June 29, 2016 by David.Groveman
The following sample is the opening chapter of Henchman, a super hero novella set in a Golden-Age 1950s universe with a cast of over-the-top 1950s super heroes and villains. Here we meet Roy Thompson, a henchman for Professor Von Death, who’s patrolling a dock and keeping an eye out for meddling do-gooders.
“You gotta be kidding me!”
Roy “Tommy Gun” Thompson wasn’t your typical comic book fan. He didn’t live with his parents, he didn’t wear braces on his teeth or ride a bike to deliver newspapers, and if a bully pushed him around, that bully would find himself floating face down in the East River with more holes in him than a slice of Swiss cheese. When he’d stood in line to buy new books he’d often lied to the other adults in the checkout line that he was buying them for his boy. In truth, he had a vast collection of comics that lined the walls of his small apartment in Brooklyn. Roy wasn’t your typical comic book fan but boy did he love to read them.
He liked the wild ones, like “The Tales of Doctor Amazing” and “Cat Man from Kathmandu”. He liked the radio shows about heroes like The Query, Sullivan Tweed and Veronica Nicely, P.I. too but his favorite hero of them all, was Guy Turbo. Turbo was tall, with black wavy hair that had gone silver on the sides. Guy Turbo wore a blue leather jumpsuit and he always had a gadget to get himself out of a sticky situation. His comics were the best, but no comic book got all the facts exactly right.
They all had pithy dialogue that made heroes seem like they’d rehearsed a series of cheesy one-liners instead of training tirelessly at Jujutsu and Karate. The real Guy Turbo wouldn’t announce himself when he burst into the warehouse you were guarding. One minute you’d be patrolling a row of crates, the next you’d be waking up in county lockup. Sometimes you’d hear the pop fizz of a sleep grenade; other times he’d just club you in the back of the head with a wrench.
The comic book companies had to embellish things a little; Roy didn’t fault them that. Heck, the newspapers would gild the lily to make for a better story. He considered his own moniker. Roy didn’t even use a Tommy Gun, it just sounded swell with his last name. He didn’t like guns in general, he didn’t want to kill anybody, just do his job and get paid.
He was an imposing guy. At six feet tall and two hundred and twenty pounds he could have made a living as a boxer if he’d wanted. He’d certainly taken enough hits working for the Professor and Mickey the Moose. The truth was that Roy only stuck with these jobs for those brief moments where his profession would cross paths with his heroes, even if he usually blacked out shortly after.
His co-workers, the others who would stay up late guarding gambling halls and illegal labs, didn’t get it. They hated the ‘Supers’ and snickered at his boyish love for the ten cent picture books. “If I wanted to see Doctor Amazing beating the snot out of someone, I could just remember last Tuesday,” “Hammering” Hank Rawlins (who, for the record, used a switchblade) opined. “Why would you want to read that junk?”
“It’s different in the comics. It’s all a show.” Roy clutched his latest copy of ‘Cat Man from Kathmandu’ to his chest. “Can’t you admire someone who isn’t like you?”
Hank was non-plussed. “I can admire someone who doesn’t punch me in the face every time I see them.”
It was a chilly September night and a heavy fog hung over the wharf where Hank and Roy had been told to “Votch out for trawble.” Professor Von Death was busy working on his latest poison gas or deathray and he couldn’t have some hero like Veronica Nicely wandering in and spoiling his fun. It was a job that mostly involved standing around and doing nothing, so Roy cracked open his new Cat Man comic and read to himself.
Cat Man was a Tarzan-like figure who had been raised in the jungles of Nepal by an unlikely Snow Leopard. He could move silently, climb almost anything and he attacked with razor sharp claws, at least in the comics. Roy had met Cat Man on several occasions and he sounded like he was from Metuchen, NJ, not Kathmandu. He did wear a cat suit and the claws were real enough. Roy’s wife, Alice, had had to stitch him up herself.
This was a particularly good matchup as Cat Man was facing off against Brock the Rock who had somehow captured Cat Man’s sidekick, Ping Pong. Heroes didn’t actually have youthful sidekick companions in the real world, but they helped sell comic books.
