The Catman in: The Case of the Unofficial Tontine.
From the Journals of The Deacon.
It was late in the summer of 1885 when I returned at last to the sedate confines of Holyoke City, that bastion of refined eastern seaboard civility, not thirty miles from the centre of Boston. After eight months abroad on the lecture circuit of Oxford University, taking in the great medical city of Edinburgh, the delights of London and of course within my own field –the cathedral cities of Coventry and Salisbury; I thrilled and exulted at the hustle and bustle of Americans out and about conducting their everyday business in an American City.
Of course there were vast similarities between Eastern Ivy League cities such as Holyoke and the cities and large towns of the United Kingdom, but back home there was a sense of barely repressed buoyancy beneath even the most dignified pillar of the Holyoke community that threatened to burst free at any moment, as opposed to the dry, calm, sometimes plodding pace to be found in English cities such as Oxford.
This air of excitement gripped me from the moment I stepped off of the gangplank onto American soil. I was seized with such an urge to be out “doing” that I had to mightily resist the temptation to unpack my long compiled ecclesiastical notes on the spot and dash off a chapter or two of my planned “Journal of the Modern Church: Its Differences Between Continents and Modern Practices Thereof,” which I”ll admit is a mouthful to say and I’d confess a recipe for curing the insomnia of the common man should he be put upon to crack open the first volume. Nethertheless, as a churchman interested in the arts of writing, philosophy, medicine, politics and the workings of the human mind, I fancied myself able to tell a fascinating factual tale which would both be useful and enjoyable to those in literati of like mind.
I digress, however. Let us skip forward to the second evening of my return to the United States and the point wherein the pertinent events of this narrative commence. Having suffered one uncomfortable night at my not yet prepared home, I left the business of dusting, warming and generally making my property liveable again to my valet Stuart and presented my credentials at my club; for it was there that I intended to spend a comfortable few days until my house was once again ready for occupancy.
The Tem Street Gentleman’s Club, so named for its founder, a Mr August Tem, dated to Revolutionary times and traced its origin to the Republican movement in Holyoke of the 1770s. These days it was a fine traditional establishment catering mainly to gentlemen of high professional standing and the occasional gentleman of means but no regular occupation. It was one of the latter types I chanced upon in the billiards room … an old friend in fact. Captain David Merryweather and I had shared lodgings for a four-year period until I had purchased my property a year ago.
Spying me, a look of delight crossed his usually stoic darkly handsome features. “Deacon!” he cried, “My lord, its good to see you again!” At this point an aside to note that although my name IS Nathaniel Deacon, it is much of a standing joke that due to my past, firmer affiliation with the Church and the coincidence of my name; among friends and professional colleagues I am often referred to as “The Deacon.”
Now, a word about my good friend Captain Merryweather. As previously noted I had first made his acquaintance in the year 1880 shortly after his retirement from the service, although he was still only in his late twenties. Merryweather and I had both applied for the same set of rooms and on meeting had taken an instant liking for each other and thus decided to share for companionship and to defray expenses.
He presented a fine figure of a man, standing well over six-foot in height, his build an impressive reminder of his service days that he had kept up. In looks he possessed the dark wavy hair and Byronic features that would set many a society lady to blush in his presence, yet he remained distant and aloof to the charms of the cream of Holyoke society. It was several months into our acquaintance, when our friendship had begun to grow, that Merryweather first began to mention the dark days he had spent in Burma and even longer before he imparted the full tragic tale of his lost love the Princess Afzula.
Altogether the Captain was a fascinating man. He had been born in Europe of mixed parentage – his mother a quarter Hungarian-American gypsy and his father an English soldier who had died during his childhood in Burma. Merryweather, possessed of dual nationality, had returned at the age of seven to America with his mother to rejoin his maternal grandfather’s travelling circus. His mother had learned the arts of animal training from adepts in Burma and young David had spent his early years surrounded by magnificent great cats with whom he had developed a suprising affinity. Then a few years later his mother had died under circumstances Merryweather has never disclosed to me and he withdrew even further from the company of men, preferring to associate mainly with the favoured tiger of his mother called Roxanne.
At the age of 18 his life took another drastic turn when, on the urging of his grandfather, young David enlisted in the United States Cavalry and rose to the rank of Captain over the following eight years. During that time he travelled the length and breadth of the country, fought in the Indian wars, joined army intelligence and discovered his fascination with the art of detection. Finally, he could stand no more of the white man’s treatment towards the Indians and, refusing to condone what he termed “the inhuman persecution” of that race of native Americans he had come to admire so much, he resigned his commission.
Seeking adventure and his past, Merryweather, now a man of means through judicious investment of his salary began to travel the world ending up in Burma. His exploits with the race of Burmese mystics known as the Cat People, his discoveries of his past and the tragic end of the Princess that he loved, I shall not impart in this narrative. All the years I have chronicled his exploits, Merryweather has been glad to add detail and give his blessing to my humble efforts but of those days, his reply is always the same. “Not yet Deacon, the pain is still too fresh in my memory. Some day the story will be told … but not this day!”
Now, I mention Merryweather’s exploits matter of factly. To my old readers who pick up my published accounts after a near year long absence (and I apologise for same), please bear with me as I explain to newer readers that which is known to you already. Namely that shortly after I met Captain David Merryweather, we became embroiled in the affair I then documented as “The Curious Account of the Yellow Hilted Dagger,” for Merryweather, my friends, although retired, was still a man of action and on settling in Holyoke City he soon established a reputation as an adventurer stroke consulting detective. It has been my privilege to chronicle the many adventures we have found ourselves involved in and by this account I resume my duties once more … but with a difference.
I have mentioned Merryweather’s wish that the story of Princess Afzula and those dark days in Burma be kept secret until the time arises when they may of a readiness be told. In the past I have been obliged to alter or omit certain details from my narrative – the names of the foreign diplomats in “The Case of the International Incident,” for example or the identity of the poor demented girl in “The Madhouse of Infamy.” It was also necessary to alter the identity of the relatives of the “Deranged Boston Poisoner,” lest those innocents suffer unjust retribution. Nor would the gentlemen of the board of a certain reputable bank be appreciative should they be made to look foolish by revealing them as victims of “The Swindling Ghoul.”
However as my older readers know, I have always plainly stated that certain names and events have been altered to protect the innocent and those who would not allow permission to have their part in certain adventures known in print. In all these narratives a glaring fact has been omitted. Although, to be fair, my writings are made up of my own first hand experience and notes of the accounts of others, including Merryweather, and it was he who kept one major fact even from myself, his best friend until a year ago. Yes, I have known of this fact during the two narratives prior to this one, but have not been at liberty to reveal my knowledge until now.
In the past I have referred to an urban legend … a legend that kept cropping up through half gabbled confessions of an underworld informer, tavern gossip … the whisper on the air itself when facts are revealed as half truth, rumour, gossip and innuendo, but no man seems to know from whence these whispers originate.
