Read an Excerpt
THE BLEEDING HELLS
the Rook, Ascott Keane, the Black Bat & Doctor Satan
Chapter I--Diseased Dreams
February, 1941--Atlanta, Georgia
The dream was disturbing on many levels.
Max Davies wandered through the halls of an abandoned mental hospital, his arms bound by a straitjacket. There was little illumination, for most of the lights were dim and those few that still worked were flickering madly. There appeared to be no others present in the facility, for none answered Max's cries for help and the few rooms he ventured into looked like they'd been ransacked by the structure's former patients. Feces and blood were smeared across the walls while desks and chairs were overturned and smashed.
A rustling sound, like a cloth being drawn over a table, made Max bang to a stop. His shoulder collided with a wall, knocking several chips of peeling paint to the floor. He turned, looking for the source of the sound, and found it at once.
There, at the end of the hallway, was a man. He was shrouded in shadow but every few seconds the light above him would flicker to life, bathing him in yellow light. He was dressed in the most garish manner conceivable: a red bodysuit clung tightly to his fit body and a raised hooded cloak revealed hints of a masked face. Most eerie of all were the horns that adorned the stranger's head, giving him a devilish appearance.
"Who are you?" Max asked, his voice sounding strained to his own ears. Something about the stranger seemed familiar, as if he matched the description of a figurethat Max had read about but never personally seen.
"The better question, the man answered, "is who are you? Are you Max Davies, wealthy philanthropist? Or are you something far more: something that takes flight under the stars, striking down the guilty?"
The blood seemed to freeze in Max's veins and the flickering lights made him feel nauseous. "You know my secret?" he whispered aloud.
"I know many secrets," the devil replied with a mocking laugh.
"Who are you?" Max repeated. His identity had been uncovered several times over the years, but most of those people were either confidantes or criminals who had met their just-deserved fates.
"I'm envious of your ability to balance your adventures with raising a family," the man in red continued, ignoring the question once again. "I've never found the time to settle down myself. Perhaps soon ... when my goals have been accomplished" The figure came to a halt just a few steps away from Max, offering a gloved hand. "Be free."
The bond constraining Max's arms suddenly vanished into thin air and he flexed his limbs to stimulate the blood flow.
The red-garbed man smiled somewhat smugly. "There are many who would like to possess what you have. Not your family, mind you, though I'm sure that some of those who will pursue you are like me and covet even that. I speak instead of objects that are in your possession. What do you know of the Knife of Elohim?"
Max felt a cloud of mental energy enter his brain, fuzzing his logic. He tried to resist but the pressure was too great. He recited all that he knew of the knife's origins, repeating it word-for-word from the scroll he possessed, detailing its history: The mystic blade known as the Knife of Elohim is said to have been soaked in the blood of Christ on the day of his crucifixion. It has had many owners, but came into the possession of the Knights in the 11th Century, becoming one of our most potent weapons against evil. The wielder of the blade is able to pierce the hides of animals that are immune to all other weapons and the wielder is protected by the grace of our savior."
The hooded figure chuckled. "Did you know that the Knife is only one of a set of weapons, all soaked in the blood of Christ?"
"No," Max admitted, narrowing his eyes. Where had he seen this man before? He was certain of it now, certain that he had seen images of this figure....
"I want the Knife," the man said, breaking Max's reverie. "I want it before anyone else can find it. You see, there are four such weapons. I have two. Another has one. And you ... you have the final piece in the set."
Something suddenly clicked in Max's mind and he reached out quickly, gripping the crimson figure's cloak in his hands. He pulled the man close enough that their noses nearly touched. "I know you now! You're the madman the papers call Dr. Satan!"
Dr. Satan's laughter grew so loud that it seemed to echo through the empty hospital. He gripped Max's wrists and sneered. "Prepare yourself, Max Davies! Prepare yourself! I am coming!"
Max opened his eyes, rolling free of his covers and falling to the floor in a crouch. Beneath his pillow was always kept the Knife of Elohim, for its blade could slice through any defense, and he snatched it out in a fluid movement.
Max looked over his shoulder, where his wife Evelyn was sitting up. She was beautiful, with auburn hair that hung about her bare shoulders in tiny ringlets. The sight of her calmed Max and made him realize that what he'd experienced was a nightmare: a prescient one, to be sure, but nothing more substantial than that.
"I'm sorry," he said, standing tall and pushing the dagger back beneath his pillow. "I was ... dreaming."
"Must have been some dream," she muttered. "Coming back to bed?"
Max looked at the clock, shaking his head. "No ... it's almost dawn. I'll just stay up."
Evelyn frowned disapprovingly. "Almost dawn? Honey, it's only 3 a.m.!"
