ASH: Coherent Super-Stories #13 - The Murders On Main Street

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Fri Dec 7 16:21:54 PST 2007

     The cover shows the White Hat flanked by three beautiful young women.
All four reel back in shock from the shadowy cloaked figure in the
foreground, who seems larger than humanly possible.  Cover copy proclaims,
"The White Hat's strangest tale ever!  WHO IS PROFESSOR PANDEMONIUM?"

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #13 - The Murders On Main Street
        Featuring White Hat               copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[September 1, 1896 - Laramie, WY]

     Dirk Landon tied his horse to the post outside the saloon on the south
side of the small mountain-flanked city.  It had been a long two weeks since
Denver, stopping in every one-horse town along the way.  "Glad to see
something like civilization," he sighed, stepping into the saloon.
     "Just don't forget the mission," Abe's ghost frowned as it walked along
beside him.  Abe didn't seem bothered by the fact that the swinging door
swung right through him...a year as a vengeful spirit had given him time to
get used to his new condition.
     Dirk sighed again, and stepped up to the bar.  "Somethin' wet, please,
but not too strong.  I got the feelin' I've got a long day still ahead a'
me," he told the barkeep.
     "Small beer do?" the man asked, pulling a glass off the shelf and giving
it a quick wipe with his cloth.  When Dirk nodded, he poured a serving of the
weak brew, probably made out back like most beers still were out West.
Dirk'd heard tell of big factory beers shipping by rail, but Wyoming was
still raw enough that it was likely all local.
     "Tell me, have you seen a man come through recently...bald, with a big
scar over his left eye?" Dirk indicated a jagged line over his own face with
one finger.  "Goes by Lefty Atchison."
     "He owe you money?" the barkeep smirked, pushing the brew forward and
holding out a hand.
     Dirk shook his head, then dug out a few coins and paid for his drink.
"He killed a man.  Probably a lot of men, actually.  He has rich friends who
kept him from the noose, but they had a falling out recently and he ran.  I
aim t' stop him runnin'."  In fact, Dirk and Abe had engineered that "falling
out" specifically so that Lefty would be unprotected.  Too bad he'd been
smarter than Dirk gave him credit for and ran before the sheriff could get to
     The man behind the bar shrugged.  "Can't say as I recall seeing someone
like that, but Laramie's a pretty big place these days.  And he mighta just
gone around entirely...we got the telegraph, after all, any fool can see the
lines running in along the Union tracks.  Too much chance someone wired ahead
a warning or even a bounty.  Still, your Lefty might be a particularly big
fool, you might check to see if he's already in jail.  Or..."
     "Why, hello gentlemen," an attractive octoroon woman sidled up, a
charming and almost innocent smile on her face.  "You new in town?"
     "Now you be careful, Beatrice," the barkeep chuckled.  "You might get
people to thinkin' the rumors about you Newton girls are true if you keep
that up."
     Beatrice giggled.  "Why, Joseph, you positively scandalize me."
     Another woman, this a dark-haired and slender figure of olive
complexion, suddenly loomed over Beatrice.  "Come on, sister, no sense in
talking to another doomed stranger," she said, taking Beatrice's hand and
pulling her out of the saloon.
     Dirk quirked an eyebrow, causing his white hat to lift a bit.  "What was
that all about?"
     "Newton sisters.  The Italian one is Belladonna Newton.  Then there's
Brigit, she's Irish.  They say they're sisters, but obviously can't be more'n
half-sisters, probably not even that.  Belladonna's a rough one, I've seen
her deck a man twice her size.  They claim t'be spiritualists, and they do a
salon up at the Ivinson place, but word gets around...they used t'be a lot
less respectable, if y'catch my drift."
     Dirk nodded.  Of course, the label of "whore" tended to stick to any
unmarried woman of marriageable age, even in these more enlightened times.
Why, here in Wyoming, women were even supposed to be able to vote.  Made it a
good place for a trio of "sisters" to try to make it on their own without
making it on their backs, Dirk figured. 
     "Okay, but what about that doomed thing?  Laramie not friendly t'
strangers?" Dirk asked, sipping his beer.
     The barkeep shook his head sadly.  "Oh, we're friendly enough, and the
way things are going we get new strangers allatime, what with the university
and all the new building goin' on.  But we've had a series of brutal murders
lately, all of newcomers.  That's what I was gonna say before Beatrice
introduced herself."
     "When did they start?  It might be the man I'm after," Dirk suggested.
     The barkeep laughed bitterly.  "Not unless your Lefty can fold a man in
half and shove him up a brick chimney as easy as a man shoves a leaf in his
     "Nnnno," Dirk admitted.  "Lefty's a big'un, but I don't think he's that
     "So far, all the victims have been killed in hotels, usually the top
floor, their doors still barred from the inside when the poor souls thought
to do that in the first place.  People are stayin' five to a room on the
ground floor since then, no one's cruel enough to even rent to a lone
traveller.  Another reason I'd guess Lefty ain't around...although I suppose
you could check with the sheriff to see if any of the dead match Lefty's
description, come t'think of it."
     "I guess I'll have to be careful if I stay the night, then.  Thanks,"
Dirk finished his beer.  "I'll go have a talk with the sheriff now, I think."
     "Good luck, stranger."
     As Dirk left the saloon and started to untie his horse, Abe finally
spoke up.  "That Beatrice woman looked right at me when she greeted you.  I
think she could see me."

