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As he poured himself another drink, Vincent Salucci could almost believe that the Skull was smiling. He glanced at Helmut Arcturion, who still looked nothing like a captive as he sat in Deadeye’s chair and tinkered with the intricate contents of an aluminum box the size of a cigarette case. The man’s hair wasn’t even mussed as he twirled a miniature screwdriver between his fingers. Salucci wondered just what he was working on. Whatever it was, the scientist had a funny look on his face, as though he was enjoying his own private joke.

“Your men have done as I requested?”

His sinister backer’s reverberating voice jarred Salucci out of his musings. “Yeah. The ones who aren’t being grilled downtown.” He had to work hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “We hooked the Generator up to the Plaza’s fuse box, just as you instructed. But I don’t know why.”

“You have no need to know why. All will be revealed soon.”

Salucci gestured at the boardroom door. “Fine, but what’s with the Fed? You never mentioned he’d be holed up in my office. One wrong word from him, and we’ll have G-men swarming all over the damned place.”

“Wrong words, indeed.” The Skull chuckled. “Worry not. Your precious inside man watches him. When the time comes, the only wrong words he will utter shall be for our enemies’ ears.”

It was one enigma too many. Salucci slurped down his cocktail and resigned himself to eternal ignorance as he thumped heavily into his chair. Its leather upholstery, ostensibly from the finest dealer in the city, came across as slick and slimy against his skin, and the taste of liquor in his mouth made him nauseous. He felt sick, and tired, and more than a little helpless.

Of the six members of the Board of Crime, only three were here. Rando was meek and submissive with his black eye and mussed turban. The Ice Queen had enough makeup kits lined up on the table to choke an Avon lady and was furiously touching up the damage Gum Belle had done to her face. Off in a shadowed corner, barely touched by the Skull’s unnaturally bright light, Madame 415 stood as motionless as a paper doll, her features folded into a neutral mask.

Salucci realized, with the crushing heft that only comes with belated insight, that there was no one in the room that he could truly talk to. He could never have a conversation with any of these people about the price of gin on the black market, the hassle of the Flaherty gang over in Midtown, or the pleasure of a quiet evening at home with the radio and a Long Island iced tea. None of these people thought in those terms. Even to Rando, a pompous, overweening coward, such matters were too small to consider. And the inverse was true: the Skull’s motives and methods had always been too large for him to comprehend. He had been a child fumbling in a dark closet, and now, he knew, the closet door was locked behind him.

For once, he wished the only other remaining member of the Board was here, but the Hanged Man had arrived with Abrams, given the latter a sealed envelope, then left without so much as a snide remark. No one had seen him since. More likely as not, he was off on one of his little expeditions in the Shingles. Usually, Salucci would be relieved, but right now, he wanted a brother, even a brother as twisted as Vittorio. Instead, he found himself alone, foundering in dark waters.

Such helplessness sparked a reckless bravado in him. Salucci sat back and folded his hands behind his head. “Arcturion.”

The scientist looked up from his box.

“What’s that you’re working on?”

Arcturion opened his mouth, but it was the Skull who spoke. “A unique device that shall channel the power of the Galvanic Generator.”

“Your greatest invention, huh?”


“Then why is your prisoner inventing it for you?”

For a moment, he had an idea of how it felt to be Vittorio. Everyone, even Madame 415, stared at Salucci in surprise. Even the Skull was momentarily at a loss for words.

“The design is my own, Vincent Salucci, but Mr. Arcturion is more familiar with the receiver array. I require his expertise to fine-tune the device. Otherwise, your nightclub may be blown to atoms.”

It sounded like bullshit to him, but as wild as he felt right now, Salucci knew better than to press the Skull to hard. He was angry, but not suicidal. “How is it going to make the city kneel at your feet?” He didn’t bother to say our feet.

The Skull didn’t bother to contradict him. “Wait and see. Is it done?”

Arcturion made a few minor twists and jabs with the screwdriver, then nodded. “I need only the array.”