"I wouldn't be able to sleep." Max looked away, closing his eyes briefly. Somewhere else in this old plantation house, his son William was sleeping soundly. He was a father and a man now in his forties ... how much longer could he continue stalking the nights, putting his family at risk? Just last year, the Warlike Manchu had taunted Max with his knowledge about the Rook's dual identity. William had been kidnapped and Evelyn had been badly beaten, leaving Max a guilty wreck. If this Doctor Satan was now threatening them, with his reputation for cruelty....
He opened his eyes, seeing that Evelyn had dropped the covers, revealing her nude torso. His blood quickened at the sight. "Yes?"
"If you don't feel like sleeping, no one said we had to."
Max grinned, feeling his confidence begin to return. With Evelyn at his side, everything would be fine. But in the morning, the Rook would be taking flight, striking first before Satan could continue his plans.
While Max Davies sat up in his bed, drenched in sweat, two men exchanged smiles of satisfaction many miles away, in the great city of New York. One of them, seated on the floor of a well-tended office, was rail-thin with long reddish-tinged blond hair. He wore old-fashioned clothing, looking like someone who had just stepped out of the Victorian age and bore a striking scar along his left cheek. Its pale white expanse seemed to glow against his tan skin.
The other figure was taller and broader across, dressing in a contemporary suit and tie. His moustache was jet-black, matching his hair, and both gleamed from the oils he put in them. "Did he fall for it?" the tall man asked, greed shining in his eyes.
"I think he did," the other answered. "Marlon, that idea was simply brilliant. I commend you."
Marlon Woodson grinned at his compatriot, accepting the compliment. The two of them had become partners several years ago, bringing to the table two very different styles of operation. Marlon was a former mob enforcer, quick to breaking knees and offering up threats. On the other hand, Arias was a methodical planner, who specialized in matters dealing with the occult. "That oughtta keep Satan out of our hair for a little while. With the Rook chasing after him, we'll be free and clear to get our own business done! By the time they realized they've been duped, we'll be sittin' like kings! Too bad we don't really know his identity, though. You're sure that the dreams you sent made it to the right person?"
"Positive. We have very accurate descriptions of what this Rook looks like. It was easy for me to create a dream that would seek out its proper owner, like a homing pigeon. Once it took root in his mind, I have no idea what form it took--but it's certain that it would be something that will direct his attention towards Dr. Satan."
Arias rose from his lotus position on the floor and adjusted the cuff of his sleeves. His primping had bothered Marlon at first but their partnership had flourished so he overlooked such eccentricities. "It's a dangerous game we're playing, my friend. Both the Rook and Satan are known for being fierce foes."
Marlon lit up a cigarette, nodding. "Yeah. And that ain't even takin' into account the last guy on our agenda."
Arias crossed over to a large mahogany desk and picked up a small black box. Inside lay two identical daggers, sisters to the one possessed by the Rook. These two had recently been stolen from Dr. Satan. The act had put the master criminal on the tails of Arias and Marlon, prompting them to come up with a plan to distract Dr. Satan by pitting him against the Rook. While both men were occupied with each other, Arias hoped to find a moment to steal away the dagger currently held by the Rook.
And then there was the matter of retrieving the fourth and final Elohim knife.
"Ah, yes," Arias agreed. "It is about that time, isn't it?"
Marlon stared at him blankly. "Time for what?"
"To launch our assault against the Black Bat, of course."
Chapter II--The Bat
Tony Quinn's life was defined a great and powerful lie. The attorney's face had been badly scarred by a criminal, leaving him with horrific scratches across both eyes, as if a large jungle cat had taken a swipe to him. In the aftermath of this, the suddenly blind Quinn thought his pursuit of justice would come to an end ... until a secret operation changed everything. Receiving a double eye transplant from a murdered police officer, Quinn found that not only had his normal vision been restored but he now possessed perfect night vision. His other senses had been enhanced as well, giving him uncanny hearing, pinpoint accurate smell and acute touch.
With those talents added to his brilliant mind, Tony Quinn adopted a double life. During the day, he pretended to be blind, operating as best he could within the legal system. But at night, he donned a black bodysuit equipped with crepe-sole shoes and thin nylon gloves with rubber tips for better gripping ability. Strapped in holsters under his armpits were two large .45 automatics and around his waist was a utility belt containing a wide variety of tools and gasses. A black hood hid identity, though his strangely penetrating eyes remained visible.
Aided by a gorgeous blonde named Carol Baldwin, whose father had donated his eyes to Tony; a former con man named 'Silk' Kirby; and the hulking Butch O'Leary, the Black Bat had become one of the most feared entities in New York City. His battles with the criminal element had become the stuff of legend, though he was often pursued by the police for his blatant disregard for the law.
A confident smile played across the Black Bat's lips as his mind ran through all of that. He often gave pause to reflect on the many strange paths his life had taken, having long ago decided that only by studying the past could one forge a new future.
