Detective Sergeant Ralph Boam sat on one side of the table. Cully Morrigan sat on the other side. They had just spent hours going over the events of the last few days in the life of the former hijacker. Boam didn’t like the way the man kept grinning at him, even if it was a rictus.
“Can I go now?” Morrigan asked quietly, pulling out his pack of cigarettes. He crumpled it up when he realized it was empty.
“Don’t you want us to catch this guy?” Boam asked.
“I don’t think you can with what I told you,” said Morrigan. “I didn’t see anything but his back for the few seconds I actually saw him. If I’m not being charged, I would like to go.”
“Hold on a minute,” said Boam, standing up. He left the room, glancing over his shoulder once as he stepped through the door.
Several minutes later, the detective walked back in, grinning. “We’re putting you in protective custody until this is over,” said Boam. “Word just came down from the top.”
“I don’t need any protection,” said Morrigan, glaring at the policeman.
“Two attempts on your life in the last twenty-four hours,” Boam said, shaking his head. “We’re putting you up at a hotel with guards until we catch this guy.”
“What about Natty Brand?” asked the ex-criminal.
“He feels he wasn’t a target, and so do we. We sent him to the hospital to be with his brother.”
Cully got to his feet slowly. He knew when he was being used as bait to flush someone else out. He had a sinking feeling that Blake would have already gotten to the bottom of this in the amount of time he had spent in the police station over the two shootings.
“Let’s go,” Cully said morosely.
Cully Morrigan sat on a hotel bed, looking at a blank wall. Two detectives played cards in the other room. The only ways out were in that other room, leaving Cully in a trap, as far as he was concerned. He was at a loss on how he was going to get past his guards and take up his search. He couldn’t even think of a place to start with that.
The meeting with the Brands had been next to useless, except to rule them out from being behind the guy on the roof. He didn’t think Natty would shoot Blackie and make it look like the guy was gunning for someone else. Natty was known in the circle as being cold as a fish. He was capable of shooting his brother in the back and making the body vanish. The Joker was in jail again. Who else was there?
Morrigan went over the list of gang leaders loose in Gotham. They flourished in the continual power struggles caused by the police and Batman’s activities. How many had a grudge against him personally was hard to say. Working for the Joker had not won him any friends. Time to get out of the rat trap and make the rounds. All he had to do was get past his bodyguards.
Cully went to the door. Boam and the other man had their table in front of the door. A window was on Cully’s right behind the table. A bathroom door stood on the left.
Heading into the bathroom, Cully drew a glance from the detectives but not a word. He locked the door behind him. It wouldn’t hold against a determined effort, but he had time to look around before they got suspicious and checked on him. He found a toilet, a sink, a flat mirror, and a grimy tub. An air vent rested in the ceiling beside the single light. There were no windows or other exits. He checked the walls quietly. He was not encouraged, but he thought he could maybe kick a hole in the wall if he had to. The vent looked like his best chance to get out.
He got on the back of the toilet, then used the ceiling to hold him up with one hand. The other ripped the cover off in one move. The opening looked big enough. He jumped, pulling himself into the vent. He squirmed and wriggled until his whole body was in the confined space. He began his slow crawl to freedom. He didn’t have a lot of time before those two detectives noticed he was gone and started searching for him. He had to get out of the building before that happened. Cully dragged himself along, looking for a vent opening to get out of the improvised tunnel.
Morrigan found an empty room. It was a moment’s work to wiggle out of the crawlspace and get to his feet. He went to the door and let himself out. He glided down the stairs, across the lobby, and out the front door. He tried to act normal to avoid notice from the clerk or anyone else watching the front door. Time to get my spare guns, thought the grinning man, and paint the town red.
Cully Morrigan approached Adam Blake’s building through a maze of alleys surrounding the block. A hidden entrance led to a concealed garage. He didn’t want a car; he just wanted to get to the spare room he kept in case of trouble.
He placed his hand on a plate next to the door. The plate was concealed by a poster of the Hillman Brothers Circus. The brick wall slid out of the way. Morrigan walked in, making sure the door was closed and locked behind him.
Dashing up to his apartment, Cully pushed a small disc beside his door. Inside he pulled his spare set of pistols and checked them. Donning the holsters and concealing them with a jacket, he stuffed full magazines in his coat pockets. He was armed and ready. Time to paint the town red.
Cully started hitting every bar he was known to frequent before he joined his new associates. He made himself known, even talking loudly to some who knew him. Those people shied away, nervous at the ex-hijacker’s strange behavior. Something was up, and they felt enough to make them leave the room as quietly and quickly as possible.
As Cully moved from the bars to social clubs, his grinning face saw more drinking areas in a few hours than it had since New Year’s. It was the first time in a while that he was glad that he possessed a rictus. It was hard to act jolly and keep on guard at the same time. Luckily, his frozen face acted as a mask to help his pretense along.
The sniper caught up with him at the Silver Cutlass after he had bought a round for everyone, and then made his way to the door.
Cully Morrigan pretended to stagger away from the saloon. He had hit every place he could think of since he had escaped protective custody. He hoped that the man chasing him would be thrown off-guard by the ruse. He had heard things on his bar tour, things that muddied the picture in some ways and cleared it in others.
Kenny Biggs was not the only one who had been found in the river in the last few weeks. Other hijackers had been found, signs of torture evident on their bodies. Rumor said they had pulled off a major score, but no one knew where they had put the loot. That said something to Cully, but he didn’t know what.
He hadn’t done a job since hooking up with Blake. It was a job requirement. The mystery-man frowned on criminal acts committed by his assistants. Cully had abided by that, too. The memory of missing seven shots when he had first met Blake helped keep him on the straight and narrow. (*) The pay did the rest.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Adam Blake: Times Past, 1954: Blake’s Seven, Chapter 1: Hired Thugs.]
