Lizard Men of Los Angeles

Lewis Shiner
Los Angeles

By Lewis Shiner
Distributed under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The beautiful black-haired woman suddenly turned, raised the gleaming
revolver, and fired six resounding shots. Five .38 caliber slugs ripped
into the wooden packing crate that Johnny Cairo had crawled into only
moments before. The sixth bullet exploded a vase of red carnations that
stood next to the crate.
Something slumped against the inside of the wooden box. A thread of
bright crimson oozed between the pine boards and slowly trickled
The woman lowered the pistol, shock and horror spreading across her
elegant features. The empty revolver clattered to her feet and she took
one tentative step, then another, toward the crate.
"Stop!" cried a man's voice from the back of the theater. "Don't touch
that box!"
The audience turned, gasped, and broke into applause as they saw that
the speaker was none other than Johnny Cairo himself, changed from
his dark suit and cape to evening clothes and sporting a bright,
blood-red cummerbund.

Backstage, the entire vaudeville troupe mingled with journalists and
well-wishers, though in this Depression year of 1934 the crowds were
smaller than they'd ever been. When the rest had departed, one lone
man remained behind. He was heavy set, with elaborate side-whiskers
and thinning hair. He carried a cashmere topcoat and scarf that had
attracted some notice from those exiting past him.
He approached the magician and spoke in a deep and resonant voice.
"I'm sorry, but I missed the evening's...entertainment. You are Johnny
Cairo? The man the press refers to as 'Mr. Impossible?'"
Cairo nodded, and gestured to the black-haired woman beside him.
"This is Myra Lockhart, my associate." She had covered her revealing
stage costume with a black velvet dressing gown. From a distance she
had appeared to be in her twenties, but fine lines around her eyes and
mouth made her true age much harder to determine. Those eyes, set in a
complexion as white as cream, flashed a keen intelligence.
"Miss Lockhart," the man said with a short bow.
"Mrs.," she replied coolly.
"Errr, yes." He paused, then inquired, "Mr. Cairo, are you entirely
Cairo had closed his eyes. He too seemed much older than he had from
the stage. Beneath his heavy pancake makeup he was perspiring and his
complexion had taken on a yellowish hue. "It's nothing," he said. "A
legacy of my travels--dengue fever, a persistent amoebae, a trace of
jaundice. How may I assist you, sir?"
"My name is Emil Rosenberg. I understand that you, under certain
circumstances, have been known to undertake confidential
Mrs. Lockhart interrupted. "Certain very specific circumstances."
"I seek knowledge, Mr. Rosenberg," Cairo elaborated. "My

investigations are always directed toward the great Mystery."
Rosenberg shook his head. "I fear you've lost me, sir."
"Some believe life to be full of mysteries. My studies in the East--and
elsewhere--have convinced me there is but One, a single web of
relationships that binds everything in the universe together. It's the
principle by which magic works."
"I am not a magician, sir. And my concern is with what seems to be a
single mystery, the disappearance of my daughter, Vera. The police are
stymied and I'm afraid something drastic may have befallen her."
"I'm sympathetic, of course, Mr. Rosenberg," Cairo offered, "but surely
this is a matter for a conventional private investigator, not someone of
my particular talents."
"There are...other factors involved. Factors that I believe you
might...Good Lord!" The color drained from Rosenberg's face as he
pointed a shaking finger toward the hallway outside the dressing room.
"There's one of them now!"
Cairo spun around to look. A sinister figure, heavily muffled in a
wide-brimmed hat, raincoat, and baggy trousers, had just turned from
the doorway and scuttled toward the stage door exit.
Cairo leaped to his feet, his previous semblance of weariness gone. He
bolted down the corridor in feverish pursuit of the mysterious onlooker.
The heavily muffled man--if man it was--slammed open the bright red
stage door and banged down the metal steps outside. As Cairo emerged
into the warm darkness of the Los Angeles night he saw the figure
moving rapidly down the sidewalk, its body strangely contorted. It was
bent at the waist, its short arms jerking convulsively, as if fighting the
impulse to drop to all fours.
Only a dozen yards separated Cairo from the creature as it turned the

corner onto a side street. When Cairo rounded the same corner seconds
later, it had disappeared.
Mrs. Lockhart found Cairo there, staring at a scarf, hat, coat, and pants
lying in the gutter. A damp, fetid smell rose from the clothing.
"Methane," Cairo said. "Swamp gas."
"I suppose," Mrs. Lockhart said, "this means we'll be taking the case."
"Have you ever," Rosenberg asked,
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