Salucci thought about the reputed power of the Generator and decided that, were he in the Skull’s place, he wouldn’t have trusted Arcturion’s word. For all he knew, Arcturion’s modifications might have included a self-destruct button for the Plaza Nightclub. Apparently, the Skull came to the same conclusion, for, with a crackle of electricity, his image rose into the air and hovered over the scientist’s chair, held to his twin projectors by a pair of buzzing lightning bolts. His eye sockets remained empty, but Salucci could feel their scrutiny as they bathed box’s innards in white light. Meanwhile, Arcturion settled in his chair and lit one of his funny-smelling cigarettes. He might as well have been going over his tax records with his accountant.

At last, the Skull’s insignia floated back to its usual place. Salucci waited for the light in the room to turn a familiar crimson, but nothing changed, not even the tone of the Skull’s voice.

“Miss Kolodka, give him the array.”

The Ice Queen looked rather put out to be interrupted in the midst of repairing her face, but she dragged herself away from the forest of mirrors and applicators that surrounded her long enough to remove the receiver array from some hidden fold in her fur coat. She slid it across the table to Arcturion. The scientist caught it with two fingers and placed it into a hidden socket that had been squirreled away somewhere within that magic box of his. He closed the lid, screwed it shut, and offered it to the Skull with a polite smile.

A small slot opened in the side of one of the Skull’s projectors. “Plug it in.” There was a dangerous flare of red. “Carefully.”

The smile vanished from Arcturion’s face, but he made no other sign that the Skull’s warning had affected him as he slid the box into the slot. There was a harsh whisper of metal grinding against metal, a faint, receptive click -- and the slot slammed shut. Arcturion jumped back, sucking his fingers, as the Skull’s visage suddenly blazed anew with victorious radiance. Salucci raised a hand to shield his eyes. The Ice Queen flinched away from her mirrors. Rando slid halfway under the table. Even Madame 415 eased away.

“At last…at last! My triumph is at hand!”

Despite his black mood, Salucci found himself leaning forward. Finally, he’d learn just what the Skull was up to. What horrible technology could be lurking inside that innocent steel casing? What secret weapon would be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world? After so much effort and hardship, what would be their reward for their faithful service?

With a tiny bleep sound, the Skull vanished.

“Well,” Rando said after a moment, “that was unexpected.”

                                                         * * *

“I want my lawyer. Gimme my phone call, so I can get my lawyer.” Eddie the Rat propped his size-seven shoes on the jail cell’s mattress and straightened his garish tie with a silky zip. “I ain’t talkin’ till I get my lawyer.”

The detective seated across from him sighed. He had good reason to sigh. Between being emasculated by a Fed at Tomorrow Tower, a Mexican standoff with Gum Belle, and a fruitless search of the riverfront, he’d had a long day. “Look, Ed -- can I call you Ed?”

“Can I call you Dick?”

He pressed his lips together. The day was getting longer and longer. “Ed, your buddies may not be as loyal to the outfit as are. You were the number-two man on this job, which makes you the number-one fall guy. They’ll probably rat you out before your boss pays your bail. No pun intended. Matter of fact, we’ve got your gorilla of a driver under the hard lights right now. Mulally says he’s singing pretty as Judy Garland.”

A snort through a snout. “Mick’s too dumb to be a squealer.”

“It doesn’t take much brains to know we’ve got enough witnesses who saw you with the Generator in your hands to put you away for ten to twenty, easy.”

Eddie just grinned. He’d lost one of his front teeth in the crash. “So?”

“So, you have two options. You can talk now, or you can listen to your pal Mick talk in court. Trust me, Ed, it’s not much of a choice.”

“You’re right, Dick. It ain’t much of a choice.”

The detective smiled and pulled out a notepad and pencil from his jacket pocket. Eddie beckoned him closer. The pencil hovered over the notepad as visions of promotions and pay raises danced in his head. “Whenever you’re ready, Ed.”

The button man closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his mouth quivering with nerves, then gave a resigned nod. “I, Edward Razzio, do hereby confess that I would feel a lot more comfortable with my lawyer around.” His eyes snapped open and he spat in the detective’s face. “Now stop dicking around, Dick, and give me my phone call. I got rights.”

The detective’s face showed a flicker of frustration before he walled himself off again, but not before Eddie saw it. He gave a gap-toothed sneer as the policeman put his pencil and paper away, pulled out his pocket square, and mopped the spit off his brow and nose.

