I was living in New York towards the end of 1973, in a flat on Lexington at 55th Street and just before Christmas I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, to do a story on Alice Cooper. Touched by the spirit of Christmas I decided that instead of writing a normal on-the-road tale I’d try and write it as a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
I’d been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was about 12, and had read absolutely everything Holmsian by this time. Indeed, my MM colleague Michael Watts and I had even joined the London Sherlock Holes Society and attended one or two meetings in a hall off Northumberland Avenue close to the Sherlock Holmes pub. We were probably the only members dressed in jeans with long hair, all the others being Whitehall ministry types or doctors or lawyers. Well, it made a change from guitars and amps…
This is the first part of my Sherlock/Alice story that MM published on December 22, 1973. Part two tomorrow.
THE BRIEF was simple, straightforward enough for a sleuth like Holmes who’d wrestled with Moriarty on the slopes of Swiss Mountains, hunted wild hounds on the Devon moors and solved Studies in Scarlet from an armchair in Baker Street.
Track down Alice Cooper.
Already fond parents were locking up their babies now that word was out, Cooper’s teeth had been re-sharpened and nightly he was chopping up small children and relieving his immense appetite on their limbs.
A warrant had yet to be issued but, curiously, the law enforcement authorities seemed powerless to prevent Cooper’s Bonnie & Clyde style chase around the central part of the United States.
Meanwhile, the public were either terrified, or, in the case of the young, lapping up Cooper’s atrocities like a dog takes to red meat.
It was rumoured that these young people had contributed something in the region of 11 million dollars to the Cooper funds over the past 12 months.
Other atrocities by Cooper and his gang over the past few days included the first public guillotinings since the French Revolution, giving a dentist a particularly hard time and repeated assaults on an elderly gentleman by the name of Santa Claus, a man to whom few, if any, bear a grudge – especially at this time of year.
Clearly it was a job for Holmes, who set out last week from his Baker Street offices, on East 55th Street in Central Manhattan, to track down those responsible for the human degradation that was being perpetrated by Cooper and his felonious crew with the ubiquitous title of “musicians”.
With a Norfolk jacket and deerstalker to keep out the chilly weather, Holmes set off to La Guardia Airport, New York, in a hansom cab. His first appointment was to meet Shep Gordon, a man whose managerial talents had established Cooper.
Gordon was waiting and they climbed aboard a United Airlines jet to Chicago, the first step in the journey that was to take Holmes on the most dangerous mission of his illustrious career. Will he return?... read on.
During the flight Gordon gave Holmes details about how Cooper’s disgusting career was engineered. The brilliance of the plan amazed Holmes, who was a difficult man to amaze.
There was no danger here, he thought, but in Chicago there was a curious turn of events. Gordon, who’d promised assistance, gave him the slip. “I’ve got to go to LA tonight,” he announced, as the two of them waited patiently for a connection flight to Madison, Wisconsin, where Cooper was actually appearing on stage that very evening.
“There’s a lawsuit coming up tomorrow that I have to attend. I thought it was next week, but it’s been put forward and I’ve no alternative.”
“What is the nature of the lawsuit,” demanded Holmes brusquely.
“It concerns our previous record company,” replied Gordon candidly. “There’s three and a half million dollars involved.”
Holmes was amazed even more. Here was a 28-year-old American from Long Island, New York, a diminutive fellow who looked more like a college professor than a rock mogul, who was dealing in vast sums of money all of which resulted from the deeds of a man who was chopping up babies for a living.
But Gordon elected to go to Madison, Wisconsin, return the same evening to Chicago, and catch a later plane to LA. As the two of them boarded the jet to Madison, Holmes wiped his magnifying glass with a chamois leather and lit a thoughtful pipe of shag. This was getting to be deep water.
The scene has changed to the ballroom of the Sheraton Inn in South Madison. Here, the Cooper gang are shacking up for one night only, but prior to their public appearance have elected to a hold a press conference which will be attended by the local Mayor, who will present them with the keys of the City.
This business gets stranger and stranger, thought Holmes as he ambled his way to the ballroom, where around 50 local journalists had gathered to see for themselves what this phantom of a man was all about.
Cooper arrived at four dressed in black cord trousers, a printed shirt and wearing no signs of the peculiar make-up that was smeared over the “Wanted” poster Holmes kept close to his breast. Was it the same man?
A local disc-jockey hosted the proceedings, which began with a fashion show. Next the man who called himself Alice Cooper met with the Mayor and was presented with a huge, gold-coloured can opener and a large silver box which resembled a coffin.
Throughout the entire proceedings, Cooper had drunk steadily from a series of cans of Budweiser, a popular local lager beer. This, at least, was true to form, thought Holmes, as he gingerly crept up and took an empty can for himself to test for fingerprints.
Dane County Expo Centre was but a short walk from the Sheraton Hotel. That night over 10,000 young people had paid various sums of money to witness Cooper’s personal appearance. It was the chance Holmes had been waiting for.
Backstage there was a door where Cooper’s gang were supposed to be holed up.
Holmes went inside and came face to face with his adversaries for the first time; sprawled around, drinking beer and watching television was the entire Cooper mob, plus various aides, in a state of relative relaxation before going on the stage.
Cooper himself looked dejected; a different man from the man who this afternoon had wanted a fashion show, answered a series of questions and met with the Mayor.
His eyes were black, streaming with ugliness, his mouth was sour with black paint oozing from his gums. He complained of stomach pains but drank more lager.
The others were there too. There was Glen Buxton, his guitar player, leering from beneath a shock of blonde hair; Dennis Dunaway, the bassist who leaps around the stage like Old Nick himself; Neal Smith, the drummer with hair almost to his waist; and Michael Bruce, the chubby guitarist whose smile hid a million untold deeds.
Two other musicians, members of the same band of brigands, looked on. There was guitarist Mick Mashbir and keyboard player Bob Dolin, both of whom had been added to the gang so that the music could continue while the foul deeds were carried out by the other five. Much weight rested on their shoulders if the evening’s atrocities were to be successful.
Excusing himself, Holmes took up a position where a full view of the stage was available. He wanted to see for himself what kind of evil he was up against.