               *              *              *              *

     "So, th' sheriff wa' nae help?" a lyrical feminine brogue asked from off
to Dirk's left as he stepped out onto the street.
     "I'm not sure how it's any matter to you, ma'am," Dirk turned as he
replied.  The speaker was a a red-headed Irish woman, pretty in a somewhat
hard way.  Oh, her features were soft enough, but there was an iron to her
that told him her fine clothing was not the sort of thing she'd grown up
being used to.  She was a woman used to not getting her own way, but neither
used to giving up...a woman who seemed to have finally clawed her way out of
the abyss.
     "Directly?  Nae, I ha'n't a stake in it, I'll admit.  But my sisters and
I, we can help you more than the sheriff could, if ye could but help with a
problem we've been having."
     Dirk stepped out of the direct line of the doorway, but stayed more than
an arm's length away.  "And what might that be, Miss..."
     "Newton.  Brigit Newton.  And while most would think me daft to say so,
th' spirits ha' told me ye can solve the terrible murders being visited 'pon
     "Feh, just a distraction, another charlatan preying on fools, like that
dandy back in Denver.  We should be on the road again," Abe sneered, becoming
visible next to Brigit.  He'd stayed behind to poke around the jail for any
evidence Lefty had been around, but Dirk figured his uncle's shade hadn't
found anything useful.  "The spirits told her you were needed?  Spirits, my
insubstantial hindquarters!"
     Brigit then turned and looked Abe up and down, replying with a wink,
"Oh, they're not *that* insubstantial, sir."
     "Miss Newton, I think it might be best for us to retire to something a
little less open than the street if we're to discuss this further," Dirk
said, perhaps more stiffly than he'd intended.
     "Of course," she nodded mock-demurely.  "My salon is this way,
gentlemen," she added just a little emphasis to the last word as she dropped
the brogue entirely.

               *              *              *              *

     "And don't be knockin' on the wardrobe lookin' for a little somethin'-
somethin' either," Belladonna Newton warned as she shut the door to the
wardrobe behind her.  It was only the fifth...sixth?...time the brunette
Newton sister had made some variant of the warning that she was along purely
for assistance should a struggle break out, and not "to warm your sheets!"
And she'd punctuated three of those warnings with a wave of her Colt
Peacemaker.  A big gun for a lady, but she held it with the casual ease of
long familiarity.
     Turned out all three Newton sisters were spiritualists of the real
variety, a rarity to be sure.  The overwhelming majority of mediums were
frauds, but just enough were real to keep people wondering.  And, of course,
Dirk had had more than enough personal experience to convince him that
spiritualism was plausible.  Assuming he wasn't just crazy, but he'd given up
on that particular hope months ago.  If he was mad, the world was too,
because it obligingly went along with his delusions.
     Now he rested uneasily in a room at the top of one of the hotels on Main
Street.  The owner had been reluctant to rent it to him, what with the whole
"murdered tenants" issue, but Beatrice had been very...persuasive.  A strange
and contradictory bundle of seduction and innocence that one was.
     The sisters were individually able to do some small tricks, mainly
communication with spirits who happened to be wandering by, like Abe.
Together, however, they could not only compel spirits to appear, they claimed
to have some small talent as seers.  If he helped them solve the murders on
Main Street, they'd help him find Lefty.  Even Abe was willing to go along
with that, so long as it didn't take too long.
     Darkness had fallen a while ago, and Dirk fumbled with the switch that
turned out the hotel's fancy electrical lighting.  He waited a moment for his
eyes to adjust, then found his way into the bed by the faint city lights
coming in through the window.
     "Now don't go falling asleep, boy," Abe warned as Dirk settled into the
rather comfortable bed.  "Just because you're not on a bedroll under the
stars for the first time in a few days is no reason to go soft."
     Dirk suppressed a chuckle.  "Unc," he thought, knowing that he no longer
had to speak aloud for Abe to "hear" him, "the killer has to think I'm a nice
helpless victim, or I'll be lying in this nice soft bed all night with a
pretty lady in the same room for nothing."
     "Bah, that hoyden's no lady," Abe snarled.  
     "I heard that," Belladonna muttered from inside the wardrobe.

