In October 2001, Marvel Comics is publishing my first NIGHTSIDE mini-series, "Ikkyu's Skull." It was a supernatural detective story featuring the mysterious Sydney Taine and her business partner & bodyguard, Ape Largo. Sydney was the focus of attention in the mini-series while Ape maintained a low profile. For those who wondered, here's some background information about the very unusual Mr. Largo that wasn't discussed in the comic.
Ape Largo first appeared in my novel, THE BLACK LODGE, published by Pocket Books Inc. in 1991. Ape worked as the bodyguard for a crooked Chicago alderman, Willis Royce. A demonic figure, the Dark Man, was stalking Royce and everyone associated with him. Late in the novel, Royce was hiding in an old tenement building he owned, with a dozen men on guard in the halls. Ape, along with two brothers, Boris and Morris Bennett, were stationed in the alderman's suite on the fourth floor of the building. That's all you need to know to read this glimpse of Ape Largo in action, and at the end is the great Ape Largo cover:
As Ape reached for a cold can of ginger ale, the lights went out. Cursing, he lowered the soda pop back onto the refrigerator shelf, gently closed the appliance door, and pulled out his shotgun. Silently, he slid through the door to the parlor.
Once in the other room, he quickly dropped to his hands and knees. Close to the ground he presented less of a target. Ape feared his own companions as much as the Dark Man. Nervous men often acted without thinking. And all of them were armed with sawed-off shotguns.
"That you, Ape?" whispered Boris Bennett from across the room.
"Yeah. What's going on?"
"I don't know. Morris hustled the Boss in the bedroom right away. I told him to barricade the door. You wanna check the hall?"
Beads of sweat popped out on Ape's forehead. He might be brave, but he wasn't crazy. "Not me. How about you?"
Boris chuckled. "Count me out. I'm nice and comfortable here, with my head attached to my shoulders. Maybe give Jo-Jo a call downstairs."
Ape crawled over to the phone. Picking up the receiver, he dialed the extension for the first floor phone.
"Lights went out in the whole damned building," answered Jo-Jo on the first ring. "I sent two of the boys to check the fuses in the basement. You want me to call Com-Ed?"
"Do that," said Ape, feeling slightly relieved. "You staying cool?"
"No problem. That spook don't worry me. We got a dozen boys roaming the halls with Uzis. He'd be a fool to come here."
Ape shook his head in the darkness. He didn't share Jo-Jo's confidence. The power failure worried him. "Call me back in five minutes. Even if you get the lights fixed."
"Will do," said Jo-Jo and hung up.
Still tense, Ape put the receiver back on the hook. Other than the sound of his own breathing, the room was silent. "Jo-Jo says not to worry."
"Good for him," answered Boris, from close to the front door of the suite. "There any flashlights around?"
"Not one," said Ape. "But I seem to remember seeing some candles in the kitchen cabinet."
"Better than nothing," said Boris. "You get them while I push the sofa in front of the door."
It took a few minutes of feeling around the bottom of cabinets till Ape found the package of candles. Flicking on the gas range, Ape lit three of the wax sticks. Dim light filtered through the kitchen. Dark shadows leapt onto the walls. Quickly, Ape started four more candles burning.
Using some of the dripping wax as a base, he sealed several of the lights to plates. Carrying two of them, he stepped back into the living room.
"You just made my day," said Boris, his face breaking out in a big grin. With a sigh of relief, the big bodyguard rose from the heavy couch wedged up against the front door. "I told the boss not to worry. Everything was gonna be just fine."
Ape glanced over at the phone. Five minutes had come and gone. "Jo-Jo didn't call back."
Boris frowned. "That ain't like him. He always follows orders. You wanna call him?"
"Not yet," said Ape. The muscles in his neck tightened. "Maybe he's talking with the power company."
"Yeah, maybe," said Boris, not sounding convinced. Neither was Ape.
The minutes ticked by slowly. Anxiously, both men paced the room, gazes fixed on the phone. But it remained silent. Finally, Ape picked up the receiver. The phone line was dead.
"I've got a real bad feeling about this," said Ape. "Forget Jo-Jo. We're caught up here on our own."
"Hell," said Boris. "There's a dozen men patrolling the building. What happened to them?"