“You win, Mr. Razzio. Bernardo Boccelli’s using the jail horn right now. When he’s done, you can call your mob lawyer. I just hope you’re this smug when the judge sends you off to Warden’s Cliff.” He rapped the barred door with his knuckles. The guard outside rattled a key around until it opened.

He had just stepped through when the jail door crashed open. There was a rattling boom of steel on brick as a broad-shouldered man in a bowler hat and bloodstained shirtsleeves stormed down the hall. The side of his square-jawed face was a crimson mask, and as he stomped up to them, the detective saw that he had patched a square-folded handkerchief onto his cheek with a few ragged squares of duct tape. He flipped open his wallet and flashed them a badge.

“Ricketts, FBI.” His voice was a ragged growl. “I’m here to see the Rat. So stop breathing through your mouth and get out of my way.”

The detective’s dismay gave way to distaste. The Feds had already given him the brush once today. He wasn’t about to let it happen again. “He’s under state custody.” He drew himself to his full height and ignored the fact that he still had to look up into the G-man’s eyes. “Unless you can give me something more official than that tin star, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Ricketts scowled and thrust his wallet into his pocket. “So long as you’re asking,” he said, then took a step forward and broadsided the detective with a cannonball left hook. The detective fell like an officious brick as the guard fumbled for the nightstick at his belt. Ricketts bobbed to the side and kneaded the man’s intestines with his right fist. The guard made a sound like a hyperventilating hippopotamus and collapsed.

The jail erupted into a chorus of hoots and jeers as the other prisoners capered in vicarious delight. Ricketts ignored them and stepped into Eddie’s cell, rolling his left shoulder with a grunt. Maybe it was his height, maybe it was the cold, hard expression on his bloody face, but the lone ranger looked a lot scarier than the detective had been. Eddie took a last measurement of him, and concluded that the deciding factor was, in fact, the fists. He decided to play things a little nicer.

“Whatever I did, I’m sorry, honest, I am. Just don’t -- ”

Ricketts took his tie in one hand and hauled him to his feet. By the short end. Eddie’s face turned purple as his tie tightened into a silk noose with bad fashion sense.

“I don’t give a damn if you’re sorry or not, Eddie.” Ricketts’s face was a furious mask of crusted blood and barred shadows. “Where’s the Hanged Man?”

Eddie gasped, but out of surprise more than suffocation. “Why?”

“Wrong answer, Ed.” Ricketts stomped the crook’s feet flat against the floor, braced him against the wall with one hand, then yanked back on the tie with the other. Eddie made a gargling noise that would have been a scream on a good day.

“No one goes looking for the Hanged Man. The last guys who did never came back.”

“How do you know?”

“Because -- ack -- because I sent them there.” His face started to turn black.

Ricketts dropped him. Eddie fell with all his usual grace and aplomb, which meant that he lay in a fetal heap, coughing and wheezing. But he still found the energy to scramble back as Ricketts’s shadow advanced on him. Beneath his bowler hat, the G-man’s expression was hard and terrible.

“Don’t think this is over. I just didn’t want you to black out,” he said quietly. Eddie’s eyes bulged with terror. “Tell me where you sent those men, before I make you wish I had.”

The crook raised his skinny paws and begged like a good boy. “Okay, okay! He’s in the Shingles. There’s this tenement he burned down years ago; he’s turned it into his own little chamber of horrors. I hear he kills people there, that he does terrible things to them. That he makes them entertain him before he lets them die.”

The G-man clenched his fists and his jaw. “Why doesn’t anyone do something about it?”

“Dammit, he’s the Hanged Man. Only his brother and the Skull can do anything about him, and they know what would happen if they didn’t let him blow off steam once in a while. Hell, you saw what happens when he gets antsy. He shoved you into a bus.” He sat up, rubbing his throat. “Besides, he only takes the ones who won’t be missed.”

Ricketts punched him in the face. Eddie yelped as his lips went red. Something white and crimson clattered to the concrete floor: his other incisor. “Aw, nuth.”

