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YesterYear Fan Fiction offers a new look at the Golden Age. YesterYear characters live in a shared universe of comic books and pulp fiction from all publishers. Golden Age DC Characters can be found sharing adventures alongside Mike Hammer, Doc Savage, the Shadow, etc…

Prologue

It is a crime scene, clear cut as the mutilated body lying in the middle of the empty room. People everywhere, regular blues in uniform and desk dicks in their Brooks Brothers suits and three year old shoes still wearing the leather they left the shelf with. All the brass came out of the sewers and alleys for this one. Not a surprise, seeing as how the corpse lying in its own blood, its insides scattered about for all to see, is..or was a cop. Activity, some dusting the floor around the body, others standing over it, shaking their heads, a few shutterbugs snapping pics for the file, and to sell on the side to the Times or some other rag like some dumb cop always does. A regular crowd scene from a Berkeley musical, minus the music and the girls. For there to be so many people in one room, all there with the same goal, the same reason, there is nearly no sound at all. Nothing except the swish of brushes, the click-clacks of uniform shoes, the sizzle of flashbulbs. And me, of course.

"Ease off, Dearbaugh." I stand nearly chest to chest with Detective Thomas Dearbaugh, me standing two inches taller than the balding, paunchy mustached bastard. His eyes, those little bouncing black bullets of stupid rage, glare at me. Doesn't mean a thing to me, never has. His nasal screaming means just as much. Jack shit. "You've already rousted me and taken my gun. Just ease off."

"I oughta take you across my knee and whap that kid ass of yours, you snot nosed-" His fat little hands tremble with the urge, the need to do just what he threatens.

Not much on being called a kid by a lazy crooked cop like Dearbaugh, I don't waste time with words, just snap my hand into the air, pulling my fist back to leave knuckle marks deep in the pudgy cop's bulldog face.

The hand that wraps around my fist is iron. I'm stopped dead, nearly yanked backwards by whatever the hell just saved Dearbaugh from getting blood on his tie. He smiles, his teeth stained yellow from too many late night stake-out cigarettes.

"What the damn-" I spin my head around, spitting curses. The man behind me is nearly two inches taller than me and stands there, one hand on his hip, the other holding my fist, not straining at all, like I was a paper doll or something. He looks at me from behind glasses, a slight, crooked grin on his face. He's not a cop, not wearing denim jeans and a white canvas migrant's shirt, the top buttons open showing his T-shirt. I start to fight, to struggle, but I can barely even feel my hand anymore. His arms are like muscled tree trunks, no work at all to hold my husky six foot frame at bay by just grabbing one fist.

"Don't do that, friend." His smile fades. "You are in enough trouble as is."

I want to tear his sanctimonious face off, but then I remember how numb the fist he has is. "Who the hell are you to tell me that?"

Dearbaugh chuckles, nearly belching in the process. "Time you two were introduced. Mike Hammer, street thug who wanted to be a cop, but just didn't make it, meet the man who is going to pin a policeman's murder on you. Meet-"

The man still holding my hand finishes, "Kent. And, like I told you, Detective, I don't know how good a witness I will make."

Yeah, it's a picture perfect crime scene. And something else. It's also a pretty decent frame.

One that seems to be fitting me pretty well.

YesterYear FanFiction Presents
A MAN NAMED KENT:
Three Nails

written by Tommy Hancock
edited by Dan BenZvi

"So," I say, a few minutes now gone by since this stranger dressed like a farmhand proved to me that I was not the toughest guy in New York, "what exactly did you see? Dearbaugh there," I wave a lazy hand at the fat cop on the other side of the room, "seems to think he can already flip a switch on me."

The man named Kent shifts from one foot to another, deciding what he wants to tell me. He looks down as he starts to speak, then into my eyes. Not telling me everything. "I was…on my way here to visit with…" His eyes move to where the body still lies, now covered in a once white sheet, "Mr. Dungan there. He and some people I've been working with up in Albany had business." He pauses, clears his throat. "Enough of that. Dungan was blackmailing a family in Albany over supposed affairs and murders from four years ago."

"The Callisters. Dungan worked Albany back then, I was still boxing, knew him that way. We were both there when all the skeletons came dancing out of those closets."

