Deadline Zombies (excerpt only)
The Adventures of Maxi and Moxie
Teel James Glenn
Copyright 2010 by Teel James Glenn, all rights reserved.
No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any
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Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious
or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is
The Beast of Governors Island
Prologue: The Stag Horned Man
The whole thing with Maxine and my involvement with the Beast of Governors Island started before I came into it directly and it began with a guy named Jonathon Colliers. He was an actor. Not a great actor--he was usually the guy carrying the torch or the spear in the back of Julius Caesar's triumphant march into Alexandria. He wasn't even a good actor--he usually only got one or two lines, his high squeaky voice made sure of that--but he was a persistent actor. He was also a tall muscular man and when he had heard that Proctors Releasing Corporation was going to shoot a movie in New York he used contacts he had at the Astoria Studio to wrangle an audition on the film. It was so rare to have a chance at real films in New York, any more, beyond the Yiddish cinema and some industrials that he saw it as his only real chance to get footage to show to a Hollywood talent scout. He was sure his destiny lay on the silver screen and not the stage.
He was overjoyed when he landed the role, though if truth were to be told it was because he was the right size to fit the costume the production company had shipped out from California.
He didn't care, it was a role and he was going to play it to the hilt to make an impression.
On his lower body, he wore little more than a loincloth and thigh-high soft leather boots. Strapped to his chest and covering his head and shoulders was a magnificent animal's head prosthetic. He was afraid at first that his face would be covered, but he was assured that many shots of him before would be shown and the small space where his face was visible beneath the animal's head would keep reminding people that it was him.
The mask/hat was a golden stag with lifelike eyes that actually blinked and moved; controlled like an elaborate puppet from a device hidden in the long leather fingerless gloves he wore. He had been scheduled for a full day of running around in the woods in the center of the island but the weather had scotched those plans, and the crew had moved to what they called a cover set, which allowed them to not fall behind schedule. It was a large cave-like room in the lower levels of the circular fort that everyone called Castle Williams.
It had been exciting in the extreme for Jonathon who got to do his pre-transformation scene with real acting and then donned his headpiece.
There had been interminable hours sitting around doing nothing while other shots were done, or readied, but the moments he was on camera were exhilarating.
In between shots he had wandered off into the bowels of the old fort, poking into the dark rooms with the child-like curiosity that kept him pushing at the edges of an acting career.
It was that curiosity that killed the stag.
He was in one cell-like room at the end of a long dark corridor when he happened by chance to find a hole that dug into one of the walls. He stuck his hand into it and pulled out a small piece of metal that had been shaped and worked.
He felt like Little Jack Horner with his plum as he stared at the dirt and grim encrusted object. It was a belt buckle and it had 'CSA' carved into it. I looked like it was actually tarnished silver. He turned it over in his hand and could make out strange scribbling on the back but the light was too poor for him to read them clearly.
He moved around excitedly, in as close to a dance of joy as he could do in his cumbersome costume. It was more than a souvenir, it might be a valuable artifact, one that could bring him enough, perhaps for train fare to the opposite coast and future stardom.
He looked around suddenly afraid someone had seen him take the buckle. The fort was, after all, a government reservation and army base so technically taking anything might be a crime. He stuffed the buckle in his waistband and hurried back into the corridor, not wishing to press his luck and be discovered. He still had two more days on the shoot and with luck he could sneak back to search for more booty.
That was when he heard the growl.
It was a deep rumble of sound that conveyed anger and terror in its base tones. It came from the darkness back from the way he had come.
"Is somebody there?" Surely someone was playing a joke. "Is that you Mike?"
The big jolly special effects man, Mike Drucker, was always pulling little practical jokes.
Ominous silence flowed at him out of the darkness, in waves that were practically tangible.
"Hello?" He tried one more time, and then he heard the growl again in the inky darkness. The sound grew to a roar and two pinpoints of light glowed in the darkness.
Jonathon turned and ran for his life.