Ricketts grabbed him by the chin and yanked his face up so that could look each other in the eye. “When Salucci pays your bail,” he snarled, “you tell the Hanged Man he took the wrong one. You tell him I’m going to make him wish he’d died at the gallows. And you tell him I’m going to make what Slouch Hat did to your outfit look like a pat on the back.” He wrenched the button man forward, until his blunt nose almost touched Eddie’s twitching one. “You hear me?”

Eddie gulped. It was as close as he could come to a nod.

Ricketts snarled and shoved him away. The back of Eddie’s head hit the brick wall with a sound like a walnut bouncing off a block of granite.

The G-man walked out into the hallway. The other prisoners had gone silent. Their eyes followed him with shadowed fear. Something uncomfortable twisted in his gut, and he tried not to think about all the laws he had just broken. There wasn’t time for such niceties. He closed the cell door and crouched down, fumbling for the guard’s key ring so he could lock it behind him.

Then the lights went out.

                                                         * * *

There wasn’t much by way of conversation at the moment. Belle’s frozen expression of shock and terror was something of a buzz-killer, especially since there were no more beans left. Whiskey Jack was sprawled out on the ground, snoring. Esmeralda played with her dog-eared deck of tarot cards. Scratch had wandered off somewhere, grumbling. Tubby stirred the fire with a rusty iron rail. He watched as a dripping Bum Frank shivered like an overworked wind-up toy and chipped away at the ice with the sharp nib of the fountain pen that he usually used to write to the boss.

“You never told me you work for a block of frozen rubber,” Tubby mused.

Frank stopped long enough to defend his reputation. “It’s nih-nuh-not wuh-wuh-work,” he said through chattering teeth. “I h-h-help the buh-boss because I wuh-want to.”

“Is that why you call her boss?

Frank rubbed his benumbed arms and retuned to digging a hole in the ice. The fire had shrunk it down to only a few inches in thickness, and it was sweating hard. Maybe, if he could just get through to her, the boss could work herself free and he could get back to dying of pneumonia.

There was a glassy crackle from the ice, and he felt the nib sink into something that felt like hard-serve ice cream. Frank pulled it out and noticed a little dab of frosty pink on the tip. With a gulp, he risked a glance at the boss’s face. Sure enough, there was a nice little gouge scooped out of her nose. Frank winced. “Suh-sorry, boss.”

There was a rush of dusty, scrambling footfalls from the beyond the campfire’s edge, and a panting Scratch rushed up to them, one of his ragged mutts hot on his heels. “It’s incredible,” he panted.

Esmeralda stopped her tarot hand in mid-deal. “What?”

“See for yourself. Come on!”

He ran back into the night. Tubby and Esmeralda hurried after him. After a moment’s indecision, Frank sheathed his pen and followed.

Beyond the heat and light of the fire, the darkness was unusually thick and pure. Beneath its shroud, the river’s ghost clawed at his innards. Frank’s breathing came in shallow, wet gasps, and the shadows draped around him like algae. He was just about to sit down and take a rest when he thought he saw a glimmer of reflected light from one of Esmeralda’s many brass bangles. When he stumbled in that direction, he came across an overturned boxcar. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he fancied he saw three figures standing atop its buckled side. Frank began to drag itself up to join them, using the ruined car’s axle and undercarriage as handholds. He could feel rust smearing itself across his palms and fingers as he climbed. He heard Esmeralda’s voice. It was hushed and terrified.

“What’s happening to it?”

“It’s finally getting what it deserves,” Tubby replied. He sounded as though he had just lost a son.

Either Frank was close enough to be seen, or he must have made more noise than he thought, because Scratch’s hand groped out of the darkness, found his wrist, and pulled him up to join them. Frank sat down for a moment to catch his breath.

Then he stood up, and it hissed right out of him again.

Miles away, across the river, lay the city, sprawled out before him like a jewel of steel and glass, lit from within by the glow from a million bulbs of crystal, wire and gas. It blazed the darkness away with a thousand garish colors and a hundred sculpted shapes. Creatures of science and industry scurried and swam through its body; headlights scampered down asphalt arteries; wheeled serpents twisted along elevated capillaries, their bodies dotted with electric-lit windows like urban camouflage. Frank had never bothered to look at the city as a whole before. It filled him with such hope and dismay that he forgot the gnawing cold creeping toward his heart. It was a crass, beautiful thing, a brilliant whore of a town. It and the boss deserved one another.