Kent nods, looking me up and down, doing what everyone does. Wondering how a young kid not yet 30 has seen so much. Sometimes I wish they could have seen it all instead of me. But not today.

"All that doesn't matter, not to me," he says definitely. "They have a sick daughter now and needed help. I came here to help them. As I….walked up the street, I saw you enter here, then something come out the window." He glances over his shoulder at Deerbaugh, holding a bag with a long bladed knife in it. "That."

"Yeah, figured that was what you saw." Don't trust him, not yet. "I came in, found Dungan like that. Knew something was up when I came in. This is his home…he and his wife, Lorraine live here. And it's empty. Not a stick of furniture anywhere. I opened the window to let the smell of guts out, didn't see the knife on the sill, knocked it out." I shake my head. "Stupid story, but it's the truth. Besides," I flex my hand, the one he had a strangle hold on for so long, "whoever laid him open like a deer had to either have plenty of time to play inside of him, or be fairly strong to do that sort of damage."

I ready myself, ready for Kent to throw into me. But he doesn't. He barely even flinches at my accusation. Doesn't have time to. Deerbaugh cuts him off, walking up to us, a younger cop, a massive man probably two years younger than me, but nearly three hundred pounds of rock. Deerbaugh whines, " We figured the same thing, Hammer, especially after Kent told us why he came up here. And after Officer Elaney here told me all about what he saw from walking his beat." Deerbaugh points dramatically out the window. "Out there, pounding that street."

"What do you mean?" Now I see it. Kent rising to the defensive. Turning to see Deerbaugh, stepping back, making sure he can keep an eye on me, too. Looks like I'm not the only one in the spotlight.

Evan Elaney, a guy I knew from the neighborhood, cleared his throat, setting his gaze on Deerbaugh, almost like he's afraid to look at me or Kent. "Like I said before, sir, I walk by Joe's apartment every day at least twenty times. Pretty regular schedule, too. About 10 this morning, I walk by and I see three guys gathered on the corner, over there by the newsstand. Two of them I recognize." Elaney looks at me now, whatever fear he had now gone, those green empty eyes of his still empty of anything important, but narrowed, aimed at me. "Mike here was one of them, yelling something about how Dungan "stiffed him some big ones for a job" and then there was-"

"Hell with you, Elaney!" No time for anyone, not even muscleman Kent to stop me. I crash both fists hard into Elaney's head before the stupid lug can even raise a hand or go for his gun. Deerbaugh wheezes something about shooting me, so I turn to whack him to.

"Hammer!" Kent again, this time tying his arms around me in a big hug, lifting me up off the floor like I'm a penny he found by his foot. I don't fight him, already knowing I can't get away.

"Put me down! I'm all right." Kent lowers me, moves away. I shake my arms, glare at Elaney. "You know me, Elaney. You know the kind of work I do, who I work for."

"We all do, Hammer," Deerbaugh spat. "That's the point that'll lock you behind bars." Deerbaugh doesn't even let me yell back. He nods for Elaney to go on.

"Anyway," the uniform rumbles on, "the other two guys listen to what Hammer is saying. One of them agrees, saying the same thing about Dungan not following through with money. Apparently Joe paid him to throw some fight. He looked like a boxer, anyways." Elaney takes a breath, eyes Kent, trying to read him, hoping he's got better control of his temper than I do. "Then there was this guy, never seen him before. He's quiet as I walk by, but Hammer and the other guy, they rattle on and on about how dirty Joe was and got what he deserved. This guy here, he just stands there with those big arms of his crossed and nods. Watches me the whole time I walk by." Elaney gains more and more confidence as he talks, Kent not moving at all, not even acknowledging him. "I get by them, I guess they think out of earshot, and this guy," points at Kent indignantly, "says something about how it felt to empty a rat bastard like Dungan out all over his floor."

We all look at Kent, the whole room. He doesn't wince or flinch. He means to stand still, to stand by what he is about to say. "I don't know why this officer is lying," he says, his stare falling like bricks on Elaney, "but none of that happened. None of it."

Elaney bounces on the ball of his left foot, his craggy face red with anger. He thinks better of challenging Kent, though, and settles back into a guarded stance.