This urban legend I speak of is in fact solid truth. The legend I speak of is the tale of the fearsome nocturnal avenger known as the Catman and at last I can reveal he exists … for when Captain David Merryweather and the Deacon have exhausted all possible avenues in our explorations of the lower reaches of the criminal underworld, even after we have been forced to resort to physical means and failed … hours later Merryweather would return as the Catman and as the Catman he WOULD get the answers he sought. For all Holyoke’s criminal fraternity has one thing in common … They all fear the Catman!
So there we sat, two old friends catching up on old times. Once settled in the smoking room in two comfortable armchairs, brandy glasses within easy reach, Merryweather lit up one of his favoured cheroots while I puffed contentedly on my old Meerschaum; he turned to me and said “Your timing is quite fortuitous Deacon, for I am about to embark upon what I fancy will be an interesting diversion and your assistance would be most welcome.”
I leaned forward. “I should be delighted old man. What may I ask is the nature of the case?”
Merryweather snapped open his pocket watch and glanced at the face “In precisely 60 seconds I am to meet with Colonel Preston Danforth in this very room. The Colonel knew my father in his army days and contacted me recently to implore my aid in a matter he claimed related to an incident occurring during their service days in India. It’s my hope that I will learn more about my father as a result and so I have agreed to hear the gentleman out.”
The Colonel Imparts a Strange Tale.
Three minor events occurred simultaneously. The old grandfather clock struck the hour; Merryweather snapped his watch fob shut and the door opened to reveal a distinguished grey haired man in his early sixties. It was obvious at a glance, despite the gentleman’s civilian dress, that he had until recently been an active military man – his stance and bearing displayed such as did his no nonsense stare and analytical eyes. My own eyes were drawn to his impressive handlebar moustache, thicker and greyer than my own … a strange thing to observe at such a time, but such is the way of the human mind on occasion.
Merryweather rose to greet our visitor and once introductions were exchanged and Colonel Danforth was seated, my friend bade him begin his tale and we listened without interruption as the story unfolded.
“Gentlemen, I am not a man given to idle fancy. No, indeed I am too pragmatic in my dealings to give much credence to myth, legend and old wives tales. I am a down to earth type who prefers to deal in reality and cold, hard scientific fact. Yet with my own eyes I have witnessed … I can only describe them as unexplainable incidents. In the years since I have endeavoured to either find rational explanations for my experiences or to put them from my mind. I had been rather successful, for the most part, at the latter for some years … until recently.”
He paused to light a cigar “I shall start at the beginning. The year was ‘49 and I was 26 years old and lately arrived in India as a special Attaché/Observer to the British army based in Peshawar. My position was part of a program specially designed to cement closer ties between the United States and the United Kingdom and was mostly of a political nature. I was one of the few military men involved, already a Lieutenant and a veteran of the Mexican wars. My special status entitled me to see service within the British Indian Army and during that time I became fast friends with a man only a few years younger than myself; your father Sgt. James Merryweather. This, of course, was a good few years before your birth David. Your father later gained his commission and was transferred from India to Burma.”
Merryweather nodded slightly. He sat, hands clasped with the fingertips resting against his nose, listening intently.
The Colonel continued, “Some months after my arrival I chanced to become involved in an action taking place to quell a local uprising. A Company of troops commanded by Major John Helnitt was attacked as we marched through a heavily wooded region on our way back from settling a dispute between two minor warlords. The ambush took us completely by surprise and so well planned had it been that the tribesmen managed to split our force in twain, almost wiping out the smaller section. Meanwhile the rest of the Company were obliged to retreat somewhat before digging in to defend itself just beyond the jungle at the edge of the mountainous region.”
“A small group of us, with myself as the most senior officer present, was forced deeper into the woodland, harried by scattered groups of tribesmen as we went. At last we outdistanced them but by then we were hopelessly lost ourselves in the heart of the jungle. Three days passed and men died of their wounds or of fever brought on by exposure. Our medical officer, surgeon lieutenant Malcolm Macomb, fought against this but in vain. Every one of the poor wretches to catch the fever succumbed.”
“At last we came to the foot of a great mountain within the dense undergrowth – five pitiful survivors more dead than alive. Your father was one David, along with myself, Macomb and two private soldiers Delaney and Randall. There we came, exhausted and with the fever upon us and at that spot we collapsed.”
The Lost Civilisation of Kolobad.
“So it appeared that we had at last come to the end, but when next I awoke it was to a cool breeze and soft cushions instead of hard jungle floor. A woman of extraordinary beauty was mopping my brow with a cool sponge and when I struggled to sit up she admonished me gently, seeming unperturbed at my sudden awakening.”
“As she spoke soothingly I realised I could understand her although it was plain she wasn’t speaking any language I had ever heard … rather it was as if her thoughts entered my head. Yet she spoke aloud and on one level I understood, but on another it was as if a second, strange tongue were overlaid. In any case I soon learned to block this second layer of speech out and it was as if she spoke perfect English.”
“Her name was Helenia and her features a strange mix of Indian and Caucasian with what I fancied gave her an almost Mediterranean appearance despite her blonde hair. Helenia took me to the others and we found out that we were high up in the mountain having been discovered at its foot by inhabitants of the lost city they called Kolobad.”
“When we were well enough, Helenia took us to be introduced to Appollus, the man we took to be the ruler of Kolobad (although later it appeared that a benign Council of Guidance administered a city of equals) and we attended a feast in our honour where we witnessed many marvels. The people of Kolobad claimed to be descended from a colony of ancient Greeks who had arrived in this region during the time of Alexander.”
“They claimed to have conquered hunger, want and illness and to have spent the last few centuries advancing in the fields of Philosophy and the Arts, until they had developed a spiritual society devoted to peace and the expansion of the human brain. Thus, they claimed they had turned to the study of the powers of the mind. In later years I convinced myself that much of what we saw was the result of a mass hypnosis of some kind, but…”
He shook his head “In the weeks we were with them, James and myself spent much time discussing philosophy with Appollus and Helenia, although I must confess I was more an observer than an active participant. Surgeon Lt Macomb … Malcolm, was most interested in studying the medical advances made by the people of Kolobad while Larry Delaney and Adam Randall seemed content just to enjoy the company of the innocent young maids who would lavish food, wine and attention on them as they relaxed by the fountains in the elaborate city gardens.”
“Then, one day during a discussion about the history of the city, Appollus claimed to have conquered death … he himself, he asserted was nearly two centuries old although appearing a man of thirty. Malcolm was intrigued and asked by what means the people of Kolobad had achieved this miracle and so Appollus took us to a chamber within the building we referred to as ‘The Palace’ and showed us an elixir contained in a golden jar. By drinking of the elixir a man could be prepared for the ceremony of immortality our host told us. Macomb was fascinated, but as James discreetly pointed out to me later, our two private soldiers seemed more interested in the vast treasure chamber in which the elixir jar was stored. It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave of riches, full to the brim with gold, diamonds, precious stones each of which was enough to make a man rich.”