And it was dying.

The light was leaving, all across the city. From the radiant diamond penthouse atop Tomorrow Tower, to the guttering shantytowns in the Shingles, the colors and the brilliance, the life and the wonder, was being snuffed out, window by window, floor by floor, bulb by bulb. Skyscrapers vanished before his eyes. The searching rays of spotlights were swept aside like overwhelmed sentries as the night rushed in to claim its own once more. The trains slowed, then stopped. Frank saw tiny shapes, little more than shadow puppets, waving and rushing about in wordless fear, before they flickered away. Now, only the cars remained. Frank heard their horns, rendered strangely mournful and desperate by the distance, as a hundred accidents crunched and crashed together without the streetlamps to keep them apart. Soon, their lamps winked out, too, and the city became a screaming corpse.

“Jesus,” he breathed. He fumbled in his pocket for the crystal radio he’d found down by the Bijou palace after the mob boys had let him go. It didn’t work so well any more -- something had burned out in it -- but maybe there was a station still up somewhere. The clipped, urgent voice of the newscaster would be a sign, that there was still hope, that there was civilization, that there was still a chance.

Instead, there was a blazing pain in his hand, and Frank dropped the radio as though it was a hot coal. Something white and painful flashed against his eyes, and as he blinked the spots away, he saw the radio lying on its side, glowing with a harsh blue-white glare that rippled and moved like nothing he had ever seen. In the distance, windows across the city wavered back to unlife with the same ghastly corpse light, creeping like a fog from a million radio sets. It was as though a black magician had held the metropolis up to a still pool of dark water and dropped a pebble into the reflection. Frank shuddered. He wanted it to go away.

“This is…the Phantom Skull!”

The voice was deep and cavernous, dripping with smug superiority and contempt. It came from somewhere near his feet. Frank looked down and saw that the radio’s dial had lit up and was spinning wildly, as though trying to tune in to every station at once. The Phantom Skull’s too-large voice boomed from its tiny speaker.

“As of this moment, your city is mine. I control my birthright, the Galvanic Generator. I control your electricity. I control your lives. You shall serve me, as you once served Helmut Arcturion and his fool’s dreams. Resist, and my power shall render you to atoms.”

The four of them stood there in stunned silence for a second. It was Esmeralda, of all people, who spoke up first. “Nut job.”

“I believe a preemptive demonstration is in order.” Perhaps the Skull heard them. Perhaps he could hear everyone. Perhaps he just liked to hear himself speak. His clangorous voice rumbled with humorless laughter. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, remain in your seats and witness…MY MASTERSTROKE!”

The ghostly glow on the radio winked out, as did the swamp-light city that the Skull had conjured. The winos’ congress shifted uneasily on the boxcar.

“Nice job, Esmeralda,” said Scratch. “You pissed him off.

“It’s not my fault -- ”

An earsplitting crack drowned out the rest of her words, as though someone had just let unwrapped a case of thunder at their feet. The boxcar trembled beneath them as a writhing tentacle of pure white light as big around as a brownstone streaked up from somewhere in the city and into the sky, where it dissolved into a gauzy screen of the same witchfire that had appeared around Frank’s radio. For what felt like an eternity, it hovered above the buildings like a sinister fog, until it sparked and shrank in upon itself, brightening into the horrid sigil of a grinning skull.

And then the lightning rained down.

A dozen or more pillars of electricity, streaming into the city like roots into the ground, jittering and snapping for longer than an instant, longer than a second, pouring God only knew how much deadly energy with doomsday precision at specific points spread out all over town.

“What is he doing?” Tubby whispered.

Frank had been in the city longer than any of them, and he knew it like the holes in his socks. Even from a distance, he could tell which buildings were where, right down to the butcher shop on Ninth and Ransom that gave out day-old stew meat to the first four hobos at the back door every Friday. He’d been hauled to every one of those locations on the Skull’s hit list at some point in his vagrant career. He knew them all. An uncontrollable shiver scampered down his spine. It had nothing to do with pneumonia.

