out the Packard’s windows and punched a hole in the façade of the judge’s townhouse.  Ears ringing, Flint rose up behind the vehicle firing.  The Duesenberg was zooming away with Starliss at the wheel of the obviously armored vehicle.  As he started to run after the car which gained the far corner, the riot squad sped onto the scene from the opposite way.  The coppers spilled out, weapons drawn.

“Drop it, you mug,” one barked.  “Drop it and put yer mitts up or we spray you.”  There were at least two with drum-fed Thompsons pointed at him.

Flint did as ordered.  “I’m an operative of the Intelligence Service Command.”

“Yeah, and Ginger Rogers is waiting for me at home.”

They cuffed him and put him in a squad car.  The big man was also brought out in handcuffs and put in the back of a separate car.  The judge and his now dressed young companion were questioned by the officers.  Like all agents who had X status, Jimmie Flint kept no identification on him due to his need to be undercover at various times.  He did though give them the names of several individuals, including members of the Administration’s cabinet, who meant something to the department.  The sergeant among the officers walked down the block to a police call box to phone in to check on just who this egg was.  The ISC, though its main headquarters was here in D.C., was rarely mentioned in the newspaper or on radio.  The man known only as Number Six, the head of the agency; had been known to crow about the headlines that J. Edgar Hoover liked to curry for his newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Let him shine bright in the light,” he’d say. “Espionage is a matter for the shadows.”

The guests from the reception had come outside to gawk. 

Kara Eastland had her hands on her hips, shaking her head.  “Oh that Jimmie,” she muttered as he smiled at her.

The waiter who’d handed Flint the note exchanged a look with him too but otherwise kept a neutral face. Then he turned with the others to crane his neck as smoke drifted down to them from above.  They looked up to see that there was a fire on the third story.  Flames shot through the roof shingles.

“Aw, hell,” one of the cops groused as he yelled at the sergeant to get the fire trucks to the scene too.

The one dazed by the filing cabinet must have come to, Flint surmised, the flames reflected in the window of the police car.  He was destroying the evidence and must have sneaked away.  But the secret agent had gotten a look at some of their files and had memorized what he’d read.  It wasn’t complete, but it was enough to possibly thwart these would-be insurgents from the execution of their plan.  At least he hoped so as the peel of the fire trucks’ sirens filled the air.

If the older white man who entered the Leopard Spot tavern was nervous that this was an all-black establishment in Northwest D.C., he didn’t show it.  Indeed what with his kindly face, grey hair and tweed jacket, more than one patron surmised that John “Jack” Flint might be a visiting professor at Georgetown University.  New to town, he’d lost his way and stopped in for directions.  They’d be surprised to learn the retired spy, once known as Q 6, had, in the service of his country over many years, killed a number of men, and two women, with his bare hands.  That he also carried fragments of a bullet near his heart.  He sat on a stool next to Cyrus Palmer, clapping him on the shoulder. 

“Jack,” the younger man said.  He was dressed in slacks and a leather waist coat, a newsie cap on his head.  “What’s your poison?” 

“Gin and tonic I should think.”  A streetcar clanged by outside.

Palmer, nursing a beer, gestured toward the barman, a beefy individual down at the other end chatting up a female in an ostentatious hat.  He came over, eyeing Jack Flint but wiping down the bar top in from of him.  “What’ll it be, doc?”

The older Flint gave him his order and soon he and Palmer were drinking and conversing in a booth.  On the wall near them was a framed photo of composer and pianist Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.  The photo was personalized to the tavern by the D.C. native. 

“Your cover still good in the Sherridan household?  Even given the hubbub earlier today, what with Jimmie mixing it up and the fire, there still might be useful information to be gained from maintaining a presence there.  The widow like her husband clearly has ties to the Medusa Council.”

“Yas suh, boss,” Palmer joked, falling into the stereotypical colored servant dialect.  He was the waiter who’d slipped the note to X-11.

Jack Flint sighed and sipped his drink quietly.  “No reason to overdo it.”

“Oh don’t worry, Bell Sherridan don’t pay no attention to what us darker hued be stumblin’ and mumblin’ about if it’s not concerning her guests’ champagne glasses remaining filled or making sure the silverware gleams.”  He also put his drink to his lips, smiling crookedly.  “I remain invisible in plain sight.”

“This is about your country too, Cyrus.  We must stop Starliss and these fascists.  Certainly in a fairer time a man of your talents would be in harness with the ISC.  Still,” he went on, swirling the contents in his glass, “the Shadow Service appreciates you.”