               *              *              *              *

     Dirk must have dozed off a little after all, because the next thing he
knew Abe was practically shouting in his ear. 
     "Someone's at the window!"
     Nighttime was a bit chilly in September up in Wyoming, so he'd left the
window closed, but unlocked.  No sense in baiting a trap and then keeping the
prey out of it.
     Before Dirk could shake the fuzz out of his brain and think to go for
the light switch, the window burst inward!  A hulking figure in flowing robes
blocked what little light could come in from the now-cloudy night outside, so
Dirk couldn't make him out clearly.
     "Who's there?" he demanded, trying to act the part of surprised
     "Death comes," a guttural voice replied.  "I am your death who is here
to kill you."  The accent was strange, like nothing Dirk could recall
hearing, even among the motley mix of immigrants in the silver fields of
     Dirk reached for his gun, but the killer was incredibly fast and swatted
it out of Dirk's hand almost before it cleared the holster.  Dirk then found
himself grappling with someone far stronger than any man he'd ever met, and
since becoming haunted by uncle Abe, Dirk had gotten pretty strong himself.
     The wardrobe burst open.  "Back off, y'mug!" Belladonna shouted.
     "Wait your turn," the killer muttered, his voice showing no more strain
than it had before entering combat.  Dirk realized he was being toyed with,
that the brute could crush him at any time.
     "What...are you?" Dirk gasped.
     "I can't make out anything in those robes," Abe scowled, clenching his
fists in helplessness.
     The report of the .45 in the close space was deafening, and the muzzle
flash briefly let Dirk see his assailant's face in harsh relief.  Few details
were visible because of the angle, but the man had to be DAMNED ugly.
     The brute grunted in surprise and pain, and in a flash was headed for
the window.  Dirk grabbed at his robes, but the cloth parted as the killer
shrugged away from him.
     Belladonna and Dirk rushed for the window, but when they looked outside
there was no sign of anyone, either hanging from the sill or landing on the
ground below.
     "A little risky, shootin' like that," Dirk frowned.
     "Eh, the first one's always a blank.  At this range the paper wad might
hurt a little, but it won't killya," she shrugged.  "Whatcha got there?" she
pointed to Dirk's hand.
     Dirk held up the piece of cloth, then walked over and turned on the
room's electric lighting.  "Looks like part of a professor's robes.  Look, a
little 'UW' embroidered here.  Looks like a professor's behind this

               *              *              *              *

[September 2, 1896 - Laramie, Wyoming]

