If you have a love of all things new pulp but you aren’t familiar with Barry Reese then you’re missing out. Considered by many as one of the founding fathers of the new pulp movement, Reese burst onto the scene with The Rook (later renamed The Peregrine). His award winning tales of adventure never disappoint.
Now, faithful reader, you get the exciting opportunity of a lifetime in this sneak peak of Reese’s newest masterpiece, The Damned Thing.
– New Pulp Heroes
About the author:
In 2003 Reese began work for Marvel Comics on volume five of their Marvel Encyclopedia series. Following this, Reese worked on both the ongoing The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe series and on the D6 Space: Fires of Amatsumara Worldbook for West End Games. Amongst the issues of the Handbook that Reese worked on were Marvel Legacy: 1960s, Marvel Legacy: 1970s, Spider-Man 2006, Teams 2006, A-Z volumes 1-7 and Horror 2006. Reese also contributed to the New Avengers: Most Wanted and Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone books.
Reese then contributed to USER’S Most Wanted, a villains supplement for the Godsend Agenda roleplaying game belonging to Khepera Publishing. USER’S Most Wanted was published in May 2007.
Since 2006, Reese has primarily written in the pulp adventure genre. He has won numerous awards for his various series featuring heroes like Lazarus Gray, The Gravedigger and The Peregrine. Most notably, he was voted Best Author in the 2011 Pulp Ark Awards – he also won Best Short Story (2012 Pulp Ark Awards), Best Novel (2013 Pulp Ark Awards) and Best New Character (2014 Pulp Ark Awards).
Reese has contributed to anthologies featuring classic pulp and pulp-inspired heroes like The Avenger, I.V. Frost, The Green Hornet and Johnny Dollar. He served as one of the editors on Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow, the 2015 novel by Will Murray that paired Doc Savage and the Shadow. In 2017, he joined with Jim Beard on a novel featuring Captain Action – a book that was nominated for Best Novel in the 2018 Pulp Factory Awards.
THE DAMNED THING
December 14, 1939—Atlanta, Georgia
Violet Cambridge lay in bed, her nude form hidden by the crisp white sheets. In her left hand was a lit cigarette, the scent of cloves wafting from its tip. In her right hand she held a Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector II. The revolver had been introduced a few years before World War I and was Violet’s favorite type of handgun. Chambered for .45 caliber rounds, the Hand Ejector II normally had a five or six inch barrel but Violet’s gun had a modified barrel that had been cut down to four inches in length.
Violet took another hit off her smoke and watched as the shadows visible beneath her door grew closer. She counted at least two men in the outer room of her apartment. They were professionals, too, by the way they moved and how silent their break-in had been. Violet had keen ears and she’d barely heard them. She thought about trying to get dressed before they burst in but figured that it would only waste time. If they caught a glimpse of her, what did it matter? They weren’t long for this world anyway so why not give them a thrill on the way out?
The door suddenly shattered inwards, a heavy boot having been driven right into the wooden center. Two men pushed their way in, both dressed in identical gray suits and felt fedora hats. They were broad-shouldered types with square jaws, cold eyes and poor shaving habits. One had a patch of unruly whiskers on his chin, the other suffered from a perpetual case of razor burn.
The obvious leader of the two—Mr. Razor Burn, Violet dubbed him—moved closer, brandishing a revolver. His friend was more of a hands-on type: he was holding a ligature of rope.
Mr. Razor Burn hesitated, his eyes falling on the Smith & Wesson that Violet had trained on him. “Put down the gun, you crazy dame,” he said. His voice was hoarse and Violet pegged him as a hardcore smoker.
“Why would I do that?” Violet asked, looking completely nonplussed by the turn of events. Her raven-black hair was only slightly mussed from sleep, the bangs falling evenly over her dark eyes. “I’d say that you two gentlemen aren’t here to ask me out on a date. Am I right? So forgive me if I’d prefer to stay armed.”
“You give us the money you stole and Mr. Armitage says we can let you live.”
