Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Daniel Baldwin is a new addition to our talent pool, and he's got a story to tell; or rather, his characters have one, and it's a doozy.

It's a noir/masked avenger story that takes place in the world of Lucky Ford, the setting for his novel series, The Secret Files of Lucky Ford."

The Billy Club Bastard in...
The Case of the Smiling Smuggler

An adventure from The World of Lucky Ford by Daniel Baldwin




Bourbon always looked its foulest when those first sickly pale beams of morning light cut into it through Mickey's half-drawn blinds. Damn, he thought, the sun doesn't come over the rooftops across the street 'til ten, ten-thirty. Means he'd been open for an hour and a half and not even a phone call. Marge, the old bat, was probably halfway through her first little flask of potato vodka by now. Mickey checked his watch. Ten thirty, on the nose. Daytime isn't his main business hours anyway, so what's the big deal? The glass wasn't going to empty itself. The bourbon went down with that old, familiar heat, then cooled down, spreading the dullness through his stomach and into his aching hands. Damn arthritis made it hurt to hold the glass, to hold his Lucky Strike, to hold a sandwich, to hold a razor.

Mickey always said getting old was load of crap. You look like hell and you feel even worse. On a good day, you wake up feeling like a kicked dog. Other days, you just don't even get out of bed 'til Marge has got the java on. Today was one of those good days, one of the boot to the dog ribs days.

Mickey'd never been any kind of dandy, but even he could see that damn-near forty years of knuckles to the nose and bourbon to brain had left his face looking like a fishnet full of old shoe leather and his hands more twisted up than two Studebakers in a head-on collision. Mickey wasn't even that old, he was just aged. He looked at his watch again, but it didn't make him any less mad about the lack of business. Even though most of Mickey's money came in through his moonlighting, he was still riled up that nobody needed a private dick today. Where was all the lousy husbands and corrupt politicians in this damn town? A couple hundred thousand people and not a suspicious wife among them. Just plain despicable.

"Marge!" he yelled through his office door. No answer.

"Margey!" He tried again, a little louder the second time.

Nothing. He could see her just sitting there, back to the big office window, reading some knitting rag. The lady was a crap secretary, half-deaf, and always drinking on the job, but her price was right. Mickey had let the old broad, damn, she must been seventy by now, rent out a room in the building in exchange for being his assistant. Mickey had not ever, not even once, been able to read her chicken scratch notes, and her filing system was hieroglyphics to him, but she brewed coffee that could crush a hangover with a whiff alone, and she was always making cookies or pies for him. Not quite a mom, but not quite anything else.

"Damn it, Marjorie," he mumbled, then looked at his phone. How did you even work that thing? Mickey had tried to figure it out so many times and had never gotten it right. He had been able to assemble his Enfield rifle blindfolded in seconds during the big war and taught himself how to rebuild an engine, but he never got a clue on how to make an out-going call. What really irked him was that Marge, the woman who couldn't even remember to seal envelopes before they hit the mailbox, she could play the phones like grand pianos. Even on a dog morning, Mickey didn't even want to touch the damn contraption, it was just taking up valuable desk space. He hadn't cleaned up in a while, so the space was at a premium.

He had to have his paper, and he always had a place for his tumbler, but everything else looked like a bomb went off in an office supply closet. He fumbled around the mess, tossing papers and files aside, finally locating the last nub of a pencil under his Post. The two inch stub slipped from his own stumpy fingers, and he was almost afraid he wouldn't even be able to pick it up. Sometimes his fingers couldn't even close, the damn arthritis hurt that bad. One last try and it was in his hand then out just as fast, flung across his office and banging off the window right behind Marge's head. The old bird jumped in her chair, then turned to look at the small pile of pens and pencils that had started stacking up at the base of the window since she had last cleaned his office. She smiled and shook her head, knowing that Mickey still hadn't figured out the phone. She got up and poked her head in the door marked Malloy Investigations.

"What can I do for you, Mister Malloy?" It always bothered him when she called him 'mister'. He'd lived with Marge for almost six years now, and had known her since he got back from France in '19. Over twenty years now, almost twenty one. He'd met her at her son's funeral. They'd fought together, and Mickey had held him as he died, just as he had held her as she cried. That funeral was the only time, the only three times, gunshots had made Mickey flinch. Not in the trenches, not over the top, not even deep in that damn castle in Germany when he was with the Office. Not even a blink 'til he heard that final salute. The worst part was that he couldn't even tell Marge what her son had given his life trying to do, couldn't tell anyone. The two of them had joined a top secret British commando unit, and Mickey wasn't even allowed to talk about what they had done even two decades later. Mickey and a lot of other young men had given all of themselves to that war, and now they weren't left with anything for it but the rumbling over the horizon of it all starting again. The Post was all about the speculation, and Roosevelt, the coot, was all about pushing Germany. 'Paris Falls to German Siege!' screamed one headline, while below the fold they ran another of those vigilante stories: 'Billy Club Bastard Breaks the Back of Brook Street Gang!'. Marge saw him glancing at the headline.

"Shame on those Post writers! Such filth on the front page, where anyone could see it." She shook her head and tsk- tsked like the old dame she was.

"I thought it had a nice ring to it..." Mickey mumbled, folding over the paper and trying to remember why he needed her in the first place. He checked his usual requests: his coffee was full, he had his paper and his Lucky Strikes, and his shirt didn't have any especially bad stains or wrinkles. What else would he need her for?

"Oh yeah, Margey, did that check from Cross ever go through?"

"They always do, Mister Malloy, but I can phone the bank if you'd like."

"No, that's fine. He hasn't called yet today, has he?"

"Who, Mister Cross?"

"Yeah, Mister Cross."

"Oh, no Mister Malloy, not yet. I just don't know why he does every day. I don't mean to pry, but you haven't been with the police in seven years. Why does the president of the Police Officers' Union need to talk to you every day?" Marge wasn't usually one for questions, and it made Mickey edgy.

"We were old drinking buddies, Margey. That's why he gets me to consult for him. He knows I got a bum rap." Marge raised an eyebrow. Bum rap isn't the right word for beating a rapist paralyzed, but it's the best word Mickey had. Everyone knew the Lohmann boy had done it. A real sicko. He just had a fast-talking snake-tongued son-of-a-bitch lawyer and a daddy with a gator-skin wallet and six hundred acres of tobacco fields. Not saying it was right what happened to the kid, but it sure as hell wasn't wrong. Luckily the little sicko swung on him first, the only leverage Mickey had to make sure he didn't get locked up like the kid would've been. Cross was the chief who'd had to take his badge. They'd never been drinking buddies, but now that they were both off the force, Cross finally saw Mickey's usefulness.

"I was under the impression that Mister Cross was the one who gave you your bum rap." she said, obviously still not meaning to pry.

"Well he was the chief, he did what he had to do. Can't blame him for it, he could've done a lot worse by me." He'd done good by Mickey enough since then. Bob Cross, the old battleaxe. A merchant marine officer while Mick was hip-deep in trench mud, they'd never gotten along when they found themselves on the force after the war. Mickey had played too hard and loose and fast with the law for Cross' liking, but he could never argue with Mick's results. Not 'til the Lohmann kid got hurt. He just had that look on his face, that entitled, invincible look that ground Mickey's gears. The kid had raped three girls, and had put thirty stitches into the scalp of the third, and he just had this look screaming 'Try me!' at Mickey. And try him Mickey did.


If you like Daniel's work, check out his website at www.UnusualOccurrences.com

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Broke the kid's neck with a bad fall in the interrogation room. Broke Mickey's hands for the last time with the kid's smug face. Mick had thrown enough punches in his life that he couldn't blame anything else for the arthritis tearing at his hands from the inside-out. The kid's pop, Lyle Lohmann, the tobacco baron of central Florida, had made sure Mickey was done on the force. Cross had had to fold and drop Mickey: Lohmann was influential and a boy would never walk again, those were the facts. Lohmann sure as hell tried to do more to Mick, but Cross let him know that everything the boy had done would've come out for the perusal of John Q. Public, so Lohmann left it at that: Mickey in the gutter and his boy using a bedpan for the rest of his days.

