I had to admit — it was a low point in my career. I was crawling through a sewer tunnel, chasing a legendary assassin, wondering where my bodyguard was, and suddenly feeling a tripwire across my leg. When you need live bait, who do you call? Michael Mauser, world-famous private eye. Let me assure you, at that point in time I was laying a curse on the lost souls of Gunther Reinhardt and Don Giovanni Scatula.
Let me start at the beginning and bring you up to speed on my current predicament.
Don Giovanni and his wife, and his children and children’s children, were having a Sunday dinner in his small mansion on Long Island. Security for the Don was provided by twenty-four armed men, a few dogs, and a monitored brick wall with spikes running down its length.
The official theory is that one man climbed the wall, walked into the house, shot the Don while he was eating his Chicken Alfredo, and fled the scene. I say that’s the official theory, since there were no witnesses left alive in the house. The Don and all of his family, even down to a three-year-old grandchild, his security, and the guard dogs were all killed by large caliber bullets fired from a single weapon. Then the house was firebombed and reduced to ashes. It was a seven-day wonder for the news services. Rumors of a gang war began circulating.
I read about it in the paper the next day. My first thought was that no other Mafia family was that ruthless. Columbian cartels or Jamaican posses were that ruthless, but Don Giovanni was one of the very few that steered clear of the drug trade. I couldn’t see any motive for this amount of retaliation.
That is, until they showed up at my office. The four of them had the expressions of undertakers at a funeral. Three guesses whose.
I had met all but the last. Bill Doyal led the way for the NYPD. Behind him was Colonel Clayton Clay, an X.O. for General Dove, whom Alec Tronn and I sometimes help out. Then came Charles Rourke, an SAC for the FBI. The last I didn’t recognize — a tall guy in his fifties or sixties with graying dark hair dressed in a suit jacket and sweater. I almost pulled my pistol when I saw the looks on their faces.
“Hello, Mauser,” said my old friend Doyal. “We’re here to offer you protection.” My eyes strayed down to the paper.
“We think you’re next to be targeted,” said Rourke.
“We’re hoping you’re next,” said Clay.
“OK,” I said. “What are you guys talking about?” Of course, I’d have to be an idiot not to know what they were talking about.
“We want to set you up as a target so we can catch this guy,” said Doyal.
“You must be drinking too much,” I said.
“Mr. Mauser,” said the stranger. “My name is Christopher Smith. The Mars Council, whom Gunther Reinhardt worked for, hired the best they could to get their revenge.”
“Who would that be?” I asked, wondering which spook factory this guy belonged to.
“They hired the Weapon.”
I sat back in my chair. So I rated a heavy hitter like the Weapon. That was hard to believe. But it explained the ruthlessness of the hit on Don Giovanni. The Weapon was said to have shot down a plane just to get one man.
“So you set me up like a decoy and wait for him to strike,” I said. I kicked my chair away from the office window without thinking.
“You and Scatula exposed a large part of the Mars Council’s smuggling operation to the authorities,” said Smith. “They need to show their competition and clients it won’t happen again.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll play along.” Inwardly I knew I was making the wrong move, but I quickly added, “Two hundred dollars a day, plus expenses.” Clay and Rourke looked like they just swallowed a rat. Doyal let out a rare laugh. Smith simply smiled like he had seen this coming and had told the others this would happen. Maybe he had, because he took out his wallet and produced ten one-hundred dollar bills.
“I doubt if the Weapon will wait a week to attack, but this will cover the first five days,” Smith said.
“I can’t believe you,” said Rourke. “You’re charging us to protect you!”
“Well, if I get lucky and get the Weapon first,” I said, “you won’t have to pay me that reward money I know you have posted. Anyway, you’re not paying to protect me.” I took the money and put it in my wallet. “You’re paying me to get the guy and bring him in.”
“You think you could do that?” asked Doyal.
“All right, Mauser,” said Rourke. “We’ll play along, on one condition.”
“What’s that?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Smith goes with you wherever you go,” said Rourke.
I expected that. After all, they had to look like they were trying to protect me. The Weapon would smell a trap otherwise. “That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll need someone to get me access to your files.”
“Right,” said Clay. “You’ll want to start right away, I presume.”
“Yep,” I said. “The quicker I catch this guy, the quicker I can go back to a normal life.”
“So where’s your partner, E-Man?” asked Clay.
“Tronn’s showing his wife the solar system,” I said. “They’re not due back for another few months.”
Smith took me to an office they had set up for him to use in the federal building. We went over every violent assault that resembled what happened to the Scatula family. Only fifty out of a thousand or so cases could be linked positively to the Weapon. He seemed to specialize in close attacks using heavy ordinance like M72 LAW rockets. Still, that was only half of the fifty. The other twenty-five were classic sniping, car bombs, and basic killer traps. Trying to digest the hours of research, I began thinking I should shoot myself to save him the bother.
We knew his favorite methods of operation. We knew his motive. The Weapon killed for money. Now we needed a perfect trap to bait him with. It had to look enough like a trap to lull his natural paranoia, but also strong enough to hold him when he did strike. And he would strike. He wasn’t going to blow his perfect record on a nobody private cop like me. I just had to look like I believed Smith could protect me. Maybe this would be harder than I thought at first glance.
We put aside the papers and files and such. It was time to settle the old stomach, if you know what I mean. We left the Federal Building looking for a place to eat. We were both silent.
I noticed the car in the window of a lady’s clothing shop. It was creeping along in step with the traffic, but it had attracted my attention. I wondered why for a second, missing a step. The driver turned to look my way. He wore a green mask with white and yellow bars on it. The worse thing was he already had his pistol out and was leveling it at us while I was looking for cover.
