My name is Mauser. That’s also the name of my pistol. In my profession, it’s the only reliable friend that I have. I take care of it, and it takes care of me. I’m a private eye, and this is my story.
Do you remember where you were the day Peacemaker died?
I was standing on a fire escape outside of a single bedroom apartment in the rain, trying to keep my ten-year-old camera dry under my stained trench coat as I waited. A rat was digging through the garbage in the alley below as the rain made the nighttime asphalt shine darkly. And as the Peacemaker was blasted from the sky, I told myself I should have been at home killing a bottle of bourbon.
Why was I standing on a fire escape in the rain? It began like this:
I have a little broom closet I call an office down on 42nd, which I share with my assistant and apprentice, my twenty-year-old nephew Donald Duke. The office is crammed full of case files, souvenirs, and wanted posters. My desk, with its clutter of paper and food and de-springed swivel chair, takes up most of the rest of the room. The only other piece of furniture is my client chair, a survivor of the junkyard.
My sometime-partner, Alec “E-Man” Tronn, was still on his honeymoon in space with Nova Kane, while Donald was dismantling my temporary Chicago office, and I had just finished a case. I had been relaxing by throwing darts at a picture of Ed Koch I’d hung on the door, when my next client walked in without knocking, almost taking a dart in the eye. He jerked back with reflexes of a man half his age.
“Hello, Don Giovanni,” I said as pleasantly as I could, nervously pushing my Coke-bottle glasses up my nose.
“Don’t call me that, Mauser,” he said. Giovanni Scatula sat in the visitor’s chair, seventy-five years old and ramrod straight. The dusty overhead light made his thinning, white hair a fishy yellow. He frowned in disapproval at what he saw. Big Lou Armani, the Don’s bodyguard, loomed behind the chair like Frankenstein’s monster. I could almost hear him growling. My small, ratlike face and small stature usually made people underestimate me, but this one was ready for a fight no matter how much smaller than him I was. He’d been a bully in school, I could tell. When I was in school, I ate bullies for breakfast.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” I asked, pouring myself some more bourbon and letting it bubble in the glass angrily.
“As you know, Mauser,” began Don Giovanni, “the feds have been poking their noses everywhere. Now, I have a few legitimate businesses that I don’t need the feds trying to pry into, and I have a problem.”
“Which is why you’re here, presumably,” I said, sipping the bourbon.
“I think one of my employees has used my legitimate shipping business to send something illegal across the Atlantic,” said the Don.
“You want me to find the employee and the stuff?” I said to make sure I was hearing right. “Then what?”
“Turn them in, if you have enough evidence,” the Don said.
“Well, this is really something that is generally out of my line, and I’m overloaded with cases as it is,” I lied, trying to sound as reluctant as possible. It sounded like a set-up.
“I’ll pay you a five thousand dollar retainer for the first week,” said the Don.
“I’ll take the case.”
Standing on this fire escape now makes me think I should have turned the old Don down. Still, I took the money from Big Lou and locked it in the vault of my wallet. Then I asked what kind of start and cooperation could he give me. Don Giovanni said the doors at his shipping company and personal accountant were at my disposal. I finished my drink, lit a cigar, and ushered my new client from the office. I pulled on my trench coat and hat and got started. Well, I stopped by the bank and deposited my new wealth first. You can never be too careful with money.
It took four days, but thanks to Don Giovanni’s accountant, I had a suspect. Now I had to get confirmation.
The prime suspect was a clerk in the shipping department named Rebekah de Lint. She had just transferred to NYC from Europe. A few telephone calls and information exchanges turned up the fact that packages moved through Rebekah’s hands without a true record of what was going on. She was probably a mole, I thought as the accountant and I dug into the paper chase. She had covered her tracks well — too well for casual theft or embezzlement. That’s when I started following her around like I was working a typical divorce case.
Rebekah de Lint had a strict schedule for the first few days that I followed her, but she still tripped flags at the shipping company, now that they knew what to look for. I decided that I needed a way into her private life.