“That night James and I spoke again. We sensed trouble in the offing and indeed the other three were nowhere to be found. James shared his concerns with Helenia with whom he had grown quite close.” Merryweather’s eyebrows raised momentarily.
“We bade her lead us to the jewel chamber and found the other three as we’d expected had likewise gained entry. Delaney and Randall were filling their packs with loot while Macomb searched for the elixir jar, which had vanished from its previous position. I ordered them to desist but to no avail and a scuffle broke out. Delaney back handed Helenia and your father grappled with him while Randall pulled out his revolver to cover me.”
“Before we could do each other harm, the room suddenly filled with guards led by Appollus, who told an unbelieving Macomb that the elixir was nothing without the mystical ceremony of ‘Becoming.’ The Council leader had suspected treachery but allowed Macomb the opportunity to redeem or condemn himself … allowed us all I should say, as we were each tarred with the same brush. Despite Helenia’s pleas we were to be expelled from Kolobad that very night.”
“James addressed him with sadness in his voice for he had come to love this city and I suspect Helenia. ‘Will we never be allowed to return?’ he asked, and Appollus relented slightly ‘Only one may return,’ he told us ‘When 30 years or more have passed, the way will be open for the last among you and restored youth, immortality and riches will be his.’ He handed us each a piece of paper kept in a leather wallet. Each piece had markings on one fifth of the paper. He then warned us that should we attempt to kill each other to gain the other segments, our way back would be lost forever. We were then blindfolded and led to the bottom of the mountain.”
“We found ourselves in the exact same spot we had arrived at and our guards had vanished. Try as we might to find an entrance, none could be found. Nor indeed did the sheer face seem climbable in any way. Therefore we set out to the south and having been well supplied eventually found our way out of the jungle and home. We each resolved to say nothing of this affair to anyone and parted company.”
“For my part I was prepared to write off our adventure. Yes, we had encountered a mysterious lost race, but of tricksters and charlatans I believed. True, they were prosperous and seemed advanced in the healing arts, but what of their absurd claims to mysticism and immortality and the uncanny powers of the mind they had demonstrated? Mere illusion and trickery I felt. Levitation? I scoffed at it… the movement of matter by pure thought? Absurd. As for the projection of thoughts into another’s head. Why it was nonsensical. The Kolobadians were the worst kind of false gurus and fakers, using hypnosis and sleight of hand to fool us for reasons of their own. Perhaps so we would keep quiet rather than appear fools.”
“I thought no more of it until a day months later when once again we skirmished with rebels and Private Delaney perished by gunshot. That night I happened upon the leather wallet in my bureau and saw that now two fifths of the map were covered … still unreadable but covered. I sought out your father and he agreed to fetch his own map. Two fifths were covered! Amongst Delaney’s effects we found his leather wallet. Within, the map had crumbled to fragments.”
“A decade later I received the sad news from Burma that my old friend Lt Merryweather had died in action. Filled with foreboding but a morbid curiosity, I checked my leather wallet. Three fifths were covered and I can only presume such was the case with Macomb and Randall. Repulsed, I threw the accursed thing on the fireplace, but it refused to burn! So, soon after, on my long awaited recall to America, I left the wallet in my rooms and boarded ship for home. Two days out to sea I found the wallet sitting on my desk in my cabin. Several times more I tried to rid myself of it, only to have it return wherever I went.”
“Five years ago I settled in Holyoke with my ward Katherine, my only living relative since the death of her mother, my elder sister. It was about that time I received word of Macomb’s death at sea and sure enough the map was now covered by a fourth segment. So only Randall remained. Did he still harbour desires for wealth and immortality? As for myself I was content to age gracefully and enjoy my retirement, spending time with my dear niece.”
“Then a month ago I noticed the map was complete. Inquiries informed me that Adam Randall had passed away quietly after a long illness. I was the surviving member of our unofficial tontine, though I felt no need to collect; but then some strange events took place. First of all my house was ransacked although nothing was taken. Shortly afterwards I was accosted in the street by two hoodlums who searched my person. One roughly demanded I give them the map, but the map has been kept these last few years in a safety deposit box at my bank, where, thankfully, it had consented to remain. Then came the letters threatening my safety and that of my niece unless I surrender the ‘Kolobad Map’… couched in those exact terms and THAT gentlemen is my entire story.”
Note to my readers: Originally this was intended to be a two part story, but due to time constraints and reader requests, I’ve decided to break with tradition and present this “two part” story in three parts (Parts one, part 2.1 and 2.2) in order to get more of the story out quicker than I’d otherwise be able to. I hope you enjoy it.
Part 2.1 of The Case of The Unofficial Tontine
Merryweather remained seated for a moment saying nothing; his fingertips still clasped together beneath his chin. Finally he spoke, addressing his comments to me. “I have of course heard the gist of the Colonel’s tale in his letter. I wanted you to hear it too, Deacon, and, of course, the smallest of details I needed to hear myself. With the facts and personalities in my position, I’ve already begun several thought tracks with the hopes of finding a solution.”
“Then you believe me, Sir?” The colonel asked.
“I believe that you believe in everything that you have detailed colonel. You are, as you have stated, either the victim of prolonged trickery or these occurrences are exactly as they claim to be. I discount neither possibility. Indeed, I am personally aware that, to use an old quote ‘There is more to heaven and Earth than in your philosophy, Horatio.’ I am no stranger to the supernatural.”
“Then you believe these forces are in play here, Merryweather?” I asked
“I’d hesitate to jump to a snap conclusion,” my friend answered.
“But surely the length of time…the changing face of the maps. Years passed between these incidents.”
The colonel nodded his agreement, but Merryweather merely inclined his head and smiled slightly. “Consider, Deacon,” he began, “the initial incidents all took place nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps as the colonel conjectured, they could all be explained by a form of mass hypnosis. There then followed separate related happenings concerning the maps. The first mere months later, the second a decade after, then again five years ago and culminating with the final map alteration a month ago. All of which coincided with the death of one of the unofficial Kolobad Tontine. Supernatural or again hypnosis?”
I shook my head in disbelief .”Over the course of 40 years! Do you propose someone mesmerised Colonel Danforth in each instance?”
“Preposterous,” chipped in the Colonel, but with an element of doubt in his voice. “and what of the returning map?” he queried with greater confidence.
“A trifle,” said Merryweather “A mesmeric post hypnotic suggestion preventing you the ridding yourself of the thing. You went to throw it away, but in fact you only thought you did.”
A look of enlightenment crossed the military man’s face “All trickery, but who…”
Now Merryweather looked Colonel Preston Danforth Square in the eyes “I never said it was definitely trickery. I merely endeavoured to explain things in the most rational manner but I”ll admit there are holes in the whole thing that I cannot rationally explain and if you’ll forgive my continual reliance on quotations, I should like to quote from a contemporary of mine when I say ‘When all other possibilities are investigated and discarded, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ However gentlemen, I must state that the mystery of Kolobad and its maps are of secondary importance. Whoever has been behind these threats to the Colonel certainly believes in the authenticity of the Kolobad map and it is this unknown personage we should direct our efforts towards discovering. Colonel, I should like to see the map itself and the letters. When is it convenient for Deacon and myself to call?”
