The squealing feral hogs ramaged rapaciously on Wall Street, skewering scuttling, blanching bankers with their piercing tusks and devouring hunks of human flesh with their gnashing teeth! Astride the largest hog as malefic conductor of the chaos, Joe Hick chortled fiendishly, thrusting his pitchfork into the air like the stab of Lucifer’s infernal trident tormenting the damned!
A gravelly voice boomed from behind one of the classical pillars on the forbidding facade of the New York Stock Exchange.
“Your craven assaults on civic comity die tonight, Joe Hick!”
Out stepped King Solomon, masked vigilante and implacable nemesis of crime!
For this final encounter with Joe Hick in the swine-ravaged and blood-drenched financial district, King Solomon had adopted the costume of Buné, the eloquent devil who promises riches. In imitation of the demon, he wore a golden crown and a domino mask, with a papier-mâché head fixed on each shoulder, - a slavering German Shepherd’s growl on his left, and a squawking griffin’s nipping beak on his right. Yet King Solomon’s own chiseled face was the most fearsome of the trio, hard-edged and seething with intense loathing for crime.
Before Joe Hick could reply, King Solomon leapt from the plinth of the column, nimbly blasting slugs from his twin Colt 1911 pistols as he twirled in the air, his midnight cape swirling behind him like the black robe of the Grim Reaper! Hot lead ruptured swine flesh in bristling explosions, and the frenzied beasts toppled, gargling their own noxious blood. Relieved businessmen scattered, many of them blessing their divine creator for the timely intervention of this Good Samaritan who rescued them from gruesome, mangled, porcine death.
King Solomon landed adroitly to one side of Joe Hick’s hog, and that rapacious yokel screeched at the hero in thwarted malice, baring his putrid, rotting teeth. Joe Hick poked at King Solomon with his pitchfork, aiming to puncture his enemy’s heart!
With blinding agility, King Solomon ducked the thrust of the pitchfork, seized the shaft, and mightily swung that rustic roustabout off his hog onto the violent ground!
Cooly, King Solomon regarded the fallen foe sprawled out and helplessly pleading for mercy. This bucolic buffoon had not shown any mercy to the hard-working urban professionals maimed in his two week barnyard-themed rampage across the city - a city he unjustly blamed for the property taxes that devoured his decrepit farm.
Resolved, King Solomon shot one stinging bullet from a Colt 1911 into Joe Hick’s leg, bursting it like a ripe boil. That was enough for the gigantic hog! Maddened by the metallic waft of oozing blood, it gorged itself on its former master! Joe Hick’s madness-flecked screams echoed across the mute, severe edifices of Wall Street!
Nearby King Solomon beheld the statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall, the solemn mien of the father of the country giving grave assent to this act of justice, as grisly as it was necessary. The hero laughed exultantly, refulgent in joy at delivering another criminal maniac to Hell, to find the ultimate reward of crime in the company of capering demons!
The uncompromising vigilante ejected a single bullet into the brain of the hog, and then jammed a knife shaped like a golden key into Joe Hick’s heart - the golden key, the unmistakable sign of the caped avenger King Solomon!
At that moment, the griffin head on his right shoulder burst! It had been smashed by a whizzing bullet, so close as to graze his vulnerable ear!
With the powerful reflexes of a panther, he whirled, seeing two of Joe Hick’s henchmen, one of them taking potshots with a rifle. The pair had unloaded the hogs from a truck and hidden to avoid the mayhem. Yet with their master cruelly disemboweled, one of them thought to make a name for himself with a sneak attack on a loathed enemy of the underworld. King Solomon’s crackshot aim was true, and the thug crumpled, dreams of notoriety sinking down into the void with his black soul. The other henchman bolted, and King Solomon hastily ran after him into a spidering lattice of bewildering alleys.
The crook clambered onto a fire escape ladder, planning to flee unstoppable retribution across the clustered rooftops. But King Solomon was faster, charged by zeal for justice! He seized the criminal’s legs and wrenched him from the ladder onto the soil below!
King Solomon loomed over his prey, the twin Colt 1911 pistols ready in his hands, his eyes flashing with the blazing wrath of angels!
The cowering churl splayed on the filthy soil whimpered… “Cole?”
King Solomon was aghast - did this common henchman know his other identity as wealthy socialite and playboy Cole Darke? He studied them more closely - a negro, in their late thirties, flabby, with a bayonet scar on their forehead. Could it be?
Chivalrously, King Solomon holstered his firearms and hoisted the bruised criminal onto their wobbly legs. The vigilante's keen mind swirled with memories of the great war, of the firework blast of shells in darkness, the cold of rain-sogged trench soil and the sinister garlic waft of encroaching mustard gas. He also thought of the comrades who shared the terror and boredom of the frontlines - loyal compatriots like Roscoe Goodman, now transformed by mocking Father Time into a common thug for a felonious madman!