I dug out an old coverall with a telephone service emblazoned on the back. I waited until de Lint was clear of the apartment building. Then I used a lock pick gun on her apartment door. I installed microphones in the phones, bathroom, bedroom, and a lamp in the kitchen. I made sure to wipe my prints away whenever I had to take off my gloves for the installations.
Then I went down to a listening post I set up in the basement of the building behind a screen of junk and trash. De Lint started talking herself into the grave.
The Don was pleased with my success so far. He paid my bank account for another week. I gave him my notes and prelims to decide what he wanted. Don Giovanni said to keep chasing the leads until I found out who was behind de Lint.
So I listened to Rebekah de Lint’s private life for four days before I caught another lead. Her so-called “cousin” Dieter was coming to town for a visit. She was to meet him at JFK and put him up at her place. I decided a picture of Dieter would be needed at least for identification. I cased the building and found that the perfect place for observation would be the fire escape on the side of the building. So when Rebekah left, I climbed up to her floor and settled in to wait.
The hours went by slowly, and then rain started as the sun fled below the horizon. It was another hour before Rebekah and her cousin arrived.
Rebekah and Dieter walked into the apartment, talking and smiling like old friends. She turned on the TV, and they soon became kissing cousins on the rug in the living room.
The fire escape sat against the wall, allowing access through twin windows into the kitchenette-slash-living room. The furniture consisted of two easy chairs, two or three bookshelves, and two end tables. The large TV sat on the floor in front of the window. An overhead light and two floor lamps provided enough light to take the pictures I needed. I took two or three before I noticed what was playing on the TV.
A news program was running a live feed from West Germany. The familiar brown and tan form of the Peacemaker was rocketing through the air in the sky above Hamburg. A missile chased him at almost point-blank range. He flew into a building. Then the missile hit, and the building blew apart upon impact. Embarrassingly enough to admit, I became so absorbed in the chase and death of Peacemaker, I held the button down on the camera and almost got myself killed.
I made three almost fatal errors on the fire escape that night:
The first was that I took my eye off the important things in front of me. So I didn’t see Dieter pull a knife and stab Rebekah until he was pulling the knife out of her chest.
The second was that I gave myself away freezing on the camera button, so Dieter saw me and knew I was a witness with potential evidence.
The third error was that when Dieter saw me standing at the window, he grabbed an automatic from somewhere and started shooting, and I dodged the wrong way.
The fire escape was a standard Z up the side of the building. The apartment was on the third floor. The steps leading up and down were on the other side of the window. I was trapped away from it by the rain of bullets Dieter had blasted away the glass and part of the wooden sash. I knew Dieter would come out to shoot me like a trapped rat.
Time to move, I told myself. I looked over the side of the fire escape. Nothing but hard concrete below. A desperate plan came into view.
I grabbed the rail of the fire escape after dropping the camera in my coat pocket. I swung over the side of the metal rail and caught the landing below. I gently stepped down on the landing, pulling my namesake pistol from under my arm. I pointed the pistol at the window above as I started up the stairs. I crept over beside the window and waited silently. Dieter didn’t disappoint me.
He came over to the window cautiously and looked out the window in the wrong direction. He started to turn as I brought the pistol’s butt down on his head. He fell out onto the fire escape, dropping his weapon on the rain-silvered metal. I hit him again to make sure he was out.
I dragged Dieter back into the apartment and tied him up with a couple of belts from Rebekah’s closet, then gathered up the weapon he used and put it on the kitchenette counter. I poured myself a glass of milk to calm my nerves and called Bill Doyal at the thirteenth precinct to report the murder.
Dieter came out of his stupor as I hung up the phone. “You want to tell me why you killed the girl?” I asked politely, my Mauser enforcing his good behavior.
“I want a lawyer,” Dieter said with a trace of an accent.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I’m not a cop.” I picked up the loose things that had fallen from his pockets when he and Rebekah were doing their thing. I wondered at some of it when I saw it.
I stared at Dieter’s loose things on the rug as I smoked a Newport. Several things seemed out of place. Two were keys, one was a pass card, the last was a token of some kind. I took them and put them all in my own pocket. Dieter said nothing about my theft. It made me wonder enough to walk over and feel for a pulse. Of course he was dead without giving me another clue. Marvelous.