“If you say so, Mister Malloy,” Marge said, not quite believing Mickey'd forgive Cross that easy if that's all there was to it. It hadn't even been close to that easy. “Anything else you need?”

“Thanks, Margey, but no. Just man the phones for me.” Mickey watched at Marge let herself out of the cluttered office.
“You should open a window,” she said through the closing door. “It's getting a bit ripe in this office.” Mickey held his breath as the door swung closed. Files and maps and old photos were stacked haphazardly on every flat surface in the room. He was always afraid that too much breeze from the door would be all the excuse they needed to collapse all over his floor, and Mickey knew, even though he'd never admit it, that he'd never be able to let Marge crawl around on the floor and clean it all up, and he'd end up doing it. He let out a sigh of relief as the door clicked shut, none of the mountains of evidence and intelligence shifting an inch.

He looked around his office. Nothing to look at but closed and abandoned cases. He checked his watch again. Ten forty-five. Damn it was going to be a long day. His bottle of bourbon was under his desk where he always kept it: it was cheap, a plain glass bottle with a white label that simply said 'Bourbon', no brand name or nothing. Nobody wanted to take credit for brewing that cheap crap. He could still taste that last slug sticking to the inside of his teeth. The sun leaked through his blinds. It was hot for June. A fly landed on the lip of his glass. It was going to be a long, long day. He unfolded the Post.

“Billy Club Bastard...” he whispered, smirking. Eighth or ninth article about the Bastard this month. The Herald had been the first to write about the Bastard, but the Post came up with the name and people went nuts for it, so it stuck. Folks were sick of hearing about Europe burning itself down, so these stories of some masked vigilante knocking the teeth out of hoodlums drove 'em wild, they couldn't get enough of it.

Mickey read through the article, smiling by the time he reached the end. Finally those Post idiots got something right. Half the Bastard stories were made up and the rest were usually so sensationalized that you couldn't tell up from red by the end, but this one got a few things right.

The stories' intros always started the same way; a mysterious man, dressed head to toe in black, assaults several accused but unconvicted lowlifes with a club, fires twelve shots into the wall, and disappears into the night. Reports on the attackers appearance vary from five-six, one-fifty to six-eight, three hundred. This reporter gets it's pretty right. The Bastard, he says, stands about six foot with a big gut adding up to about two hundred thirty pounds. The Brook Streeters able to give a description just remember his huge, unrelenting gloved fists and his merciless slate gay eyes, glaring out from under a football-style leather helmet. The specifics of last night's attack are where these yellow journalists usually start getting crazy with their details, so Mickey read on to check for accuracy. This reporter says the Bastard got into the Brook Street Gang's hideout through the sewer. Mickey knew that part was right. Just ask the pair of stinking steel-toe boots Mickey had wrapped up in butcher's paper and stashed under an old coat in the corner of his office, the source of the ripeness Marge had gotten a nose-full of her way out. The Post said that the Bastard had fought his way through six men to get into the hideout, pummeling each one within an inch of his life.

The old billy club, just an oak chair leg sanded down, hanging in Mickey's closet by a sweaty leather strap, had six fresh gouges in it to testify to that. Another two were knocked out with a single punch from the Bastard. Blood was still drying into the pouches of powdered lead sewn into the knuckles of Mickey's sap gloves. The Bastard then pistol-whipped the Brook Street boss and tied him up. Mickey's revolvers still stank of gunpowder. The Bastard's signature was written on the wall, traced around the gangster's head. Twelve shots for the twelve jury members those punks would never get to see.

A dozen empty brass casings rattled around in Mickey's wastebasket. One thug had enough time to yell out 'That Billy Club Bastard's here!' before the old chair leg thumped him.

Sweet dreams. Mickey Malone didn't mind the name. He'd been called a lot worse in his day.

The Brook Street thugs would live to tell that tale of that Bastard, and Mickey would cash another check from the union. A couple weeks back, some of those boys beat up a retired cop and roughed up his gal. The cops couldn't get a warrant on the punks, and the whole case fell through. That's where Mickey came in. Cross would call, give a name and address, and Mickey would be there. It may not be just on paper, but to some, it felt like justice. 'Course the bulls had no leads on who this Bastard was, but that was just because he was their Bastard. When the law can't get you justice, some Bastard will be there for you.
Mickey looked over the names of the Brook Streeters.

Johnny Boon, typical low-life: broken nose, shattered collar bone. Calvin Carter, muscle but no brains: concussion, split scalp, eight stitches. Bill French, driver, somehow familiar: shattered cheekbone, dislocated jaw. Sammy Flowers, the boss: concussion, partial hearing loss, detached retina. Caleb Green, bookie: broken wrist, dislocated shoulder... Wait! Mickey skipped a line back. Bill French? He knew the guy sounded familiar. The fence shouldn't have been there, he was no Brook Streeter. In fact, Mickey remembered, Bill French couldn't be anywhere.

The man was a serious mover, running anything you needed fast and illegally anywhere between Ohio and the Keys.

Mickey had even used him on a couple occasions a few years back, when he didn't have the right hardware to close a case.

Yeah, Bill was a good driver, but not good enough to avoid time himself: got himself wrapped up in a gun-running sting about two weeks back, up north in Memphis. Mickey remembered hearing about it while flapping gums with one of his out-of-state P.I. Colleagues over a beer or ten. Bill was a bigger name than he was a man: here in Tampa, Bill was one of those guys damn near everybody on the wrong side of the tracks had heard of but nobody knew. He would only pull through town long enough to drop off or pick up whatever he could get a buck for, then rolled on. And since Mickey knew for a fact that Bill French was locked up in Tennessee, damn near any low-life could use the name down here. French was a reputation criminal with a name but no face here. All you'd need is a set of stainless steel balls to become Tampa's Bill French, and that name could take you places. Mickey was one of the few who knew who and where French actually was, and French definitely was not the man Mickey had beaten to a pulp last night. Who was he? Who'd risk that deception to get in with a bunch of low-life tequila runners like the Brook Streeters? Brook Street were low-level, but they had connections across the Gulf. They were also ornery sons of bitches, so if they found out about this imposter, the beating the Bastard gave him would seem like a blessing.

Mickey folded up his paper and pushed his chair back, kicking over his bourbon bottle like he always did, making a godawful racket. Marge didn't even look up from her magazine. He got up and threw on his trench coat and his dusty old fedora, then walked out. Loose ends weren't Mickey's style, and something like one crook using a dead one's name just didn't hold water. Either the bulls got it wrong, or the Post did. The Post never was too concerned about the facts getting in the way of a good read, but they'd always gotten the names of the Bastard's punching bags right before.

The one thing Mickey knew for sure was that there wasn't any Bill French 'cuffed up at the hospital. If it wasn't the paper's mistake, the cops either hadn't put the math together, or they had lied to the paper. Both possibilities were worth checking out. Had to hit the pavement before the paper or the police figured out their mistake if he was going to make sure everything was on the up and up. Besides, his office smelled like crap, and he needed to pound leather somewhere else for a while.

“I'm headed to Saint Bart's, Marge,” he said over his shoulder on the way out the office. Saint Bart's is where the bulls took all the lowlifes they had to scrape off the floor. It wasn't closer or nicer, the beds just had better rails to handcuff prisoners to. Mickey had been there dozens of times in his years on the force, it was like a second police station to him.

None of his resistant arrests over got just a black eye, they all always ended up here, as had Mickey a few times. His nose had been broken and re-broken 'til it looked like a grilled chicken breast stapled to his face. One thug even managed to tag him with a straight razor, etching a trench deep into his right cheek. Add that to a cigar burn on his left temple and barbed wire scars from the war across his forehead and eyebrow, plus a puffy red nose with forty years of bourbon dyeing it, you end up with one one ugly mug. Mickey the Mug they used to call him around the station.

