Culver “Deadman” Morrigan strode the streets of Gotham City, his face in a rictus from exposure to a venom created by the Joker. He had survived by shooting his way clear of the situation, even shooting the Joker, as he plunged through a window to his certain death. He had lucked out, though, and had hit a pile of cartons and trash that broke his fall. He had since hooked up with a strange man named Adam Blake, helping him investigate things that no one else would. He had even had a run-in with the Joker again, putting him in jail after he tried to extort Kathy Kane Carson and her Hillman Brothers Circus with a fake kidnapping. He regretted that he hadn’t strangled his arch-enemy in that encounter. (*) He had heard the Joker was in and out of jail after tangling with Batman and losing like he always did.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Adam Blake: Times Past, 1954: Blake’s Joke.]
“Hey, Deadman!” called someone coming up the street behind Cully as he walked along the sidewalk.
Morrigan half-turned, ducking slightly, hand flashing under his jacket. The rear passenger on the driver’s side opened fire with a tommy-gun. Bullets chewed up the Edsel parked next to where Cully stood. The former gunman ducked behind a wheel as the shooter methodically chewed the Edsel up with the machine gun. He winced as a couple of bystanders were caught by the fire. The other passengers of the car began to fire their own pistols as the summer crowd tried to disperse in a chaotic panic. Then the car picked up speed and turned the corner. Distant sirens approached.
Cully turned to help the people that had been hit. His only other option was to run from the law and not get involved. That was out, since he was on foot. He would just endure the questioning until he was released and could look into this on his own.
The police released Cully Morrigan from the central station hours later. They had interrogated him on everything he saw, did, and on his former colleagues for hours. Morrigan was an angry individual by the time things were said and done.
He went along the train lines to the block of buildings that his employer Adam Blake called home. He let himself inside by pressing his hand to the flat square next to the door. No one other than the seven men who associated with Blake could open that door unless they employed violence. Morrigan didn’t know where the plate came from, nor did he care. It was something out of a pulp story, but it worked. That’s all Cully needed from it.
He stepped inside, feeling the emptiness of the place. He went to the message machine on a table next to Blake’s lab door. He hit the play button to see if anything was on it. Sometimes Blake was called away on unexpected business, so he left messages for anyone that didn’t get a call.
“There is a problem in England,” said Blake’s voice from the machine. “Mr. Twitchell and I have gone to look it over.” That avenue of help was out, then.
Cully decided to wait for daylight. The only person he could visit and talk to about his current situation was in jail. Visiting hours were strictly enforced. The former gunman stretched out on the couch and went to sleep. He didn’t ponder the irony of asking the one man he knew wanted him dead for help; that was beyond his pragmatic view of the world. It was something he needed to do, so he was going to do it. That was all as far as he was concerned.
He hoped things would go easily. The Joker wouldn’t want to talk to him without some kind of leverage. That was expected. Morrigan didn’t know what he could apply to a man who had everything. Hopefully something would present itself. Otherwise he would have to wing it.
A rubout without the personal touch just didn’t feel like Morrigan’s former boss. The clown prince of crime liked to be right on the scene when something went down, just like that Roxbury Jewel heist. He was right there with the police, and walked right out with the gem without being stopped. That was the Joker’s style and his way of doing business.
Cully Morrigan left the combined building as the sun came up over the Atlantic Ocean. Gotham State Prison was on the outskirts of town, and he had to take a cab to get there.
The cab dropped Cully off at the gray walls minutes later after threading its way through morning traffic. The former gunman asked the man to wait before he went to the massive gates. He walked across the public guard, watching men repair the wall of one of the cell blocks overhead. The guards checked him through the visitor area, making him sign his pistols in before a guard took him to the visiting room.
He waited patiently, a frozen smile on his face. After a few minutes, two guards escorted the Joker into the room on the other side of the plastic barrier.
“Cully Morrigan, as I live and breathe,” the crown prince of crime said. “I thought you would be dead by now.”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Morrigan.
“I’ll be glad to do the job myself,” said the Joker. “Thanks for the opportunity. Oh, guard. We need a gun in here.”
“I know you keep an eye on things for when you escape,” said Morrigan. “All I want is who put the contract out on me, then I’m out of your hair.”
“Would you believe me if I told you?” said the Joker.