"This other guy," Deerbaugh says, again not letting me or anyone else get a word in, "this boxer. Who was he?"

Elaney replies, "An up-and-comer, sir. Pretty well known already, leastways for liking to fight. Name's-"

"Grant. Ted Grant." Behind Deerbaugh, leaned against a wall, is the owner of the voice. He's about my size, brown hair, wearing a T-shirt and black pants. He pushes himself up from the wall, his hands rolling into fists as he stands up. His eyes, hard to read, dart around the room, not studying it and all of us, but working it out, laying its floor plan down in his head. The wiseass grin on his face contradicts the serious set of his eyes as he says, "Came up to see Dungan, 'bout a fight he was interested in." He's been here long enough to hear what Elaney said, he's just baiting them now. I'm watching him, so is Kent. Not like Deerbaugh and the uniforms are, not for the same things. Me and Kent, not a word between us, but it's there. The fact that all this stinks to hell and we're smelling the same thing. Grant goes on, "Come up the stairs and a couple of your guys tell me I was here a while ago today, helping out on finishing off Dungan." Grant raises his fists, rolling them together, knuckles popping as he does it, just like Jack Dempsey used to do. "I didn't care for Ol' Joe none at all, but I didn't take no part in killing him."

"Well," Deerbaugh says, moving his chunky carcass out of the triangle of suspects he realized he has been standing in the middle of, "it seems I got a decision to make here. Either I do things the way the law says to with any murdering trash that kills someone and listen to your side of it and gather more evidence. Or I take the word of a good cop," he slaps a meaty hand on Elaney's arm, "and believe him when he tells me he heard you three discussing murdering another cop, and load all of you up in the wagon with all these cops here…and see how many pieces you end up in before you reach the station." Deerbaugh chuckles, all the uniforms in the room now gathered behind him. "Hard choice, isn't it?"

"For you maybe, flatfoot!" Grant wades into the pile of blues from behind, his fists flailing madly, but striking home each time. Guess that's why the boys who know fighting call him "Wildcat". Grant yells, "For me, there ain't no choice at all!"

I hesitate, expecting Kent to swipe Grant up like he did me. Instead, Kent walks, literally walks through a crowd of five cops, slinging them one way and the other, shrugging off their punches like they were flies. Elaney jumps at him, but I don't let him get far. I leap, too, slamming into Elaney, knocking him down. I roll up before he does, pressing my fists into his face until they have enough blood on them to let me know he's unconscious. I look around for Grant and Kent, both of them still dealing with the others. Must be fifteen, twenty cops all around, most of them on their backs now. But where's Deerbaugh?

"Hammer." I hear my name as I hear the click of the revolver. As I turn, I catch just a glimpse of Deerbaugh in a clumsy firing stance, his issue drawn and pointed at me. Only a glimpse because before I can move, Kent is between me and the bullet. Deerbaugh, sure he has three murderers anyway, pulls the trigger. I go down, like the others still up do, hands over my ears from the blast. I look on the floor for a new body, but it's not there. I look up. Kent still stands, not a hole in him. Only the bullet from Deerbaugh's gun, mashed flat on the floor at Kent's feet.

Deerbaugh curses, fires three more times. All three bullets hit and roll off Kent as if they were rose petals. Deerbaugh yells again, starts to fire, but Grant is already there, delivering the roundhouse he is known for in the ring, pasting Deerbaugh's flabby ass to the far wall.

"Kent," I yell, "What in God's-"

"Shoot them!" Another suit is up again, his mouth bleeding. "Shoot all three of them!"

"Think it's time to go." Grant said, his cockeyed smile shining.

"Yeah, but where?" I say, trying to be more flippant than serious. "Can't go out the way we came in." I wave at the seven cops between us and the door, most still groggy from the brief fight we all just had, but stills even of them. Guns drawn. Orders to fire given.

Kent mumbles something, then says, "Trust me and we'll get out of here."

"Pal," Grant says, moving to Kent, "After what I just saw you do, I'll trust you as far as we can get away from here."