The city air was hot, hot like it was breathing down Mickey's neck as soon as he hit the street. Tampa was always hot, but it always felt like it was a little hotter than it was the day before. Even with the brackish breeze off the bay, you couldn't beat back that sun. Mickey didn't even try anymore.

It took him a lot less work to just be a fat, sweaty private eye, and at the end of the day, he still had got just as much done.

Mickey pulled his fedora a little lower over his eyes and patted down his pockets, finding his half-crushed soft pack of Lucky Strikes and some matches. Tampa was different these days.

These were wild days, with everyone just waiting for us to get tangled up in the war in Europe again. Paris taken by the hun.

Mickey shook his head. He'd fought too long and too hard for the damn krauts to just walk into France, but this wasn't his fight anymore. He was a broken old man, falling apart worse every day.

Mickey's arthritic hand ached and trembled just putting the cigarette in his mouth. The three remaining matches rattled in their box. His fingers just seemed as thick as sausages whenever he tried to fiddle with the damn things. The box finally slip open, dumping the last three wooden matches into the gutter.

“Can't afford to smoke 'em anyways,” Mickey muttered, then took the cigarette from his mouth and slid it back into his pack. He dropped the pack back into his pocket, flexing his sore hands. Mickey walked down the alley between his building and the next building over, a bail bond office. The whole block was built on illegal activity, though nobody here was a criminal. You had his P.I. Office, the bail bondsman, and a couple low-rent lawyers. All industries fueled by crime, but not a crook among 'em. Mickey's car was out back of his two story building.
Mickey and Marge lived in separate apartments on the first floor, closed off from the front stairs that led to the waiting room and Mickey's office. The only way to get from his apartment to his office was to walk out back and around the front to the stairs, which was part of the reason Mickey passed out at his desk so often. The other part was the cheap bourbon, but it was mostly the walk. His old joints groaned all the way down the alley, and the dull pounding in his forehead groaned back at them. Mick pulled the brim of his hat down against the sun, then turned the corner and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his lady, sitting and shining in the sunlight.

“Ah, Florence, I missed you baby.” Mickey didn't spoil himself with too much, but Florence was the one thing he loved to throw money at. She was gorgeous, her lines perfect and with curves in all the right places. Mickey never felt more alive than when he was inside her. Yes sir, Cadillac knew how to make a car. Mick ran his gnarled hand down the chrome trim, all the way from the grille to the door handle, then swung open the driver's door. She spent the last of Mick's bolita heater on some whitewall tires, and he couldn't have loved her more for it. Mickey tossed his hat onto the passenger side of the leather bench seat, then slid into the car. He'd carried it so long, he could even feel the barrel of his .38 dig into his ribs from his cross-draw holster when he sat anymore. Mickey looked over his lady: he could never imagine in his greatest dreams a more amazing piece of machinery than the '40 La Salle. The sky reflected perfectly off the mirror-smooth burgundy hood. He turned the key and just sat back and listened to her purr. He did this the first time her eased into her every day. Just took a minute to appreciate her before subjecting her to the greasy streets of downtown Tampa. He shifted her into gear, then took her down the alley, onto the street.

Saint Bart's was down in West Tampa, about a twenty minute drive from Mickey's place in the middle of Ybor City.

Twenty minutes to the hospital, and fifteen 'til everything stopped stinking of cigars. Somebody once told Mickey that they rolled five hundred million cigars a year in Tampa. Mick couldn't stand the things. His pop had smoked five or six a day for sixty years before the mouth cancer got him. Mickey didn't have any trouble with cigarettes, but even a single puff of cigar smoke made him gag to this day. His dad had smoked 'em all day, and his mother, who was significantly more sober in the daylight than his father, worked as a roller in the factory 'til she ran out on the old man with her foreman. That's what women did to the Malloy men, Mickey'd found, they walked out on 'em. The only ladies left in Mick's life were Marge and Florence, and that's how he liked it.
The damn sun was so bright. Tampa never had a single cloud in the sky 'til the three-on-the-dot lightning storm that lasted twenty-five minutes every afternoon. Mickey couldn't stand the sunlight. Sometimes you just want to walk through the streets with clouds graying the sky and rain holding all the road dust down. The La Salle was humming along. Not too many other cars out that days. Just a few Buicks and a Chrysler or two. Mickey was almost disappointed about how quick the drive was as he passed out the Cass Street Bridge.

Within a couple minutes, Saint Bart's loomed on his right.

Mickey parked on the street, making sure and double-checking that his windows were all the way up and the doors locked.

Mick let himself into the familiar lobby. It took just a buck at the front desk to get a room number for Bill French, or whoever he was, and Mickey made his way down the hall. It would've been easy enough to just look for the rooms guarded by uniforms, but Mickey was too old to creep around when he didn't have to. He'd learned, after his hands got too mangled to grab a shirt collar or throw an unassisted punch, that a greenback worked as easy as anything else for hearing what you want. The long hallway was empty, lazy and bored in the middle of a summer day. Even the bugs slowed down in the midday Tampa heat, just wheeling lazy circles around the melted-butterscotch stink of hanging flypaper. Too lazy to even land and get stuck.

Mickey turned the corner and spotted the uniform guarding the nine Brook Streeters. It was Harris, a career cop who had come up with Mickey. Mick almost sighed with relief, his wallet wasn't thick enough to bribe too many more people. Harris had been around for as long as Mick could remember, must've been just a year or two off retirement, so he got all the cushy jobs around the station. Today, the old cop was tasked with chatting up pretty nurses and eating hospital food, which he was somehow managing to do all at once, leaning his bulk against the counter at the nurses' station, back to the entrance. The cute blond nurse noticed Mickey amble up before Harris did and politely excused herself as Mick ambled over.

“Who let an old beef-eater like you out of the station house?” Mickey laughed, clapping the old cop on the shoulder.
“If you're out here, who's going to fall asleep in the evidence room?”

“Mickey the Mug, you old son of a gun, did you shave with bourbon today or just brush your teeth with it?” Harris was never one to let opportunity for a ribbing slip by.

“Ah, you know how it is, got to the back of the pantry and that's all there was left for breakfast.” “I don't think it counts when that's all you started with, Mickey. What brings you down here? Feel like taking a tour of some shit-canned punks who got what was coming?” “You got it. Heard one of these gentlemen was one of the boys I got hired to look into for a adultery case,” Mickey lied.

“You may have been a good cop, Mick, but you're a shit liar,” Harris called him out. “Who are you looking for?” Mickey had to think fast to make up a more believable lie. He knew his reputation around the station wasn't for interviews and asking nicely when he was working.

“Name's French. The crook owes me a bundle off the bolito rack. Took to staying indoors once he heard I meant to collect.”

“I knew it had to be something like that. Yeah, right in here, last bed on the right, by the window. You can talk to him soon as the doc's done in there. Be quick though, Mick, and don't hurt him any more than the Bastard did, got some suits from Tallahassee coming down to see these boys.”

Mickey stopped in his tracks. “What does Tallahassee want with these guys?” he asked.

“Couldn't tell ya, Mick. Probably a interstate boot- legging rap or something. You just got to beat it before Tallahassee gets here.”

“Will do, Harris. I owe you a beer.”

“A cold one this time, Mickey.”

“Yeah, yeah.” A beer was Mickey's favored currency to the guys who remembered him off the force. Some times he was less prepared than others to follow that deal up. Harris had knocked back plenty of half-drank, all-flat beers courtesy of Mickey over the years. Sometimes Mickey's tab couldn't fit an all-new fresh beer by the end of the night, so he had to make do. He always paid his debts, just sometimes not the way the collector thought they'd get it. Harris unlocked the door to the small secure ward.

“Here's the doc now,” Harris held the door for a tall man, thick brown hair with a plastic sheen, dressed in white scrubs with a paper mask over his nose and mouth. He carried a half-empty glass pitcher of water in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “How's Brook Street holding up after taking a whallop from the Bastard, Doc?”