Violet took one last puff on the cigarette before stubbing it out in an ashtray on her nightstand. The motion caused her sheet to drop on one side, allowing a pale white breast to come into view. Her rosy nipple hardened in the night air and she knew that both men had caught sight of it. Mr. Razor Burn suddenly sounded even huskier than before. Men, she thought to herself, are such idiots.
“C’mon,” Mr. Razor Burn said, taking two steps closer. “I don’t want to hurt a good looking dame like you.”
“Good. That makes two of us that are concerned about my safety.” Violet moved the barrel of the gun slightly, focusing it on the guy holding the strangulation weapon. “I want you to tell Armitage that I didn’t steal any money. He’s the thief, not me. He had his boys raid the charity fund for the orphanage. Who does that? Not even Hitler, I’d bet. So all I did was take it back for them. And in the morning I’m going to drop it off at the orphanage… and all those happy little boys and girls will get to have Christmas this year.”
“You make yourself sound like a saint,” Mr. Ligature said. When he spoke, he revealed a set of teeth that were badly in need of dental care. “You’re nothing but a whore, showing off your tits like that. You need a man to put you in your place.”
Violet smiled coolly. “Pity you won’t get the chance.” She fired twice, both bullets striking Mr. Ligature in the throat. Blood flowed quickly from the wounds and Mr. Ligature’s eyes bulged in shock. He dropped his weapon and reached up with both hands in a vain attempt to staunch the flow of blood. He looked at Mr. Razor Burn in desperation, staggering back until he bumped against the wall. He slid to the floor, making gurgling sounds all the while.
Mr. Razor Burn didn’t seem distressed over the loss of his partner. He kept his own gun pointed at Violet but hadn’t fired it yet. Violet had been right: he was the smarter of the two and the one more easily reasoned with. Smart men were in no hurry to die, especially if they could prolong their life while staring at a beautiful woman’s breasts. “You didn’t have to do that,” he muttered.
“No, I didn’t. But it felt damned nice.”
“Look… I’ll go back and tell Mr. Armitage that you don’t have the money anymore. That you already gave it back.”
“You think he’ll buy it?”
“Dunno. But it’s worth a try.”
“That would be real square of you. I’d appreciate it.”
“Enough to let me see what else is beneath that sheet?”
Violet laughed. “No. I’m afraid not.”
Mr. Razor Burn shrugged good-naturedly. He started to turn, stepping over his friend’s body, when he stopped suddenly, as if something had come to him. “Oh. One more thing, though.”
Mr. Razor Burn shook his head, smiling. “That jerk-off that you killed when you took the money…”
The smile faded. “That was my brother.”
The shadows of the room were suddenly gone as both guns belched hot leaden death. Violet had fired her gun while simultaneously throwing her body to her left. She plummeted to the floor, her lower body wrapped up in her bed sheets. She hit the carpet hard, sending pain racing through her hip. Mr. Razor Burn’s bullets missed her easily, tearing chucks out of the headboard instead.
Violet’s aim, however, was far better. Even though she fired while in motion, she caught Mr. Razor Burn in the stomach with her first shot and in the wrist with her second. He fell to his knees, gasping in pain.
Violet stood up, testing her hip. It hurt like hell but nothing seemed broken. She checked to make sure she still had bullets remaining. Her gun’s chamber held six shots and she’d spent four of them so far. She walked to where Mr. Razor Burn was crouching, kicking away his pistol with her toes. She then placed her foot on his shoulder and sent him onto his back. He landed with a grunt, one hand holding his guts together.
He looked up to see a sight that under other circumstances would have been a lovely one: Violet Cambridge was a stunningly attractive woman. She stood five foot, four inches tall when not in heels and she had a wondrously fit body. It was firm in all the right places but retained the softness that men found so appealing. Her dark hair was matched by the midnight quality of her eyes, which spoke of secretive whispers and fiery romance.
Violet knew that the other residents of her apartment building were probably frightened out of their wits by the gunfire. At least one of them had probably already placed a call to the police.
