(I understand the fiction site, Brave New 'Verse, which was hosting my Ape-Man stories is going away. So I'm moving them here to my blog. This is an original pastiche hero and an ode to the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Enjoy!)
by Scott Casper, thanks to Lee and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #35
180th Street & Daly Avenue, The Bronx September 5, 1962 Bernie Spengler stood at his favorite newsstand and plucked a 12-cent comic book off the rack, right out from under the big sign that read ‘cigarettes’. The last time he’d bought a comic book, they were only 10 cents. Bernie did not balk about the price increase, though; he had a lot of free time on his hands today and much to take his mind off of.
“You read that stuff?” a familiar voice asked. Bernie looked up at Jacob Stern, his coworker as of yesterday. Wearing his gray suit and matching Fedora with his customary red tie, Jacob looked just like he was heading into work — which Bernie, supposed, he did too, just out of habit.
The newsstand was at the corner where the two men would meet every day before heading to Dr. Carter’s office in the Bronx Zoo, where they had worked as assistants, at least until Carter had dismissed them. They had letters of recommendation from Carter and his promise to help them land jobs at any zoo in the world — but their jobs were “no longer required” here.
Jacob was buying a pack of cigarettes. “So where are you gonna’ work?” he asked nonchalantly to Bernie.
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it yet,” Bernie said truthfully. He had felt in a daze since coming home yesterday early.
“Did you keep that letter from Carter?” Jacob asked. “Like it’s going to do us much good. ‘Fired’ still means fired, no matter how he dresses it up.”
“Excuse me,” a mustachioed man in a nice blue suit and tan Fedora said. A man in a similarly nice suit was standing behind him, listening, as if they were together. “Did I hear you say Carter? Did you two gentlemen work for Dr. Raymond Carter?”
“What if we did?” Jacob retorted in Jacob’s typical, confrontational style.
“We understood he had just let his two most trusted assistants go, while he’s been working for months on some top secret project.”
“What if he has?”
The two strangers glanced at each other. “It just seems strange that Dr. Carter would let his assistants go, unless he’s finished whatever he was working on. Or doesn’t want to share credit?”
“Are you two journalists…?” Bernie asked. He had been only half-listening at first, but now he was curious why these men were asking these strangers, or seemed to have known to find them here.
“Go one, beat it!” Jacob said. “How do we know you’re not commie spies? We ain’t tellin’ you anything.”
The mustachioed man looked like he was going to respond, but the other man touched his jacket and gave him a look that told him to let it go. They both tipped their hats and walked away.
“If that don’t beat all,” Jacob said. “If they’d offered me a good bribe, I might have told ‘em everything I know! Well…see ya’ in the funny papers, Bernie. It was great workin’ with ‘ya.”
Jacob lit a cigarette and walked away. Bernie rolled up his new purchase and tucked it under his arm. He watched Jacob walk away, wondering if they would ever work together again. Then he watched the two strange men walking away, and wondered where they were going.
It wasn’t any of his business now, Bernie told himself as he strolled away in another direction. He had always known Dr. Carter to be an eccentric research biologist, so maybe firing his assistants was just par for the course with these eccentric scientist types. They had made such huge strides lately, though, with the transfer ray for combining human and gorilla physical traits. The potential for making stronger children, or smarter gorillas, was staggering in its implications — as well as its potential for profit. Bernie never would have thought Dr. Carter the type, but perhaps the temptation to sell out had been too great for him.
An hour of walking later, Bernie had changed his mind. Those two men with the questions had been suspicious. Maybe suspicious enough that Raymond should know about them. Maybe suspicious enough that Raymond would be so appreciative for hearing about them that he would hire Bernie back.
Dr. Raymond Carter’s lab was in a new building, built with a research grant, adjoining at the rear of the 51-year old Monkey House in the zoo. There was a back door for entering the lab directly, right next to the loading dock, but since Bernie had handed in his key to it already, it seemed more appropriate to come up to the “front” door at the rear of the Monkey House and wait to be admitted.