“They'll all be back on their feet in a month or two,” the doctor's blue eyes examined Harris, from his scuffed shoes to the creaking belt barely holding up his navy blue slacks, all the way up to his sweaty mustache and puffy forehead. The doctor set his clipboard on the desk at the nurse station Harris was leaning on, followed by the pitcher of water.

“Better than the goons deserve,” Harris replied, shifting uncomfortably under the doctor's glare.

“These men are victims of that vigilante, some deviant who gets excitement from hurting poor people who don't have the police looking out for them,” the doctor snapped. Mickey had to step in.

“Sorry doc, I didn't quite catch your name,” Mickey said, holding out his gnarled hand for the masked doctor to shake. The doctor turned on his heel and walked away, removing his mask as he left down the hall.

“I didn't give it.” He spoke over his shoulder to Mick and Harris, a grin across his face so wide that it reminded him of the Ringling clowns that gave him nightmares as a kid every time the circus paraded through town.

“Sheesh, that's the same thing I call bedside manner with the wife. The cold shoulder.” Harris looked to see if Mickey was laughing, but his old friend was just watching the doctor with the creepy smile walk away. “Anyway, good luck collecting from French,” he said, patting Mickey on the shoulder, “I doubt he's gonna have it for a while. He'll be lucky if he even remembers your face, the Bastard clocked him pretty good.”

“I got a tough mug to forget,” Mickey mumbled, his small smirk twisting his scarred shoe-leather face. Harris chuckled, patted him on the back, then locked him in the ward.

Mickey had never had the chance to come back after and meet one of the crooks that he'd put down as the Bastard.
He hoped the bandana he used to cover his face during his attacks was as effective at concealing his identity as he thought it was. The small ward had twelve beds, nine filled. Each was closed off by small walls of white curtains, concealing the man inside. He made his way to the last bed, next to the barred windows. Mickey reached for the curtain, then stopped. He grimaced in pain as he stretched out his hands, letting out a low groan as he forced them into the wrecking balls he called fists.

Couldn't let this punk cause a ruckus, regardless of who he was. With his sluggers rolled up and ready for a row, he flipped aside the curtain and slipped into the small area at the foot of the handcuffed man's bed. He was laid out on his back, sheet up to his waist as white as the bandages on his head. A small table with a glass of water looked just out of his reach.

The thug's face looked like an eggplant about six week too ripe, just a mush of purple lumps tied up in a bandage around his jaw. His left eye was swollen shut around his broken cheekbone. A thick white bandage held his dislocated jaw immobile, while a 'cuff and a set of manacles did the same for his left wrist and both ankles. Mickey cautiously let one of his already screamingly painful fists fall open, sighing with relief, his heart pounding in his calloused palm. Both his hands hurt like the devil, but he had to be ready for anything, and since it took fifteen seconds to ball up his fists for battle, Mickey didn't dare unclench his good hand. Mickey coughed gently, intentionally, into his fist. The man stirred and jumped up in his bed, pulling all the slack out of his chains. He tried to yell, then moaned from the crash of pain caused by moving his sore jaw.

“Hoo-ur-oo?” he tried to ask through his teeth.

“Well there, Mister French, I was about to ask you the same thing,” Mickey replied, rubbing the thick knuckles on his punching hand. “You see, I knew old Billy French, and you're no French. He knows me. Knows how I usually ask low-lifes questions. Bill French would've spilled the beans to me already.” The injured man eyeballed Mickey's massive mitt like a like a man in the electric chair watched the switch.
“Wah-wee than-duhs,” he tried to mumble through his tied-shut jaw. “Fwum meh-fis.” “I cannot understand a damn word you are saying. You write?” The bandaged man feebly nodded. Mickey fished around in his deep pocket 'til he found his pen and notepad. He held them up for the man to see, then tossed them onto his chest.

“Who are you? Where are you from and why're you using Bill French's name?” Mickey watched the man try to scratch out all his answers on the tiny notepad. Looked like he was writing a damn essay. Mickey knew he was on borrowed time 'til whatever bigwigs from the capitol got to the hospital.

“God damn it, we'll just go one question at a time,” he said, impatiently snatching the pad from the man's hands.

“So 'wah-wee than-duhs' is broke-jaw for Wally Sanders from Memphis.” The bandaged man nodded once.

“Let's see if I can fill in the blanks, 'cause I don't have time for you to carve it all into marble. You meet French on a job?” Sanders shook his head. “In jail then,” a nod, “His celly?” Another nod. Mickey was getting somewhere.

“So he gets scooped up a couple weeks back, and already had a job in Tampa set up?” Wally nodded again, wincing from nodding a little too hard. “So he didn't want to lose the cash?” Sanders slowly shook his head. “He promised you all the cash to take his place?” Wally nodded again.

Mickey began thinking out loud.

“What would a gun-for-hire like French want so bad he'd give up all the cash? His woman, his kid?” Mickey wasn't a believer in honor among thieves, and was genuinely stumped as soon as Sanders told him he'd give up all the money just to get the job done. Sanders shook his head, then slowly drew his hand across his throat. “Whoever he was working for was gonna off him?” Another nod, slow and deliberate. Sander's one eye that wasn't swollen shut never left Mickey's gaze.

“What were you supposed to do?”

“Boat..” he groaned.

“A boat?” Mickey knew the Brook Street Gang was notorious notorious for smuggling untaxed tequila and tobacco from Mexico. “Somebody need something brought over here?” Sanders shook his head, then point emphatically at the ground. “They needed something brought to Mexico...” Mickey scratched his stubbly chin.

“Did you get the boat lined up?” Nod. Mickey regretted nailing the guy in the jaw with the chair leg now.

This would've been so much faster if he could talk.

“Here, write it down. Name of the boat, when and where.” Mickey gave sanders the notepad and pencil back.

The old P.I. Shook his head as he watched the younger man laboriously scrawl out the words. Damn schools up in Memphis didn't teach a nickel's worth of handwriting anymore.

Mickey barely made out 'Guinea Wanderer at Pier Twelve, midnight' from Sanders' chicken scratch when he took the pad back. There was a knock at the door of the ward, and Harris stuck his head in.
“Hey Mick, time to go, Tallahassee's about to get here.”

“I just need another second here,” Mickey called out.

He turned back to Sanders. “You know that unless I find the guy you're working for, you're probably as dead as the real Bill French will be. Gimme a name.” Mickey shoved the notepad into Sanders' hand again. He heard Harris' feet scuffing the tile as he made his way down the ward to drag Mickey out.

“Hurry.” Sanders scribbled out two words before Mickey grabbed the pad. Harris ripped open the curtains.

“Mick, if they catch your ugly ass in here, I'll be neck deep in it. Come on!” Harris grabbed Mickey by the collar of his coat.

“Wade!” Sanders tried to yell, but ended up yelping and grabbing his throbbing jaw. Tears sprung up in his good eye.

“Wah-duh. Peas.” Harris pushed Mickey out of the way, grabbed the glass of water and shoved it into Sanders' free hand.

“There, now shut your trap about all of this when the guys from Tallahassee get here.” Harris grabbed Mickey by the sleeve and began pulling him to the door. “Time to go, I said.” Mickey almost tripped over his own feet trying to read what the injured man had scratched out on his notebook. Was that an 's'? How was he supposed to read this gibberish? It looked like it said 'Smiling Man', and that wasn't even a name...

A crash of shattering glass popped Mickey back to reality. The cup Harris had handed Sanders lay broken on the floor in a puddle of warm water. Mickey wrenched his sleeve out of Harris' grasp and bolted to Sanders' bed.

The beaten man's one good eye was rolled back in his head, and one last gurgle of drool squirmed down Sanders' chin like a translucent slug as Mickey ripped the curtain aside. He was dead.
“Holy shit Mick, what the hell did you do to him?” Harris yelled, panicking.

“Not me, it must've been...” Mickey recalled the ghastly grin on the doctor carrying the glass pitcher who had left the ward just as Mickey arrived. “The Smiling Man!” Mickey almost whispered.