She knelt at Mr. Razor Burn’s side, placing the smoke barrel of her gun at the side of his head. “Be sure to tell your brother I said hello.”
* * * * *
December 15, 1939
“You can’t keep killing people, Violet. The police get real touchy about that.”
Violet smoothed out her black dress and offered up a glittering smile before buttering a biscuit and taking a bite. It was a lovely Atlanta morning, with just the right crispness to the air that made one think that Christmas was just around the corner. But it being the Deep South, it was still warm enough at this time of year to enjoy a breakfast at a sidewalk café. Peachtree Street was abuzz with activity, the thoroughfare being filled with businessmen and holiday shoppers. “It was self-defense,” she said. “Even Chief McKenzie had to admit that. Those brutes broke into my apartment with the obvious intent of killing me.”
Miles Knopf stared at her for a moment before shaking his head. He was some ten years Violet’s senior and was a shockingly thin man. His pride and joy was the pencil-thin moustache he cultivated on his upper lip, greasing it until the ends jutted out in sharp little points. “And I suppose the orphanage is singing your praises this morning?”
“Of course not. I left it for them anonymously. No need attracting more attention to myself than I already get.”
Miles took a sip of coffee. “When are you going to stop wearing black?”
“When I’m finished mourning my husband.”
“Walter’s been dead for almost four years. That’s three years longer than you were married.”
“Sometimes I think you’re jealous of a dead man,” Violet said pointedly. “I wear black because I like black. Isn’t that enough?”
“Your entire wardrobe looks like you’re readying for a funeral.”
Violet wiped at a bit of crumb on the corner of her lip. “What’s eating you today, Miles? It’s got to be more than just Armitage’s men turning up in my bedroom. You’re acting like a catty old woman.”
Miles sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Business is slow, that’s all.”
Violet carefully examined the cheese-covered grits before her and took a small bite. They were still a bit hot but the deliciousness encouraged eating on despite the discomfort. “What are you talking about? I just got back the orphanage’s money and took down some of Armitage’s goons. Sounds like we’ve been plenty busy.”
“That’s free work! It doesn’t pay the bills!” Miles leaned forward. “Look… your husband was my partner and he was a damned fine detective. After he died, you convinced me to let you come onboard and I haven’t regretted that even once. But you’re spending so much time playing Robin Hood that you’re driving us out of business!”
Violet chewed slowly, thinking things through. Miles was right enough, she supposed. The general public thought of Miles Knopf as Atlanta’s premier private detective but the truth was that he was nothing more than the “face” of the agency. He handled the contracts, dealt with moneylenders and attended society functions. It had been that way even when Walter had worked with him. It had been Walter who’d put his life on the line tracking down cheating husbands and thieves.
“I’m sorry, Miles. Tomorrow I promise we’ll get to work on some paying cases.”
“Why not today?”
“Well, tonight’s the big premiere. I’m going with Mr. Jacobs.”
Miles knew Clint Jacobs well. The president of a local bank, he was a pleasant enough fellow. A confirmed bachelor, Jacobs was known to favor the company of other men… though he frequently went out with Violet for appearance’s sake. It was a satisfactory arrangement for both: Violet got to attend some of the swankiest affairs in Atlanta while Jacobs got to maintain his standing in the community. The premiere that they were attending was for Gone With The Wind and it was the climax of three days’ worth of festivities. Mayor Hartsfield had played his role as host to the hilt and the events had included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, false antebellum fronts on businesses and homes and a costume ball.
Miles cleared his throat and Violet stopped eating. She knew this mannerism well. It always preceded an admission on Miles’ part, usually about something that he knew would make Violet unhappy. “Think you could spare a few minutes in the office this afternoon?”
“You scheduled a meeting with a client, didn’t you?”
“It shouldn’t take long.”
Violet set down her silverware and examined Miles coolly. “What’s the case about?”
“I’m not sure yet. That’s why we’re meeting with her.”
“You must have some idea.”
“She’s looking for a missing relative. Her sister, I think.”