     Even in a bustling and rapidly growing town like Laramie, it wasn't hard
to find the University of Wyoming.  The Main Building still stood out as the
largest building on the east end of town, flanked by the smaller but slightly
newer Mechanical Building.
     "My sisters and I aren't exactly in good odor here," Brigit explained as
she led Dirk in thr front door.  "Men of Science," you could hear the mocking
capitalization in her tone, "don't care much for spiritualists.  Even real
ones," she smiled.  "But there's a new Professor of English who I was
introduced to at the Ivinsons who seemed a little more open-minded, and might
be able to help.  His office is up this way," she gestured to the main
     Even early in the morning, the building was abuzz with activity, and the
pair had to dodge around students and faculty alike.  The other two sisters
were still abed, though.  Belladonna hadn't dozed off during the wait the
night before, and needed her rest.  Beatrice of a personal
     "Here we are," Brigit announced, rapping on the door.  "Professor
     "Come in, come in," replied a muffled voice.
     A dark-haired and slender young man sat at a roll-top desk, scribbling
away with a fountain pen at some manuscript.  His shirt sleeves were rolled
up, and his robes hung somewhat sloppily from a hat rack in one corner.
Dirk's eyes immediately went to them, noting the lack of a sash.
     "Oh, good day Miss Newton," he stood up and took her offered hand,
bowing slightly.  "What brings you to these not-yet-very-hallowed halls this
     "Professor, this is Dirk Landon," she retrieved her hand and gestured to
the man already coming to be known as The White Hat.  "He's been helping me
with the mystery of the terrible murders that have plagued our fair town of
late."  The fact that Brigit wasn't affecting a brogue told Dirk she was on
familiar enough terms with Nelson to be herself.  Or at least wear a
different the short time he'd known her, Brigit didn't strike Dirk
as the sort of person to really "be herself" even *to* herself.
     "Oh?" Nelson cocked an eyebrow.  "A consulting detective, perhaps, like
in the penny dreadfuls?"
     "I've been called dreadful a few times, perfesser," Dirk smirked, "but
the goin' rate's more'n a penny.  I'm on a mission a' my own, but the Newtons
have offered to help me if I helped them with this."  At that, he pulled the
torn sash from the pouch at his side.  "Does this look...familiar?"
     Now both of Professor Nelson's eyebrows went up.  "Yes, it's from one of
the faculty looks like someone who has the rank of a full
professor, in fact.  Unlike me," he smiled a little self-deprecatingly.  "Are
you saying one of our own is responsible for the killings?"
     "That depends," Dirk put the sash back in his pouch.  "Do you have any
professors about yay high," he held a hand up a few inches above the top of
his own head, "and built like a locomotive?  Funny accent, too."
     "I'm sad to say, most of our faculty looks more like me than like what
you describe.  And the ones that aren't thin tend towards the short and
stout.  I don't think I've even seen a student as large as you propose,
although I must admit I don't get to the Mechanical Building very often, one
of our more industrious types might be a match.  Oh," he suddenly realized,
"we have that new agricultural experiment station a ways out of town, I
hardly see anyone from there, since there's not much call for sonnets in the
animal pens.  Professor Morrow would be the best one to ask, if he's in Main
at the moment.  He's been setting up a temporary lab there for his
experiments, until we can get a new science building constructed on the
campus proper.  There may even be workmen fitting your description, helping
him construct pens or whatever it is he needs."
     "But he's not a big man himself?  Or with a strange accent?" Brigit
     "No, no...he's smaller than I am!" Nelson laughed.  "As for strange, he
is British, would that be it?"
     Dirk shook his head.  "No, the voice I heard weren't no Brit.  I've
known a few a' those."
     "Well, thank you, Aven," Brigit nodded.  "Hopefully we can find this
'Professor Pandemonium' before he...or it...strikes again."