Brock was a convict who had been held in a maximum security facility that wound up being too close to the Manhattan project back in 1946. Somehow his skin melded with the cement walls of his jail cell and he became made of stone. He was seven feet tall, five feet wide and near impossible to hurt. He wasn’t a bad boss, from what Roy remembered, and he had written to Alice the time that Sullivan Tweed had cracked Roy’s ribs. It was a sweet gesture and Alice saved the card in her night table.
In this comic, Cat Man was prowling in his custom Jaguar Leopard, the top selling sports car in Europe, looking for any sign of Brock or Ping Pong. His car was racing through the deserted streets of New York leaving faint white streaks tracing after it. He looked across his high-tech dashboard at the radar panel and dials which displayed various blips and waves. It appeared the instruments had picked up nothing when he happened to see two thugs guarding an alley.
Wouldn’t you know it, one held a tommy gun and the other a sledgehammer. Roy loved it when he got to see himself on the pages. ‘Atta tatta tatta tat!’ the cartoon gun rang out shooting flashes of yellow across the street at the bulletproof car. The bullets plinked off the bullet proof car like drops of rain and Cat Man sprang out through the sunroof and bounded off the wall. ‘Krrzzzzak!’ Roy grimaced seeing his character’s neck kicked to a painfully inhuman angle.
Hank’s effigy trundled over with his sledgehammer and ‘Kong!’- Roy stopped short. That sound wasn’t in the comic. It had come from the side of the wharf that Hank had been walking. “Hank?” Roy called, “You okay?” There was no answer and Roy wished he had a tommy gun, or even a baseball bat. He folded the comic and slid it into his back pocket before walking tentatively towards the sound he’d heard.
The Professor hadn’t wanted them to use guns or weapons at all for this job. “It iz fah too dahngerooz! Vut viz ze pozzibility of und explozion?” He’d handed Hank and Roy a heavy flashlight each and they’d taken them without complaint. Not using weapons usually meant less chance of being badly hurt on the job. Plus a flashlight would come in handy at night. Not that the lights did any good against the heavy fog that was all around him. Still, he gripped the steel tube like it was a club and it gave him a little confidence.
His foot kicked something heavy and the groaning told him it was Hank. Experience had taught Roy to expect a sharp crack on the back of the head. He spun, in a panicked paranoid frenzy that made him look like a frightened child. He felt the comic flip out from his pocket and winced as he imagined it falling into one of the many puddles that were on the ground all around him.
“Cat Man from Kathmandu?” A smooth voice spoke from a nearby bank of fog in a sarcastic incredulous tone, “You gotta be kidding me!”
Roy swung the flashlight like a club in the direction the sound had come from and felt the sting of it connecting with something hard as it vibrated up his arm. The sound in a comic book would have been ‘Bonk!’ but the actual sound was more like a “Thwupp!’ as the metal tube cracked through bone and reached something wet. His heart was beating faster than the wings of a hummingbird as he looked down at the broken blood-covered flashlight in his shaking hand.
He dropped it on the ground and groped for Hank to check if his friend were alright. Hank’s eyes were heavy and he couldn’t focus, but he’d be alright enough in a day or two, Roy surmised from experience. Roy let him lie there and checked on the voice he’d beaned with the flashlight.
There was no mistaking the blue jumpsuit and silver blood matted hair. “Heck in a handbasket! I killed Guy Turbo!”
He practically dove on top of Hank. Headache or no, he needed Hank awake. “Hank! Hank, please! Wake up, Hank!” Roy smacked his cheeks and the placid look of apathy was replaced with a pained expression.
“Roy?” Hanks voice was muffled, like he had a mouth full of cat’s-eye marbles. “Did he get you too? We should scram before the cops show up.”
“Hank, dangit! No, we’ve got a problem.”
Hank seemed to see Roy for the first time and the sight of blood on his friend’s hand snapped him to a firmer grip on reality. “Jumping Jesuits! You’re bleeding!”
“Am I bleeding?” Hank was beginning to panic. “The Professor doesn’t pay us enough to get killed.”