“Why, tomorrow should be fine my boy. What time would suit?”
“The afternoon sir. Shall we say four o’clock? I am a late riser, due to keeping nocturnal hours.” Merryweather glanced at his pocket watch “Ah ten o’clock. Deacon be so good as to summon Collins and ask him to prepare a late supper for three. You’ll stay, of course, Colonel Danforth. The Halibut in béarnaise sauce is not to be missed and The Tem serves an impeccable Chardonnay to accompany the dish.”
We Call On The Colonel for Tea
The following afternoon I met Merryweather on the corner of Bridge Street and we proceeded to Quinlain heights for our appointment with our esteemed client, although client is perhaps the wrong word to use. Merryweather has a case by case policy for dispensing his services in the field of detection. He accepts cases if he has an interest and would often refer a high paying routine case to the police while engaging a penniless client with a challenging mystery. I’ve personally never seen Merryweather pocket a red cent out of any fees he might be awarded, although he would often deduct expenses from a high commission and donate the bulk to charity or a worthy cause. On other occasions when he has accepted low commission, as in the case of the ‘Nine Cent Adventure,’ Merryweather would unfailing reach into his own deep pockets to supply any expenditure that might be wrought during a case.
The Danforth residence proved to be an impressive 12 bedroom Georgian situated in the centre of Quinlain Heights. Although only halfway up the hill in a prestigious part of suburban Holyoke, the occupants of the house were still afforded a marvellous view of Holyoke Bay and the city beyond. What magnificent sunsets might be seen from one of the benches in the nearby park!
Merryweather adjusted his cravat, slightly uncomfortable in the warm sun, but impeccably dressed as always; raised his catshead cane to the dark oak door and tapped twice firmly upon the wood. Within moments we were ushered into the cool fastness of the darkened hallway, a sharp contrast to the brightness of the sun from a moment before.
Colonel Preston Danforth emerged from a nearby room and greeted us “David, Mr Deacon. Good of you to come. Please come through to my study.”
We entered and were soon seated and enjoying afternoon tea as Merryweather studied the Kolobad map, retrieved by the Colonel that morning on my friend’s instructions. Presently Merryweather set aside his eyepiece (an old and valued tool, more commonly used by those in the diamond trade) and addressed us. “Detail, consistency and materials tell me nothing apart from the fact that this is a perfectly ordinary papyrus map of a type originated in ancient Egypt – the making of which is still known today, but, of course, an outmoded form. The ink base is a much advanced type – carbon based and I should date the age of this particular map at around 40 years. A precise estimate is of course impossible without access to the proper tools within my laboratory. The detail contained on the face should allow us, in conjunction with maps of the region to track the precise location of the lost city should we endeavour to do so. All in all, setting aside the fact that the map leads to a lost civilisation, it is unremarkable and exactly as I suspected. Gentleman let us turn our attention to other avenues.”
It was then that we heard a sound behind us and a young woman entered the room. We all stood as she glanced around at us with interest before addressing the Colonel “Please excuse me Uncle,” she began “Some telegrams have arrived for your guests. They were marked urgent, so I thought I’d better bring them up at once.”
The Colonel chuckled. “My dear, you know perfectly well Bettling could have performed that task, but now that you’re here allow me to introduce my guests, which I’m sure was your very reason for coming.”
The young lady blushed prettily for a moment and lowered her eyes in a most becoming way as the Colonel stated my name. “… and Captain David Merryweather,” our host was concluding as his niece chanced to look up. I fancied I saw my friend start slightly as his dark brown eyes met her blue ones. The impression lasted only a second, for Merryweather abruptly straightened and bowed slightly as Colonel Danforth said “Gentlemen, my niece Katherine Conn.”
“Miss Conn,” Merryweather addressed her, taking her hand and again locking eyes with the young lady for a few seconds before she shyly glanced away.
This time there was no mistaking it. For Merryweather this was a display of emotion on an unprecedented scale.
The young lady in question was undoubtedly a beauty. Aged around 20 years old, she was diminutive and slender, her auburn hair worn neatly pinned up. Her attire one supposed the height of fashionable chic but at the same time simplistically elegant and worn without the added adornments that made many a fashionable lady of my acquaintance seem merely pretentious. Of course, we invited her to stay and Merryweather was kind enough to repeat his earlier observations for the lady’s benefit as she listened most intently and with intelligent understanding of his points.
“Last night,” my friend continued “I left the Tem at a late…or rather early hour and travelled to an inn downtown.”
This was news to me as the Colonel and I had been in his company until half past eleven!
“As you could guess by the hour and the location, this…establishment was not a reputable one, but I was sure I would find one Thomas “Hooks” Varney on the premises. I was correct.” Blank faces all around. “Mr Varney,” Merryweather added “is distinguished by two very obvious features and while I have personal knowledge of at least three gentlemen of the lower criminal fraternity possessed of hooks instead of a right hand, only one also possesses a purple irised glass eye in his left socket.”
The colonel’s own eyes lit up. “Of course! One of the thugs that accosted me.” And I remembered that the retired military man had furnished us with a full description at dinner last night. Miss Conn smiled at Merryweather, her expression bright. “You knew how to find this man based only on my uncle’s description?”
Merryweather inclined his head slightly. “My activities within the field of private detection require a certain knowledge of the denizens of the city’s underworld, Miss Conn. I try to keep my files complete.”
“Oh, how clever! But Captain…”A small concerned gasp escaped her lips. “Do you mean to say you bearded this…criminal within his own den of ruffians?”
“It was necessary Miss Conn and ultimately quite fruitful in providing a lead.”
“I should not like to think of you endangered on our behalf sir.”
“Nonsense my dear,” the Colonel interjected. “Captain Merryweather is quite capable of looking after himself, am I right young man?”
Merryweather allowed himself a slight wry smile “You are, sir. Please don’t concern yourself Miss Conn. With my military training and experience in such matters, I was never in any danger.”
“Oh, but I am concerned dear captain Merryweather,” The young lady retorted. “After all sir, it was our family that they threatened and we who embroiled you in the affair.”
“A commission I gladly accepted.”
I could hold my tongue no longer “Confound it man, you should’ve at least taken me with you. What if the affair had turned violent?”
A pause… “You are right ,of course, old man. Fortunately I was able to handle the matter with a minimum of disruption.”
“And your findings?” prompted Danforth.
“Mr Varney proved most helpful. As I suspected his part in the incident was that of a hired hand. His recruitment and payment were handled by the large bald gentleman who accompanied him – one Tobias Jenks. Jenks was close mouthed on the subject of their purpose and the identity of their employer, but Varney obviously knew that they were after a map, even if he did not know what type of map and why. One thing he did know was that Jenks wasn’t just another hireling but a regular employee of our mystery figure. Tavern gossip and other informative sources leads me to believe that there is an as yet unidentified figure uniting various criminal elements within the city’s underworld. I believe this person to be Jenks’ employer.”