               *              *              *              *

     "It's a damned nuisance is what it is, by Jove," Professor Morrow
snarled.  "I'm having a home built closer to the University, and I had been
hoping to rent rooms until it was done, but these killings mean there's no
space for a gentleman.  And no, I'm no madman to tempt death by staying in an
upper room either."
     The man was as small as Nelson had indicated, but he had a sort of manic
energy that filled the office nonetheless.
     "Can you offer us any clues to the identity of the killer, Professor?"
Brigit asked, her accent adjusting slightly to match Morrow's own.  
     "Well, I've employed some workmen, as Aven said, but none are of
exceptional size or build," Morrow shrugged.  "Nor are any of my students
outstanding physical specimens.  But that sash you hold may well be mine, one
of my spare sets of robes went missing at the laundry a few weeks ago.
Incompetent ch..." he bit back the rest of the word, then composed himself.  
     "How many sets of robes do you own?" Dirk asked, head tilting to one
side.  "I mean, you wear them over regular clothing, so why would you even
need so many?"
     "He's a prissy limey, nephew," Abe smirked.  "Probably has a closet
     "You *have* been outside, yes?" Morrow scowled, oblivious to Abe's
commentary.  "The streets are paved with horse dung and dust.  And while I am
willing to accept certain compromises in this hinterland in exchange for the
funding and freedom to conduct my research, I will not look the part of a
poor cousin in stained robes!  But, there, you have one clue.  Your killer
may well be a laundryman, who stole my robes when they struck his fancy.  A
man who kills will hardly think twice about stealing!"
     "Your research," Brigit had a calculating look in her eye.  "What is the
nature of it?"
     "Have you heard of the work of Charles Darwin?" Professor Morrow asked.
     "It may have come up in a salon once or twice, yes," Brigit nodded.
     "The Ascent of Man, right?" Dirk asked.
     Morrow sighed.  "Descent.  From lower species, so I can see how one
might confuse the direction," he added in a condescending tone.  "I have been
studing his theories of descent with modification, crafting special
environments for my subjects in the hopes of altering their natures.  I
suppose you could consider it a more indirect form of animal husbandry, but
rather than pick the breeding pairs I simply create environments that I hope
will favor the survival and breeding of those with traits I desire.  Most of
my subjects are mice, for the obvious reason I haven't the space for
populations of larger animals, nor time to wait for longer-lived subjects to
go through the numerous generations required," he added, with a slightly
wistful tone.
     "He's playin' at bein' God," Abe frowned.  "Mebbe he's like Doctor
Jerkel from that story I read before I got murdered.  Not jest playin' with
the mice, but with himself.  Only getting all big an' ugly instead a' little
an' ugly."
     "I don't suppose any of your subjects has acquired the traits of being
really big and strong, and talkin'?" Dirk asked, half-joking.
     Morrow barked a nervous laugh.  "I think if any of my mice underwent
such a radical transformation, I'd be the first one they'd seek to kill, yes?
After all, can you even conceive of the kind of horrifying environmental
stress that I'd have to apply to create such a monster?  It would certainly
hate me for it, and rightly so!  No, I expect nothing more revolutionary than
better night vision or perhaps slightly stronger claws for digging.  But,
trust me, even such seemingly modest results will put my name in the history
books alongside Darwin or Linnaeus."
     "Or Jack the Ripper," Dirk thought in Abe's direction.