He raced blindly down the dark corridor, bouncing off the damp stone of the walls, at one point breaking off one of his antlers. Behind him he heard the heavy tread of something stalking him.
He rounded a turn and came to a door that he clawed open.
The cold wind of the harbor blasted into through the doorway, but Jonathon didn't care. He ran headlong into it screaming, "Help!" at the top of his lungs. The sound was swallowed by the wind.
The harbor air hit him like a sledgehammer and the driving force of the wind whipped sleet into his exposed skin like tiny razors. With the fort behind him, he ran straight into the woods, a remarkable park-like space that seemed a million miles away from the lights and sounds and granite towers of New York. It was even more isolated with the storm swirling around him.
He lost the sound of the thing pursuing him but he knew it was there. He pressed on, hoping to find the road or a house of one of the soldiers, but all he kept colliding with were trees.
He hit one of them so hard he rebounded off it and fell to the ground on all fours. The collision knocked the wind out of him and he knelt panting trying to think what to do next.
He never got the chance. The great snarling shape leapt out of the blinding snow and Jonathon Collier's hopes for a career on the silver screen ended in a great bloody mess.
Chapter I: Byline for Murder
"You gotta be kiddin' me, Whitey," I screamed across the bullpen at my editor William 'Whitey' Wilson. "A movie review? What am I, Hedda Hopper?"
"You got better legs than Hedda," my fellow scribe Fran Striker said sotto voce from her desk across from mine.
"It's not a movie review." My baldheaded lord and master emerged from his glass cubical with a cigar shoved in his kisser and a shift of papers in his hand. "It is an assignment to do a color piece on that new movie, The Faerie Queen, they are shooting on Governors Island. My brother-in-law is a producer on it and he got that ghoul guy, Lugosi, to star in the damn thing. And the masses love the neck biter."
"I'm a crime reporter!" I wailed from behind him my Smith Corona. I had the racing forms strategically hidden under an article on a triple homicide in Yonkers and was trying to scan the nags while creating verbal art out of the carnage.
"You're a two-bit hack wordsmith who takes orders on assignments from his editor or goes to Boise to cover the Winter 'Tater Festival." He puffed till the cigar was red and then turned and headed back into his lair. Just before he slammed the door, he added, "I want it by the evening edition; don't bother with a shutterbug, I'll have Hank pull something from the morgue."
Fran looked at me, flipped her hair back and smiled. She had the homeliest smile of any dame I ever met but was the best back-up a guy ever had on the city room floor. "You really shouldn't piss him off after he saved your bacon from the district attorney."
"Oh come on, " I said as I marked Seahorse for the fourth at Belmont. "That Scanlon would never have gone through on the obstruction of justice charge. Besides, didn't I find the real killer?"
"Only after you let Wentworth get away and gave Mike O'Toole a very bum steer that almost got an innocent man arrested."
"But we got the guy who did do it," I said. "That's all that matters."
She threw up her hands. "And that is the only reason Whitey went to bat for you."
"That and my copy sells papers." I finished my picks for the day and waved to Slip Mahoney the copy boy. He raced over and I handed him the sheet and five bucks.
"Take these to Benny and put the money down across the board," I said. Then I tore my copy from the word-o-rama and handed that to him as well. "And get this to the desk editor."
"Sure thing, Mister Donovan." He dashed off on his two errands.
Yeah, that's me, Mister Moxie Donovan, ace reporter for the Daily Star. Some people called me the 'Ace of Spades,' since I ran into more than my fair share of meat puzzles in the course of my work.
I grabbed my hat and my trench coat and walked over to Fran's desk to open her bottom draw and pulled out the Glenfiddich bottle and my glass. She pulled her own glass out and held it for me to pour.
"If I'm going out into that cold I want to be fortified," I said.
"You are a piece of work, you drunk Irishman," she said as we clinked glasses and knocked our shots back in unison.