“Sure, I would,” said Morrigan, lighting a cigarette.
“Never kid a kidder, kid,” said the Joker, laughing in his trademarked way. “I’m tempted to help you out, just to get rid of the competition.”
“Why don’t you?” said Cully, handing a fresh pack of cigarettes through the bars.
“‘Cause it makes me look like a stool pigeon,” said the Joker, taking the cigarettes. “Matches?”
“You give me what I want,” said Cully, handing over a book of matches. “I’ll go away. You won’t have to deal with me until you escape again.”
“You remember that job last year at the airport?” said the Joker. “The Clemson Fur deal?”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Morrigan, puffing his cigarette calmly. “I wasn’t there, but I remember hearing about it.”
“Clemson Furs is owned by the Brand brothers,” said the Joker. “You know how they are.”
“You told them I was there, didn’t you?” Morrigan asked, his smiling mouth contrasting with his drawn down eyebrows.
“Not me,” said the Joker. “I do know that Kenny Biggs turned up in the river while I was out, and he was on the job. The body was disfigured.”
“He was missing vital parts and things type disfigured,” said the Joker.
“Thanks,” said Morrigan. “I’ll slip you a carton if this is on the up and up.”
“Good luck,” said the Joker.
Morrigan headed for the exit, reclaiming his pistols at the property desk. He stepped out of the gray prison, feeling lighter. He got into his cab and headed back into the city. He had some things to take care of.
Cully Morrigan stepped out of his cab in front of the Wild Deuces Club. The owners of the place supposedly had a set of rooms above the club itself. Morrigan walked over to the front doors. Someone should still have been around, even if it was just a guard of some kind.
He knocked on the front door. He knocked again. The door cracked open a little. A bloodshot eye peered at the former gunman.
“We’re closed,” said the owner of the eye. “Beat it.”
“Just wanted to talk to Natty or Blackie, Brand,” said Morrigan. “Are they around?”
“They wouldn’t want to talk to a bum like you,” said the doorman. “Get out of here.”
“Is that how it’s going to be?” Morrigan asked, deceptively calm. One hand flexed without thought. “Are you sure you won’t step aside for me?”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” said the doorman, opening the door wider, fist raised in anger. A muzzle of a .45 shoved into his face stopped him cold.
“I think you might need to back up now,” said the grinning thug.
The Wild Deuces Club had a wide open space for a stage show and dance floor at one end. Tables formed squares on either side of a central aisle. A railing with a swinging gate separated that area from the real bar and kitchen area. Three or four men stood by the bar sipping their drinks of choice as Morrigan prodded his prize inside the building.
“Everyone put your guns on the ground in front of you and kick them away,” he said. “Bartender, keep your hands where I can see them. Nobody has to get hurt, so don’t be heroes for the Brands.”
“You won’t get away with this,” said the doorman.
“If I were you,” said the former gunman, “I’d be more worried about what will happen to me if everyone starts shooting with my body in front of the bad guy.”
The door man fell silent. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he considered being shot by both sides. “Do what he says,” the doorman demanded.
Morrigan waited patiently. He had already decided that he could shoot the doorman and bartender before anyone else could try to stop him. Multiple clumps against the heavy carpet showed momentary compliance.
“Now,” said Morrigan, pushing his hostage forward. “We’re going to talk to whichever Brand is home without any problems. Then I’ll let you guys get back to shaking down newsboys and old shopkeepers.”
“I’m going to kill you,” said the doorman.
“After I get through with my business, I’ll be glad to give you a chance to do so,” said Morrigan.
The grinning thug gestured the other men out of the way with his other hand. He kept an eye on the bartender as he pushed the doorman into the kitchen. A quick look around showed a set of stairs leading up to the second floor of the club. Cully pushed the man up the stairs, keeping an eye on the kitchen door. He knew the other gunmen were retrieving their weapons and getting ready to cautiously come after him.
Cully kept pushing his human shield up the stairs. He shoved the man against the open door. The thug went down. “Don’t shoot!” he screamed as he hit the floor. “Don’t shoot!”
Morrigan stepped in the room while everyone’s attention was on the screaming man. He slammed the door shut with his door and stepped next to the wall. “Easy, now,” Morrigan said quietly. “Anybody tries anything, and the twins get it first.”
