Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (VII) (i)

The first part of part seven of seven in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.

Maroon’s breath on the back of my neck smelled like haddock as I stumbled forward. Far ahead was the echo of voices. After what seemed like forever the twists and turns of the passages led to a pair of oak double doors straight in front of us. One of the goons pushed past me and knocked.

‘Come in,’ called a voice that was as Southern as deep-fried turkey. A steel skeleton claw of pure frosty fright clamped itself around my unmentionables. I knew that voice.

The doors groaned open and we were shoved inside. I blinked in the bright artificial lighting. It was an enormous room, with ten or more doors leading off along all sides. Great steel ladders reached up to apertures in the ceiling, thru which air was blowing. It was some kind of giant basement or cellar.

I was in trouble, more trouble than I’d been in since I was a kid and my mom came home to find me energetically beating the bishop on the front lawn. It wasn’t my fault the clergy were so lousy at croquet.

There were around thirty people in the room. At the centre was a huge pyramid, ten feet high, formed from what I came to recognise as comic books. On top of the pyramid were two crude thrones made of wicker and Scottish tape. And seated on the thrones, bearded and grinning, were two people whose faces I’d prayed never to see again.

Kim Ayres and El Barbudo.

The rest of the people in the room milled around the base of the pyramid, standing guard, playing cards or whatever. Ayres and Barbudo didn’t acknowledge my presence at first; they were playing with money, great fistfuls of it, throwing it in the air like confetti and giggling like kids. Ayres tossed a wad of notes held together by a clip high in the air and put a bullet thru it with a Webley he’d drawn from his pocket. Barbudo laughed at this and joined in, producing a Tommy gun and hurling packets of cash ever further to see if they could hit them. Barbudo won, shooting his wad all the way across the room.

At last they tired of this sport and muttered to each other, pointing at me and Joe K’Mayall. One of their retinue came forward. I recognised him; he worked at the same sleazy nightclub as Knudsen. He was dressed in a rabbit costume and eating a very big carrot. He appeared – how can I put this? - he appeared to have a very big carrot down the front of his pants too.

‘Nyaaah, what’s up, Doc?’ he said to Maroon.

‘Package for Mr and Mr Cosifantutti,’ Maroon growled. His growl was returned and I noticed a large, wolf-like dog curled up at the base of the pyramid.

‘Eater!’ crowed Ayres. ‘Long time no see.’ It was his voice I’d heard thru the door. He was from Kenbraskansas and it showed in his accent and in his fondness for raw swampfish.

‘Kin ah killum now, Pappy? Kin ah? Kin ah?’ jabbered Barbudo, spittle spraying between the gaps in his front teeth and his wall-eyedness more pronounced than ever.

‘Hush, Junior.’

Pappy? Junior? ‘I thought you two were cousins,’ I said.

‘That, too,’ said Ayres.

Now Ayres and Barbudo are apt to use some mighty ripe language, and so rather than clutter up the text with dashes to censor all the curse words, from now on I’m going to use ‘flip’ and ‘shoot’ as substitutes for… well, I guess if you’re a man you’ll know the words I mean, and if you’re a dame, you won’t and you’ve not got no business knowing neither.

‘So what’s your game, Ayres?’ I asked. ‘The kidnappings, the hand amputations, the comic books, the Mafia business?’

‘Shoot, Eater, you always was a flippin’ nosy flipper,’ he spat. ‘But flip it, I might as well tell you.’ He pulled a mandolin from somewhere and began to pluck at it absently as he spoke. I never knew he played; he’d never mentioned it before.

‘El here and I are AKA Linguini and Ravioli Cosifantutti. We set this Mafia front up so the cops and the flippin’ Feds wouldn’t take us seriously and would leave us alone. Our business was wicker until recently. Still is, but the real money is in comic books. Eater, you’ve no flippin’ idea how much the underground comic book industry has taken off since you were involved. Every street in this city has its comic book junkies. Soon every household in America will. Back in your day we sold thru specialist outlets. Now we’re expanding to drugstores. Where kids go.’

‘You inhuman bounder!’ I yelled. I didn’t really yell that but I can’t print what I did yell, and this sounds kind of British and cool.

‘Flippin’ shuddup, you flippin’ shooter!’ shrieked Barbudo, spraying a burst from the end of his Tommy into the air. Ayres flipped him fondly under the chin.

‘But Pappy,’ said Barbudo, almost in tears, ‘there’s no nat’ralness to any of his comments or responses.’

Ayres continued. ‘With an increase in the market, there’s an increasing demand for harder, more realistic stuff. All those pictures you posed for, that’s so tame, so 1930s. And so we hit on the most brilliant flippin’ idea ever. Photorealism. You take a photo and get an artist to draw over it on tracing paper. The result: a super-realistic comic book.’

It made sense now. That was why they were kidnapping people, chopping their hands and feet off, shopping for individual body parts. They needed photos for their sick, violent strips. I needed a drink. JD, preferably, but Scottish would do.

‘Where’s my client, McShae?’ I asked. I feared the worst.

Ayres chuckled. ‘Right here.’ He made a movement with his hand. Two of his people went over to a door. I recognized one of them as the kick-boxing dame from Bo Khaki’s bar. Fat Mammy Cat, I think she was called. They emerged with a haggard-looking figure between them. McShae.

‘Hello, Foots,’ he said weakly. ‘You’ve aged.’

‘He was a real flippin’ catch,’ said Ayres. ‘He’s the best artist we knew, so he gives us a real edge over the competition. He refused to join us willingly, so we’ve had to use coercion. Also, he was bait to trap you, Eater.’