"That is a redundant statement, dear Frannie." I shoved a thumb back toward the ogre's office. "Tell his highness I'll be back before the storm hits but I'm putting the cab on his tab."
I was as good as my semi drunken word and hopped a hack to South Ferry. It was two days before Thanksgiving of nineteen thirty-six and a Nor'Easter was whipping the streets to froth. I had the cabbie make two stops, one up town and one on Thompson Street in the West Village where I hoped to pick up some background color before I went ghoul gabbing.
"Wait," I called to the driver as I darted out into the wind. "I'll only be a minute."
My stop was the Tome Tomb, a treasure trove of facts and figures that was the Daily Star's secret weapon against the bigger papers. The little gnome who ran it was Digger Tome, a scowling cartoon with thinning hair slicked back, who wore thick glasses. He had the manner and wardrobe of an undertaker.
"Hey Quasimodo," I called as I entered with my bribe of the day, a Reuben sandwich from the Stage Door Deli. "How are the bells ringing?"
He inhaled the sandwich while I quizzed him on the Hungarian bloodsucker and Governors Island. He had an amazing ability to ferret out obscure sources for background on any piece and was a living, breathing encyclopedia of the weird and wacky. I knew the marble mouth Hungarian would be right up his alley.
"I heard they were doing a movie of Spenser's The Faerie Queene," Digger said, "But I didn't realize Bela was in it."
"Who is Spenser?" I favored the racing form or Doc Savage pulps so when he looked at me crossed I didn't feel particularly Neanderthalish, until he rolled his eyes.
"English poet? He wrote The Faerie Queene in the fifteen hundreds. Shakespeare ripped off part of it for A Midsummer's Night's Dream."
"Did he take old Billy Bard to the mat on it?"
"They all stole from each other back then,' Digger said. "It was before copyright law and they called it 'inspired by' like you tabloid muck-monkeys."
I made to snatch the last of the sandwich from him but the gargoyle moved fast and suddenly pulled a book from behind him and thrust it into my hand. It was an annotated copy of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.
"Does it at least have pictures?" I asked.
Again the eye roll. It is very humiliating to be looked down on by a troll.
"I heard that PDC was going to try a prestige picture but I had no idea they were going after the Warner Brothers' Midsummer crowd."
"Hey," I said, at last recognizing something he was talking about, "Wasn't the one last year with Mickey Rooney as the guy with the horns?"
"Puck," he said.
"You don't have to be insulting."
"Lugosi--I have a press book from when he did Dracula on Broadway that has a bio on him." He tried to ignore my comment. He reached behind him in a pile of books that looked completely random and his hand seized exactly on what he wanted. "Probably all lies," he said. "Written by some hack like you, but you can plagiarize it and no one will notice."
I gave him my freeze your heart look but his kept beating. I was losing my touch.
The cabbie was sitting at the curb reading a newspaper (a rival tabloid I'd noticed) on the boss' tab, so I kept pumping my gnome for background.
"And the island they are shooting this movie on?"
"Governors Island is a 172-acre island in Upper New York Bay, approximately one-half mile from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel." He never broke stride while he chewed and I stood in awe of not only his knowledge but also his ability to take massive bites and not choke while talking.
"First named by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, it was called Noten Eylant and later in pidgin language Nutten Island," he continued. "The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel passes underwater and off-shore of the island's northeast corner, its location marked by a ventilation building connected to the island by a causeway."
The sandwich was gone and he produced a blood red silk handkerchief to wipe his mouth. "One interesting fact is that during the Civil War, Castle Williams held Confederate prisoners of war. After the war, Castle Williams was used as a military stockade."
I could see the wind picking up out the window so I grabbed the press book on Lugosi, dropped a ten on the counter and called, "See you in the funny pages," as I raced out to the cab.
"Watch yourself," he said as I exited his musty store. "There's a hell of a storm coming in."
There was more than a storm blowing in, but at that point I didn't know it.