Roy forced a sigh out as his exasperation was slowly replacing his sense of panic. “No, Hank. The blood isn’t ours. It’s… I hit him, Hank. I took a blind haymaker swing and I knocked his brains right out.”
“Guy Turbo. I think I killed him.” Roy looked at Hank with eyes welling with unbidden tears. Hank looked up at his friend with a baffled and bemused look.
Hank started laughing, “Roy, boy, you are such a kidder. Killed Guy Turbo. You’re a laugh riot, you are.” Roy shoved his friend through the fog so Hank was face to face with the blood spattered corpse in the blue leather jumpsuit. “Wha- Aaaah! You killed Guy Turbo! You killed him! You-” Hank stopped ranting as his mind, which wasn’t given to elaborate creativity or calculation, began to extrapolate what this meant. Roy did the same.
In the comics, Guy Turbo had been “killed” eleven times. He’d been poisoned, thrown from a plane, fed to tigers, dropped into acid and suffered seven other equally ignoble ends. Each time he’d had just the gadget to get him out in the nick of time. Roy found himself wishing that Guy had had the simple forethought to wear a helmet. He didn’t think there were gadgets that could put a man’s brain back on the inside of his skull.
“You’re gonna get the chair,” Hank announced in a matter of fact way. “No jury is going to let the man who killed Guy Turbo breathe air for very long.” Roy frowned at his friend’s words, he was right. “Listen, you better get out of here.”
“Vutt iz all ziz racket?” The spindly goggled Professor Von Death emerged from his secret laboratory on the South Street docks. The Professor was tall and skeletally thin. One of their jobs had been to remind Herr Professor to eat his meals. He had white hair that had receded into a pronounced widow’s peak on his forehead and been painstakingly combed back and fixed in place with pomade. “I am verking viz very dahngerooz chemicalz und eekvipment!”
“We’re sorry, Professor.” Roy said dumbly.
Then Hank spilled the beans, “Roy killed Turbo, prof! Beat his brains out with that flashlight you gave him.” Roy felt betrayed. Why would Hank just blurt out something like that?
The professor looked at him with a cold hard stare that chilled Roy Thompson to the core. “If zat iz troo, you’ll haf to come vizz me. Goot even-ing Herr Rawlinz. Herr Thompzon, vee moozt go zee ze bozz.”
“Jiminy Cricket!” Hank whispered in awe, “Good luck, Roy boy. Hope I get to see you again, alive that is.”
New York’s Picture Newspaper
September 22, 1951
Guy Turbo Dead
A City Grieves Their Fallen Hero
The grizzly scene at the wharf on New York’s Lower East Side has been deemed too disturbing for our readers. Instead we run this image of Guy Turbo, taken after he had rescued New York City’s mayor from Hatchet Harry, last December. The Police Department has kept details of the incident under wraps but they have confirmed several grim details. That Manhattan’s greatest hero, Guy Turbo, was killed in the line of duty, that the death occurred during the fog-filled evening Friday and that the primary suspect is none other than Roy “Skullcrusher” Thompson.
Thompson, sometimes referred to as “Tommy Gun,” has a long and documented history of violent crime and an All-Points Bulletin has been issued for his apprehension and arrest. A blunt instrument bearing Skullcrusher’s bloody fingerprints was found at the scene of the crime along with a copy of the latest Zip Comic, ‘Cat Man from Kathmandu – Between a Brock and a Hardplace’. Authorities are asking Cat Man to take care, fearing that Skullcrusher has named him as the next victim.
Brock the Rock, currently a resident of Sing Sing, was questioned by authorities and offered to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for an early parole. Alice Thompson, wife to the super villain known as Skullcrusher, has been taken into custody for questioning. Mrs. Thompson has released the following statement,
“My husband is not a murderer. He’s a sweet man and this is all a great big misunderstanding. He’d never hurt a fly, let alone Guy Turbo. He loved Guy Turbo!”
Several candlelight vigils have been scheduled across the city including one at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that will be overseen by Cardinal O’Dougherty himself. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of “Skullcrusher” Thompson or any of his known associates please contact the police immediately.
This Story Continues on Page 3