“What do I have to do with this…this gangleader?” spluttered the Colonel
“What indeed,” mused Merryweather, before turning his attention back to our host. “Not a mere gang leader, Colonel. I fear we are dealing with a felon of a higher order. For one, nobody, even among the tavern crowds, seem to have any idea of his identity or his location. Unusual for a gang boss – but our friend seems to have been active for at least six months, operating in shadow and mystery, assembling a chain of command so that each level of the hierarchy orders and reports to the levels below and above, with none certain who reports to our crime lord.”
“What’s our next move?” Colonel Preston Danforth wanted to know.
Merryweather stood. “The connection between this crime lord and he who seeks to possess your map are virtually certain in my mind Colonel. I have suspicions, which I will share with you and Miss Conn presently. First, there are facts to be corroborated and more inquiries to be made.”
“Can you tell us nothing more, Captain Merryweather?” pressed Miss Conn.
“Only that I pursue two avenues, Miss Conn. I await the replies to telegrams sent this morning and I must now track Mr. Jenks and his elusive employer.”
“WE must,” I added firmly.
“Of course, old friend,” Merryweather smiled. “I wouldn”t have it any other way.”
“Then God go with you both,” cried the young lady, echoed by her uncle.
We gathered our coats and hats and bade them farewell.
“Where to first?” I asked as we strode down the street.
Merryweather answered without breaking stride “To Peccary, of course.”
Part 2.2. We visit our old adversary Mr Peccary. Merryweather closes the net. Our foes make themselves known and the affair concludes. To be concluded in next weeks “Holyoke Picture Dispatches” from the journal of the Deacon.
An interview with Mr Peccary.
The account that follows has been entirely reconstructed from talks with Merryweather following the conclusion of the affair. My friend and I had journeyed from the house in Quinlain Heights to the very heart of Commercial Holyoke where, travelling through the always crowded Americo Lane, we entered Black’s Department Store by the tea shop entrance on the south western face of the building.
A few steps took us into Ladies Haberdashery in the store proper and on through Millinery, Perfumes and past the small florists concession to the quieter realms of the Gentlemen’s Clothing department. Locating the manager of this section, Merryweather took the fellow aside and presented his card, which was promptly sent upstairs to the owner by way of a gangly youth in the store’s employ.
Presently the youth returned to inform us that Mr Peccary would see Captain Merryweather in his offices on the 5th floor at once. I however was obliged to wait downstairs and at Merryweather’s suggestion took afternoon tea in the Tea Room.
Before I commence this part of the narrative, a word or two concerning the background of the man we had come to visit. Older readers will no doubt be familiar with the name of Peccary – Merryweather’s oldest, most insidious foe … a master of intrigue and deception; a man whose podgy fingers could be found in every slice of every pie that made up the darker business dealings of the Holyoke underworld … and yet Peccary’s public reputation was impeccable. Honoured member of the Chamber of Commerce, leading businessman and citizen of our town. He played golf with the Mayor, belonged to all of the most dully upstanding of the cities’ clubs and committees and was held in high esteem by the highest of the morally righteous. For years, on and off Peccary and Merryweather had secretly contended in a series of machiavellian intrigues and always to a state of deadlock. My friend had foiled the grand machinations of Mr Peccary more often than not, but always the fat man had wriggled off the hook without so much as a hint of scandal attached to his name. This then was the man Merryweather now turned to!
Mr Peccary was seated behind a large oak desk as Merryweather entered the office. A man of impressive bulk, he was nonetheless surprisingly swift when he chose to move, which this time he did not. Mr Peccary remained behind his desk, shifting only to flick the ash from his cigar into an ornate ashtray
“Ah, my feline friend,’ he said at last, a minute or so after the door had closed leaving the two of them alone in the large office “To what do I owe the honour of your visit?” Peccary inquired as he indicated that his guest should be seated and continued to speak, not giving Merryweather a chance to answer the initial question.
“It has been some time if memory serves. Well over a year,” Merryweather’s corpulent host stated as he offered my friend a well stacked cigar box.
Merryweather inclined his head slightly, taking a cigar and slipping the band from the thick tobacco, and replied “14 months to be exact, although I did run into a mutual acquaintance some eight months ago. I gather you had asked him to pass on a message.”
The folds of flesh in Peccary’s neck wobbled slightly as he leaned forward to clip and light the end of Merryweather’s cigar “Ah yes. My Italian friend, Count Udonatti. I believe he failed to deliver my point.”
Merryweather sat back, cross legged and blew out a plume of smoke with a wry smile. “He certainly tried.”
“Indeed … and what became of our friend?”
“Deported. Duelling is still illegal in this country!”
“He challenged your honour, Captain? What may I ask was the dispute?”
“The Count contended that I had cheated at a hand of baccarat and demanded instant satisfaction. Fortunately I too had a cane … though mine was solid wood and did not conceal a blade.”
Peccary shrugged, “You know these European Noblemen and their honour.”
“Yes … quite, but I haven’t come here to discuss old enmities.”
“Indeed?” Mr Peccary poured two tumblers of port from a crystal decanter “What HAVE you come here to discuss?”
Merryweather accepted his glass and swirled it round thoughtfully for a moment before turning to a chess board set to one side of Peccary’s desk. Studying it, he moved one emerald knight forward in front of the emerald pawns “I’ve been hearing rumours,” he began as he leant his cats head cane on the desk so that the cats head rested gently against the side of the chess set as if its eyes were scanning the middle of the board.
Peccary waited, saying nothing.
Merryweather picked up the crystalline ruby figure of the opposing forces central pawn and moved it one place forward “Rumours of a new player. No one seems to know quite who he is though.” He moved the emerald knight to the centre of the board.
Peccary clasped his hands together “There’s always someone new. A businessman such as myself tends to attract competitors. Such is the way of … commerce and indeed more so with my political dabblings.”
Merryweather still hadn’t taken his eyes from the board. He now pushed the ruby pawn forward. “True and a good businessman or politician can always curtail the advances of small players … known opponents and the like.” Reaching over, Merryweather advanced the emerald knight to take the pawn.
Peccary’s eyes flicked to the gap in the ruby back line a second before Merryweather proceeded to sweep the red queen forward to take the emerald knight.
“An apt metaphor Captain. Your suggestion is I take it that should I encounter a bigger player …” He picked up the red queen and examined it briefly before returning it to its place “An opponent with unfamiliar moves,” he continued, picking up the discarded emerald knight, “This presupposes I cannot anticipate …” Moving the queen back into place, he replaced the red pawn on its old spot and put the emerald knight back to ruby king five “… an obvious lure.” Peccary pushed the emerald pawn in front of his king forward and said”… but suppose I refuse to be baited and instead choose to develop other avenues of attack?”
