Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Johnny Grimoire (and Fan-boy)


Last Rights for Peter Helms

By Jeffrey Blair Latta

It was a dark night in Murkheim City.  In the alleys, the rats needed help to get around.

What moon there was was keeping its head down.  It peered timidly between the slim silhouettes of a couple of skyscrapers, casting its pallid glow with nervous restraint.  Just enough for evil to find its mark -- or, so Johnny Grimoire would have said.

Johnny was like that.  Cynical.  Hard-edged.  Quotable.

But dark or not, Johnny's keen eyes didn't miss a thing.  Me, I would have passed the whole thing by, hardly a backwards glance.  But Johnny spotted it right off.  I guess that's why I'm the sidekick, you think?

We were cruising the mean streets, Johnny Grimoire and me, Fan-boy, both of us riding our motorbikes, just walking our beat.  While other guys hung out in their dads' Chevys rocking to Bill Halley and the Comets, Johnny and me went looking for trouble.  In this city, you didn't have to look hard.  There was always something happening.

Tonight it was happening at the Murkheim Museum of Fine Art.

Johnny pulled up before the wrought-iron front gates, engine popping, waiting for me to join him.  I did and we both got off.

To anyone new to the city, we would have given a bad impression.  Johnny Grimoire in his black leather jacket, greased hair, riding gloves and black eye-mask tied behind his head with the loose ends trailing.  Me, with my own ensemble, like a younger version of Johnny, red high school jacket with the big FB on the back, jeans, but no gloves and no greased hair.  I wore a white bandanna tied around my forehead, Japanese fashion.  That's where I was born, in Japan.  They call me Fan-boy because of my metal Japanese fans.  The press had a lot of fun with that -- until I showed them what those fans could do.

"What is it, Mr. G.?" I asked Johnny.  He pointed and that was when I saw the hole in the wrought-iron fence.  The ends still glowed red-hot.  It couldn't have happened more than a few minutes before.  "Wow!  What did that, do you suppose?"

He was a man of few words.  Now he used a couple.

"Come on."

Together, we slipped through the hole and crossed the lawn to the museum.  It was late and the museum was closed.  This time I didn't need Johnny to point it out.  The bars over one of the windows had been cut away, the same red glowing ends, and the glass had been broken.

"Shouldn't the alarm have gone off?"  I was mystified.  My guess was, Johnny wasn't doing any better.  With a single fluid leap, he vanished inside.  He didn't make a sound.  That was okay, I made enough for us both.

Inside, as I joined him, there was a soft hiss as he drew his sword from its scabbard.  That scabbard is pretty special.  It belonged to King Arthur and makes the wearer invincible.  No kidding.  Johnny can be hurt or injured, but, so long as he's got that thing on, he can't be killed.

The sword is also special.  Supposedly, according to Johnny, it's called Gudliege and was the sword the Lady of the Lake originally offered to King Arthur before Excalibur.  You won't find that story in the library, but try telling Johnny.

Anyway, why Arthur would have refused it, I don't know.  It works just fine.

If it was dark outside, it was even darker in that museum.  The room was big, too, filled with statues like weird trees in a nightmare forest.  It took a moment to pick out the figures moving amongst those statues.  First one.  Then another.  Then a third.

The first two were just thugs, dressed like thugs.  They were carrying something wrapped in a black sheet, presumably so no one would notice it when they got outside.  One of the statues, was my guess.  The third, though, was a tall slim goon with a black mask covering his entire head, hiding his face.  He was the first to notice us.

He gasped, "No!"  One hand made a warding gesture in front of his face.

The two thugs noticed us then, and dropped what they were carrying.  One of them made a gesture of his own, pointing at us.  Almost too late, I realized he wasn't pointing.

His gun went off with vigour.