“I know, Jack.  Too bad my country doesn’t seem to know that, but I know.”

“Amen, brother.”

Both men chuckled softly.

Only a few miles from the Leopard Spot was a five-story red-bricked building marked Central District School Supplies. There on average workdays, various freight trucks and personnel came and went dispensing said supplies including text books and construction paper to D.C.’s public schools.  In portions of the two upper floors of the warehouse and offices, and via a secret elevator to a warren of chambers below ground, the Intelligence Service Command maintained its main headquarters.  The ISC’s roots stretched back more than a hundred and fifty years to the Culper Ring, an undercover grouping put together by Major Benjamin Tallmadge Benjamin under orders from General George Washington in the summer of 1978.  This was at the time of the British occupation of New York City during the American Revolutionary War.  Utilizing tradesmen, maids and the like, the spy ring’s operatives provided much needed information on the doings of the occupiers.

Behind the brick outer shell was a ten inch steel plate inner shell.  The windows were bullet proof and steel shutters were designed to slide over these in case of attack.  The hallways could be flooded with sleep gas and flame, and saturated with rounds from radio-controlled machine guns that would pop out of the walls. On the roof there were canons designed to emerge from concealment and shoot at enemy aircraft, including an experimental model that could produce of a ray of energy capable of sheering off a wing.  Each man and woman who was either disguised as a receptionist or truck driver, let alone the personnel who arrived there via the underground vacuum-powered subway — linking HQ with the War Department and the White House — were ready and able to utilize various weapons to mount a vigorous defense as well.

The ISC’s taciturn chief, Number Six, a tallish, rapier-like man of hawkish features, having finished his debriefing with Jimmie Flint upstairs, walked with the latter as he assessed several gadgets the head of  Q Section, in the underground area, was making available to him..

“Communication has alerted your counterparts in the cities and areas you’ve pin-pointed, Flint,” Six said.  “The Army reports the secret base the Council operated in the Mojave has been abandoned.”

“Which only means they’ve relocated it, Flint remarked.

“Precisely,” the ISC chief said.  “Now you’ll be taking the train first back to New York?”

“Yes, from what I read that seems to be where they’re planning a key offensive.  He picked up a pocket watch from a table, examining it.

“Turn the stem a quarter them press it in, X-11,” Professor Sven Bass said.  He was a medium height man, heavyset with untamed hair and Ben Franklin spectacles.

The secret agent complied and out popped a short tube.  Bass pointed at a practice dummy and when Flint pressed the end of the antenna to the dummy there was a burst of electrical current.

“That would instantly incapacitate that extra-sized brigand you boxed with earlier today,” Bass said proudly.  Currently the big man was being interrogated in a nearby room.  “Though I know how you relish your pugilistic skills, X-11, there are certainly occasions when time is of the essence.”

“Shouldn’t I try this on a live person, eh?”  He jutted the watch at the gizmo wizard who reared back slightly.  “Some of your gadgets have been known to misfire in the field.”

Dryly Bass, who held Ph.D.s in several sciences including electrical engineering, replied.  “Your horseplay will be the death of me yet, X-11.”  He showed him that turning the stem three quarters of the way around and pressing it in made it a shock bomb capable of emitting a sizeable burst like a localized lightening strike.

Several more devices were gone over and collected by the dark haired agent.

Number Six said, “I of course don’t need to over-emphasize what’s at stake here, Flint,” he began.  “That tip from the retired captain that sent Zybriski on the trail of the Medusa Council in California has proven invaluable.”  His remorseless eyes fixed the other man.  They both knew the captain was found with his throat slit and it was a certainty Zybriski was dead too.

“I don’t intend to let those men’s deaths to be in vain, Number Six.” 

His chief fixed him with a look.  “I know you won’t.  Fortunate they’d approached Butler.”

“Yes,” Flint said evenly.

Retired Marine Major General Smedley Butler was a decorated veteran of World War I, and conflicts in China, Nicaragua, Haiti, as well as the former Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia.  He’d twice been awarded the Medal of Honor and lately had been known to voice his discomfort, as he was a frequent speaker at Veterans of Foreign Wars and other such venues, with the way things were in this country.  He’d therefore been approached by the Medusa Council to aid in leading their efforts.

. . .

“Hell, Jack,” the general told the elder Flint over rum and cigars after that, “they think I’m the same red-eyed devil dog I was in that awful business in Haiti.”   The conversation was later related to X-11 by his uncle, head of the Shadow Service.   The Service were a patriotic, but secretive bunch that only the son and a few others knew about outside of their circle.