Studying the past actions of a thug like Moses Smith had allowed the Black Bat to predict that upon receiving his freedom from the state pen, the goon would head straight into the shadowy underworld of New York City, looking for work. That had proven to be the case and Moses had spent the last two weeks ingratiating himself back into the mob.
Moses now stood in a darkened alleyway behind a nightclub called Lucy's, from which the sounds of debauchery and music drifted into the night. Moses lit a smoke and leaned against the brick wall, enjoying himself immensely. As soon as that busty brunette, Mindy or Miranda, whatever her name was, got off shift as a dancer, Moses was going to ask her to have a drink and maybe head back to his place. She'd been making doe-eyes at him all night so he thought he had a good chance to score with her.
A cold, deadly voice came down from above, making Moses freeze in place. He knew that voice, for it had kept him awake nights at the state pen. It was the voice of the man who had put him away. "Back to your old habits, I see."
Moses swallowed hard, tossing away his cigarette. He looked upwards but could see nothing save for the twinkling of stars. And then there was the briefest of movements, the rustle of a cape, and the Black Bat had dropped from the rooftop to stand in front of Moses.
The vigilante's right hand shot out, his fingers gripping Moses around the throat. The Black Bat lifted Moses off the ground, his face impassive and cold.
"I ain't done anything wrong," the criminal gasped, trying to pull the Bat's hand away so he could breathe.
"You were involved in that heist at Davidson's Jewelers," the Black Bat hissed. "Don't deny it. The other boys have already fingered you."
The crook's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as he realized he faced another trip down the river.
"I might be willing to forget that information if you can help me."
Offers of a deal made Moses relax at once. He nodded enthusiastically. "Sure, sure! Whatever you want!"
"I've heard rumors about a pair of masterminds who are making ripples in the underworld. You know about them?"
"Yeah, I know about 'em. A longhaired guy, kind of prissy-like. He's called Arias or somethin'. And the other guy is Marlon Woodson. Me and him go way back. He's a tough guy."
"You have any idea what they're after?"
"I heard they're looking for magic stuff ... you know, magic, voodoo, the whole thing. Marlon used to be a straight shooter but I guess he's gotten into all this mystical mumbo-jumbo." Moses licked his lips in anticipation. "You want me to find out more for you?"
The Black Bat narrowed his eyes. "Yes. You can do that for me, Moses. Try and find out what sort of objects--specifically--they're after. I'll come and find you when I think enough time has passed."
Moses found himself tossed to the ground. He cursed under his breath and rose to his feet slowly. When he looked around, there was no sign of the mysterious vigilante. It was as if he had never been there at all.
When Tony Quinn returned to the heavily modified car that served as his transportation to and from his mansion estate, he found that a dapper looking fellow was waiting for him. The car was designed to look like any other on the street, so there was no reason for anyone to take a special interest in the vehicle. It was quite obvious, however, that this gentleman recognized its importance.
The Black Bat slid along the shadows, meaning to approach the man from behind, but he was shocked into halting his progress when the man looked directly at him. "No need for such stealth. I'm a friend."
Tony lowered his voice, adopting the dangerous tones of the Black Bat. "I have precious few of those. Who do you think you are?"
"My name is Ascott Keane and I'm a criminologist. I happen to believe that you are in very grave danger."
Tony tried to hide his surprise at hearing the man's name. He was familiar with the literature on Keane and his tireless crusade against evil. Most notable amongst his exploits were Keane's battles with the madman known as Doctor Satan. "If you're planning to bring me in for questioning, you're going to be disappointed."
"I harbor no conceptions of doing so," Keane replied. "I don't believe the sensationalistic stories that paint you as some sort of dangerous killer. I believe you are a man pushed to the extremes but for whom his costumed career is an outlet of his desire to see justice delivered."
"That sounds accurate." The Black Bat's gloved hands danced dangerously close to his holstered .45s. "Now tell me what you want."
"You have in your possession a trophy from a previous case. It is something dubbed the Knife of Elohim. There are three others in existence. Recently, two of them were stolen from Dr. Satan, which has driven the villain nearly insane with rage. I have no doubt that the parties responsible will be coming for your own blade next."
"I remember the weapon," Quinn admitted. "A strange thing. I never used it much. I trust my guns more than magic."
Keane nodded, knowing that many shared such a view. "If you trust me, I would like to assist you in this matter. Anything involving Doctor Satan attracts my attention and my readings on the matter of the Elohim blades indicate that anyone bringing together all four of them could unleash a terrible evil."
The Black Bat shifted, studying the man before him. Though he had little reason to do so besides Keane's impeccable reputation, Quinn found himself trusting what he was being told. "Suit yourself, Keane. I'd heard rumors that two men named Arias and Malone were asking questions about me, trying to find out where my lair was. I'd bet my last dime they're the ones who are after that knife."
Ascott pursed his lips. Arias ... that name was familiar to him. "My friend," he whispered, "I believe this affair may be much more dangerous than I'd previously believed."