Merryweather’s right hand moved to his cane “Suppose you do? Suppose you play a more tactical game, developing supported pawn advances, probe your opponents’ defences with your knights and bring forth your other pieces in readiness for an assault at your own pace. Sooner or later a confrontation will inevitably take place and even the best of players will lose assets before a win.”
“I see … and a defensive game would just delay the confrontation?”
“Precisely. Your opponent can only grow stronger given time to prepare as well. OR he might just force a confrontation before you are ready.”
“Your knowledge of chess is most diverting Captain. You have a solution to this scenario I take it?”
“Yes. Don’t play the game.” Slowly and deliberately Merryweather lowered his cane into the middle of the chess board, separating the emerald crystal figurines from the ruby. The eyes of the cat faced the red king and queen.
Peccary studied the board for a minute, his balding head lowered. Then he looked up into the eyes of the man seated opposite him “Suppose there was such an individual … an individual whose interests may someday clash with mine. Suppose such a person existed …” the big man let the end of the thought dangle.
Merryweather leaned closer “I believe this individual does exist and I believe I am very close to knowing all I need to know about him. The last piece of knowledge I lack is a name … an alias.”
Mr Peccary smiled “Ah and then the cat will prowl. Very well. As you know Captain, in the pursuit of my … legitimate business I am obliged to broker knowledge in ah order to serve the interests of this fair city. To that end I employ all manner of … information collectors … hard facts, hearsay, rumour and the like. The great majority of tidbits that my agents report to me are generally useless shreds of no importance to my political and business aspirations. However they make for amusing diversions … and one fragment that sticks to the subconscious could well, now that I choose to recall it, be the nom de guerre of our individual. The name sir is … Macabre!”
The Net Closes.
While Merryweather was conducting his extraordinary interview with Mr Peccary, I was seated by the window of Black’s Tea Room consuming another round of scones and a fifth cup of tea. A slight tapping beside me aroused my attention and I was surprised to see a young urchin staring in at me, his grubby hands smearing the window pane. I hastened outside to talk to the young scrub … for I had recognised him as Monk, a scrawny underfed 13 year old sometimes employed by Merryweather in various capacities such as messenger or even spy.
“Beggin yer pardon Mr Deacon, sir,” he addressed me, pulling his ragged cap off “… but the Cap’n sez I was to give youse these telegrams at once sir. Dead urgent e sez they was an I’ve been awaitin down the exchange all morning sir.”
“Well don’t just stand there boy. Let me see them,” I cried.
Young Monk continued to hold the sheaf of telegrams to his chest. “Cap’n’s eyes only sir. E sez youse was to wait fer im.”
“Confound it you young wretch. If they’re so urgent, I must open them at once, Merryweather or no.”
Stubbornly the wretched snipe refused to part with them, but fortunately at that moment Merryweather reappeared and took matters in hand. Glancing rapidly through the telegrams he flipped a half dollar at the wide eyed boy “Good work young Paulie. Don’t spend it all on gin and come by Saturday. I may have more work for you.”
The dirty urchin bit the coin, grinned and said “Thank yer Cap’n sir,” before running off into the crowd.
We Brave The Hasen District.
Following our brief encounter with young Paulie, Merryweather hailed a cab and instructed the driver to take us to the Tem where we were to meet the Colonel. Again he refused to enlighten me as to his recent findings and infuriatingly would only say “All shall soon be revealed Deacon,” and capped his pronunciation with the most unbecoming of knowing smiles.
On our return to the club, Beard the day porter conducted us to the Gun Room (A rule of the club was that gentlemen should check all firearms at the entrance. The gentleman would receive a receipt on surrendering his weapon to the care of the day or night porter, who would place it in a cabinet in the Gun Room. Access to the room was permitted in the company of either the steward or one of the club porters and viewings were allowed between the hours of six and seven thirty pm on Tuesdays as the Tem did not only keep weapons for its members, but boasted a fine collection of antique and contemporary firearms).
It was while we were selecting our weaponry – for Merryweather had over the years donated a large quantity of pieces that were available to him at any time; that Colonel Preston Danforth finally arrived in a state of some agitation.
Sensing something was amiss, my friend enjoined the elder gentleman to speak without preamble. The brief tale he told rapidly extinguished the light anticipatory look that Merryweather had, had about him for the last few hours.
“Trickery, Sir!” roared the Colonel, waving a note wildly in the air “As I mentioned when last we parted, I had an engagement with my physician that I could not avoid. The appointment itself lasted under an hour but as I was leaving a young ruffian barged into me and I felt him lift my wallet from my coat. I gave chase and caught up to him just as a policeman blocked his path. My wallet was returned and I was obliged to accompany the constable to the station across town to swear out a complaint.”
“When we arrived he showed me to a waiting room and left to process the prisoner. On his prompt return I was interviewed in the waiting room and asked to sign my name to documents which he purported to be a form asserting my willingness to press charges. All in all I was delayed a full two hours and shortly after taking my leave I became suspicious of the manner in which the officer had processed my complaint. I returned and spoke to the duty officer and was informed that no Constable Manton existed within the precinct – nor was any pick pocket charged within the last few hours!”
“On my return home I was informed that a young woman had called for Katherine not twenty minutes before and my niece had left with her in a hurry shortly thereafter and LOOK gentlemen – Katherine left the note behind. It bears my signature but is not from me!”
All colour drained from Merryweather’s face as he turned to me “Curse my over confidence. Macabre has Miss Conn, Deacon. I daresay we have been under observation both at the Colonel’s house and when I visited Peccary. This note purports to be from Colonel Danforth, exhorting his niece to meet us urgently at an address in the Hasen District. An address plainly marked and left for us to discover. Macabre wants us to know he holds the girl and where to find her so we can exchange the map for Miss Conn’s safety!”
As if to punctuate the point, at that moment a note was delivered into Merryweather’s hands. It simply said “Bring the map.” M.
After choosing our firearms we set off at once to first secure the map and then travel by hansom cab to the edges of the infamous Hasen District – It was to Holyoke what Whitechapel was to London. We were accompanied by the Colonel and the stalwart James Beard, who had offered his assistance and was gratefully accepted. It should be noted that Beard was another of Captain David Merryweather’s old associates and no stranger to his nocturnal activities.
As we neared the address Merryweather grew more and more tense. A girl’s life was at stake and he took that fact extremely seriously.
The address we had been given turned out to be the entrance to a building which appeared to house some sort of drinking establishment. A closer inspection revealed that the large noisy frontage concealed access to back rooms and the presence of rouged women and gentlemen in states of either agitation or a partial stupor, revealed that the building catered to opium addicts as well as those addicted to the temptations of the flesh.
Three of us entered and stood looking around at the bacchanal like merriment occurring within. The occupants a mixture of thrill seeking gentlemen and the lower orders – a den of iniquity with a music hall atmosphere.