“The what, who?” Harris asked.

“Harris, who was that doctor that was just in here?” The fat old cop stopped in his tracks, ghost pale except for his red nose and cheeks.

“I don't know, Mick, I just let him in.”

“He poisoned him, dump out that pitcher before anybody else takes a sip.” Now it was Mickey's turn to grab Harris by the sleeve and drag him out of the ward. Mickey just about kicked the ward door open as he rushed to dump out the deadly contents of the water pitcher. He could smell the roasted almonds of cyanide from the door of the ward. As he reached one of his arthritic paws to the glass handle, Harris stopped him.

“Don't even touch it, Mick. You weren't even here. I'll take the heat when Tallahassee gets here, but you, just get moving.”

“No, this was me, I already got a bum rap. Let them run me around, you still got your old lady, your pension.” Mickey knew Harris could lose everything over this.

“Tell you what, Mick. You always been bad news, but you're a good guy. Just get out of here and never let me see your ugly mug again, and then we'll be square.”

“Thanks,” Mickey mumbled. He'd never left somebody to take the fall for him, but then again, he hadn't had anybody willing to do it since the war ended. He didn't know whether he felt worse about leaving Harris, or that he was losing one of the last people who thought of him as a friend. “I owe you another one.”

“Yeah, yeah. And your ugly mug is gonna pay up by staying the hell away from me.” Harris waved Mickey off, anxiously looking down the long hallway for any indication that the men from Tallahassee were on their way.

Mickey pulled his fedora low over his eyes, and started off the service exit of the hospital, around the back, bay-side.
Whatever Sanders, French, had been hired to get to Mexico, it had to be big. Big enough to kill for. And whoever the Smiling Man was, he was serious enough to do the deed himself. In broad daylight. In front of the police. The hell of it was, Mickey could barely remember the guy: tall, blue eyes, brown hair, but that damn smile, even over his shoulder. That smile gave Mickey the goosebumps.

Leather on linoleum brought Mickey's focus back to the hallway. Three suits just turned the corner, going down to the ward that Wally Sanders lay poisoned in. Mick could tell in a glance they were out of town, even further than Tallahassee.

Every one of their steps stank of feds, G-men. What could Hoover's boys know about this? The men stared daggers at Mick, but he did his damnedest to just lock eyes with the tile, bury his hands in his pockets, and keep on walking 'til the three were past. Something about the one in the lead had struck Mick as familiar, but he couldn't place it.

The fed on point, an older guy, maybe a couple years light on Mick and fifty pounds skinnier, didn't even register that he saw Mickey, but Mick knew the eyes. In just a glance, the man had eyeballed him, and probably knew everything he needed to know if he decided he had to take Mickey out then and there. Mickey could feel those eyes analyzing his every fighting scar, from his razor nick and his crooked nose to his arthritis-wracked hands. Probably even knew which armpit Mick's .38 was holstered under, and which boot he kept his switchblade in, just from his walk. Mickey knew those kind of eyes: he'd sure as hell seen 'em in the mirror enough. Mick could do the same, and did a quick once-over on the man as they passed in the hallway. The old fed walked with a bit of a limp, and Mick was sure he was old enough to have seen war.

Limp didn't mean the guy couldn't move when he needed to, and Mick could sense coiled steel wound up in the thin, gray- haired man. His face was emotionless and framed by a military crew-cut. He wore charcoal gray slacks, no hat or jacket, just black suspenders over a white shirt. No tie: not your usual fed.

He carried his automatic on his hip, cowboy-style in a leather quick-draw holster. Mickey knew that if anything went down right then that that old guy would be his biggest threat, even if the two mooks flanking him looked as solid as draft horses and twice as big.

Even for G-men, who all looked the same anyway, those two were damn near indistinguishable. Both in those same cheap gray suits with the limp brown ties and the bulge of a Colt Detective Special under their coats; the same part in their thick brown hair. Could've been twins. Mick could tell they were carpet-baggers: nobody with any sense of Tampa would wear wool suits like that out of the house between April and October. Probably sweating buckets. Mick would've put newspaper down on his leather before he let either one of them ride in Florence. Mickey got a hoof on and made his way out the back door of the hospital before the G-men discovered Sanders' body and turned around with some questions for him.

Mickey slammed the service door open. Damn that sun was hot. The heavy door swung shut behind him, and Mickey made his way around front to Florence. The feds sure as hell weren't going to get anything new out of Sanders, and the Smiling Man was long gone. Mickey certainly didn't want to tell the three G-men why he was at the hospital in the first place, so the ward was a dead end for them. Mick actually liked moonlighting as the Bastard, but that all depended on keeping it a secret between him and Cross. With no new leads for the feds, that just left Mickey with the intel and the Bastard with the inclination to see this thing through 'til the end.

Whoever the Smiling Man was, he was possessed with a deadly determination to get his cargo out of the country, no matter the cost. The Brook Street Gang had no idea who they were setting up a drop for, they were small time, a group of thugs with the right connections for the Smiling Man. Mick was fairly sure he had saved most of their lives by beating them senseless the night before. If a man could just walk out of a room where he had set up another man to die, the jack-o'- lantern grin never leaving his face, you had to know that more bodies were on their way into the dirt. Florence purred to life and Mickey headed back to his office, heavy thoughts weighing down his mind like rusty anchors. Mickey could already see that bottle of bourbon under his desk. He wasn't haunted, he was just looking for a little time travel. The only thing longer than the Bastard's nights were Mickey's days, and that coming night was going to be particularly long.

The big P.I. Collapsed into his old leather office chair. It was lumpy, creaky, had stitches holding the seat together, and it smelled a bit off. Mickey felt some kind of kinship with the chair. He had been through a lot, just like the chair. He was old, beaten, and tired. His joints ached and his bones creaked.

He had a couple dozens too many L.B.'s on his gut and a couple dozen too few dollars in his wallet, but he could make things happen when he needed to. Mickey was slow get moving, but hard to slow down. He thought of himself like an old boxer, waiting for his second chance, or a knight of the realm, clad in rusty armor, but he was more like a plains buffalo in a trench coat: lumbering, with his head hunched down, horns forward, ready to run down anything that got between him and where he thought he need to go.

Marge was asleep at her desk when he got back from the hospital, but he didn't wake her. He knew she'd wake up the instant the phone rang and be as sharp as she got by the time the receiver was up to her ear. Mickey closed the blinds when he got into the office. The sun, when it wasn't blazing over the roofs across the street, was always reflecting off the windows, straight into his office. Kept it hot as a stinkin' oven in there. Closing the blinds helped, if not with the heat then with Mick's state of mind. Didn't like anybody looking in on him, especially when it came time to unpack his Bastard gear.

It would take a lot of scrubbing on those steel-toes for the Smiling Man not to smell the Bastard a block away, and Mickey was burning daylight.

He pulled back a gulp of his cheap corn bourbon, skipping the glass and going straight for the bottle. A long damn day. He creaked his old bones out of the chair and pushed the old coat off his crusty shit-kickers. Mickey intended to clean those rank boots good enough to eat off of, 'cause he intended to introduce them to few sets of teeth. He looked at the old clock on the wall. Six minutes slow made it about two in the afternoon. Six hours to kill before sundown.

Mickey smirked: a single blade of light lanced through his beat-up blinds and illuminated the amber liquid in his half- empty bourbon bottle. The stuff looked foul in the afternoon, too. Mickey poured it into his dingy tumbler glass, then pulled out his wire brush. This was the kind of stink that would going to take more than just a wet wash cloth. He took half a sip of the booze, then dipped his brush in the glass and began scraping out the treads. Old cheap bourbon: the only thing it was better at scrubbing than shit was brain cells. Hopefully he'd be be done cleaning the boots in time to nap through the afternoon thunderstorm. Damn, it was going to be a long day.

Mickey had been hidden in the rafters of the warehouse at Pier 12 for an hour and a half before anyone else showed up.