“We’ll kill you for this, Deadman!” shouted one of the twin brothers. The other brother put his hand on the man’s shoulder. That told Cully which one was which, and which to shoot first. Blackie was the one with the bad temper. Natty tried to be calm and negotiate. Morrigan already had it in his head to shoot Blackie if things got out of hand.
“I just want to ask some questions,” said Cully. “If I get some good answers that make some sense, I’ll walk out. You won’t see me again. If not, we’ll see who’s quicker on the trigger.”
“Ask your stinking questions,” said Natty, clamping down on his brother’s shoulder to prevent him from bringing his pistol up.
“I want to know if you killed Kenny Biggs,” Cully said. “And if you did, why?”
“No, we didn’t kill any Biggs,” said Natty. “What else do you need to know?”
“Why did you try to shoot me on the street this morning?”
“Get real, Deadman,” said Natty Brand, still restraining his brother. “If we wanted to shoot you in the street, you wouldn’t be talking with us right now.”
“Someone took some shots at me with a tommy-gun,” said Cully Morrigan, keeping an eye on the door to the private office of the gangster brothers. “Say you’re telling the truth, what does the grapevine say?”
“We’re not your stoolies!” Blackie shouted, jumping to his feet. His hand dipped under his jacket’s breast.
“Don’t!” shouted Natty sternly, trying to retain some semblance of a truce.
The window shattered silently to one side of Blake’s assistant. Blackie Brand spun around under an invisible impact. Morrigan threw himself to one side as the Brand brothers’ bodyguards pulled their weapons in the sudden confusion.
“Sniper!” yelled Natty Brand, pulling his brother under cover of the coffee table he used for a desk. Wood splintered as more silent bullets whipped through the room. Cully ducked against the nearest corner, glass spraying against an upraised hand and arm.
Cully Morrigan looked down the barrels of aimed pistols as invisible bullets rained into the enclosed space at the top of the club. His reflexes caused his pistols to bark first at the mobsters. Bullets slammed into legs and arms, wounding his opponents without killing them.
The men fell before Cully’s blazing guns as he rolled to his feet. He crashed through the broken window, scattering the remaining shards in the frame as he landed heavily on the fire escape. He headed for the roof as bullets whined off the steel fire escape. Of course, he would jump at the escape route closest to the guy doing all the shooting, Cully thought sarcastically as he climbed, waiting for a clear shot at the unseen enemy.
He reached the roof, silent bullets raining around him. He rolled over the shallow precipice to take cover from the sniper. He had an idea of where the bullets were coming from. He just needed pin the guy down long enough to put a stop to this.
Cully loaded fresh clips in his automatics. He felt a pause in the enfilade. He peeked over his brick cover. Something dark blue moved on the opposite roof. Batman’s finally snapped and lost his little bat-mind, Cully thought as he sat up. He took aim at the moving man on the other building. His quarry went over the side before he could pull the trigger.
Morrigan heard sirens as he stood up and jumped across the alley to the other roof. He ran to the other side of the building. Another fire escape led down to the floor of another alley. A car pulled away as he descended the metal staircase.
Cully Morrigan waited for the cops at the Wild Deuces. The gunmen he had wounded had been escorted off the premises by other members of the Brand gang. Blackie Brand had been shoved into a car and taken to Gotham General. Natty Brand sat at a table surrounded by bodyguards while Morrigan stood at the bar. Neither felt like talking to each other.
Morrigan kept his eyes out for trouble as he went over what he had seen. The cops would want to know everything. Obviously, someone was following him around town. He hadn’t even thought about visiting the club before his talk with the Joker. Someone had to have been behind him every step of the way. Who was the mystery man?
The police took Cully Morrigan and Natty Brand away in the back of a prowl car. The silent men sat through the ride, lost in their private thoughts. Blake’s assistant seemed to be grinning at spending the next few hours being interrogated by Gotham’s finest. The grin hid bloody thoughts of revenge. All he could do was wait until he got a better shot at the killer vigilante. Hopefully it would be at close range so he could see the man’s expression.
“If Blackie dies,” Natty said, breaking the silence, “I’ll be very angry with whomever I consider responsible.”
Cully lit a cigarette with a flick of his Zippo, staring at the other man with cold, shark eyes. “So what?” he said.