It was a Wednesday morning and the Monkey House was open. A mother was trying to get her two awful little boys to pay attention to Ginger, the orangutan. Ginger was not in a particularly playful mood that morning, though, and was just lazily swinging from a rope. Bernie handed one of the boys his recently purchased comic book. The boys shrieked with wild abandon as they tore into it; Bernie did not even bother to look back to see if the mother was appreciative. He was already on his way to the front door.
The aforementioned door, however, was ajar and opened even wider when Bernie knocked on it. “Hello?” he asked as he peaked inside. The reception room was dark and empty. Around the corner, to the left, he could hear the chatter of apes, upset about something, coming from the research cages. In this room, there was an alcove off to the right with a door to a restroom in it and Bernie thought he saw movement there in the shadows.
Bernie was startled at first, for it was odd to see the door left unlocked, but the reception room left dark. He steeled himself as the figure stepped forward from the dark alcove — and turned out to be Jacob Stern.
“What are you doing back here?” Bernie asked.
“Same as you?” Jacob asked back. “Figured Ray would want to know about those two men who were asking us questions?”
“Is he here?”
“Beats me, I had to go as soon as I got here,” Jacob said, checking his fly.
At that, there was more sound, the screeching of apes and crashing sounds, like crates toppling over. And was that a man shouting? Raymond? As one, Bernie and Jacob raced to investigate. Around the corner were the test subject cages, but they all stood empty. The noises were coming from up ahead, on the left, in the loading bay area. Just before Jacob could round the corner to peek in, two men came bolting out of room and into the corridor. They were scruffy men, one young and thin, the other a big bruiser, like a boxer, both wearing torn jackets and shoving Jacob and Bernie out of their way to escape.
“Lemme’ outta’ here!” the bruiser shouted.
Two gunshots rang out from inside the loading bay area. Suddenly, running away seemed like a good idea. Bernie and Jacob both high-tailed it back to the reception room, but Bernie stopped at the desk and picked up the phone.
“Really?” Jacob said testily. He had stopped in his tracks, halfway to pursuing the two other men out the door into the Monkey House, when he noticed what Bernie was doing.
“Someone needs to call the police,” Bernie said as he dialed.
A third man, a Hispanic man whose clothes were even more tattered, came running from the corridor and through the reception room, but this time he was being pursued — and pummeled — by Bobo the Chimp and Johnson the Gorilla, on either side of him. The man just kept yelling, in a mixture of English and Spanish, for them to stop.
There was more noise from the corridor, someone being hit by something heavy, and then two more men stumbled into Reception. These two Bernie and Jacob recognized — the men from the newsstand. They turned and recognized Bernie and Jacob at once. One of them had a gun in his hand and looked like he was thinking about using it. Both men hesitated, turned, and only backed slowly towards the exit into the Monkey House.
What followed them was the biggest surprise to Bernie and Jacob of all. It was a 200 lb. gorilla, built like a male gorilla, but small for a full-grown one — but one dressed in a matching red- and black-striped short sleeved shirt and short pants, as well as some sort of headset over its ears and in front of the side of its face.
The man with the gun was waving it back and forth, as if unsure if he should shoot at the ape, Bernie and Jacob as witnesses, or all three, but it became a moot point when the ape yanked a filing cabinet drawer out and flung it at the gunman with uncanny accuracy. The gunman went off-balance and lost his gun, and probably would have wound up sprawled on the floor if the other man had not been there to catch him.
“Come on, let’s get out of here!” the other man said. And they did.
The ape ran into the middle of the room, stood erect, and roared out words as it shook its fists over its head. “Tell H.E. — they’ll never get it!”
It was only then that the ape seemed to notice Bernie and Jacob. It looked at them with intelligent recognition and…embarrassment? Then it turned and fled the way it had come.
Only when it was gone did Bernie notice he had someone on the phone asking if someone was there. He just looked at Jacob instead, dumbfounded, and Jacob looked back. They were both thinking the same thing.