by Dan Swanson
Tomas Thomas had rarely been scared of anything, even before he gained super-powers, but something about these four men told him to be cautious. They just pulled up chairs and sat down before they even started speaking.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Thomas. May I call you Tomas?” one of them said. “My name is Abraham Benjamin. Do you mind if my associates and I join you?” Clearly this group was trying to intimidate Tomas, showing him right off the bat that they knew more about him than he did about them.
Well, Tomas didn’t intimidate easily, even when he was being cautious. “Mr. Benjamin, where I come from, we usually consider it polite to ask first and then sit, rather than the other way ’round,” he said in a very mild tone. “Is that really your real name?” It seemed unlikely.
Benjamin smiled. “In our business, Tomas–” And he waved his arm to include all five of them. “–audacity is usually the best way to get results. After watching your tricks with Herr Schmidt’s car, I’m sure you already know this.”
Schmidt was apparently the name of the guy who owned the Aston Martin. Who were these guys? He was certain there hadn’t been anyone else in the garage. They must have had it under remote surveillance. Tomas didn’t bother to conceal his disbelief. “So, Abe…” Benjamin said, smiling. “You don’t really expect me to believe you guys are P.I.s? Aren’t the four of you always in each others’ ways?”
“Actually, no, we aren’t exactly ‘private’ investigators. We are employed by our government. I guess you might refer to us as ‘secret agents.’ But much of what we do is similar, no?”
Tomas was startled to realize that he was unable to place this man’s accent. It took a lot of training to disguise an accent this thoroughly, as well as considerable acting skill. This just confirmed to him that he was swimming in pretty deep waters.
“Maybe. But I’m not a P.I. right now, either. I’m on my own time. I notice you didn’t say which government employs you. You aren’t IRS, are you? I’ve got documentation for everything on this year’s form!” He stopped talking for a second, but no one answered. So he decided to see if he could get some kind of reaction out of them. “By the way, what’s wrong with your buddies? Deaf and dumb?” He saw by the flare of anger in their eyes that they were not deaf, but none of them said anything.
“Don’t worry, Tomas! We are all on the same side. Our government is one of America’s closest allies and staunchest supporters: Israel.”
Holy $#!*, and once again, holy $#!*! Agents of the Mossad! thought Tomas. The Mossad was only two years old, but it had already established a deadly reputation. It might be time to become uninvolved in this business, whatever it was. Of course, he had to find out what it was, first. “So what can I do for you gentlemen?” There was no harm in being polite. He might not be intimidated, but there was no reason to make enemies here. Well, maybe he was intimidated, just a little.
“We’re wondering why you damaged Herr Schmidt’s car. What is your interest in him?”
“He almost killed me on the highway, driving that Aston Martin at around a hundred miles an hour and winding in and out of traffic. Cut me off, and I had to brake and swerve to miss him. Some friends of mine were in the car behind me, and they went off the road. He didn’t even slow down.
“I didn’t see his face, but I did notice the car! I would have let it go, except I happened to see him again, running around downtown, and he went through a puddle and sprayed dirty puddles over a bunch of pedestrians. So I decided I wanted to find out more about him, maybe have a friendly chat with him. So now I know his name and what he looks like.
“Your turn. What is your interest in Mr. Schmidt? Why would the Mossad be interested…?” He stopped, a startling thought occurring to him. “Why — he must be a Nazi, huh? And you guys are going to take him back to Israel for execution?”
“Very good, Tomas! Too bad you aren’t Israeli; there would be a place for you in the Mossad. Yes, Herr Schmidt, though that’s not his real name, is indeed a leftover Nazi.” Benjamin went on to tell the story of “Herr Schmidt.” Tomas wasn’t certain quite how much to believe.
Schmidt’s real name was Ackerman. During the war, he had been an officer in the Gestapo and part of the Gestapo liaison for one of Hitler’s secret ordnance development projects. You know, flying disks, lighting guns, inviso-rays, weather controllers, that kind of thing? Well, some of it was real. When Schmidt realized that the war was going badly, he stole a bunch of prototype super-weapons and fled from Germany. He spent a few years hiding out in Latin America.
When he felt reasonably secure in his new cover identity, he had slipped into the United States and moved to Minneapolis, though God alone knew why. He had been using the stolen weapons as a contract killer.
Last year, in one of their first public efforts, the Mossad had busted up a group of Nazis who had set up as warlords in South America. A half-dozen of the leaders had gotten away, with significant amounts of money, and some of them were believed to be in the U.S. It seems they had contacted Schmidt about working strictly for them, and the Mossad had been following him for about six months, hoping Schmidt would lead them to bigger game.