“The precinct stations,” he said. “He’s hitting the cops. All of them.”

                                                         * * *

Ricketts hadn’t had the good fortune to hear the station’s radio, although he’d caught a hint of a rumbling voice and a note of mocking laughter. But he’d seen the rippling white glow from the jailhouse door. There had been a glimpse of terrified inmates, a wavering multifaceted glow from the street outside, and then he’d been plunged back into darkness again, blinking away the greenish-purple ghosts of ghosts. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t good. It sounded like most of the stationhouse had rushed outside to watch the spectacle. Ricketts felt vaguely embarrassed at their green attitude. You never ran into danger. Unless you were Belle, of course, and she wasn’t here. The mere mortals handled business first.

His hand fell on a cold, jingling circle of steel. He picked it up and held it in front of his eyes. It was the guard’s key ring. Palming it, he reached back and felt around for Eddie’s cell door.

It wasn’t there. Ricketts snapped his head around. Through the spots before his eyes, he saw that the door was standing wide open.

And there was no sign of Eddie.

“Shi -- ”

Something hard smashed him at the base of the skull. Ricketts fell over, weak as a serial plot. The keys were pried from his limp fingers, and he saw Eddie standing over him, panting, the guard’s nightstick in his hand, a terrified expression on his face in spite of his triumph. He ran off, the keys rattling as he started to unlock the cells. Thuggish whoops and pounding feet were everywhere as the men who had pulled off the crime of the century ran to freedom. He heard the meaty slap of fisticuffs as they ambushed the cops outside. A fresh-faced patrolman fell to the ground just outside the barred window, bleeding from a broken nose.

Ricketts wasn’t doing much better. As he lugged himself to his feet, his head felt like a bag of pulverized bricks, and the lacerated side of his face was disconcertingly numb. He staggered for the front office and the telephone. He had to call this in. Maybe the other precincts would be able to round up the boys before they got back to Salucci.

Thunder exploded in his ears. Ricketts winced as he picked up the phone and held it to his ear, but there was no dial tone.

“Operator? Operator?”

There was no reply. Had the thunder deafened him? Ricketts jiggled the cradle; the rattle of cheap technology came through loud and clear. He decided to try again.

“Operator, this is a Federal emergency, please respond. Operator!”

Nothing. Not even a crackle. Ricketts slammed the handset down in frustration and turned to leave.

That was when the lightning struck the stationhouse.

Blinding brilliance burst through the windows, evaporating wood and glass as it streamed in. Ricketts saw the silhouette of the fresh-faced patrolman for a blink’s blink, before it disintegrated in a rush of glowing electricity. Every outlet in the room started spraying sparks like a Fourth of July celebration, and the temperature in the room skyrocketed as gray ash started to crumble from the ceiling. It used to be plaster.

Ricketts ran. He could see the individual bricks in the wall, limned in reddish-white light as some terrible and familiar force burned them away. The cuffs of his shirt and pants caught fire, and there was the smoldering stench of his own burning hair. He staggered for the jail wing, meaning to pull the detective and the guard away, but there was a buzzing rip in the air, and the jail was gone, just like that.

The ceiling began to tear itself away. The heat was suffocating. Ricketts dodged a falling light fixture as he scrambled for a rear door. The knob was brass, and tiny threads of lightning hopped from its hinges and danced across its surface. Ricketts kicked at the wood with all his might, and it splintered away, down a flight of steep pine stairs. He lunged after it, squeezing his eyes shut against the searing heat. His last thoughts were of Ted. Please, oh, please, oh, please, oh, please, let me see him again --

The stationhouse exploded.

                                                         * * *

                                   Don’t miss the next exciting chapter of

                                   GUM BELLE CONQUERS THE UNDERWORLD:

                                           “THE SECRET GUARDIAN!”
Thrills! Chills! Has the Phantom Skull won? Has Ricketts been atomized? Will Gum Belle ever be freed from her icy prison? And what is the Hanged Man's favorite food?