               *              *              *              *

     "So, why are we all going to see the mice?" Beatrice asked as she
accompanied Dirk and her two sisters to the agricultural station.  "You don't
seriously think he really made a man out of a mouse, do you?"
     Belladonna laughed.  "All that takes is a sixgun and a shot of whiskey,
dear sister.  I've seen it happen enough times, and had to reverse that
particular transmogrification the hard way."
     "Really?" Beatrice's eyes went wide.
     "She's being metaphorical," Brigit sighed.  "But Morrow is definitely
hiding something, and even if it's unrelated to Professor Pandemonium,
attempting to cover it up could have the unfortunate side effect of covering
up for the killer as well.  So we don't want to announce ourselves, rather
drop by for an unexpected visit before he has time to do too much damage to
what evidence may exist."
     "He also said he *mostly* worked with mice," Dirk pointed out.  "That
implies there's somethin' else there.  What if he's been subjectin' a human
being to those 'environmental stressors' of his?  That might well make a
     "Well, there's definitely plenty of cattle here," Belladonna wrinkled
her nose.  "He could be working with some of those."
     "Ewwwww," Beatrice added.  "I like cows, but mainly from far away.  I
hope I don't step in anything, these shoes are almost new!"
     It was mid-day, and most of the workers were gathered at one end of the
building for mealtime.  "Let's go in here," Dirk suggested, pointing at the
other end of the station.  "I dunno where anythin's supposed ta be, but the
people're at the other end, so we can get a better look-around before havin'
t'splain ourselves."
     The noontime Sun illuminated the interior well, but one room had blacked
windows and a clearly locked door.  Abe simply walked through it and then
came back a moment later.  "It's pitch black in there, couldn't see a thing." 
     "Allow me," Belladonna extracted a long pin from her hair, then inserted
it into the lock.  "Sometimes a spiritualist needs to be an escape artist
too," she grinned.
     With a satisfying click, the lock opened, followed immediately by the
door.  Light flooded a room full of cages, most of them further shrouded by
tarps, but some open and lit by a curious electrical lamp that flickered to
life as soon as the door opened, as if connected by a circuit to the door.
     "Ooo, mice!" Beatrice cooed, stepping over to one of the uncovered
cages.  "Aren't they cuuuute?"
     "Adorable," Belladonna snarked.  "Come on, we don't have too long before
someone comes by and sees the door's open, and I bet if we close it the
lights'll go back out."
     Brigit headed straight for the largest of the covered cages.  "This one
looks a bit large for mice, aye?"
     Dirk joined her.  "Give me a hand with this tarp," he started pulling at
it.  The cloth fell away easily.
     Inside was a sight that made all five present gasp in surprise and
     "It's...a twisted, hairy man!" Belladonna was the first to recover her
voice.   "What kind of monster is Morrow, to do that to someone?"
     "Troglodytes gorilla," came a voice from the doorway.  "And that's how
he's supposed to look, Miss Newton."
     Everyone tore their eyes from the gorilla to see Professor Morrow
standing in the hall.
     "I'll thank you to leave my laboratory before you damage any more of my
experiments.  Or do I have to summon what passes for a constabulary in this
hamlet?" Morrow snarled.
     "Professor Morrow," Dirk narrowed his eyes.  "This here trog looks just
about the right size to be Professor Pandemonium.  I think mebbe we need to
have a little talk before gettin' the 'constabulary' involved."
     "Him?  A killer?  Nonsense!" Morrow laughed.  "Gorillas are primarily
plant-eaters, although they'll eat insects as well.  They look fearsome, but
are only dangerous when threatened."
     "Could your experiments have possibly changed his nature?" Brigit
     Morrow sighed.  "He is a reminder of the folly of my early research.  I
performed many experiments on him in the past, but to no effect.  He is still
as God made him, not as I tried to change him.  And my current experiments
apply to entire breeding populations, as I mentioned earlier today...a single
gorilla is not suspectible to them.  He is merely an ape."
     "An ape with powder burns on his shoulder," Belladonna eyed the passive
gorilla warily.  "And a welt that looks an awful lot like whatcha get from a
blank fired at close range."
     In a flash, the gorilla hurled open the door to his cage, sending
Belladonna flying into the far wall, where she slumped, stunned.
     "You are clever, too clever," the gorilla snarled as he batted Dirk's
gun out of his hand for the second time that day.  "I do like the title of
Professor Pandemonium, though.  It is a title of distinction that I
     "" Morrow gaped like a fish.  "My experiments were failures!"
     Pandemonium bared his teeth in an aggressive smile.  "No, you succeeded
well enough that I was wise enough to know better than to show my new mind,
you made me too smart to be your unwitting subject," he grunted, the strange
accent clearly a product of how his simian mouth wasn't well-suited to making
human sounds.
     "But stupid enough to go around killing people and think no one would
notice?" Dirk countered.
     "Bah," Pandemonium snarled, grabbing Dirk in one powerful hand and
Brigit in the other, then holding them both up off the ground.  "They had no
clan, no one to care if they lived or died, no homes, no one to miss them.
This is my place now, and if I wish to slay intruders who come into my place
unbidden, I will.  Just as I will now slay you intruders!"
     "No!" Morrow shouted, rushing forward to face his creation.  "This is
*my* place, you will obey me!  Yes, these people need to be disposed of, but
not'll destroy my experiments!"
     "You value mice, you *are* a mouse, 'father,'" Pandemonium spoke the
last word as mockingly as his inhuman mouth could manage.  "I will kill when
and how I wish," he slammed Dirk into one of the cages for emphasis, breaking
it open and sending mice scurrying for the exit.
     "Group five!  No!" Morrow started to bend down to pick up Dirk's gun,
but Pandemonium was faster than that, discarding both Brigit and Dirk and
taking Morrow in a savage two-handed grip.  Morrow's next screams weren't
even remotely recognizable as words...they were barely recognizable as
     And then they abruptly stopped with a sickening wrench as Morrow's head
was pulled from his shoulders.
     The sound of tearing flesh was immediately followed by the loud report
of Belladonna's Colt Peacemaker, held in Beatrice's inhumanly steady grip.
Pandemonium roared with pain and clutched the back of his head.
     "Don't tell me he's bulletproof too?" Beatrice gasped.
     "Fir' one a' blank," the dazed Belladonna mumbled.
     Before Beatrice could process that and fire again, Pandemonium was on
her, ripping the weapon from her hand.  He seemed almost surprised that he
didn't immediately overwhelm the woman with his superhuman strength, but she
was clearly on the losing side of the grapple as Pandemonium became less
professor and more primal primate, howling his anger and nearly blind to the
rest of the world.  She clearly wouldn't last more than a few more
     But she wouldn't need to.
     Dirk placed the barrel of his pistol against the side of Pandemonium's
head and pulled the trigger, splattering his enhanced brains against one of
the cage tarps before the gorilla could break out of his blood frenzy.
     "I suppose I got t' do *some* avengin' today," Dirk said to Abe.