“But let me tell you, old age and all the bodies of comrades and enemies in the service of the interests of fat cats the world over has proven to me war is nothing but a racket.”  Butler, a wiry individual with white, bristle-cut hair, pulled deeply on his cigar.  He blew a thin blue stream of smoke into the air.  “Huh, I laughed in those birds’ faces.  They didn’t get it I think plutocrats like them are the goddamn problem.”

Jack Flint examined his cigar.  “Perhaps the men who approached you weren’t just talking out of their hats, Smedley.  Maybe you should let our secretive friend in Washington know.  He’d probably take it more seriously if it came from you.”

Butler nodded slowly.  “You probably got something there, Jack.  Yeah, I’ll do just that.”

. . .

“God’s speed, son,” Number Six was saying.  Use whatever means you must.  You’re most able at employing unorthodox methods, so don’t hesitate.  President Roosevelt has assured me you’ll be given wide latitude in this matter.  You’ve been given temporary commander level and can call on members of the armed forces or police agencies as well”

Six  paused, his normally stoic features clouding for a moment.  “Of course use discretion as we don’t know how far the tentacles of the Medusa Council have reached into these institutions.”

“Very good, Chief.”

“And good luck, lad,” Bass added.

Flint winked at him.  “”I’ve got your special rabbit’s foot.”  He turned to leave, the gadgets he picked out in a leather attaché case he carried.

“Oh, Flint,” his chief called.

“Sir?” he said, turning about.

"Say hello to Uncle Jack for me, will you?”

“Sure.” 

As he took the near silent subway away from the Intelligence Service Command headquarters, he wondered if what Number Six said was his way of saying he knew about the Shadow Service.  More, that he understood they and any other ally in this fight against the Medusa Council was welcome and needed.  For as he went through a black patch of tunnel X-11, further wondered about the challenges that lay before him.  Death didn’t particularly bother him.  Maybe there was something beyond all this, but he had his doubts.  Though he wouldn’t count himself a Zen Buddhist, he nonetheless often pictured the beyond as the nothingness he went through now.

But that didn’t mean he believed you could be abstract and philosophical about those attempting to subjugate their fellow humans.  Just the opposite.  As there might not be a paradise to look forward to, and given his sins Saint Peter probably wouldn’t have him in the book, then our time in this world was precious.  Your life should not belong to any dictator.  Men like Lucian Starliss hungered for power above all else, and would use cruel and vicious means to put their boot heels on the neck of the citizenry to achieve their goals.  Now if that meant by necessity he had to employ degrees of cruelty and viciousness to combat the ones who would tear down a flawed, but by comparison to much he’d seen, bold experiment in democracy, then so be it. 

Be as elemental as snow falling from bamboo he reminded himself as the car came to a stop, alighting him to begin the fight  he was about to willingly plunge into.

Copyright © 2015 Gary Phillips.

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Born under a bad sign, Gary Phillips must keep writing to forestall his appointment at the crossroads. He has more stuff upcoming from various publishers including Pro Se Press (Nefra Adams — '70s private eye), Polis Books (Occupied Earth) and Titan Comics (Peepland).

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53 comments
2. DebP
I could really get into this book. Wish me luck!
Jane Schwarz
3. Janeschwarz
Sounds like a thrilling read. Pulp/fantasy/noir. Thanks for the opportunity to win.
Chi Shannon
8. anastasiafall
That cover is neat :) Makes me curious about the book!
10. Dawn K
LOOKS REALLY GOOD
Deborah Wellenstein
12. dglitter
After reading the excerpt, I must read the book!
Cindy Hipolito
15. mysuccess
Count me in. Would share this with my family after I read it first!
16. Scott Bell
No thanks. The prose is juvenile and the text is filled with grammatical and punctuation errors.
JAMES LYNAM
17. jpl123456
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Aaron Shapiro
26. shappiesweep
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Richard Slobod
32. rs2
I'm always up for some neopulp.
Andra Dalton
33. andra77
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35. Talekyn
This looks like way too much fun for a cross-over-loving reader like myself!
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36. rubydog
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38. shawnmanning
Looks like a retro Wildcards. I really need to get my hands on this one.
40. Holmes
Reminds me of some of the old pulp series.
Laurence Coven
41. Holmes
Dean Martin could have starred in this
John Clark
44. sennebec
Nicely campy with plenty of action. Sign me up.
Buddy Garrett
46. garrettsambo
I would love to read this book. It sounds very interesting.
Lily Kwan
48. lilyk
I think the excerpt is very interesting!
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