His old knees were creaking and groaning harder than the wood shifting in the bay breeze around him. Tampa was a city of contradictions: hot as hell during the daylight, sun beating down like a red hot hammer onto anything dumb enough to get between it and the asphalt anvil. Then, in just a few minutes every afternoon at three, the clouds would boil up out of nowhere and spit thunder and lightning for half an hour, just to prove they could. Then the sun would go down, orange and red and setting the bay aflame, and the city would just get rushed through with the bay salt breezes pushed inland.

Mickey was always careful to say bay salt. He'd smelled the salts breezes from Tampa to Miami to Norfolk and New York City, all the way across the Atlantic to London and France, and Tampa Bay had its own smell. The perfect mix of Gulf water, swamp up-swell, and thunderstorm runoff. Like nowhere else in the world. Mickey took one long deep breath of the reassuring breeze, they pulled his black bandana over his nose and mouth. Had to stay silent. Two sets of headlights shone stuttering through the loose wall slats of the warehouse.

Mickey could hear the rumble of a Ford pickup, and the growl of an early model Buick. Both engines engines shut off and cycled down, then the headlights got killed. Mickey listened, counting six doors opening and shutting, but no voices. These guys were here for business. They had a plan already, and they each knew what to do without direction.

The main door squealed open on its roller track. Four men in large coats stood in the door, their long shadows snaking into the empty building in the dull moonlight. Mickey had been waiting in the darkness for over an hour, his eyes were adjusted and sharp as a dive-bombing owl's. Two men walked in, hats pulled low over their faces, blocking any view they could've had of Mickey, even if they had been able to spot him hidden in the spider-web of splintery joints and rafters.

They both reached inside their coats and pulled a couple Chicago typewriters. Tommy guns, trench sweepers. Mickey'd seen men tore apart by the heavy-duty machine guns. The forty-five caliber guns were fitted with Maxim suppressors, the most successful silencers ever made for the Thompson. They couldn't keep the powerful guns completely quiet, they had too many machined parts slamming together, but it kept their barks a little softer without dulling their bites. The two men scanned the warehouse, checking behind the few crates left inside with military precision. A third man, hands behind his back, watched from the door. When he saw his two point men finish clearing the room, he took one hand from behind his back and gestured the rest of his crew, ordering them to enter.

Four more men entering, carrying two large plank crates in pairs. Was this the cargo worth killing for? The things must've weighed a ton, he could see the men sweating under the strain. The lone man in the doorway pointed to the middle of the floor. The first crate settled gently onto the dusty floor where he had indicated. The second pair of men lined up alongside, gingerly lowering the heavy crate to the concrete floor. One of the men suddenly yelped like a bird tagged with a baseball bat. The rope handle holding the heavy crate aloft gave way with a loud snap, dropping the heavy crate to the floor with a crash. Even before the crate slammed down, all seven men in the room had dove to the floor, hands over their heads like somebody had yelled 'Incoming!'. Mickey held onto his rafter as tight as he could, and threw his other arm across his face instinctively.

The men lay still for a second, and Mickey peeked over his sleeve. The wooden crate top had popped off and fallen to the floor. Four smaller boxes made of dull metal sat inside, held still with packing straw. Mickey squinted, there was some numbers stamped into the lids of the containers. '235-U' maybe? He couldn't tell for sure. From here they look like they were thick lead; no wonder the crates were so damn heavy. The man who had been supervising was the first back to his feet.

“Dummkopf! Are you trying to kill us all?” he yelled.

Was that kraut? The guy was a hun! The yelling killer was across the room in an instant, his hand ominously slithering inside his coat. Grabbing his irons, Mickey thought. His own sap gloved hand wrapped around one of his Webley-Fosbery's. He silently worked the action back, prepared for a fight.

“Bitte, Oberst!” the prone man whimpered.

“No time for apologies,” the standing man said with a heavy German accent. Mickey heard the clack of the racking slide on a silenced pistol, and then thud of a head slapping concrete. A smoking hole in the speaker's jacket corresponded to the bubbling hole in the top of the dead man's skull. Why'd Mickey have to quit his Lucky Strikes that day, of all the goddamn days? All he could think about was lighting up as he watched the dead man's brains get scrambled with a lead whisk. He hadn't seen a man die in twenty years, not since the war. His gun hand trembled.

“Close the doors and clean this up,” the man ordered the other three who had carried the crates. He had calmed down completely from his murderous outburst, the German accent seamlessly replaced by a perfect central Florida drawl.

“The boat will already be waiting. Remember only English or Español from here, they must suspect nothing.” The three men picked up their dead comrade, one holding each arm and the third lifting his ankles. They carried him behind a stack of crates, then began mopping up the small pool of cerebral blood. The leader bent to the floor and lifted the lid of the crate, placing it back on top of the open box. He then took a seat and removed his hat, revealed a thick head of shining brown hair. He sat still, eyes on the floor for a moment, before giving an order over his shoulder to the two men with Tommy guns. “Open the doors, begin signaling the boat, then hide.”

The two men nodded, and opened the two huge load-in doors. They both pulled large flashlights out of the inner pockets of their coats, and began blinking a Morse code message across the dark waves of Tampa Bay. Within seconds, a dim reply blinked back. Mickey didn't quite remember all his dashes and dots, but he knew one thing: it's on.

“They are coming,” the leader said. He turned his head to address his men. The light from the flashlight signal briefly illuminated him: his mouth was contorted into a horrific grin, stretching ear to ear across his face. It was the Smiling Man! He was here, running the show. And a kraut, even. Mikey had talked to him face-to-face and hadn't even smelled a sniff of an accent. He was smart, resourceful, ruthless, good at what he did, and it looked like he really liked doing it. That explains why the feds were at the hospital, they knew the grinning killer was a player in all this, and a Nazi spy on top of it all. “Take your places,” the German infiltrator growled, the smile never leaving his face, even as he spoke.

The two thugs with the Tommy guns melted into the shadows like ink in water, hiding on either side of the large doors. The other three krauts and the Smiling Man stood next to the pair of crates with their mysterious cargo, the 235-U containers, whatever those were. The men waited patiently, hands not straying far from what Mickey's eye trained eyes could tell were expertly concealed pistols under their coats.

A faint lapping of water against a small hull could be heard out over the water. The boat was close. The end of the short dock was only about thirty feet out into the bay, extending directly from the open load-in doors in the back of the warehouse. The Guinea Wanderer materialized out of the darkness beyond the end of the dock.

“Oye!” the Smiling Man called out to the blacked-out boat in Spanish. Didn't sound any less authentic to Mickey than the Cubans he heard bullshitting in the bolito parlors.

“Qué tal?” a voice answered. The Guinea Wanderer pulled up to the dock. It was a small boat, just for day trips into the Gulf, no more than twenty foot. Mickey had been out on a boat that size before; made his stomach churn just to think of that little boat jumping around on those waves.

The Smiling Man began yelling in rapid-fire Spanish, surpassing the pitiful end of Mickey's ability to follow the conversation. The three crate carriers left the Smiling Man's side and walked out onto the dock, catching the thrown mooring lines and securing the small craft to the dock. The captain only had a crew of three, and the four of them hopped off the boat as soon as they were tied up. The four smugglers shook the hands of the Smiling Man's three men, then followed them back to the warehouse.

“Capitán, bienvenidos a Tampa,” the Smiling Man said to the approaching crew. At his cue, his three men dropped to their stomachs on the dock. The four smugglers were standing long enough to get that shocked look of betrayal in their eyes before the two Tommy gun-armed krauts jumped from their hiding spots just inside the door.

Suppressed by their Maxim silencers, the twin Thompsons sounded exactly liked two giant typewriters, their bolts smashing into their breaches each at over ten cycles a second. A flurry of .45-cal lead tore into the four Mexicans, dropping them to the wooden dock instantly. As abruptly as the chattering burst of suppressed gunfire began, the Smiling Man killed it with a mere wave of his hand. He withdrew his silenced pistol from his coat, it looked like a Hi-Power from where Mickey was hiding, and walked over to the dock, where the four smugglers were laid out.