Something was nagging at a corner of my brain. The female voice on the phone just before Maroon had coshed me... As if she could read my thoughts, a woman stepped forward from the shadows. It was Sarah Laughs, and laugh she did.

It had been a set-up from the start. She’d sold her hubby to these guys and then had ‘hired’ me to lead me straight into the trap. Damn. I knew I should’ve expected a femme fatale somewhere along the line.

‘Why me?’ I asked.

‘Because, motherflipper,’ said Ayres, ‘you always died so well in the original Blunt Cogs strips, we wanted to capture your actual death on camera. Shoot, it’ll be our best selling issue ever, especially when it’s drawn by McShae.’

I was going to be glarked. Glarking meant decapitation, usually by ax, and El Barbudo had named it that after his dog Glark, who lay slavering now at the base of the pyramid. Rumor had it that Barbudo had such a fetish about decapitation because he was embarrassed about being such a redneck, and wanted to turn everybody else into one as well.

‘One last request,’ I said.

‘Smoke? Sure,’ said Ayres, and an attendant brought a package. I lit up three at the same time.

‘That wasn’t what I was going to ask for,’ I said between sucks. ‘Let it be anyone but Barbudo. I deserve better than that.’

‘J-s-s Chr-st! Flip!’ El Barbudo ejaculated. ‘Pappy, tell him to stop running away from who he is!’

That got me riled. Cussing I can deal with, but not the taking of our Lord’s name in vain. I’d also noticed that he had my Pussy tucked into his belt.

‘As it happens, Eater,’ said Ayres, ‘we’ve got something more spectacular lined up for your demise.’

He snapped his fingers and a large slab of the wall began to descend with a grinding, moaning noise. Blackness yawned beyond. And then there was a collective intake of breath as a huge figure shambled out. It was Bananas, the giant gorilla kidnapped from the city’s zoo. His one leg was manacled and from this a chain stretched back into his cell, so that he stopped short before he could reach the pyramid. His eyes were red and bewildered as though he’d been drugged. Even from where I was I could smell the wicker they’d doped him with.

A couple of goons had already set up the camera to one side, and now I felt gun barrels in my back, prodding me forward. The people in the room had formed a semi-circle and were beginning a rhythmic chant of glark, glark. The gorilla fixed his gaze on me and life flickered there in his eye. Life, and hate.

Behind me, Maroon hissed: ‘One is a phony buck!’

I lit a cigarette.

Having your head pulled off by a giant gorilla or being shot in the back – it’s not much of a choice, is it!

  1. Just finish the damn thing, will you.

  2. The double entendres are wearing a bit thin, aren’t they?

  3. Where can I get a handsome calfskin-bound collector’s edition of this story?

Sneaky way of increasing the number of episodes, but I forgive you - it appeals to the megalomaniac in me. So where can I get a handsome calfskin-bound collector’s edition of this story?
I'm hoping for seven parts of seven and perhaps a few fractions too! I see you still managed to get two wank jokes in - you are a one, footsie!
seven parts of the seventh episode, etc. doh! you know what I mean!
Shooting guns at sheafs of money.
I shoulda seen it coming, but I didn't.
What's puzzling me, is why Bananas only has the one leg?
Doesn't the 7th part of a 7th part turn into a werewolf or some such thing?
A sorceror, Kim. According to Terry Pratchett anyway.

All the ends are being tied up like surgical sutures on the beating heart of this story but I'm holding out for a few more part sevens (parts seven? Ah, flip it).

That El Barbudo is a beast and Ayres is no better. I think Nanas should turn on them suddenly for their heartless pestering of him with sticks and plastic fruit in the unseen, off-page backstory.

Calf-skin, hmmmm, maybe, smells nice. Look, do me one in moleskin and you have a sale. None of your rubbish mind, I don't want any sneaky dormouse pelts in there. Just 100% finest mole.
I may forgive you for making me a loathsome creature as now I don't seem that bad compared to these two flippers, I vote for ripping your head off.
Sam - that's the eighth son of an eighth son
It's been a while, but isn't the 8th of the 8th a wizard and the 8th of the 8th of the 8th a sourceror (yes, that is how Pratchett spells it as it is to do with the 'source' of magic)...

By the way, I never call you "Foots" - always "Footsie". So maybe that's not even the real me... dun-dun-DUUUUH!
"Scottish tape"

Yes I did laugh out loud at that one.

"pulled off by a giant gorilla"

I suspect you wouldn't mind that all that much.
The 7th son has hairless balls but has the gift of 'the sight' but only on Tuesdays after 7 pm.

Always glad to help.
Terry Pratchett? What a load of wank. You're all fucking muggles.
"Barbudo won, shooting his wad all the way across the room."
A long way to go for a jizz joke. :)

Excellent, as always. I also liked El B's callbacks to an earlier time.

1 - As long as you need, we'll hang about looking shifty.

2 - Thick, long and hairy more like.

3 - Don't like the idea of this sort of evidence being put to paper, really.
I loves me some Prattchettttt. Usually. eh.
Details of how to purchase a copy of this story in hardback at a very reasonable price will appear with the next instalment next week. It will be the very last, I promise.
Cut and paste before he removes it to force you to buy it, then hes going to have added scenes only in the book, hes a sneaky bugger.

evil again.
This is totally tremendous! You're noir to the core, Footie, to the core.

Beating the bishop. Never heard that one.

I guess I've been sheltered.
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