Chapter II: The Staten Island Fairy
"Mister Donovan?" The figure that greeted me at the dock on Governors Island looked like Nanook of the North's big brother. He was wearing a parka with the hood up and big boots with fur at the top. The face that peeped out from the hollow of the hood looked like it would have been at home in the Yukon, a grizzled beard and deep-set eyes. "Ah'm Joe Beauford, the caretaker out here."
I was wishing my trench coat was at least as thick as Joe's accent as I climbed out of the motor launch the bobbed violently at the wharf. The wind was wiping up and it had started to sleet again. I hated Whitey Wilson.
'I thought this was a military base," I said as Joe walked me up the pier toward an old Model T flatbed that was parked on the dirt road.
"It is," he said. "But they're all a bunch of paper pushers that all rotate out of here all the time; they need a person who knows how the plumbing and all works and to keep the grounds."
We climbed into the cab of the jalopy.
"I'm going back in an hour," the launch captain called up. "Sooner if this weather keeps getting bad, so get back as soon as you can."
"I'd be going back now if I didn't have a bar tab to pay off," I yelled to him as the Ford coughed to life and we were off.
The truck wasn't much warmer than the outside but at least the wind wasn't cutting me to ribbons. We drove along a wide dirt road that had been graveled irregularly and bumped accordingly. The shocks of the ride could have used work.
"Only have one road," Joe said. "Runs around the rim of the island. The interior is still pretty wild, light forest. I have a horse and team to do the regular hauling--costs too much to bring fuel out for this usually, but them movie people are paying for all the expenses." He laughed in an Ozark-flavored cackle. "I love being paid twice--money is good."
I couldn't argue with the bumpkin on that one, or the view. As we bumped along I got a great look at the lower part of Manhattan with the shape of the Empire State Building dominating the skyline. It really was the greatest city in the world and I reminded myself every time I got another chill or had my spine realigned by Joe's driving that in order to live there I had to take Whitey's lousy assignments. Well, I didn't have to like them.
The fort they called Castle Williams was impressive, a stone round fort with three rows of what I took for windows running all around. As we got closer I could see the windows were actually gun ports. Joe must have seen the look on my face cause he gave me a history lesson to add to Digger's.
"After the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army, under General Israel Putnam fortified this island with earthworks and 40 cannon for anticipation of the Battle of Brooklyn, the largest battle of the entire war. The American's cannon inflicted enough damage to make the British commanders cautious of entering the East River." He seemed to take great pride in the whole thing and I just let him talk, my trusty notebook in hand. I could pad the article if marble-mouth didn't prove talkative.
"The Continental Army forces eventually withdrew from the island as well, and the British occupied it until Evacuation Day at the end of the war in 1783. This circular casemated work was completed in 1811 just in time for the war of 1812."
We were at the door of the building now and close up it was just as impressive though the only thing on my mind at the time was, is it warmer inside?
Thank God it was. As soon as we stepped through the old heavy wooden and iron strapped door, I was hit with a blast of warmth equal to the cold from outside. We had stepped into a huge parking-garage sized stone room that was ringed with tall stands on which huge lights blazed away.
Joe pushed his hood down and revealed regular features and a bald head. In the light of the room, he looked less the mountain man and more the handyman. He held a finger to his lips and pointed.
In the center of the ring of lights a gorgeous redheaded woman in a long green gown stood chained to a post while men and women with animal heads on them--a donkey, a doe, a boar--danced around her. Lording over all was a tall thin figure with long white hair and a wise man beard dressed in black and silver robes.
"You will surrender the secret of the castle to me, Una," the figure said (though it sounded like "Uoo Veel soorander' to my untrained ear). "Or my minions will tear you asunder."
"I will never surrender to you, Busirane," the redhead said. I could swear I detected a Bronx accent coming from the fair maiden.
Graybeard stretched his arms up and there was a puff of smoke and a geyser of flame and maiden Una screamed.
"Cut!" A little guy in a blue cardigan and wearing a beret yelled and the dancing stopped like magic. "Print it!"