“Can't be too careful,” he whispered, this time with unmistakable Boston accent. His three men who had dropped to the ground pushed themselves up. They silently watched as he plugged another bullet into the head of each of the dead men, his silenced Hi-Power only making noise each time the slide racked back and slammed forward again. This man had killed six people in less than a day. A murderous hun on the loose in his city. This was what Mickey had fought and killed for twenty years ago, to stop men like this. And now, he thought, even with his friends dead and Europe already burned to the ground once before, the damn krauts were at it again, and even worse by all accounts. Made Mickey's blood boil.

The Smiling Man began barking orders in his expertly-disguised New England accent. “Get the cargo aboard, U-703 is waiting for us in Cancun. Pull the cars inside the warehouse, gather the bodies, pick up the casings, burn down the building. We're leaving.” His men sprung into action. Two broke off to muscle the heavy crates onto the small boat, two more pulling the main doors of the warehouse open and walking out front. Mickey heard the Ford truck cough to life, followed by the Buick sedan. The two men drove the cars into the open doors, parking directly below where Mickey was perched. They killed the engines, then hopped out and shut the wide sliding doors behind them. Four smuggler corpses joined the Smiling Man's thug in a pile in the middle of the floor. The Smiling Man watched his men at work, that twisted, petrified grin never even twitching.

By then, the second crate was loaded on the boat. The two Tommy gunners had their weapons in their hands again.

Red cans of gas were pulled off the bed of the truck by the three men who had initially carried the two crates as the three killers watched from the dock. They began pouring gas over the five corpses, the hoods of the cars, the wooden walls of the warehouse. Mickey could smell the fumes from the peak of the ceiling. If he hadn't had his bandana over his nose and mouth, he probably would've started coughing.

“Sorry gentlemen, but this trip's only for three. Thanks for your hard work.” The Smiling Man turned his back and began walking down the dock, prompting his two armed accomplices to bring their Tommy guns to bear on their three compatriots. The three men instantly recognized the betrayal and went for their concealed guns. The machine guns were already chattering though, and hot lead tore straight through cold blood and into the engine blocks of the two cars. They fell dead onto their victims. Three more deaths on the hands of the Smiling Man.
“Light it up,” he said, stepping onto the deck of the small boat. His two gunners stepped forward, hanging their still-smoking machine guns off their backs by the leather straps. Mickey gritted his teeth, drew his second pistol, and readied himself. The two men stepped up to the pile of corpses. One began patting down his pockets, then pulled a pack of matches out. Mickey leaned out over him, aiming down the crooked bridge of his nose. One of the gunners struck a match, the flame flaring to life in a puff of sulfur smoke. Mickey let a long line of spit drip from his snarling lower lip. His saliva dropped the fifteen feet to the match, splatting it out with a sizzle. Mick let go of the rafter, falling into space. The two men looked up in time to see the soles of the Bastard's boots connect with their faces.

The Bastard hit the ground in a tuck, the two Nazi infiltrators crashing to the bloody concrete behind him.

Mickey rolled forward with the fall to come up on both feet, his Webley-Fosbery automatic revolvers roaring a stream of bull's eye shots into the engine of the Smiling Man's stolen boat. Twelve blasts rang out in under two seconds, shredding the boat's diesel engine and emptying both of the Bastard's cylinders. The Smiling Man had dived to the deck of the Guinea Wanderer even as he saw the black-clad Bastard knock his men to the ground and roll.

The masked vigilante holstered his pistols as quick as he could, turning his attention to the machine gun-armed killers he had slammed into the floor. One was already up and coming at him, with the other hot on his heels with his Tommy gun coming to bear. The Bastard swung the notched chair leg like the Babe, aiming to send the first Nazi's head through center field.. Teeth flew in slow motion, and even as the first man went down, the Bastard spun past, bringing the heavy oak club up into the second kraut's trigger hand. The Bastard heard bones crack, but couldn't stop to listen to the sweet club music; his sap gloved right hand lanced out and busted the hun's nose in. The man stumbled back, giving the Bastard time to raise his heavy club over his head, hammering down with all his strength on the man's skull, splitting his scalp wide open in spray of hot pink mist. The man crumpled to the floor. The Bastard spun on his heel in time to see the smiling Man level his Browning Hi-Power at him.

The Billy Club Bastard rolled to his left as the Smiling Man's pistol bucked. Two rounds cut through the air where he had just been standing, slicing into the kraut's own wounded men. He adjusted his aim to the Bastard's new position, but it was too late. The Bastard had heaved his heavy oaken club end over end like a boomerang, straight into the Smiling Man's gun hand. The spinning eight pound chair leg knocked the nine millimeter pistol out of the murderer's grip, sending it tumbling into the dark swirling waters beneath the boat. As he looked up from the rippling water, he saw the Bastard standing before him, modified Thompson to his shoulder.

“Suck on these eggs, ya' kraut son of a bitch!” the Bastard yelled, pulling back on the trigger. Silenced forty-fives spat from the barrel of the machine gun, tearing into the waterline of the of tied-up boat. Water gurgled as it found the dozens of gaping holes blown into the hull of the boat. The boat immediately began listing, sucking in the black baywater like a wino with a free bottle of red. Even as bullets screamed through the air around him, the Smiling Man burst into action, vaulting over the gunwale of the smuggling boat and hitting the dock at full run, charging at the Bastard, smiling all the while.

“Don't think I don't know you!” he roared, his German accent slipping through in his rage. “You are the fat old man from the hospital. You don't know what you've fallen into!” His face didn't even move as he screamed. The Bastard's Thompson ran dry, and he tossed the husk aside.

“I know that my friends didn't die in the trenches just for thugs like you to start it all over again!” the Bastard roared back, charging the attacking hun. The two titans met in the moonlight, on the dock above the blackened night waters of Tampa Bay.

The Bastard went high, his massive leaded fist swinging to pulp that smiling maniac's face, but the lithe kraut was already below and around his punch, burying a fist into the Bastard's gut and follow-up with a high elbow, glancing across the Bastard's black leather football helmet. The vigilante stumbled back, wheezing, but the German snake gave him no time to recover. He attacked again, driving a leather shoe at the Bastard's inner thigh, going for the femoral shock attack. The Bastard knew the move and spun into it, coming around the back with a pounding shot into the small of the Smiling Man's back, staggering the lighter man.

“So this is how it will be, old man?” the Smiling Man asked, chuckling. “I know how to fight with an armed man.” The infiltrator had obviously felt the metal core of the Bastard's cannonball punch. The Smiling Man had taken the hit then laughed in the Bastard's face. That goddamn grin hadn't even quivered since Mickey had seen him in at Saint Bart's. And the only thing Mickey couldn't stand more than a guy with such hateful, entitled, remorseless grin was seeing him get away with whatever gave it to him. That's where the Bastard came in.

The Bastard did what Mickey, as a good man, couldn't do. His gritted teeth behind his black bandana mask. Both of the Bastard's huge fists curled up in front of him, rolled steel pistons ready to hammer the grin off this monster's face. The Smiling Man reached around his back, pulling a long dagger emblazoned with a glowing red swastika. “This is still my fight. This cargo is for the Reich, and no fat American will deny my führer this power.”

The Nazi spy flipped the blade upside down, then motioned the brawling warrior to come at him. The Bastard obliged. Coming first with a left jab, then a right hook, both dodged by the military trained Smiling Man. The Bastard could tell his opponent was practiced, an elite soldier familiar with the art of war. The Smiling Man whipped his dagger back around, missing the Bastard's throat by inches. The vigilante stumbled back, off-balance as the kraut continued his onslaught of slashes and jabs aimed at the Bastard's face. The blade flashed in the dim moonlight, and the Bastard could tell just by the hiss it made as it winged past his ears that it was razor sharp. The Bastard was on the retreat and he was running out of dock. Only the deep waters off the end of Pier 12 lay behind him. The Bastard had to stop.