At once a young lady approached us. She was attired as a slattern but with an accent and bearing that marked her as a cut above the low women around us. A fallen woman from the educated classes, no doubt acting as a hostess was my assumption. We followed her up the stairs at the back of the bar to a quiet antechamber where she turned to us “Colonel Danforth, Mr Deacon and Captain Merryweather.” She stated and we could no longer doubt we were anywhere but in the right place.
“Where is my niece?” spluttered the enraged Colonel taking a step forward, prompting me to place a restraining hand on his arm.
Without a word the woman opened a far door and picking up a lantern stepped through into a darkened corridor and beckoned us to follow. We did so as a drunk staggered out of a nearby room off the corridor, bent double as in the act of regurgitation. She led us along the corridor to the far end and through a door which opened into a suite of rooms where two men awaited us. Just beyond the main sitting room we glimpsed the stricken figure of Katherine lying on a bed within guarded by an old crone who was seated by the bed.
“Fiends!!” cried Colonel Preston Danforth “If you’ve harmed one hair on her head, I’ll …”
“You’ll do nothing Colonel,” the thinner of the men broke in “Your niece is in perfect health and sleeping of a dose of chloroform. If you remain quiet and don’t misbehave, she will remain unharmed. Do we understand each other?”
The Colonel nodded, “Macabre I presume?” The dark haired man returned the nod, “The map please. Place it carefully on the table.”
The Colonel moved to comply, ever aware of the eyes of the two other men upon him. The second he recognised as the large bald thug who had accosted him.
The dark haired man smiled “Now, who do we have here? The Colonel of course and you gentlemen must be Captain Merryweather and the Deacon. How does it feel to have been outsmarted and outwitted at every turn? He stared directly at my companion who answered.
“I don’t know. Why not ask the man with the gun to your head?”
There was a click of a pistol cocking and a dark cloaked figure stepped forward. The masked man’s voice was low, “Not a movement and you, old woman, keep your hands where my associates can see them or your boss will require a new forehead.”
“The Catman!!” exclaimed Tobias Jenks. “How the hell did you get in here?”
“Through a carelessly unlocked upper floor window. I was able to follow while your pretty friend thought I was throwing up in the hallway.”
“Dash it,” I cried looking round for the woman “She’s gone! At least we have Macabre though.”
“Not quite!” The lady in question was aiming a pistol at my head from the cover of a small closet door I had failed to notice “Now Mr Catman, if you please, drop the pistol before I drop the Deacon.” She covered the few steps and I felt her gun on the back of my head.
Merryweather however, didn’t falter “Madame if you pull that trigger I’ll pull mine and then turn this gun on you. We might both die in the exchange or we might both leap aside. Either way the Colonel and Captain Merryweather,” he looked at Beard, his stand in “… would easily take care of Mr Jenks, leaving two perhaps three of us to oppose you should you have survived and I can guarantee you’ll not leave this room alive.”
“You’re forgetting old Agnes who will surely kill the girl.”
“Old Agnes can be assured of hastily following Miss Conn to the afterworld if she does anything other than sit peacefully until the outcome.”
“It appears we have a standoff,” the girl stated.
Ever aware of the gun to my head, I nevertheless spoke “She’ll dare nothing while we have Macabre.”
My friend smiled grimly “I believed I would find a Dr Macabre here tonight but this fellow is too young to be him … is that not so Miss Macabre or do you prefer Miss Madeleine Macomb?”
If the Colonel’s face was anything to go by, my duplicate expression was one of sheer shock, surprise and to use a bastardisation of my own coinage – agogness.
I felt rather than saw my captor smile. “That is so Captain Merryweather … Yes, I know a secret about you as well.” I heard the gun click and a shot rang out deafening me. Surprised to find myself still alive I again virtually instantaneously felt the gun barrel at my head. This time it was hot against my skin. Merryweather’s hostage lay dead – a bullet had passed directly through his skull!
Miss Macomb or Macabre was speaking again “That’s much better Captain. I would have hated to reveal your secret to Peccary’s spy. I’m almost certain the big man knows but it wouldn’t be knowledge he’d care to share amongst his lower ranks. Please put the gun down Captain. You have nobody to threaten but Mr Jenks and although he is a loyal, trusted member of my organisation, be under no misapprehension that I value his life enough to capitulate. Ah I see Mr Jenks has already acted in his own self interest and is even now covering you with his own pistol!”
Merryweather inclined his head slightly “Congratulations Madame. You have the upper hand.”
“Captain, I have the only hand,” Miss Macabre replied.
“I must confess I am not used to being outmanoeuvred thus and while I would be prepared to take a bullet in the chest myself, you can be assured I will do nothing while you threaten my friend.”
His eyes had flicked briefly to mine during this speech and I fancied I had heard a slight inflection in his tone as he spoke “prepared”. My friend had given me a coded message in plain English and now the outcome was in my hands. I decided to act and several things occurred at once.
Miss Macabre was taken unawares, her attention being firmly riveted on the masked figure before her; when I abruptly dropped to the floor and kicked backwards with both my legs to knock her off balance. Two shots rang out and I saw the Catman crumple – but already Beard was racing forwards to strike Jenks firmly in the jaw whilst the Colonel leaped over me to snatch the female mastermind’s pistol from her grip as she struggled to rise.
Jenks was a big man and seemingly impervious to Beard’s valiant efforts but the stalwart porter soon received aid when Merryweather rose up, seemingly unaffected by the blast to his chest. Between the pair of them the large thug was felled like a stricken oak. For my own part I was still sprawled on the floor witness to our sudden reversal, for not only had Beard and Merryweather triumphed, but Colonel Preston Danforth had secured Madeline Macomb’s pistol and was covering her.
Then barely a second later the lights went out, there was a huge crash and I felt someone brush past me. When order and lighting were restored, the situation stood as follows:
Merryweather and Beard stood over the prone form of the fallen Jenks – the Colonel was down and the female architect of the whole business was gone … as was the Kolobad map, vanished from the upturned table.
Merryweather immediately raced into the next room and emerged with a half conscious Katherine “Thank God she is unharmed,” he assured himself and her anxious uncle “but Macabre is gone … and he has taken his daughter and the map with him!”
“HIS daughter?” I asked non comprehendingly. “Yes Deacon … Dr Macabre has escaped,” Merryweather announced, holding up a grotesque, frighteningly realistic rubber mask – the face and hair of the old woman Agnes!
Epilogue. Dinner at the house in Quinlain Heights.
That evening we returned for a very late supper at the Danforth residence. The Colonel himself presided with Miss Con acting as hostess between exchanging adoring glances with my good friend and man of the hour, Captain David Merryweather. James Beard and myself made up the rest of the party.
“What I don’t understand my boy,” the retired military man was saying “Is how you knew Malcolm Macomb was behind the whole plot to relieve me of my map? How the deuce could he have been when all four of my fellow tontines had to be dead to fulfil the supernatural requirements needed to produce the complete map!?”