Find out the answers to these questions and more now: [link]


Okay, okay, Belle wasn't really in this week's episode. Sorry. Hopefully, there was enough to keep you excited in her absence. She understands if you just couldn't live without her for one week, though. She is that irresistible, after all. ;)
Add a Comment:
Dragon-the-Tribrid Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Now it's getting VERY Cinematic. This is a very gripping chapter, probably as everyone keeps saying, the best one yet.
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2009
Thank you very much! The stuff I'm working on right now is pretty big -- I want to get it done for everyone to read, but I also don't want to rush things, or else I'll end up with egg on my face. GRRR! If only I had a better work ethic...
Dragon-the-Tribrid Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Of course you shouldn't rush, otherwise it won't be as good and you'll have regrets.
Don't worry about the work ethic, mine sucks too. I still ahve several half coloured pictures on my laptop to finish, and some more waiting to be inked and scanned in so THEY can be coloured!
Tranquila Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2009
At first I thought Ricketts would be the comic straight-guy Belle would play off of. But as the story moves forward Belle is feeling more like the comic relief while Ricketts becomes the hero. Hopefully Belle will be able to swallow a chunk of that pride and learn a few dozen things from the "super" G-man.
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2009 may have just solved a knotty problem I've been having with the next chapter. Thank you!
eent242 Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Mistake on my part -- I'm in the Belle is irresistible camp!

(Setting a new record for backpedaling). ;)
eent242 Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Best Chapter EVER -- thirded. It rocks the Casbah. ;)
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Merci. Though all these "best chapter ever" comments are starting to make Belle a little miffed. ;)
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2009


Wonderful chapter! Oh, this is going to be a blast!
YaY! Bum Frank! I'm glad he saved her.
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Thanks! Bum Frank isn't too thrilled, though. He got pneumonia out of the deal. ;)
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009

But pneumonia is better than being fried alive. :)
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Well played, sir. Well played. :P
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Yeah, well, SOMEONE is going to have to do the Electric Slide to get to the Skull.

Superblade Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2009
I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is actually my favorite chapter yet, for precisely the reason you listed in the Author's Comments: Belle wasn't there. I've grown to like Ricketts more than her. Even the Board appeals to me more. Vittorio was right: Belle is hanging by a thread in terms of morality. Hopefully being stuck in a ten-foot ice cube tray for half a day will teach her some humility... Oh, who am I kidding, she'll probably just be even more of a bully now. >>

Anyway, personal gripes aside, things are finally getting REALLY exciting. The Skull is like a god now. The image of him hovering over the city raining down blasts of lightning is such an AWESOME image.

Great work. Keep it up and-... Wait, I just realized something... If Stan has no arms now, and he's in jail... How'd he make HIS phone call? o.o;
Stretch-Ink Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
Thanks as ever for the commentary and critique (and another bow of appreciation for the lovely artwork :)). I am sorry that Belle seems to be grating on you; as one who has yet to finish watching the first season of Lost because of an intense dislike of Jack and Kate, I can fully understand. Not every character is a winner with everyone, and I wouldn't have it any other way, so long as the characters are true.

I'm glad you see things Vittorio's way. One of the things I wanted to get across was that there is a very fine line between being cocksure and being a little drunk with one's own superiority. It's very easy for someone like Belle to edge over that line. And there are consequences...

You're too kind about the Skull's big entrance, really. As for Stan's one phone call...well, the prison guards drew straws to see who got stuck holding the receiver for him. He sort of has a tendency of accidentally scalding people who get too close. Half-open steampunk wounds, you know. ;)
Superblade Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2009
"Lovely artwork," he says... You're too nice.

Not every character is a winner with everyone, and I wouldn't have it any other way, so long as the characters are true.

Like Belle or not, I really respect that viewpoint: That's the kind of three-dimensional thinking that most writers aren't brave enough to attempt. Kudos for sticking to your guns.

And as for the Skull's big entrance... Come on. I'm a video game nut. How could I *not* envision some huge, elaborate cutscene like that: The Big Bad's face over the city, raining down destruction - I damn near dropped the chapter right there and ran to the sketchpad to try and put it on paper. Too bad I couldn't make the Skull look threatening enough... Oh well. I've got plenty of other material I can put on paper. 8-)
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