Mitts up front like Joe Louis, the Bastard halted his retreat, then charged the Smiling Man between his knife swings, surprising the murderer with the change in the fight's momentum. The Bastard swung a right hook, the Smiling Man's blade danced toward the vigilante's fist. Two unstoppable forces meet in the middle, exploding in the Nazi's face. His knife had ripped into the pouch of powdered lead that was sewn over the knuckles of the Bastard's sap gloves.

The poisonous dust burst outward, blasting into the German spy's open eyes, blinding him instantly. The Bastard saw his chance and connected a massive left upper cut with the Smiling Man's chin, snapping his head back and throwing him off his feet. A ragged piece of skin floated through the air in a stream of spit and blood. The murderer spun as he hit the old boards, landing face-down on the old wood, the flap of flesh splatting down a couple feet away. The Nazi spit a mouthful of blood onto the dock.

“You...” he growled. He scrambled onto all fours and dog ran down the dock, into the shadows of the warehouse. He stood in the darkness, his hands groping his bloody face.

“You...” he growled again, too enraged to even finish the sentence. He bent and grabbed something out of the pile of bodies. The Bastard had forgotten there was still another loaded Tommy gun in there. And now the man who was determined to kill him in the name of the Nazis was standing before him, forty-five caliber machine leveled at his gut. The kraut walked out of the shadows, his bloody face caught in the pale starlight. Blood dripped from his chin. The man's lips and nose were completely gone, a skull-full of grinning teeth and pink gums surrounded by smooth scar tissue and cartilage the only thing in their place. The black-masked vigilante had actually punched the Smiling Man's face off.

“You'll pay for this...” the lipless monster said, low and menacing. The Guinea Wanderer let out one final gurgle, then disappeared beneath the water. The Bastard's bullets had finished their job scuttling the smuggling craft, sending it and the Smiling Man's cargo to the bottom of the bay. Even if the kraut killed him right there, the Bastard thought, good luck dragging up eight lead boxes from under the water with all your helpers dead.

“You'll pay you... you...!” He still couldn't finish his curse. The Smiling Man closed his finger around the trigger, and the Tommy gun exploded in his hands, throwing him to the ground. Splinters of the gun's grip and stock had pierced his chest and arms, leaving streaks of blood all across his shirts and sleeves. He scrambled to him feet again. He stared out past the Bastard, eyes wide and exposed teeth blood-stained.

“Damn you, Earp!” he yelled, and sprinted back into the warehouse. The Bastard look out onto the bay, over his shoulder.

The old fed he had seen at Saint Bart's after Sanders' death was standing on the prow of an approaching boat, smoking Colt 1911 in hand. On either side were the two huge G-men, looking even closer to identical in the half-light of the June night. Mick had known the old guy was a hell of a fighter, and his quick-draw shot on the Smiling Man's gun had proved it.

“Don't you run now, Eizhürst, you know I hate chasing you,” he called out, his Texas accent strong across the water.

“Burn, Earp!” the Smiling Man yelled back. A column of flame erupted from the pile of bodies in the warehouse, between the dock and himself. “And you too, you schieẞkerl!” The flames flared up again, and the smiling killer was gone. The fire quickly spread from the bodies to the vehicles, then to the structure itself.

“You work fast, Mister Malloy,” the fed called out to the Bastard. “You're not nearly as burnt out as your police record would have us believe.” Mickey almost fell over.

How'd they know him?

“Who told you that name?” Mickey asked, pulling his bandana down and removing his leather helmet. No point in covering his mug now. My god, every bone in Mickey's body ached.

“I know a lot about you, Mickey. A lot more than you think,” the man smiled as his boat pulled up alongside the dock, opposite the side the Bastard had sunk the Guinea Wanderer on. He jumped onto the dock and held his hand out for Mickey to shake. Mick declined.

“I'm not with the police, I won't talk about your evening activities. You probably know me a lot better than you think, too.” He fished a business card out of his breast pocket.

Mickey took it and read it in the orange glow of the burning warehouse.

“Daniel Earp, Regional Inspector First Class, Bureau for North American Affairs, Office for the Cata-” Mickey's words froze in his throat. “You guys are with the Office?”

Earp nodded. “So it's come to that again...” Mickey whispered.

“The Office for the Cataloging of Unusual Occurrences is everywhere now, Mickey. In the States we're mostly concerned with chasing down traitors and thieves and saboteurs for now, but the things that are happening overseas now make everything you saw in that Castle Falkenstein look like a tea party.”

“Then you know I've seen enough of that for one life, Earp.” Mickey knew what Earp was leading up to. He shuddered as visions of men melted into puddles of boiling skin, of men torn apart by relentless machines with burning red eyes, rushed through his mind.

“The Nazis are determined to do whatever it takes, steal whatever it takes.” The Texas sharpshooter nodded to the sunken Guinea Wanderer. “We could use a man like you, Malloy. You know firsthand the depths the jerries are willing to go.”

“I already gave this war everything I had, Earp. Twenty years ago.” Mickey turned away from the gray-haired man and sat down on the dock, swinging his steel-toes over the black water. He looked to his right. The piece of flesh that had torn free from the Smiling Man's face lay on the wood next to him.

He poked it with a single gloved finger. It was flesh-colored wax, molded into the shape of a nose and a set of maniacally grinning lips. “Who was he?” Mickey asked over his shoulder.

“His name's Eizhürst, an oberst in the Gestapo. Master of languages and disguises. Lost his nose and lips to Russian frostbite, and now molds himself a new face for every new identity.”

“He's good, I'll give him that,” Mick muttered. “He got away, too.” “He'll be back. And we got what we were after today.” The two identical Office men were busy putting on matching black frogman suits, the ones with the air tanks and the goggles. They were going to dive for Eizhürt's stolen cargo.

“What was he was after?”

“Something they're working on up north. Hush hush, most secret, the whole deal. The krauts are desperate to get the stuff to Berlin. Eizhürst was here to smuggle it to Mexico, where he'd meet a u-boat to take him back across to Europe. Thanks to the McFife brothers here,” he motioned to the two frog-suited twin Office men, “...we managed to board capture, and scuttle U-703 about twenty miles offshore. After we cataloged all their missions logs, of course.”

“So that's how you got here,” Mickey said.

“Well I knew you weren't going to talk to anybody from 'Tallahassee', and the smiling doctor didn't leave us much to get out of Mister Sanders. We got lucky with the u-boat, and you should be happy we did. Otherwise we'd just have no cargo, no Eizhürt, and a thoroughly perforated masked vigilante here on the dock.”

“Yeah, yeah, thanks. You never did tell me what that 235-U stuff is.” “It's a rare metal they call uranium.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Just give it a couple years,” Earp chuckled, “By then everybody'll know all about the stuff.”

“Need to know? I know the drill.” Mickey knew the top secret run-around intimately: Earp only as many answers as they wanted him to give. After that, it was just talking, and he was as tired as a steel walker after a windy day. He sighed and pushed himself up to his feet. Before him raged the fire, rapidly consuming the entire warehouse, the and bay to his back. He turned to Earp. “Think you can get me a ride back to my office? I'm too dog tired for swimming, and this get-up ain't fireproof yet.”

“Of course, of course. Sure you won't take me up on my offer for some steady work with the Office? You were there in the beginning, Mickey. Our country wasn't even in the fight when you went across and volunteered. You know what's right and what's wrong, and you've known since the beginning. We need people who've got the whole picture.”

“Sorry, Earp. I got a bottle of bourbon and a long morning waiting for me back home.”

“Keep us in mind Mickey,” the Office man said, “If good men like you don't do everything they can before the war is truly on our doorstep, pretty soon you might not have a choice.”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard the pitch before. How do you think some cigar roller's son from Tampa ended up in the first war. And Earp, one more thing?”

“What's that, Mickey?”

“What was that last thing Eizhürst called me?”

“Schieẞkerl. Kraut for bastard.”

“Well, he got that one right.”

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