Merryweather took a sip from his glass of Madeira before answering “Colonel, I had asked you for a full account of your story. From that I devised a short list of exactly who stood to benefit from the Kolobad map. It then fell to me to cross names from that list until I found the most likely suspect. To that end I sent out telegrams designed to discern information about each of the principals and their immediate family. It was apparent from the start that the secret of the Kolobad map, by its nature was a closely kept one and unlikely that it would have been made known to any outsiders.”
“The first of the tontine to perish, mere months later, was Lawrence Delaney, an orphaned private soldier in his early twenties. Delaney died without family or issue. A decade or so later my own father died of a tropical disease, leaving me his only child. Five years ago the death of Dr Malcolm Macomb was reported at sea. He left behind one daughter, a fifteen year old named Madeline who had not seen her father since she was an infant. Madeline’s mother had died in childbirth and the girl had been raised by nuns. This left only the Colonel and his niece and the recently deceased Adam Randall. Randall had become a successful businessman but had never married.”
“Could he have fathered a child in secret?” Beard asked.
“My inquiries tell me otherwise,” Merryweather replied “Randall shared a house with a … gentleman companion. He did however have a brother and a sister. The brother was a banker’s clerk with a wife and three adult children. My sources lead me to suspect that in no way had Randall divulged any information to his family, nor would they be inclined to give such matters any credence. All in all, simple, respectable middle class people. The sister incidentally is a vicar’s wife most noted for her charitable works.”
I glanced quickly over at Miss Conn. Merryweather could be tactless at times, especially when outlining the details of a case, but fortunately the young lady seemed to have totally overlooked the “gentleman companion” remark.
Merryweather continued, “Having met Miss Conn, I could not suspect her of any duplicity towards her uncle and so I returned to Madeline Macomb. It seemed unlikely given the circumstances that she should be aware of the secret of Kolobad or that she would have the resources of a criminal leader … unless she had joined her father at a point AFTER his supposed death. That Macomb had died; I cannot dispute for his death was vital to the maps completion. However he need not remain dead!”
At these words the Colonel, Beard and myself began to ask the same question that was on all our minds. Merryweather waited patiently until he had all our attention and explained
“I had gathered from the Colonel’s story and other questions I had put to him that Dr. Malcolm Macomb had a deep interest in the spiritual, fanned by his time in Kolobad and his desire for the secret of immortality. Further inquiries told me that Macomb had spent time travelling in India and Tibet where I deduced he picked up a fabled ancient yogic secret. The possessor of this knowledge could then slow his heart beat to the point of death occurring and then subsequently revive from this state. In my readings on the subject, I discovered claims that an adept can remain in such a state for anything from thirty seconds to five minutes. Macomb knew his gamble had paid off when his own map crumbled to dust within his leather pouch, just as Delaney’s and my father’s had done!”
“Astounding!” I exclaimed.
“Indeed, Deacon. Macomb was then free to fake his death, return to England to be secretly reunited with Madeline, and wait for one of the two remaining holders of the map to die. Then the Macombs travelled here to Holyoke, started a criminal organisation within the city – and, incidentally, I believe they had already built a powerful criminal syndicate elsewhere before relocating. Therefore with the map complete, they were able to start their plan to coerce Colonel Danforth to relinquish it to them.”
“Yes!” I cried “… and at that point WE became involved and you deduced the underworld connection due to the presence of Varney, a known felon!”
“Precisely. However the Macombs had secrecy and a large network of spies going for them. No one in their organisation knew the identity of ‘Macabre’ except their top men and even they believed Madeline was in charge.”
Beard interjected at this point, “Somehow they discovered you were the Catman.”
“True. I had been careless and underestimated the opposition. Peccary’s spy – the Macabre stand in, threw me and I was completely unaware that Dr Macabre was present disguised as the old woman. I was slightly more prepared in my choice of a protective vest and fortunately Deacon picked up on my signal to act and we were able to salvage victory.”
“If only we had prevented the loss of the map,” I lamented.
Merryweather smiled and reached into his pocket “A fake old fellow!” he declared “but I daresay it will take Dr. and Miss Macabre a few months to discover that.”
Miss Conn smiled “Then they’ll be wandering around India looking for a needle in a haystack! How poetic such a fate is, if we can’t bring them to justice.”
My friend raised his glass and smiled wryly “An inconvenience richly deserved my dear Katherine, but I daresay we haven’t heard the last of them.”
I raised my own glass “A toast then. To the Catman, his return engagement with the diabolical Dr Macabre, and the eventual imprisonment of the fiend!”
… and so the affair concluded. But what then of Macabre and his daughter Madeline? Merryweather’s remarks were indeed prescient for they did return to contend with us once more, but as for the outcome … I shall leave you dear reader with Merryweather’s own words:
“THAT is a tale for another day.” Adieu
The Catman was published in Catman Comics but debuted in Crash Comics from a different publisher. Altogether Catman appeared under three publishing banners, all of which are mentioned in homage. In order of appearance in the story:
Holyoke City was named for Catman’s major publisher “Holyoke.”
The Tem St Gentleman’s club is named for “Tem Publishing” the initial company name for the Holyoke line when Catman appeared in Crash.
Major John Helnitt was named for “Helnitt” the company name in initial issues of Catman before the Holyoke name became the staple. It was not unusual for comic companies to have several names such as Nedor/Better/Standard or Timely/Atlas/Marvel depending on sub divisions or name changes or characters moving companies.
The Deacon – A Golden Age Holyoke character who occupied a berth as a back up strip in Catman Comics. The Deacon and the Catman once shared a crossover story which established the pair as old friends. The first name Nathaniel is my own invention and his appearance in this story marks his first post Golden Age story.
The Case of the 9 Cent Adventure – Had a little fun with this reference. Do I really need to explain it to comics fans!
Quinlain Heights is named for Charles Quinlan, one of the premier artists on Catman. I simply added an I for my homage.
Katherine Conn is Katie Conn, aka the Kitten, Catman’s partner and later wife.
Mr Peccary – The first of Catman’s two arch enemies. Artistically he was said to have been modelled on the actor Sidney Greenstreet. I have adhered my description to the original.
Americo Lane – Named for Americomics the long version of AC Comics.
Blacks Department Store – Named for AC publisher and founder Bill Black.
Paulie Monk – Named for Paul Monsky, the founder of the Femfans page and the gent who asked me to write the story which would develop into the Unofficial Tontine. The character of Paulie also follows my loose Sherlock Holmes/Watson story analogy and is of course meant to resemble a Baker Street boy.
James Beard – A thinly veiled disguise for up and coming DC writer Jim Beard, a fellow poster and sometime correspondent of mine from the DCBoards. Jim has worked on a few JSA and Hawkman projects with more to come I’m sure.
The Hasen District – Named for Irwin Hasen, Golden Age great and the creator of Catman.
Miss Macabre – Madeline Macomb, daughter of Dr Macabre.
Dr Macabre – Malcolm Macomb, the later and most unrelenting of Catman’s two arch enemies. Both Macabre’s can occasionally be seen in the pages of AC’s Femforce.