Ape's throat felt as dry as the desert. "Some questions you don't want answered. I need a drink of ginger-ale. You tell Royce the bad news."
When Ape returned from the kitchen, Boris's brother, Morris, was in the living room whispering with his brother. Royce remained hidden in the inner bedroom. The alderman had been drinking heavily the entire night. But all the liquor in the world couldn't provide him with enough courage to face the Dark Man."
"Morris is going downstairs to see what gives," said Boris.
"That sounds risky," said Ape.
"You got any better ideas?" asked Boris. "He's the quickest of us three. Maybe things ain't as bad as we think."
"Or maybe they're a lot worse," said Ape.
Morris shrugged his shoulders. "Only way we find out for sure is go look." He turned to his brother. "What's the signal?"
"Two long knocks, then one short," said Boris. "Don't forget. That's the only way you'll get back in here. You try anything else, Ape and me will blast you away."
"Two long, one short," repeated Morris carefully. "No sweat."
Cradling their sawed-off shotguns in their hands, the three men pulled the heavy sofa away from the door. Cautiously, Ape opened the bolts holding the suite door shut. With a quick jerk, Morris pulled the door open and peered into the pitch black hallway.
"Nobody here," he whispered. "Give me one of those candles. I'll be back before you know it."
Morris disappeared into the darkness. Boris closed the door and locked it. "Twelve bad dudes out there," he said, his voice strained with worry. "Where did they go? One man can't take on a dozen. No way."
The flickering light from the candles barely illuminated the suite. Fingers of darkness crept in from all corners of the room. Ape kept a tight grip on his shotgun. Boris stayed close to the door, his head turned as he listened for movement outside.
Five long minutes passed. Then, without warning, the lights came back on. Ape sucked in a deep breath, as the tension drained from his body. "Hot damn," said Boris, relief etched in his drawn features. "Now we're cookin'. Seems like Morris got things under control. "
As if in answer to Boris' words, two long knocks rattled the suite door. A pause, then came a third.
"That's him," said Boris, fumbling with the lock. "He even remembered the code.
Ape frowned. The timing seemed a little too perfect. Especially if Morris had just been on the first floor. The three knocks on the door echoed in his mind. Instantly, he recalled Taine's warning.
"Don't open it!" he yelled, hoisting up his shotgun. But Boris was already pulling the door wide.
"Surprise," said the Dark Man from out in the hall. With a vicious overhand chop, he swung his butcher's cleaver. The steel blade caught Boris square in the forehead. Incredible force drove it deep down through bone and brain, crushing the man's features like putty.
The big bodyguard died instantly. His body dropped to the floor like a sack of wet cement, wrenching the huge knife out of the Dark Man's hand. For a second, the killer stood outlined in the bright lights of the hallway. A huge figure, dressed in black topcoat, floppy cowboy hat, and thick scarf, the Dark Man was the personification of urban nightmares. Without his cleaver, he seemed oddly vulnerable. Ape knew it was his only chance.
Ape squeezed the trigger on his shotgun. He was so close to the Dark Man he barely needed to aim. One blast, then a another shook the room. The huge figure shuddered and staggered a footstep back as the shotgun shells tore into his body. The twin explosions ripped the monster's overcoat to shreds and sent his cowboy hat flying back into the hall. The Dark Man stumbled off balance but refused to go down.
For a second, Ape's breath froze in his lungs. For the first time since the start of his reign of terror, the Dark Man stood revealed. If darkness could ever be revealed. The killer had no face. No nose, no nostrils, no mouth, no lips, no teeth. Two red eyes glared out from a glistening prism of absolute darkness. It was like staring at a sheet of painted glass. The monster personified the night.
Two shotgun blasts from point blank range and still the killer lived. Whatever the Dark Man was, he wasn't human. Not even slightly.
"You lose, Largo," said the Dark Man as he lunged forward, intent on the cleaver wedged in Boris' forehead. Dropping his shotgun, Ape leapt for the same knife. Perhaps The Dark Man's own weapon could bring him down.
A gloved hand reached the wood handle an instant before Ape's grasping fingers. Crimson eyes blazing, the Dark Man wrenched the cleaver up and free from its prison of flesh.