They had his phone tapped, and yesterday they had overheard a conversation between Schmidt and an unknown man. This individual identified himself as a member of one of Chicago’s “families” and offered him a job. Schmidt had driven from Milwaukee, picked up two men unknown to the Mossad, and headed downtown. They had eventually followed someone out of town.
Benjamin assumed that the murder contract had been carried out, and now they were waiting for Schmidt to collect his money, and they would then pick up the trail of whoever had hired him.
Of course, Tomas was flabbergasted.
“You saw that, and you didn’t do anything to stop it? Why, you bastards!” Tomas Thomas grasped the edge of the table in both hands and started to stand up. He had never been pleased to be in the company of these four, and he’d had just about enough of them.
Benjamin reached out and put his hand on Tomas’ shoulder in what appeared to be a friendly gesture. His strength was such that any normal man would have been forced back into his chair. Tomas continued to stand with no more apparent effort than if there had been a mosquito on his shoulder. He was quite pleased when Benjamin’s eyes widened just a bit in surprise. This was a man who was used to having things go according to his own plans, and Tomas just wasn’t going along.
So, rather than lose face, Benjamin stood up, too. “Tomas, you have to understand, we are on a case. We are trying to track down a really evil Nazi survivor, and we think Ackerman might lead us to him. Please sit down, and let’s exchange information. We know some things that might be useful to you.”
Tomas wasn’t really appeased, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to turn his back on these guys, not just yet. He sat back down, as did Benjamin.
Benjamin spoke first. “Hold on, Tomas. Our job is to track down Nazi war criminals. We are good at it, and it’s what we do. So far, by following Ackerman, we’ve captured three very high-ranking Nazi butchers — two were on Goebbels’ staff — you remember Goebbels, don’t you? Minister of Propaganda? And the other was second-in-command to Bormann, leader of the Nazi Party. You must admit these people are evil and do not deserve freedom!”
Tomas was on the verge of shouting, but he was able to restrain himself — barely. “How many people has he killed during that time?” he asked in a low, intent voice. “Well, I’ll give you some information about this Ackerman goon right now — he’s about to stop killing people, and instead start paying for their deaths. Right now.”
He waved his left hand about for emphasis and managed to knock over a water glass. This drew the agents’ attention — not for long, but then, Tomas was very fast. When they turned their eyes back to him, he was standing very close to Benjamin. They were stunned to realize that he now held a pistol in his right hand, hidden from the other diners by his body and Benjamin’s body.
“As you can see, gentlemen, I am a lot faster than you. And I guarantee, I’m as accurate as I am fast.” Pausing for a moment to let that sink in, he said, “Now, I’d like to part with the Mossad on friendly terms, so I will tell you my interest in all this. Ackerman’s target last night — the one you knew about, but didn’t protect — was me. I promise you this — if there are any other Nazis involved in this assassination attempt, I will discover them, and I will capture them.”
Benjamin blurted out, “But that’s not good enough–”
Tomas forcefully interrupted. “Abe, you had better accept that it is ‘good enough,’ because it is the best deal you are going to get from me. Ackerman will get a fair trial, and there’s a good chance he will be found guilty — and maybe even executed. But we are going to do it following the laws of your great ally, the U.S.
“Good day, gentlemen! Don’t test my reflexes!” Tomas turned away and headed for the lobby. Two steps away, so quickly that even those people who were watching him closely couldn’t swear they had seen it happen, he spun about in a full arc, not even missing a step. But the agent who had been pulling his gun realized that his arm was now pinned to the back of his chair by a steak knife through the sleeve of his jacket. Benjamin waved at his team to stand down, and Tomas headed for the parking garage.
The manager and Ackerman, AKA Schmidt, were standing near the Aston Martin. A panel truck with the name Giant Glass was just leaving the garage, and the windshield on the DB2 had already been replaced, probably at the hotel’s expense. One of the bellboys had just finished changing the tire. The car was ready to drive again, although the headlights were still smashed.
Ackerman saw Tomas, and he reacted like some guy in the Sunday funnies — his mouth dropped open, his jaw almost hitting his chest, and his eyes almost popped out of his head. A half-second later, he yelled in his German accent, “You’re dead! I saw you die last night!” And he reached under his jacket to pull out his pistol.
A half-second was too long to wait. Tomas stepped forward, drew his own pistol, and grabbed Ackerman’s wrist, all before Ackerman could reach his gun. Now the manager and the bellboy were looking stunned and scared. Tomas identified himself. “Tomas Thomas. I’m a private investigator on a murder case. Please call the police for me!”
“Yes, sir!” said the manager, bolting out of the garage and back into the hotel, followed closely by the bellboy. And Tomas was sure he really was going to call the police. It looked like he didn’t care which of these two men was the good guy; the police sounded like the best possible choice right now.