I didn't have to think.  I never do.  My fans were in my hands and spreading before the tongue of flame had left the muzzle.  My fans aren't bullet-proof, not like Johnny's sword, but they don't need to be.  A little guy can throw a big guy if he knows how to do it.  I was the little guy.  That bullet was the big guy.  And I know how to do it.

The bullet deflected off the left fan.  Unfortunately, it did some damage off to the side, one of the statues, probably.  But there wasn't time to worry about that.  The thug fired again, this one at Johnny, then again and again and again.  You might think, having a bullet-proof sword gives Johnny an unfair advantage over me, with my measly fans.  Just try catching a bullet on the blade of a sword.

Compared to Johnny Grimoire, I'm standing still.

Gudliege slashed right, left, right, then right again.  All three bullets ricochetted in blue spark-showers.  The thug's jaw dropped and, before he could pick it up, Johnny leapt in and neatly sliced off the smoking muzzle of the gun.  The sword does that, too.  Cuts metal like butter.

And Arthur passed?

By this point, the other thug had figured out guns wouldn't work.  Since he didn't have anything else, he got creative.  With an inarticulate shout, he charged Johnny, arms outspread as if he was just going to give my Boss a hug.  In cases like this, the sword's a problem.  Johnny's never killed anyone, but he's come awful close a few times.

He lashed out with his other fist.  The thug stopped in his tracks.  I swear I heard the cuckoo birds myself.  Then his legs folded and took him with them.

Johnny must have signaled the police right at the beginning.  Now sirens filled the night; flashing lights strobed through the broken panes.  The  tall slim goon with the hidden face didn't like that.  For a moment, he looked like he was going to try and pick up the covered package they'd been stealing.  But then, he gave a snarl of disgust and broke for the window.

Johnny was after him in a flash.  He'd resheathed his sword, meaning to do this manually.  But just as the goon reached the window, he spun and hurled something at Johnny.  It looked like a glass ball, no bigger than a peach pit.  I saw Johnny dodge, but the thing gave a little pop and exploded in the air.

Then Johnny was moving again.  He caught the goon climbing onto the sill, started to haul him down -- and then he was falling.  Johnny, not the goon.  For a second, he dragged at the goon's clothing, but pretty soon he gave that up and just sort of puddled on the floor.

I yelled, "Holy cow, Mr. G.!  What hap --?"

And then I joined him.

We were only out for a few minutes.  When we came to, we learned the goon had gotten away.  He'd used another glass ball on the cops.  Outside, the balls must not have been as effective, because only one cop went down, but the other four had been woozy for a few seconds, and that was all the goon needed.

Whatever was in those glass balls, the goon was evidently immune.  Not so his two thugs.  We questioned them outside in one of the police cruisers.  Johnny hypnotized them both, but it didn't do any good.  They had been hired to pull this job, but they didn't know who the goon was.  They hadn't even seen his face.  The strange thing was, he hadn't paid them in cash.  He'd paid in gold.  Little nuggets of gold.

Johnny seemed to think that was significant.

When Johnny was done with them, he went over to the wrought-iron fence and looked at the hole.  His features were pensive.  The metal wasn't glowing anymore, but it was still an impressive sight.

"What do you think, Mr. G.?" I asked.  "A blow torch, maybe?"

"Something faster than that," he said.  "Those men said it looked like a laser."

"A laser?"

Just then, one of the constables called from the window of the museum.   "Hey, chief, come look what they were stealing.  You're not going to believe this."

Chief Ledbetter went to see what was so unbelievable.  Johnny and I joined him.  The constable was right.  It was unbelievable.

The constable had replaced the black sheet over whatever it was the thugs had been carrying.  He'd done that just so he could keep us in suspense.  Now he jerked it away like a stage magician.

Underneath there were five brass garbage cans stacked one on top of the other.  Just the ordinary slim cans you find all around the museum.

The constable asked the obvious question: "Now would someone please tell me -- why in hell would you break into a museum filled with priceless works of art and steal the garbage cans?"