The cornered criminal began to plead for his life. “I knew it was you, sir, I knew your eyes, the way you carry yourself. I ain't got no excuse, but times have been painful hard. There's been no work since the crash, and my mum, she’s still sick, it’s her old trouble. I was just supposed to help shift some hooch on the waterfront, but I got in too deep. I’m not asking for myself, but for her, let me go. You won’t see me again, I swear on her life. I swear on my mother’s life.”
Many years ago, Cole Darke had sworn his own oath - to destroy crime! But this encounter with a debased member of his wartime platoon chilled his bold heart. He decided to give this warfellow a single chance to scrub off the polluted mire of crime.
He belted Roscoe on the jaw, rattling the quivering hoodlum’s chattering bones. “Flee then, Roscoe Goodman! Repent! But know that the next time we meet… King Solomon will come for your life, to cast you screaming into the infernal pit, to boil forever alongside Pilate and Caiaphas!”
Roscoe nodded, mumbled grateful thanks, and then stumbled urgently to freedom.
Later, Cole Darke arrived at his luxurious secluded mansion, the vigilante costume swapped for his civilian identity’s customary dashing tuxedo.
Draped over the chaise-lounge in his drawing room was the svelte, inviting physique of Vanessa DuBois, bored heir to the DuBois business conglomerate, Cole’s lover and eager partner in his never-ending war on crime.
Vanessa had uncovered King Solomon’s secret identity many years ago when the hero thwarted a brazen armed robbery at a cocktail party fundraiser for polio victims. Since then she had been a staunch ally in his adventures, using her extensive experience in high society amateur dramatics to craft the grotesque demon costumes King Solomon adopted to terrify the underworld.
The buxom beauty stirred, her entire body shivering in the presence of her battle-hardened lover. She rolled from the chaise-lounge and dangled her languid arms over Cole’s granite shoulders, purring that she needed him to practice some lines for a play. The tender-hearted minx was organising a charity fundraiser performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where she would play an escaping negro slave pursued by a cruel master across splintering ice floes - a spectacle sure to captivate the society elite and raise much-needed funds for cleaning the homeless. She chirped that after some line practice, they could shift the roles of slave master and escaping slave girl into their velvet boudoir. Yet Cole shrugged off the searching hands of the winsome female - he had no time for gossamer amusements, not while the gnarled hand of crime clutched his beloved city at the throat!
He strode manfully over to the dais that displayed his original copy of the Key of Solomon, the hoary grimoire that described the 72 demons constrained in magic circles by that wise monarch of Israel. Cole Darke had taken this bestiary of fiends and that sage ruler’s thirst for justice as inspiration for his crime-fighting persona, wearing the hideous guises of avenging devils to pursue crime lords as the deadly and relentless King Solomon!
He trailed his long, dexterous fingers down the book’s monk-lettered, time-eaten pages. Joe Hick had been vanquished, but evil could only be staunched, not quenched forever, and in his grizzled but pure soul he knew that another maniac would soon unfurl their cupidity and perversion to terrorise the city he loved!
As always, Cole Darke’s judgement was unerring, and before long he faced another eerie menace. Worse, he was captured, becoming an unwilling prisoner in the Chinatown bordello dungeon of the alluring Rafflesia!
This wealthy and pampered nightclub queen had a double life as a corrupter of youth and public morals, wrapped in figure-hugging red dresses modeled after her enticing but parasitic flower namesake. For this caper, King Solomon wore the red armour of Zepar, the spirit that could charm the love of women. Yet even sturdy armour had not been enough to foil the gas bomb ambush that robbed him of consciousness, placing him helpless at the mercy of a demented, lascivious fiend in chiffon!
Over agonising hours the Rafflesia trialed his manful endurance in her secret room of exotic torture devices, stretching him on the rack and flogging him with the cat o' nine tails. Yet the wanton harlot did not know about the acid capsule the hero concealed in a false tooth! Cole Darke feigned exhausted submission, luring her close enough for him to bite down on the capsule and spit the corrosive chemical into her leering face!
Her skin bubbling as the acid ate into her painted flesh, she stumbled backwards into a spike-lined iron maiden! This triggered the mechanism on the spring door of the mutilation machine, and it slammed shut around her, puncturing her lovely body in a hundred garish places! The Rafflesia shrieked as wet life gushed from her crippled frame! As gruesome as this death was, Cole knew in his soul that it was good and necessary!
From there, Cole was able to dislocate his arms to escape his bindings, controlling the pain with a yoga meditation trick he learned in Tibet. Free, he reclaimed his costume, and garbed himself again in the red armour of Zepar. He jammed his signature golden key dagger into the Rafflesia's husk, but the body was too ruined by the iron maiden for the blade to stick. After a few futile attempts to force it deep into the squishy mess, he placed it on the ground alongside the disfigured corpse.
He hobbled up the rickety stairs from the malice-stained dungeon, emerging in a sordid vice den of thick opium clouds and brazen flesh.
And there, standing behind the bar counter, he saw a man serving drinks - Cole Darke’s war comrade Roscoe Goodman, now willing servant of the Rafflesia’s lurid organisation!
Patrons and half-clothed vamps fled at the entrance of King Solomon, but the avenger’s only quarry was the quivering man huddling under the bar. King Solomon grabbed him by the shirtfront and hoisted him into the air.