Using a pen, I opened his mouth. A discolored, broken tooth answered my question. I quietly wondered what Don Giovanni had gotten me into as I waited for the cops.
I spent three hours satisfying my old friend Doyal’s questions. Of course, I didn’t tell him about the loose stuff that had gone into my pocket. I didn’t tell him about the bugs, either. Finally he cut me loose with an order to come into the precinct house to sign a statement later that morning. I bid him a hearty farewell, glad to let the experts go about their business in peace. Besides, I needed to get to the airport. Dieter had left something there for me.
Arriving at JFK, I parked my Volkswagen in the lot and walked into the main building. I found the storage lockers easily enough and pulled out the two keys I had taken from Dieter. Only one of them fit into an airport locker. I opened it up, and inside the locker was a green uniform and helmet inside a black suitcase. A silver bullet was on the breast of the uniform shirt.
I was just beginning to remember where I had seen similar uniforms when everything suddenly went black.
“Wake up, Mr. Mauser,” a too-calm voice said from somewhere above me in the dark.
My head rocked back. I pushed one eye open. The other was glued shut by some gummy substance I realized was my own blood. I couldn’t see very well out of my one good eye, since my glasses were gone.
“It is so good of you to finally join us,” said the blurry man before me. “My name is Gunther Reinhardt, and I have some questions for you.”
“First, do you have a cigarette?” I asked.
Reinhardt paused for a moment before he glanced at the small table beside him and spotted my Newports. He lit it up and stuck it in my mouth.
“Ask away,” I said, puffing on the cigarette.
“How did you come to be at the airport going through my man’s belongings?”
“He killed himself. I figured he didn’t need the stuff anymore,” I said.
“How many people know about my organization?” asked Reinhardt.
“I don’t know how many for sure,” I said. “The police, my employer, my employer’s associates, probably the feds.”
“I think you are lying,” Reinhardt said before he punched me in the face. I almost passed out again. At least I still kept the cigarette in my mouth. “How many know?” he repeated, while I continued to work on the straps holding my arms behind me.
“I’m serious,” I whispered. “NYPD’s still at the girl’s place checking it over, depending on what time it is. The guy you were ripping off is a local crime figure who’s watched by the feds. There’s no telling who knows you’re here.”
“That’s unfortunate,” said Reinhardt. “Enjoy your cigarette, because afterwards we’re going to have to drop you overboard.”
He turned away, and his blurry retreating figure made a gesture at a guard in a green uniform and helmet. I kept working on my bonds and freed one hand as the room shook with an explosion of thunder. Reinhardt ran from the room, telling the guard to see to my demise. The room shook again.
The guard brought his pistol up to shoot. My now-free hand grabbed the small table and hurled it at him. I got lucky, and a leg crashed against his faceplate to send him to the floor. I bent over and untied my legs with a dizzying effort. I got to my feet and leaped on the guard as he tried to bring the automatic to bear. I kneed him hard in the mid-section and took the automatic away from him. Then I shot him in the face.
I took a moment to push my stomach back down. I finished the rest of the Newport as I fished around on the floor for my glasses. The thick, Coke-bottle lenses were completely undamaged. Then I traded my clothes for his uniform, which was several sizes too large for my small frame, forcing me to roll up the sleeves and pant legs. I stowed my belongings in a boot and slid the Mauser in the utility belt at the small of my back. I checked the ammo left and found half a clip of caseless shells. I put in a full one before I slid out of the cell. Of course, I had to leave the shattered helmet behind. Hopefully I could get out of this mess without being recognized.
The corridor led crosswise from my cell. Exposed pipes ran along the ceiling. Every door I passed was short and narrow. I wondered what kind of boat I was on as I started up a stairwell at the end of the corridor. I decided it didn’t matter as long as we weren’t at sea. Multiple roars made me pause at the door leading out onto the main deck area. I had to admit, the sight that greeted me made me light up another cigarette.