The break-in at the museum took place at about eleven o'clock.  An hour later, we were back at Johnny's secret place in the abandoned cannery on the waterfront.  Johnny owned the property under his real identity but kept it vacant because it made a perfect hideout.  The city council was always after him to develop it or sell, but one way or another he managed to keep them at bay.

His real identity (as everyone now knows) was August McCrimm, millionaire whiskey baron, part owner of the McCrimm-McQueen label, (brewers of fine Scotch since 1777), and I was his youthful secretary, Asano Katsumatsu.  But, sometimes, it seemed as if it was Johnny Grimoire who was his real identity and that August McCrimm fellow just the cover, instead of the other way around.  I think he was more comfortable with his leather jacket, slicked-back hair, riding his motorbike through the black-glass streets of the city.

And when he died in '58, I think he went the way he would have wanted.  Not in some bad guy's fiendish trap, but with his foot on the gas and the clutch opened wide.

Anyway, back at the cannery, Johnny revealed that his brief grapple with the goon on the sill had been more than a last ditch effort to stop the guy from escaping.  You see, Johnny Grimoire's schtick was magic.  Real magic.  And among his bag of tricks was map-dowsing.  What that involved was taking an article belonging to some missing person, rubbing it against a dowsing crystal, then swinging the crystal over a map, like a pendulum.  If conditions were right, the crystal would indicate where the person was hiding.

Johnny had torn the pocket off the goon's jacket.

He frowned as he inspected the fabric under a big magnifying glass.

"Something wrong, Mr. G.?"

"This fabric," he said.  "It doesn't seem to have been woven.  It's almost like some sort of paper material, but as strong as denim."

"That's pretty strange.  What do you think it means?"

"I don't know.  Let's see what the crystal has to say."

Johnny rubbed his dowsing crystal against the fabric, then started it swinging over a map of Murkheim City.  Slowly he moved it over the map.  Back and forth the pendulum went.  Then, suddenly, a strange thing happened.

The pendulum started to glow.  It had never done that before.

I said, "Uh, hey, Mr. G., you think --?"

Evidently he did think, because, even as I spoke, he flung the crystal across the room and into a stack of crates.  It exploded in the air, sending crystal shards flying.  They rattled against the pipes.  If Johnny had been a heartbeat slower, someone would have lost an eye.  Me, maybe.

As I picked myself up off the floor, I saw Johnny was already lost in thought.  I didn't blame him.

Johnny had a radio scanner tuned into the police band.  When the call came through about a bomb, Johnny decided we should check it out.

It was still night time, the same night.  I had a science test tomorrow, fifth period, and hadn't studied, so was probably going to fail.  But I didn't mention that to Johnny.  He would have sent me home, and I didn't want to miss out on the action I figured was bound to come.

Five minutes later, we rolled up to the front doors of a big brick building with a sign that said: "Cryotics Inc."  I remembered reading about the place.  They froze people.  If you were dying of some disease that had no cure, for a price they would freeze you until some day when a cure was discovered.  At least, so they claimed.  Me, I figured it was a scam.

Maybe someone else had had the same idea.  It was a safe bet, the bomb hadn't been placed by a dissatisfied customer.

The bomb squad was there and had already defused the thing.  There wasn't anything for us to do, so we started back home again.  Along the way, Johnny decided to cruise by the museum again, just to look the place over, in case he had missed anything.

Even as we passed the hole in the fence (now boarded over), we heard a scream, a woman's scream.  It came from down the street.  There was a little kiosk there, on the opposite side from the museum.  They sold mugs.  They'd write things on the mug for you --  "personalized mugs" they called them.  There were two figures struggling in front of that kiosk.  They weren't buying mugs.

One was the masked goon from the museum.

"Wow, Mr. G.," I said, "that guy's sure got some nerve.  Twice in one night.  And in front of the museum, yet!"