               *              *              *              *

[September 3, 1896 - Laramie, Wyoming]

     "Is this it?" Dirk asked.  "You three just sit together and concentrate,
no darkened room, moving tables, anything?"  The four were sitting in a
reasonably well-appointed salon, part of the rooms the sisters rented for
both lodging and work, although he got the feeling the big money came from
visiting the local nabobs in their own homes.
     Brigit smiled sweetly.  "Mister Landon, those trappings are for the
paying customers, who expect a certain amount of showmanship...much like the
accent I put on sometimes.  A darkened room truly helps sometimes, but the
presence of your uncle should be more than enough to let us pierce the veil
     "Nice t' be of some use t' a woman again," Abe smirked.  He seemed to be
in a better mood than usual today, which was good.
     The Newton sisters joined hands and closed their eyes.  A few moments
later, they opened their eyes again, but with somewhat saddened expressions.
     "Bad news?" Dirk asked, concern in his voice.
     Brigit shrugged.  "For you, not particularly.  Lefty never made it this
far north, he laid a false trail and headed for the Black Hills.  He's hiding
in the Six Grandfathers...although I believe the maps call it Mount Rushmore
now.  No, the bad news is for me and my sisters.  It's time to move on, it
     "Why, is something worse gonna happen here than a killer gorilla?" Dirk
     "Only if we stay here," Beatrice sighed.  "And I really like Wyoming,
too.  You think we can just go as far as Cheyenne?"
     "This stinks," Belladonna fumed.
     "Mister Landon, our spiritual abilities come with more than one price,"
Brigit explained.  "The most obvious is that we must stay together to use the
most potent of our talents.  But the future does not like to be seen, it is
against the natural law.  And the more we use that talent, the more we bring
doom upon the place where we live.  Thus, every so often we have to either
give up using our abilities, or move elsewhere, racing ahead of destruction.
If we stay, things will only get more bizarre and more dangerous, Professor
Pandemonium was merely a taste of what would come.  So we move on, and the
doom hanging over Laramie dissipates."
     "Kinda hard to settle down and raise a family, I expect," Dirk nodded
     "And there's the other price," Belladonna shrugged.  "Although I can
live with it.  Any person we stay with for too long'll be doomed too, if they
follow us when we move.  Visions of their messy demise'll start creeping in
any time we use our second sight, and we've learned the hard way that these
futures DO come to pass."
     "One day, the spirits will release us from our responsibilities, I
hope," Brigit said ruefully.  "Until then, we each cope in our own ways," she
cast a look at Beatrice, who giggled.  Dirk already had a pretty good idea
that Beatrice's coping mechanism was "a different fella every night so none
of them gets too much doom".
     "I can certainly sympathize on the responsibility part," Dirk touched
the brim of his gleaming white hat....


Author's Notes:

     You know, I should almost get Jess Nevins to write annotations for this
one, there's probably references in here that I'm not even aware of.  :) 
     Here's the original inspiration, though.  I was poking around the
English Department's webpage for Kansas State after having heard that they'd
done some research on Science Fiction.  I found an entry for Donna Potts, and
a short listing of her work that read, "Positive Female Media Images in Power
Puff Girls; pigs in Irish Literature and Culture; Prostitution in Depression-
Era Fort Worth."  Me being who I am, I immediately thought, "The Powerpuff
Girls as Depression-Era prostitutes!"  Of course, even *I* am not twisted
enough to write that exact story, but the wheels started turning, and soon
I had the seed of a story involving Powerpuff Girls analogues as former
Victorian-Era prostitutes interacting with White Hat.  I wasn't really
planning to go back to Dirk so soon, if ever, but he seemed a good fit with
the girls.
     The actual plot is inspired by a mix of Poe's "The Murders In The Rue
Morgue" (from which the title of the issue comes) and "The Island of Doctor
Moreau" by H.G. Wells (who in the ASH universe may well have been inspired by
the "real" Doctor Morrow!).  
     As for other character mapping, Newton comes from Utonium, Brigit is
Blossom, Belladonna is Buttercup, Beatrice is Bubbles (who is HARDCORE in the
fight scene, as you've now seen) and Professor Pandemonium is Mojo Jojo with
a dash of Dial M for Monkey.  Lefty is Lefty...he's just an excuse to have
White Hat wandering up into Wyoming.  :)