I don't say anything. I jump over two downed cops, run over to Deerbaugh. I reach inside his coat and pull out my gun, Betsy, then move to Kent's side. He grabs me up in one arm, Grant in the other, no effort at all, and charges straight ahead. For the wall. The wall of a third story apartment. I yell out just after Grant does, just before Kent lowers his head and crashes through the wall, leaving dumbfounded cops behind and me and Grant covered in dust and rock.

My eyes are closed. I'm not scared of anything, but I don't want to see the street rising up to slap me down, either. Kent hits the asphalt, rolling from his leap, tossing Grant one way, me the other. We all stand, shake ourselves off, and look up at the gaping hole in Dungan's apartment. All the cops are standing there, including Deerbaugh, their mouths hanging low, their guns down. Too amazed to even shoot.

"We have to go somewhere. Figure all this out," Kent said. "Now."

I nod. "Come on. I know the place. I'll get us a cab."

"Hell," Grant said, laughing, "maybe the super man here can fly us over there."

Kent didn't smile as he replied. "No. At least not today, I can't."


*******

"-and, like I've already said," Kent repeats, exasperated, "How I can do what I do is my business. You wouldn't believe me, anyway. Now, can we discuss the trouble we are in right now?"

"Might as well," Grant says, just as irritated at Kent's refusal to share how he shook off bullets and jumped through a wall carrying us as Kent is at Grant's insistence he talk about it. "You sure ain't gonna tell us anything."

We're all sitting on crates in the empty Lawrence Waterfront Warehouse. It was owned, until recently, by one Lawrence O'Leary, but Mister O'Leary met his end in disagreements with a family of a whole different country. Having worked for O'Leary at different times, I had a key.

"I will tell you this much." Kent looks at me. "The reason I would not have made a good witness against you, Mike, is that…" he looks back at Grant, "You'll hate this, too, Grant. The reason is that I saw you in the apartment. I saw you open the window and push, or as you said, knocked the knife off the sill. I saw all of that. Through the walls of the apartment."

I don't say anything. Not at first. Neither does Grant. What do you say to a man who claims he sees through solid walls, especially after you've already watched him take four shots from close range and break through a wall with his body and leap three stories to an asphalt street. The silence is making me feel stupid. "So," I say, "you see through things often?"

Kent shakes his head. "No. That was the second time. I've got several…abilities that come and go. The strength, the jumping, other things are always there, but stranger things, like the seeing through things, they just happen randomly."

Grant stands up, slinging his arms back and forth, keeping the life in them. "What else did you see then? Through the walls, I mean."

"Nothing. I walked up in time to see Mike here walk in the door and find Dungan's body."

"Then we've got to start from there," I say. "Dungan. Go over how the three of us are connected to him."

Kent chooses to go first, telling Grant what he has already told me. How he came to see Dungan trying to get him to leave the Callisters in Albany alone. I back up his story, but only after he says enough to convince me he really does know the Callisters and what Joe had on them.

"Sounds like you were there just by chance," Grant says, still sounding like he doesn't trust Kent. Course, it seems like he…or any of us..have little choice in who to trust at the moment. "Same thing happened to me. I mean, being there by accident. I've been making the rounds of the rings around New York for the last few months. Dungan called me about a month ago. I knew who he was, had quite a name as a manager of some decent boxers a few years back. He let me know he was a cop now and that he worked for some…..powerful people. Said those people played the fights and that if I played along, then I could walk out of a ring one night and never have to box again. I refused, so he said that the same promise went if I didn't play along. That I would leave a ring one night and never have to box again." Grant pounds his left fist into his open right hand over and over, harder and harder as he talks. "I shrugged him off, told him to get a cab away from me. Didn't hear from him until last night. He showed up before a prelim I had at the Gardens, said that now was my time to play. I had him booted out." Grant bows his head, looking at the dirty floor. "I won the fight. Went out, drank, celebrated by myself. I come back in this morning, find my manager bleeding from his nose and eyes they beat him so hard. I fly off the handle, work to find where that ass Dungan lives. That takes me until almost noon. When I do find out, I go over there, hotter than loaded gloves, going to give him some of what his boys gave out. I passed that cop, Elaney. He was standing on the stoop of Dungan's building, rousting some kids. He nodded at me, tipped his hat, the whole 'good Irish cop' bit. I went to Dungan's floor. Got no answer, the door was locked."