“I hate missing family members, Miles. It depresses me.”
“Well, this one seems pretty cut and dry.”
“I thought you didn’t know much about it.”
Miles took a deep breath and grinned. “You’re incorrigible, aren’t you?”
Violet resumed eating her breakfast. “You love me for it.”
* * * * *
The detective offices of Knopf and Cambridge were located on Spring Street, on the top floor of a three-story building. They were nice enough to present the image of a successful company but not so opulent that their clients expected to pay through the nose for service.
Miles was sitting behind his desk when Abby Whitehead arrived. Violet was perched on the edge of the desk, her long legs crossed. Both she and Miles were smoking, taking turns dropping their ashes into a brass tray on the desktop.
Abby was a delicious young thing, in her mid-twenties and golden haired. She had striking green eyes and was so long-legged that she gave the impression of being a young colt, newly given her freedom. Her breasts were high and as round as little apples. She wore a knee-length white skirt and a yellow blouse that caught the emerald of her eyes. In her right hand she held a small purse. She looked like such a ray of sunshine that the dark-clad Violet almost felt like shielding her gaze from the sight. The only thing that ruined the overall bright and sunny effect was the moistness of Abby’s eyes and the way her bottom lip kept trembling. The combination of beauty and vulnerability was intoxicating and Miles was on his feet in a hurry, offering her a seat and a drink. She accepted the former but refused the latter, speaking with a voice that was so soft and quiet that Violet had to strain to hear.
“What can we do for you, dear?” Violet asked.
“I’m here about my sister. Her name is Margaret but everyone calls her Maggie. She’s only seventeen years old and she’s not… she’s not very wise in the ways of the world.”
Violet looked at Abby’s pretty face and wondered if the girl in front of her knew much about those things. She looked as innocent as freshly fallen snow.
“A few months ago she began dating a man named Morehouse. Sidney Morehouse. He’s much older than she is and I tried to tell her from the beginning that his interest in her wasn’t right. But she wouldn’t hear anything negative about him.” Abby chewed her bottom lip so harshly that Violet thought she was going to draw blood. “Finally, just before Thanksgiving, she called me to say that she wasn’t going to be joining us at our family dinner. She was going to spend the holiday with Morehouse instead. I tried to talk her out of it but she wouldn’t listen. That was the last time I saw her… in the flesh.”
Violet cast a glance at Miles but she quickly realized that her partner wasn’t really listening to the girl’s words. He was staring openly at her with such a puppy dog expression that it was all Violet could do not to laugh aloud. Turning back to Abby, she blew out a long plume of smoke and asked, “What did you mean, honey? The last time you saw her in the flesh? How else would you see her?”
Abby opened the clasp on her purse and withdrew a rolled up magazine with trembling hands. She held it out to Violet, being careful not to actually look at it herself. Violet accepted it, knowing what it was before she’d even taken a glance. It was a cheaply produced erotic magazine, the cover of which showed a black and white image of a young brunette nude on her knees. The model had a gag stuffed into her mouth and her hands were tied behind her back. Her eyes somehow managed to convey both arousal and fear. Across the top of the image the banner headline blared
STAG MAGAZINE: ALL THE BEST YOUNG GIRLS IN NEED OF PUNISHMENT!
Violet had seen such things before and she knew too much about the sordid world in which they were created to ever find them sexy. They catered to ‘forbidden’ fantasies and everyone had those… Even Violet herself found nothing wrong in indulging in them from time to time, but most of the girls in these underworld publications were not truly there by choice. Monetary and physical coercion sometimes forced young women into situations that would haunt them the rest of their lives.
“Is your sister in here?” Violet asked. She felt that Miles was on his feet, coming to join her. He gasped when he saw the cover and Violet blushed on his behalf. Miles was easily shocked and she knew he’d be worthless from here on. His sense of propriety had been offended. “Can you point her out to me?”