Ackerman struggled, but Tomas was much stronger. “Mr. Schmidt, I’m placing you under citizen’s arrest for your attempted murder last night — of me. And I think we’re going to be able to track you back to some other recent assassinations. And the War Department might want to talk to you as about some war crimes, Herr Sturmbannführer Ackerman. Oh, and by the way, the Mossad will probably be here in a minute or so!”
“Mr. Thomas, you can’t let the Mossad capture me! They’ll torture me!”
Tomas interrupted. “I don’t plan to let them take you away from me. I’ll turn you over to the police, and then you’ll be safe from them.”
Ackerman was horrified. “No, if you give me to the police, the Mossad will find some way to get to me in custody! Please, Mr. Thomas, I would rather die right now than fall into the hands of the Mossad. Please, if you won’t let me go, then shoot me!”
Tomas was shaken to the core by this man’s fear of the Mossad. He had heard that they were a dangerous organization, but apparently Nazis were more aware of the danger than he was. “I’m not sure what else I can do for you. You are a Nazi war criminal, an assassin, and a murderer. No skin off my teeth whether the Mossad gets you or the American justice system. And I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to find a good lawyer to defend you from the Mossad!”
Ackerman was looking sicker and sicker as Tomas talked. Finally, he broke in, “Can I hire you to protect me from the Mossad?”
“Sorry, Ratzi, but you got nothin’ I want! I think the police is the best bet — I don’t believe that the Mossad can really reach you in the Illinois prison system.”
Ackerman was obviously thinking fast. “Maybe I do have something… How about the car?”
Tomas was tempted. It had hurt having to shoot out the windshield. “I can’t protect you forever. How long will the contract last?”
“Can’t we work out the details later? Here!” Ackerman reached into his pocket and pulled out some keys. “Can we just get out of here? Now?” He handed the keys to Tomas. “There’s some handcuffs in the car. I have a pistol in my shoulder holster, and an ankle knife. Let’s go!”
Moving quickly, Tomas disarmed the German, found the handcuffs, and cuffed him. It was nice of the man to cooperate. Tomas suspected some kind of trick, so he swiftly used his super-strength to mangle the cuffs so that it would take a power tool to get them off. He quickly strapped Ackerman’s feet together with his own belt, and threw him into the passenger seat. The car was in gear and heading for the exit only a second or so later. He was doing thirty miles per hour when he hit the alley behind the hotel. What a car.
Although he couldn’t be sure, he thought perhaps they were at least temporarily out of sight of the Mossad. “OK, Ackerman — I can’t protect you for long. But I know someone who knows someone who maybe can.”
The next phone booth they passed, Tomas got out and called Todd Drake. A half-hour later, after some driving around, Tomas drove by the University of Chicago to pick up Todd from his dorm room. Between them they stuffed the tightly bound German in the back seat.
Letting Todd drive, Tomas watched the rear-view mirrors for a tail. They headed for U.S. Highway 41 South, and within a surprisingly short time, pulled up into the U.S. Steel parking lot in Gary, Indiana. A couple of minutes later, Ibis the Invincible and Minute Man popped into existence.
Tomas left the German with them, and he and Todd drove into town to find a notary. They paid him to make a house call, and a few minutes later, Tomas owned a new Aston Martin DB2, all legal and square, pink slip signed, sealed, and notarized. And Ibis even used the Ibistick to fix the headlights.
Minute Man and Ibis had extracted enough information from Ackerman to justify offering him protection. Minute Man was certain he could use his government contacts to convince the Mossad to leave Ackerman alive in U.S. hands. It seemed as if the threat of being turned over to the Mossad might convince Ackerman to rat out a few of his fellow Nazis, without allowing Ackerman to carry out any future assassinations.
Finally, to seal the deal, Ackerman gave Tomas the lowdown on Harvey Autumn. He was indeed one of the Nazis that the Mossad had chased out of South America. He’d come to Chicago and hooked up with one of the Mafia families, and they were helping to set him up in a new identity. He’d picked Harvey Autumn from the obituary columns in the Chicago Tribune — same age, same general appearance, no body ever recovered. He had suffered major facial burns in the Mossad raid in South America, and he used reconstructive surgery as the basis for his cover story.
Ackerman didn’t have enough hard evidence for the police, but Tomas was satisfied. Right now the Mossad probably wasn’t happy with him, so this, at least, gave him something to trade with them.
He hadn’t been able to save Ida Autumn, and he would always feel some guilt about that. But at least he had ensured that her killer wouldn’t get away. Tomas sure wouldn’t want to be that man right about now.