Unable to stop, Ape crashed hard into the giant's knees. The two of them crashed to the floor, a tangle of arms and legs.
Desperately, Ape grabbed the hand holding the butcher's cleaver. Muscles bulged in his arms and shoulders. Exerting his full strength, he wrenched hard, trying to break bones. The Dark Man laughed. With incredible power, the killer ripped his arm free of Ape's grip. Effortlessly, he rose to his feet. Still chuckling, he reached down for his next sacrifice. Steel-like fingers wrapped around Ape's jaw and pulled him upright.
"Time to say goodnight," said the Dark Man, still gripping Ape by the chin. Smoothly, he raised the cleaver up into the air.
Others had made the mistake of underestimating Ape's fighting skills. Instinctively, he leapt off the floor. Drawing his legs in close to his body, he thrust out hard, catching the Dark Man full in the chest with a perfect drop-kick. Completely unprepared for the maneuver, the giant toppled back, releasing Ape.
Ape dropped to the floor in a roll and came up running. He went flying through the door and into the hallway. Behind him, bellowing in anger, came the Dark Man.
Legs pumping like pistons, Ape charged for the stairs at the end of the corridor. With his short legs and barrel chest, he wasn't built for speed. Any second he expected to feel the bite The Dark Man's cleaver.
Ahead of him was the open stairwell. Ape saw a crumpled form at the top of the steps. It was Morris. He never even made it off this floor. A pool of red marked the spot where he encountered the Dark Man.
Unable to slow down, Ape barreled across the bloody wood. Skidding wildly, he slammed into the corpse blocking the stairs. Momentum carried him up and out. Arms outstretched, he went flying down the stairs. Unable to protect himself, he crashed headfirst into the railing on the top landing.
Terribly dizzy, he rolled over on his back. Death stood ten feet away. Casually, in no hurry to finish his task, the Dark Man kicked at Morris' body. "He hardly put up a struggle," said the Dark Man. "It's more fun when you fight. Makes it more entertaining."
The killer started descending the steps. The blade of his cleaver gleamed brightly in the hall lights.
Ape struggled to his knees. Reeling in pain, he grabbed hold of the railing and inched his way upright. His fingers clutched the wood banister tightly as he forced his body to respond. He had only one chance left. Ape refused to die without a struggle.
"Resisting to the end," said the Dark Man approvingly. "I appreciate the effort. I always enjoy killing a good loser."
He took a step down. Then another. Then, unexpectedly, he stopped, turned his head as if listening to unheard sounds. "Alderman Royce just ran out the door heading in the opposite direction," said the Dark Man, his voice ringing with annoyance. "No loyalty to you, Largo. A cornered rat deserts his friends in an instance. Still, if I waste too much time here, he might escape."
The Dark Man hesitated, torn between two choices. For a second, his attention wavered. Realizing there would be no second chance, Ape seized that moment to act. Calling on all of his remaining strength, he raised himself up and over the wood railing.
He dropped the three stories to the main floor of the old building in a second. The ground rushed up to meet him but he knew exactly what to do. Perfect timing made the difference. Grabbing hold of the old chandelier in the hallway, Ape swung his body up and over in a flying somersault onto the first floor. He landed on lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to run.
"You surprised me a second time, Ape Largo," called the Dark Man from the hallway above. "It won't happen again. Alderman Royce dies first, then I'm coming after you. No more acrobatics. No one escapes me three times. No one."
Ape headed for the front door. Willis Royce was beyond saving. Only an undertaker could help the alderman.
Bloody sigils covered the walls of the Temple. Ape fixed his eyes on the front door. He dared not look in the corners of the room. Too many of people had perished here tonight. The very air stank of death.
Gasping for breath, Ape burst out of the building into the damp night air. Inside, a solitary scream echoed through the halls. Willis Royce had met the Dark Man. Very soon, the killer would be coming after him.
Ape knew that without some sort of supernatural aid he was doomed. For the first time in his life, his massive strength meant nothing. That detective, Taine, spoke the truth. The Dark Man embodied the power of night.
Grimly, Ape started running. One slim hope beckoned in the darkness. His only chance for salvation was half a city away.
Copyright © 1991, 2001 by Robert Weinberg. All rights reserved.
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