“Of course.” She took the magazine from Violet and flipped to the center section. A series of eight photographs were arranged across two pages. They showed a girl who looked like a younger version of Abby. In the first image she was dressed like a normal teenager, in pleated skirt and fuzzy sweater. But as the images progressed, she was stripped and placed into a painful looking harness while two hooded men pinched and twisted her nipples. “That’s her. It would just kill my father to know these pictures existed.”
“I imagine,” Miles whispered.
“How did you come across this?” Violet asked.
Abby shifted in her seat. “A male friend of mine says that he found it in a gentleman’s club to which he belongs. He recognized Maggie and brought it to my attention, as he knew that I was concerned about her.”
Violet flipped through the magazine, looking for some clue as to when it had been produced. She found a small notice on the last page, instructing the magazine’s readers to keep an eye out for the special ‘XX-Mas’ issue. She wasn’t sure what sort of schedule the publisher of this magazine kept, but it appeared that this issue of STAG had been produced within the last month or two. “Have you confronted Mr. Morehouse?”
“Yes. I approached his home yesterday. He was very angry to see me and told me that Maggie had no desire to see me or anyone else in our family. I confronted him about the magazine and he told me that she was old enough to decide what she wanted to do with her body.” Tears welled up in Abby’s eyes and she looked on the verge of breaking down. “I have to speak to her! I have to know that she’s okay… that she’s not being forced to… do these awful things!”
Violet reached out and patted the girl’s shoulder. She honestly wasn’t sure Abby really wanted to find out those answers. What would be worse for her—that Maggie was being forced into these acts… or that she wasn’t being forced at all?
“You have an address for this Morehouse character?”
“I do.” Abby took a deep breath to steady herself and pulled out a small slip of paper.
Violet looked at the address and then passed it on to Miles. It was in a bad neighborhood, one that was frequently a hangout for prostitutes and opium addicts. “And Morehouse… what does he look like?”
“He’s tall. At least 6′4″ and he’s built like an athlete. He keeps his hair very short, almost military short. And his eyes are… well, they’re mean looking. He has a small scar on the left side of his mouth, too. It makes it look like he’s always smirking.”
“Do you know what he does for a living?” Miles inquired.
“No. I have no idea.”
Violet offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “I tell you what, honey. We’ll get started on this first thing tomorrow. We’ll have some facts on your sister’s condition in no time.”
“You can’t begin sooner than that?” Abby asked, her voice beginning to sound so immensely sad. “I was hoping you’d start right away.”
“Well,” Violet said but Miles immediately cut her off.
“I’ll take care of it myself,” he said. When he caught Violet looking at him with a surprised expression, he placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder and pulled her aside. “I can start looking into it while you’re at the movie premiere.”
“You gallantry is showing,” Violet teased. “That girl’s young enough to be your daughter, remember.”
“I don’t have any prurient interest,” Miles said, though his eyes said otherwise. “I just feel sorry for her. Besides, all I plan to do is stake out his house and follow him around. Maybe I can catch a chance to talk to our client’s sister.”
Violet pursed her lips, considering it. Miles wasn’t used to fieldwork but he was right… it all sounded pretty cut and dry. “Okay. Just be careful.”
“I am always am, darling.” Miles turned back to Abby, who stood up in anticipation. “Like I said, I’ll be starting work straightaway.”
Abby smiled gratefully and retrieved one last item from her purse. It was two one hundred dollar bills, which she placed on the desk. “I hope this will be enough.”
Violet’s eyes lit up but she kept her voice calm. “More than adequate.”
Abby nodded quickly and moved to the door. “You’ll contact me as soon as you learn anything?”
“The very second,” Miles assured her. When the door was closed, Miles plucked up on the one hundred bills and examined it. It was crisp and looked brand new. “Was it my imagination or were there several more of these in that purse of hers?”
“I saw that, too. Looks like Miss Whitehead is quite the wealthy one.” Violet looked at Miles with affection. “Do take a gun with you. Please?”
“I never touch the things.”
“This Morehouse character might be violent.”
“Then I’ll just have to run like I have the devil at my heels and scream for your help.”
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