Men in green uniforms ran everywhere, spraying bullets into the sky, shouting questions about what was going on. No Reinhardt that I could see. I didn’t even want to step out into that mess, but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was, either.
I stepped out onto the deck, shooting a rocket team in the back. One of them pulled the trigger, blasting the deck and everyone around them into pieces. That was a good start, I decided, but it didn’t tell me where the head man had gone.
My guard’s uniform had a small pouch of grenades. I began to use them to clear the deck. Of course, that started attracting the wrong kind of attention. I ducked behind a ventilator duct as a storm of metal swept my way. I knew any second that someone was going to put a rocket in my cover. I decided that the wheelhouse would give me time and make for a better cover, and I started running for the staircase leading to the wheelhouse, spraying lead as I went.
The wheelhouse seemed a million miles away in the middle of the hailstorm of lead, and I was running like a lame duck. A brown and tan bullet then came from around the back of the wheelhouse. Oh, great. I ran up the stairs, aware that I was suddenly in a crossfire. Bullets bounced all around me as I reached for the door. The windows of the wheelhouse shattered as the men inside insisted that I stay outside. No grenades left.
I ducked under the glass window in the door as it flew out in pieces and fell on my head. I stuck the stolen gun through the window and emptied the clip. I switched the empty for the last full clip in the utility belt. Time to make a grand entrance.
What do you do in an exposed area when a group of guys are shooting at you? I stood next to the door to the wheelhouse, hunkered down to present a smaller target. I grabbed the doorknob and threw the door open. Small pellets cut the air like a knife. I waited until the lead stopped flying, then hurled myself into the control room.
Three of the crew and Reinhardt had built barricades against the walls for protection. Two of the men were reloading. The third was lining up on me as I slid across the floor. Reinhardt was shooting at the flying guy through a blasted out window. I wished Tronn was around to cover my back as I swept the machine pistol back and forth at ankle level. I rolled up under a map table as the weapon slammed to a stop. At least I hit two of them before I ran out of ammo.
The two guys I had shot clutched at their legs and ankles from the bullet holes. The third man was finishing reloading in front of the wheel. Reinhardt half-turned, suddenly aware that company had come knocking.
I pulled the Mauser from my belt and brought it up. The third man jacked the slide of his pistol back and pointed it at me. The Mauser spoke first. He went down like a cardboard target.
Reinhardt pulled the trigger on his weapon. A bullet sliced my arm as I emptied out the Mauser, and the head man suddenly heard nature telling him to slow down. “It seems I underestimated you,” Reinhardt choked out as he crumpled to the floor. “Should have known better than that.” Blood slipped out of the corner of his mouth onto the ground. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
I turned away. Time to see what else was still happening. Maybe I could get a life raft to get off this boat. The white craft of the Coast Guard circled the boat as a brown-and-tan-clad action-hero who wore a toilet-shaped helmet landed on the main deck. Maybe I could get a ride from him.
“I know you,” the Peacemaker said, looking down at me. “You’re E-Man’s partner.”
“Tronn helps me out sometimes,” I said, shrugging. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be dead?” I lit a cigarette as I watched the Coasties throw anchors on the deck to tie their boats to the one we were on.
“I flew out of the other side of the building without being harmed by the explosion,” the action-hero said calmly. “I’m surprised to see you on board.”
“Not as surprised as I was to be here,” I said as I took off the poor-fitting guard’s uniform. “I guess I’d better tell Don Giovanni the good news.”
“What’s that?” the Peacemaker said.
“The case is closed.”
“Only part of it is closed,” said the action-hero. “This group belonged to a bigger organization called the Mars Council, which will go right back to what it was doing all along — shipping arms.”
“That doesn’t matter to me,” I said, throwing the cigarette butt on the ground. “It won’t matter to Don Giovanni, either.”
“You will matter to them,” he said as I walked away.
“So?” I said as I found a ladder to climb down onto a Coast Guard cutter. I had my last cigarette as I watched the Statue of Liberty in the distance. One more enemy. Big deal. They could get in line behind the rest.