     A few other things bear explaining before I go on.  Firstly, an
"octoroon" is a racially-descriptive term for someone who has one African or
African-American great-grandparent with the rest being of European descent
(usually).  If I recall correctly, Lady Marmalade from the song of the same
name was an octoroon (or maybe a quadroon).  As race-based terms go, it's
pretty mild.  I tried to avoid any of the other terms in likely use at the
time (aside from Morrow's bitten-off epithet), since I'm more or less
pretending to be writing this story from the standpoint of having been told
in the 1970s, as with a lot of the CSS tales.  Twain may have used rougher
language, but Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas tended not to.  ;)
     Morrow's approach to what would later be commonly called evolution is
more or less correct, in that it works on populations.  Whatever he did to
that poor gorilla before moving to mice was non-Darwinian, though.  Also,
note that in the original story of Jekyll (not "Jerkel") and Hyde, Hyde was
actually smaller than most men...the hulking brute is a more modern
reimagining (something I learned form League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and
Jess's annotations thereof).
     Aven Nelson is a real person who taught at University of Wyoming for a
really long time.  Like, 1893 through the 1960s.  Yes, I did a lot of
googling before writing this story.
     Mount Rushmore was renamed in 1885 (more googling), although carving
obviously didn't start until the 20th Century.  And a "small beer" isn't a
reference to the size of the glass, it refers to beer brewed with re-used
mash, significantly lower in alcohol than regular beer but still safer than
water because the brewing process kills bacteria.
     Hm, too bad I didn't have this idea a month later so I could post it as
part of Ape Month, but I'm not going to sit on it for four weeks.  Ape Month
on RACC can start early this year!  ;)  Well, that, and posting it as an Ape
Month story would kinda give away the twist.

     Now, here's some of the notes I wrote to myself before starting the
actual story, to give some insight into the kind of prep I put into stories
when I've a mind to.  :)  Some of the notes on characters were part of the
story outline itself, though, and a few things got changed along the way as


     Newton Girls/Newton Sisters - They claim to be sisters, and grew up
together, but all three are orphans and most likely children of different
mothers (although maybe the same father).  Soiled doves, as it were, while
working in a brothel they discovered that when together they can commune with
spirits and get glimpses of the future.  Individually they also have minor
"medium" abilities, and they share the usual vitality and strength of
paranormals (so they're not riddled with STDs, still have most of their
teeth, etc).
     Whenever they consider settling down with some men willing to overlook
their unsavory backgrounds, they tend to get visions of disaster for them and
their beaus, and they usually end up moving on soon after.  Laramie suits
them well, but they're starting to wonder if the spirits are going to tell
them it's time to go again.
     Brigit - De facto leader of the sisters, a redheaded irishwoman with an
even temper (usually) and a clear business sense.  She tends to run the
seances and such.
     Belladonna - Italian brunette with a really short fuse and a mean left
hook.  She's the only one with significant tooth-loss (due to brawls), but
since she rarely smiles it doesn't really become an issue.
     Beatrice - Blond(ish) octaroon, very genial if a bit dim at times.
While Brigit runs things, Beatrice often fronts them, due to her slightly
exotic looks and natural charm.

Setting notes:

     Laramie in 1896 is pretty forward-thinking as Old West towns go.  It has
University of Wyoming, which is rapidly expanding, and even has had
electricity for a decade.  Wyoming gives women the franchise, although the
Newton sisters are probably still not thought of as "respectable" in any
meaningful way (although they may have gotten into some salons with their
medium schtick).
     Mountains rise dramatically in the vicinity, but it's still part of the
High Plains.  The Ivinsons (Edward and Jane) are big movers and shakers in
town, and finished a new mansion in 1893.  Wyoming had been a state since
1890. for a street view.
     UWyo is at the eastern edge of town in 1896.  Aven Nelson has been
teaching there since 1893 and will continue to do so into the 1960s!


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