it had been six days since mike mean's friend sammy the newsboy had been shot at his newsstand. mike was sitting at his usual spot on the rail of chuckie's bar waiting for his new friend mac the mailman. he was the only customer. he had a ginger ale and a cherry coke in front of him. both were untouched. he took a book
out of his pocket.
barbarian the bartender came over with his rag. he started wiping the completely clean bar down.
"sad day, huh,barb?" mike asked.
"i don't want to talk about it," barbarian answered. "i never saw you with a book before."
"mac gave it to me. he said it has lots of pictures in it."
"that's the best kind." barbarian wiped a nonexistent spot off the bar. " i guess you'll have to find something else to do now ."
"yeah." mike put the book down on the bar. the cover read: sherlock holmes in the lost city of the queen of darkness with guest stars jesse james woodrow wilson mata hari orson welles and pope anastasius xvii. he flipped the book open and began riffling through the pages.
"hey there's no pictures in this book !"
"let me take a look at it." barbarian picked the book up. he tapped on the cover. "there's your problem right there."
"sherlock holmes was a private detective - "
barbarian raised his eyebrows. " - and jesse james was an outlaw. some say the greatest outlaw of them all." he shook his head. "you can't have no books with such characters as that. your book has been wiped, brother."
"but mac just gave it to me!"
"so? do the police ever sleep? maybe they wiped it when you took it out of your pocket."
"what's in the book now?"
"something very edifying no doubt."
mike took the book back and began to read aloud:
susanna jefferson had won first prize for the violin at madame vessier's school and had consequently formed a very high opinion of herself. so when madame introduced a new student, wilhelmina barwood, and mentioned that the violin was wilhelmina's great passion, susanna felt little apprehension.
that night at refectory madame announced that a half hours conversation would be allowed, on the subject of butterflies. wilhelmina had been seated to the left of susanna. madame vessier was a tolerant headmistress of the old school and had thought that the two young ladies might, with lowered voices and glances, enjoy a few minutes of surreptitious conversation on their shared enthusiasm.
"hey," said mike. "this is nasty. you can read stuff like this but you can't read about sherlock holmes?" he went back to reading:
madame's calculations went seriously awry. wilhelmina proved only too eager to implement the headmistress' master plan, and her first whispered words to susanna were "my favorite piece is mendelssohn's concerto in e- "
"excuse me!" susanna interrupted, loudly enough to almost be heard by the young
woman on her right. "i had no idea mendelssohn was a species of butterfly!"
wilhelmina flushed but, perhaps suffering the consequences of having been previously educated only by a governess not quite of the first class, did not have the sense to step away gracefully and let susanna's unseemly riposte fly harmlessly by. instead, she turned to meet her challenger with colors flying.
"mendelssohn might not have been a butterfly," she replied, "but i am sure he had good manners."
this most unsubtle of proclamations hit its mark. susanna came within an inch of actually rising in her seat. her second most prized possession, her ready wit, failed her.
"how dare you! a little creature with no education - "
she spoke loudly enough to be heard by several other girls, including mlle coralie de condoret, the archminx of the school, whose only delight in life was in fomenting mischief and setting young ladies at each others medallioned throats.
madame was now alert to the catastrophe. too late! the goblet was shattered, and the shards lay in the smoking fireplace.
mike put the book down. "i better not read any more of this." he looked at the cover. "i wonder why they left the cover the same."
"that's the way they do it," barbarian told him. "first they catch you with the book. then you say, oh but it's really a different book. and you show them the book and it's even worse than it was before. and they've got you."
"yeah," mike agreed. "that's the way they do it all right."
"listen." barbarian lowered his voice. "you really want to know what happened with sherlock holmes and the queen of darkness in the lost city? i can tell you how it really went down. because i was there. i was that soldier."
"i'm all ears," mike answered.
the pitiless gondwanan night was falling over the great desert. the constellations of the sword and the scorpion were becoming visible, but would provide little light when the total moonless darkness arrived.
mr sherlock holmes trudged onward. his sturdy boots from marks and spencer were covered with red gondwanan dust. his two surviving escorts, amadis of atlantis and baywolf of britain, plodded silently on either side of him.
the other seven members of the original party, and all their mounts and all but a handful of baggage, had been left behind in the desolate wastes.
"this is hard cheese, mr holmes," baywolf spoke. "and it might get harder before it gets chewier."
"now, don't be worrying mr holmes any more than he already is," amadis replied in his silky aristocratic voice.
"i must say i would appreciate a drink of water right now," mr holmes said.
"that might have to wait until we reach the lost city," amadis told him.
"the lost city which has never seemed more lost," holmes retorted.
"look there,' baywolf said. he pointed to the horizon where a few indistinct shapes had appeared. "someone may be coming to meet us." he shook his head. "this could be good or bad."
'if they have water it's good, " said holmes. "just give me a drink and then they can do as they will."
if the two escorts were disconcerted by this seemingly somewhat spineless sentiment, they didn't show it. they kept their eyes on the horizon.
two riders emerged, with a small covered carriage pulled by a small dragon keeping up the sharp pace between them.
"well, well,' cried baywolf when the two riders faces were visible. "if it don't be melvil the mercenary and barbarian the bartender! two right villains we have to deal with here, mr holmes."
"and who is in the carriage, i wonder," amadis added.
could it be the queen of darkness?