"Okay." Another figure with a thick binder suddenly popped up beside Cardigan and yelled, "Next set up close up for Busirane; everybody else take ten."
The animal dancers scattered like roaches to corners of the cavernous room and more than one off them immediately lit up a coffin nail. A stagehand, or whatever you call him, went over to the redhead and unfastened the chains from her and threw a blanket over her bare and very attractive shoulders.
She hustled over to a canvas-backed chair and settled into it, pulling a binder from a pouch on the side to bury her nose in.
Meanwhile the giant mechanical thing in on a tripod that I assumed to be the camera was being moved in toward graybeard.
"Wow," I said in a whisper to Joe, "They sure are a busy bunch of beavers."
"Dangest thing," he said. "They seem to run around all day and I still have no idea what most of them do."
At that point a little guy wearing glasses and a long beige camelhair overcoat came up to me, grabbed my hand and started pumping away like he was hoping to get water out of me.
"Morty Gluckman, PDC promotion department," he said. "You must be Donnelly."
"Donovan," I corrected. "I'm from the Daily Star."
"Glad to meet you," he continued. "I know you'll want to chat with our stars but this weather has really put us behind schedule so if you don't mind I'll sort of shuffle you through around their shooting."
I began to wonder if the guy ever took a breath. Normally I like to do my own 'shuffling,' but I was anxious enough to get the heck out of there to let him do the leading.
He grabbed my arm and walked me over to the redheaded dish that was reading from her binder and moving her lips while doing it.
Must be a blonde who dyed her hair to trade up, I thought. When we got closer I could hear her repeating phrases over with different inflections as she did.
"This is Miss Maxine Keller, star of Broadway and the Orpheum circuit," Gluckman hyped as we stepped up beside the flame-haired frail.
She looked up with an annoyed expression on her face and I noticed she had fiery green eyes and a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose barely hidden under the slathered on makeup. And from her roots and eyebrows she was a natural redhead. I'd heard those could be dangerous. When she opened her mouth she proved it.
"Oh for Christmas sake, Morty. I have three pages of dialogue to memorize for today since they changed the schedule. I can't face another gossip mag hack till I do.
I thought the little guy would wet himself right there. He sputtered and giggled and smiled at me. "This a member of the fourth estate, Maxine, honey," he said. "Your contract says you have to talk to him."
"I will talk to who I want to and my contract also says I have to learn my lines and turn in a good performance. Tell him some more lies like you told the last two newshounds and leave me do my work."
"She's always kidding," he said with a broad smile and patting her on the back. " Maxi-baby is a real trouper and always kidding."
She wasn't. She stood up and went nose to nose with the guy.
"Don't you ever call me Maxi-baby you little twerp!" she said "And if you ever touch me again I will rip off your arm and beat you to death with it."
I suddenly felt sorry for him as she let loose with a string of expletives that would have fried frozen chicken on the spot.
I was starting to really like this dish.
That is until she added, " Take this two bit shopping circular scribe out of here and let me work."
"Hey lady, I--" I was going to tell her what an amazing newshound I was, how much my editor valued me and that I didn't need her stinking interview at all. But then I realized I wasn't and I did, so I just smiled.
"Oh!" She threw up her hands, grabbed her binder and stormed off out of the circle of lights toward a door in the stone wall. She threw it open and a blast of icy air swept in before it slammed shut.
Gluckman stood there, beet-red and gulping air as if it were being rationed starting tomorrow. I had to hand it to him though, three heartbeats late he turned to me and said, "She's just a little high strung, but a great actress."
"I'm sure," I said. "And I'm sure my readers will love--"I never finished my statement because Miss Keller proved that actress or not, she had the set of pipes on her that Ethel Merman would envy. She let loose with a scream that rattled my eyeteeth.
"He's dead!" she yelled. "He's been murdered!"
See what I mean? I'm a meat puzzle magnet.
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