“I warned you, Roscoe Goodman!”
“Cole, it’s not…”
“I am the terrible King Solomon! You have discarded the wisdom of ages as a child would a trinket, and must now endure the swirling, devouring abyss!”
“I did what you said, Cole! I tried to go straight, this was all I could get with my record! I thought this was just a club job. I didn’t find out about the other stuff until after, and I didn’t get mixed up in the rough parts! I swear to you, I did what you told me to do! We served together, you know I’m not a bad guy. Don’t you remember the war? What we survived together?” The fat man began to blubber in fear and desperate contrition.
Cole Darke was transported involuntarily to another time and place - one with the acrid tang of human flesh roasted by flamethrowers, the frozen screams of gas-choked faces tangled in cavernous lime pits, and the endless unrolling carpet of young men’s guts unspooled by bayonets.
He let go of Roscoe.
“Flee then, Roscoe Goodman! Repent! But know that the next time we meet… I will summon all the hosts of endless Hell to pursue you! Terrible Beleth, powerful Asmodeus, Crocell of the water, treasure-seeking Gremony! King Solomon will show you nightmares and anguish unseen since the doom that befell Croatoan!”
Cole hurried to his mansion and the hungry lips of Vanessa DuBois, shedding the madness and violence of crime in throbbing, muscular, athletic, ravenous, contorted passion. Sated and prowling naked in the moonlight, he turned the pages of his well-loved copy of Solomon’s Key, meditating on the puissant iniquity that corrupts even noble hearts.
Weeks later, Vanessa DuBois’ star performance in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a smashing success - too good, as it transpired! For her community acting skills attracted the attention of that scheming monster of the arts industry, the Impresario!
This elegant criminal monster was fired from Ziegfeld’s Follies for embezzlement, and since then had made it his mission to kidnap beautiful women with talent and shape them into his twisted vision of theatrical excellence! And Vanessa was his latest target!
And so following a chain of elaborate clues, including a purple rubber duck and a riddle pinned to a dead sailor’s back, King Solomon followed the Impresario’s trail to the Radio City Music Hall at midnight, where the elderly security guard was gagged and tied to a chair. Climbing to the catwalk of the auditorium, on the stage below King Solomon saw the Impresario forcing Vanessa to play the eternal feminine in his own depraved translation of Goethe’s Faust! His minions clustered the stage as Roman centurion extras, while the Impresario played the role of pleasure-seeking Faust.
To King Solomon’s shock, Vanessa seemed to be enjoying herself. He decided the Impresario must have drugged her - the fiend!
For Vanessa’s rescue, King Solomon had chosen the guise of Andrealphus, the deep-voiced demon of vanity. Lacking a full costume, he had tucked some peacock feathers into his crown. His menacing cackle echoing through the theatre, he descended rapidly to the stage astride a plummeting sandbag.
And there. Dressed as a Roman centurion. Working for the Impresario. He saw Roscoe.
King Solomon shot the Impresario in the head, scattering jelly and unwritten pornography on the boards. He tossed one of his golden keys on the body.
Vanessa clutched him. He knocked her to the ground. She whimpered and fled.
The other henchmen scattered, each dropping their shield and gladius.
He confronted Roscoe.
“King Solomon comes for your life, Roscoe Goodman!”
Roscoe cringed. He began to stammer worn excuses. Then he looked into King Solomon’s glistening eyes, and saw the blindness of bloodlust. And he found his fire.
“You’re an idiot, Cole.”
“How dare you, you feckless-”
“No, you listen to me! You think any of your dress up games matter? I got to eat, Cole! My family has to eat! You were born with more money than I’ll ever see, and all you can think of is playing pantomime and beating up other rich fools? You know what? The henchmen, we all laugh at you. You kill one boss, but there’s always some other spoiled rich fool ready to take their place. We still get paid the same. I know a guy who’s been in 7 different gangs you’ve attacked. 7, Cole! Do you even look at our faces? Are we people to you? Or are you still as clueless and useless as you were back in the war, when your dumb orders got so many of my brothers killed!”
Uneasy memories tugged at King Solomon’s mind, of the numberless thugs he had encountered in his years of crime-fighting… There were the slim guys, and the heavies, and the uglies… They always seemed so similar… And they always had these sneers, as though… there was a private joke among them, and it was on him. And he knew that, through the years, it had always been the same faces, the familiar servants of changing masters.
Cole Darke remembered the war, and the endless nights terrified in the suffocating trenches, while his men took charge in place of their fear-shattered sergeant. He remembered the voices he had heard, and the promises he had made. He had always thought it was God speaking to him with a divine mission, but perhaps it was something else…
Buné, Zepar, Andrealphus, Gremory, Crocell, Asmodeus, Beleth… He knew now that he had performed good work in their names, wading deeper into violence and madness, helping the world discover new and exotic species of glittering nightmares, as a prelude to a fresh epoch of horror.
A single gunshot echoed.
One bullet was all he needed.
Cole knew it was good, and necessary.