Smith saw me freeze up and realized why instantly. He could have been Sherlock Holmes with the speed of his deduction. He sent us crashing through the shop’s window easily as the Weapon opened fire. For an older man, he knew how to move.
I slammed into a mannequin dressed in a teddy as bullets flew by my head. I pulled my own pistol and ran for cover. Ceramic, plastic, and glass flew around me as I jumped over the sales counter. God knew where Smith was.
After figuring out the best thing to do, I ran out the employee entrance, drawing fire as I went. The Weapon obviously thought nothing of the bystanders he hadn’t hit so far. I fired my Mauser as I passed in front of the window. I knew I didn’t hit anything, but didn’t care either. This shop was a free fire zone, and I was right in the middle of it.
I hit the door on the run. A storage area stocked full of unmentionables greeted my eyes as I ran for the back door. I stepped out into an alley behind the building. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time before the assassin came after me. I ran like a rat deserting his ship.
The alley ran out into the street at one end and into a central courtyard behind a block of buildings at the other. I had a chance to shake him for a minute or two. Or maybe not.
The Weapon’s brown sedan rolled up to block the mouth of the alley. He stepped out on the other side of the car. He was holding some kind of machine gun in his hands. He swung it to point at me over the roof of the auto.
Not wanting to be a sitting duck, I ran into the courtyard at the other end of the alley and threw myself down behind a trash bin as he opened up. Huge holes exploded around me as I crawled away from my flimsy shield. A nearby manhole cover beckoned me to a temporary refuge. I pulled the cover away with a grunt and strained muscles. I climbed down the ladder, pausing to pull the cover closed. Come get me now, Mister I-Never-Miss, I thought as I dropped from the ladder into the foul sewage below.
I began wondering if Smith was still alive as I ran through the muck. I hadn’t seen where he fell when the bullets started flying. I bought myself some time. No way could the Weapon know which way I went in these tunnels. Even I didn’t know where I was going, to tell you the truth. I just needed to put some distance between me and that machine gun he was using.
Something splashed behind me. I looked around and saw nothing. I kept moving. There was no telling when I could stop. The Weapon would keep coming, unless I got him first. That was certain now. His reputation demanded it. He wouldn’t stop until I was dead.
I rounded a corner and slammed to a halt. He turned like a striking snake. He brought the machine gun up to his shoulder to fire, and I knew I was dead.
So I did the only thing I could think to do. I dived under the muck and sewage as bullets made the water hop and dance. I fired my Mauser, hoping the water and other things hadn’t clogged the barrel. I lucked out and hit him in the center of his armored vest. That made him drop the machine gun into the sewer sludge. I figured he would try to pick it up, and I’d be able to get away from him.
I was wrong. The Weapon flicked his wrist and shot me with a pistol extending into his hand from an arm holster. I didn’t want to think about getting shot in the polluted environment I was standing in. At least it was high up in my shoulder. To get shot in the leg down here would be awful.
Taking careful aim, I fired the Mauser. The nine-millimeter slug went into his leg. I could see his eyes in the dim light. He was thinking the same thing I was, and he didn’t have the luxury of checking into a hospital like I did. He started blasting away at me, and I ran for my life for the corner. I ducked out of sight as bullets exploded all around me.
“I’ll be back, Mickey,” the Weapon said. “I know where you live, where you work, everything about you. You can’t escape me.”
Nobody calls me Mickey, I thought, emptying the Mauser blindly around the corner, but he was gone. A gun battle in the sewer — not very bright of you, I chastised myself.
I peeked around the corner as I reloaded. Sloshing water told me he was running away. I hoped that leg of his was hurting a lot right about now. I knew my own shoulder was killing me. I pulled a reasonably clean piece of cloth from my coat and used that on the bullet hole in me, holding it in place as I clumsily ran after the perfect assassin. I bet he wasn’t feeling perfect then.
That’s when I walked into the tripwire. I froze in momentary fear. My experiences in Vietnam told me exactly what a booby trap like this could do to the human body.
“Don’t worry,” said a voice from behind me. I looked and saw a brown-garbed action-hero wearing a toilet-shaped helmet. The Peacemaker in the sewers? That explained what had happened to Smith. He’d changed clothes while I was keeping the Weapon busy.
“What took you so long?” I asked. “He’s probably cleared out of the sewer by now.”
“I doubt that,” the Peacemaker said as he examined the booby trap. He took a knife and slowly cut the wire. “He won’t leave until you’re dead.”
“He took one in the leg,” I said. “He wouldn’t hide down here until he had another chance.”
“Yes he would,” said the Peacemaker, “as long as you were still here. He probably hasn’t gone far.”
“That’s peachy,” I muttered.
The Peacemaker aimed a submachine gun down the tunnel. I noticed the thing had a light built into the barrel. He pulled the trigger, and the flashlight showed the Weapon hiding in darkness. Both men fired at the sight of each other, the Weapon’s lead answered by the Peacemaker’s rubber bullets. For a man dedicated to peace, he knew a lot about making war.
Bullets — both lead and rubber — began to spray everywhere as I threw myself to one side. This was just what I needed. My blind dodge had done one good thing for me besides letting me get out of their way. My hand touched the hidden grenade for the booby trap. I knew exactly what to do.
I grabbed the grenade and threw it at the Weapon. He saw it coming and threw himself backward. It went off in the water, hurling him farther down the tunnel. The Peacemaker ran forward and kicked the Weapon in the head. He pulled out restraints from his gadget belt and bound his enemy hands and arms.
“The things I do for three hundred a day,” I said.
“Don’t forget expenses,” Smith said under his helmet.
“Tell me about it,” I said as we dragged the Weapon through the sewer by his collar. “By the way, has anyone ever told you that your helmet looks just like a–?”
“Drop it,” the Peacemaker growled. He’d obviously heard the remark before.
I let it go.