But Johnny couldn't hear me over the motorbikes and he probably wouldn't have laughed anyway.

The goon saw us coming.  He hit the other guy across the head, and that guy fell into the street almost under Johnny's wheels.  Johnny had to swerve to avoid him, which was probably what the goon was hoping.

There was a third party present.  A girl with long blonde hair.  The guy had evidently been trying to protect her.  Now, with him out of the picture, the goon grabbed her and raced for the stairs leading down to the subway station.  Johnny was off his bike and chasing even before I had got there.

But this time the goon had a new trick up his sleeve.  There was a lamppost at the top of the stairs.  As the goon passed it, he reached out and a red light beam shot from his hand.  A laser beam.  It sliced through the base of the lamppost.  He dashed down the stairs.

By the time Johnny got there, the lamppost was already toppling.  Johnny had to jump back to keep from getting squashed.  It crashed down onto the stairs, crushing the railings, filling the night with sparks and the scream of bending metal.  The lamppost was obviously electrified, so Johnny couldn't just cut through it with his sword.  He wasted precious time getting past without killing himself.  A few minutes later, he returned, his features grim.  The goon had gotten away again.  And he had taken the girl.

We helped the other guy to his feet and asked him a few questions.  His name was Peter Helms and he worked at the museum.  The girl was his fiancee, Cathleen Vaughn.  They had just been walking home from a party when a man in a black mask leaped out of the shadows and tried to kidnap Cathleen.  Vaughn tried to fight him off...and we had seen the result.

One thing we hadn't noticed, in the darkness, was that Vaughn had managed to pull the goon's mask off his face.  The goon had fixed it, but not before Helms got an eyeful.  He was still shaking.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said.  "It was hideous, absolutely hideous.  I couldn't even describe it, that face was so horrible!"

"Try," Johnny said diplomatically.

"The features were scarred, the whole thing, one mass of scar tissue."

I shivered.  What were we dealing with? I wondered.  Who were we dealing with?

Johnny had a whole freakshow of crazies he ran up against on a regular basis.  The Purple Punster, The Tinker, Evil Eye, Loose Cannon.  But none of them fitted that description.  Was this a new loony to brighten our day?  I hoped not.

We called the police on the radio on Johnny's motorbike.  While we waited, Johnny asked Helms, "Do you have any idea why that guy kidnapped Miss Vaughn."

"Not a clue.  I don't think either of us have any enemies.  I work at the museum.  You don't make enemies working at a museum of Fine Art."  Suddenly he was shaking even harder.  "Oh, God, Cathleen means everything to me -- everything!  If that maniac harms her, I don't know what I'll do!"

"No use beating yourself up about it," I told him.  "You did everything you could to stop him.  That was some brave thing you did.  He's a tough one, believe me, we know."

"Do you have an article belonging to Miss Vaughn?" Johnny asked.  "Something she might have carried around alot?"

Helms looked at him in surprise.  "Well, yes.  I have her car keys.  She had just handed them to me when that man attacked us.  She had been drinking and wasn't sure she should drive."

"Can I borrow them?  They may be of some help in tracking her down."

Helms may have already known about Johnny's dowsing trick, or else maybe he was just too shook up to ask questions.  Either way, he gave Johnny the keys.  When the cops arrived a few minutes later, we told them what we had seen, then returned to the cannery.

"I know that look," I told Johnny when we got there.  "You have a theory, don't you, Mr. G.?"

"Maybe, Fan-boy.  First, let's try the crystal again."

The first time he had been using a piece of fabric belonging to the goon.  The crystal had exploded.  Obviously, there was something special about that guy's clothing.  This time, though, we were on safer ground.

Johnny rubbed another crystal against Cathleen Vaughn's keys, then started it swinging over a city map.  In no time at all, we had a positive result.

"Come on," Johnny said.  "Let's see if I'm right."

Click for the Conclusion


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Last Rights for Peter Helms is copyright 1999, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)