A glass window shattered to his left as he mock-staggered against a light pole. The ex-hijacker collapsed straight down behind a car, trying to make it look like he had been shot. After all, the guy wouldn’t get closer if he tried to fire back. He needed to check if his target was dead, and the only way to do that was to get closer.
Cully waited tensely. The guy might simply have left. Maybe he was only switching position. There was no way of knowing until another bullet flew by, or a bystander called the law forcing him to move, or any other thing.
Sweat broke out on his crippled face as he listened to the empty street. Soon the bar would begin to empty. Someone would see him lying there and see if he was dead, and maybe try to rob him. The sniper had to check him before that. Otherwise he could just wait days to see if Morrigan was reported dead in the news.
Cully heard footsteps jogging toward him. His hand tensed on the butt of his pistol. He tried to look as dead as possible. He had one chance at this. Don’t shoot me in the back, he thought desperately. Don’t shoot me in the back.
A foot hooked under Cully’s chest. It lifted, flipping him over. His free hand wrapped around an ankle as his pistol came out from under his coat. He found himself aiming at a man in blue coveralls with a hook on his hand. Eyeglasses cast his eyes in shadows from the streetlights. A thin-lipped frown creased the man’s angular face. He raised his hand and hook in a non-threatening way. A pistol dangled uselessly from the index finger of his single appendage.
“Still alive, I see,” the Hook said sourly.
“Everyone misses once in a while,” said Morrigan, climbing to his feet. “Tonight was just your night.”
Two cars rolled to a stop at either end of the street. They blocked the intersections. Armed men began to pour out. Natty Brand got out of the closest car last. Cold rage flickered across his face at the two opponents. “My brother died at the hospital,” he said coldly.
#$*%, thought Cully.
Cully pushed the Hook away as he took cover behind the nearby parked car. His left hand pulled his other pistol as he dropped below the windows of the automobile. The sniper spun his pistol into a shooting position, torn between shooting his target and defending himself. He fired at Natty’s crowd as he headed for the bar. Automatic weapons opened up, roaring against metal, concrete, glass, and wood. The Hook kicked through a glass window and vanished inside the bar as bullets rained around him.
Well, *#$*# me, thought Cully, taking a deep breath.
The ex-hijacker flung himself after the assassin. Both hands emptied out his pistols as he sprinted after his attacker. Bullets plucked at his clothes as men dropped under his dead aim. He jumped the windowsill, showering glass around him. He dropped the empty magazines out as the Hook fired a couple of rounds at the bartender who had been reaching for something under the counter. Cully winced as blood flew over the bottles of whiskey and beer behind the man. He slammed charged clips home in his pistols as he shoved some drunk out of his way.
This was his last chance to find out what was going on. If the Hook got away or got killed, he would be spending the rest of his life looking for answers. He didn’t have the time for that.
The man turned slightly, raising his pistol. Cully dived to one side as the man fired just once. The bullet flew into a customer. Morrigan rolled to his feet, realizing the man’s pistol had locked back because it was empty.
The Hook kicked open the door to the women’s bathroom. He kicked the wooden door shut, deflecting several bullets that ate at the wood.
Cully glanced over his shoulder. He wasn’t pleased to see that Natty Brand’s guns were blocking the front of the building. He kicked the wooden door as hard as he could with his back to the men’s room door, and the door split in half under the blow. The bathroom seemed empty to him.
Morrigan glanced at the front window again. The goons were pushing into the crowded room, shoving people out of their way. They could fire in the chaos, but he couldn’t.
He dived into the bathroom, scanning for his enemy. No feet below the closed stalls. No windows to allow access to the outside. A small porcelain sink hung on one wall. A vent that a rat couldn’t get through. No Hook, either. How had he vanished?
Cully was about to concede that the man had walked through a wall when he noticed the mirror over the sink swing slightly. He fired into the silvered glass. The mirror shattered under the .45 slug, revealing a space in the wall. An alley led away from the concealed opening.
Who is this guy? thought Cully, seeing that the brick had been cut with some kind of torch as he slipped through the square space. Did he cut a way into every building on this street just so he had a guaranteed escape route? Who was that careful?
Cully ran down the alley. A car engine started up as he looked for ambushes and Natty’s reserve force on the street. Lights pinned him in the middle of the alley, making him turn in place. A dark sedan roared forward with a squeal of tires.
Morrigan took aim at one with his weapons of choice, squeezing the triggers almost simultaneously. Both of the front tires on the car blew out with a double bang that echoed the crack of the automatics. The Hook lost control as the wheel slipped against his one good hand and glinting hook. The car slammed against the alley wall hard and slid.
Cully waited for the right moment as the car skidded toward him. He leaped upward, one foot hitting the hood of the car. He straightened his leg, propelling himself over the fast-moving roof. He landed against the back window, slid down the trunk, and rolled against the pavement. He got to his feet, suddenly realizing he had been bleeding from cuts on his grinning face. He wiped the blood away with his sleeve, taking aim. It was coming down to answers versus life and limb. Which was more important to him?
The Hook slid over in the front seat, using the hook on the dashboard to pull himself along. His other hand began to empty his pistol at Morrigan. He was trying to reach the door to make another run for it.
Cully took aim and fired. The search for answers would have to wait for another time. The crippled automobile exploded upward in a ball of flame, hurling the Hook to his eternal reward in a dismembering pressure wave.
The ex-gunman once known as Deadman heard sirens coming closer. He wondered if he could put the blame on Natty Brand’s mugs when the police did arrive.