Grim Legion

by Jack Alcott

West Point Cadet Edgar Allan Poe and his crazier, opium-addicted brother, Henry Poe, try to solve a series of gruesome murders near the famed military academy — only to become prime suspects themselves.

Grim Legion tells the tale of a promising young cadet who, in trying to do his duty, is soon plunged into a world of horror, mystery, and intrigue that is his destiny.

Jack Alcott is an award-winning editor at The Journal News in White Plains, New York. Aside from ten years in Berkeley and San Francisco, he has lived in and around the Hudson Valley for most of his life. When not working at his newspaper job, he can be found strumming his electric guitar and fantasizing that his old band, Bud Metro & The Corrections, will reform and one day share the stage with The Rock Bottom Remainders.

A short while ago, a ripping yarn called Grim Legion: Edgar Allan Poe at West Point came across my desk. Published by Bewildering Press, a relatively new firm that specializes in speculative writing, Grim Legion recounts the rousing adventures of the future author of The Fall of the House of Usher shortly before he was expelled from the United States Military Academy in 1831. A bit of a screw-up, though not yet the morbid, self-destructive alcoholic he would later become, Poe has stumbled upon a monstrous plot by a shadowy organization called the Helvetian Society ... — Joe Queenan, The New York Times Book Review   Wonderfully researched historical fiction. A murder mystery taking place during the period of Edgar Allen Poe’s brief time as a cadet at West Point. Alcott wove in real and imagined characters in this well researched novel. His familiarity with West Point and the surrounding area lends credibility to the story. Climbing inside Poe’s head, before he embarked on his career as a writer, was great fun. — A reviewer on the Barnes & Noble Website, March 1, 2007

From Grim Legion, by Jack Alcott:

Edgar, too, watched with perverse fascination until Henry jogged him. “There he is,” he said, indicating the other end of the bar where a group of men were clustered, some drinking from crockery mugs, others from a ladle they dunked into a slop bucket and handed round. A gray-bearded, older man was singing or reciting lines for the tipplers; Edgar couldn’t quite tell which because of the hubbub in the place. As soon as he finished his performance, the others cheered.

“Here, here!” another old coot in an ancient powdered wig exclaimed. “You’ve earned yer swill, mate,” he said, handing him the ladle. The man slurped up the poison, tipping the ladle until the slop ran into his beard. Then he dipped in the bucket for more, but a muscular young thug with a broken nose shoved him away. “Enough,” he ordered. “Give us another show.”

“You fellows familiar with the Bard?” the man asked, evidently not expecting an answer. “Here’s a little something you’ll appreciate from the great ’Tragedy of Macbeth.’ I played Malcolm once, you know, in Boston. A great role.”

“Shut up with the history lesson and just do the part,” the bully said, twisting his arm.

“All right then,” the actor said, grimacing with pain and then puffing himself up as though he was important, even regal. “It’s like this: ’I grant him bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name... I...” He stopped in mid-sentence, suddenly befuddled.

“Spit it out,” someone yelled.

“I can’t remember the rest.”

“Mud for brains,” the bully said, and gave him a shot to the head with an open hand. The blow dashed him against the bar, crumpling him to his knees. The young tough moved in to beat him some more, but Henry was on him like a maelstrom. He chopped him in the throat with his fist, and then smashed his head on the edge of the bar as he went down. The big man slumped inertly to the floor, bleeding into the sawdust from his pulverized nose. Henry kicked him several times in the ribcage for good measure.

When one of the tough’s comrades made a move for Henry, Edgar drew his pistol. “No you don’t,” he said, stopping him cold.

Meanwhile, the senile actor cowered against the back wall, beneath a crude portrait of Andrew Jackson swinging a sword at the Battle of New Orleans. “No need to hurt me, young sir,” he cried at Henry, his hands folded up in supplication. “I don’t want any trouble. I don’t even know that fellow.”

Henry’s eyes brimmed with scorn as he advanced on him. “Here’s some Malcolm you might remember,” he said, halting just inches from the terrified man. “’Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it. He died as one that had been studied in his death, to throw away the dearest thing he ow’d, as ’twere a careless trifle’.”

He let the lines sink into the rummy’s feeble brain and when he spoke again, his words were acid. “Remember that, you old wastrel? Boston, eighteen ought-nine. The critics shellacked you, and deservedly so. They always said your wife outshined you, and they were right.”

David Poe fell back, his eyes beseeching. Henry had his knife in his hand now, its blade gleaming in the dark.

“Her life was worth so much more than yours. And yet she died at twenty-four while you, you filthy piece of excrement, are still in this world.”

“Don’t, Henry; he’s our father!” Edgar cried out and snagged his brother’s arm. David Poe’s eyes went wide and he opened his emaciated arms to embrace them. “My sons,” he whined through blackened, broken teeth. “My sons!”

For Edgar, it was a scene of indescribable revulsion. Everything about his father disgusted him: his bad teeth, the leprous sores on his face, his tattered clothes and tobacco-brown fingertips, his smell of the premature grave. Yet there was no denying that under the crust of degradations he had acquired in twenty years of debauchery, he resembled them; he was a Poe.

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