"Wasn't when I got there," I say in a low growl. "I get a call at my place, getting ready to go see a friend on the force, talk to him about maybe me getting a private license. It's Lorraine on the phone, Dungan's wife. Him I knew from boxing years ago, then as a cop. Her I've known since she was wearing pigtails and stealing gumdrops from Opperman's Corner Candy over in Brooklyn. She and I go way back." The memory of her pale skin, those heavy, firm breasts bare in the light of a street lamp behind her dad's store so many years ago, forces its way into my head, making me smile. "Way back. Anyway, she calls, says she's worried that Joe's…extra income is going to get him, and maybe her, hurt or worse. Joe's been dirty since before he put on the uniform. He just figured carrying a badge made him worth more to those who would pay to have a cop on a leash."

"He was right," Grant said.

I nod. "But Lorraine said that Joe'd told her he was afraid that some of his employers were getting tired of him. Joe had a habit of demanding more and more. Lorraine was sure they were going to come after him. She said they'd gotten a phone call this morning, she answered it. Said it sounded like a man she'd seen pay Joe off before. She's crying, I tell her I'm on my way. That's about noon. I get across town, to the front door about 12:30. Don't see anybody, no beat cop, no boxer, no guy who leaps through walls. Nobody. I try the door, opens without a hitch. First thing I notice is the empty of the room. Everything was gone. Then the smell." I try to sound strong, but know my voice wavers. It's a scent I've smelled some before, but not enough yet to keep it from bothering me. "I walked in and saw Joe in the living room. All over the living room."

A single beat, then Kent says, "Out of all of that, it sounds like we only have one lead. One direction to follow."

"Yeah," Grant says. "Let's get to it."

I nod, though I don't want to do this, not now, not to her. "Let me go in. She'll tell me more alone than she will in front of you lugs."


*

She holds both of my hands tightly in hers, my thick digits dwarfing her thinly delicate pale fingers. Her eyes, tiny blue stars now set in rings of tears, stare at me, demanding an answer, pleading for comfort. I want to pull her close, like I used to when we were kids, take her in my arms, show her the way a woman like her needs to be taken care of. But I can't, not here in her mother's front room. Not on this day. Not when I have to get some answers.

"I don't understand, Mike." Lorraine Dungan tugs one hand free from the tangle between us, picks up an already soaked handkerchief and dabs tears from her cheeks. "Why they had to kill him."

Dammit, I hate having to be so cold hearted right now. "Who had to kill him, Lorraine? I have to know." I look over my shoulder, making sure Grant and Kent still stand outside the door. Grant's there, Kent should be around back, both watching for cops. They'll be showing up any time now to offer condolescences and to swear on Dungan's grave that they'll hunt us all three down and do to us what we did to him.

Her voice is still beautiful even with all the pain in it, you can hear the soprano angel's notes she sings in Alley's Club downtown even between her sobs. "Like I said on the phone, Mike, Joe talked about being too greedy, wanting too much. You know how he is..was."

"Yeah, doll, I do." Always wanting the silver lining that was attached to the brass ring, Joe was. "Who did he ask for more?"

She shrugs her shoulders. "He never said for sure. But one name always kept coming up in the last few weeks. Papa something. Joe cursed every time he talked about him. Papa somebody over in the Bronx."

"Papa Sal." Sal Retorio, old man of the mob, nearly eighty years old and still does some of his own hits. No wonder Joe got such a treatment. Papa Sal has one guy, wiry son of a bitch named Tony Nalvo. People on the corners call him 'Littles" because he leaves his hits that way, in little pieces. Like Dungan's insides.

"I gotta go, doll." I stand, pulling her fantastic figure, now so frail looking, up as I do. I lean in, kiss her lightly on the cheek. "I'll be back later."

"Does that help, Mike?" Her eyes are begging me. Begging me to fix it. Begging me to hold her. Begging me for more than I can give right now. "Will that help you get the people who killed Joe?"

"Gives me a place to start, sweetheart." I move to kiss her on the cheek once more, but she turns, our lips pressed together suddenly and completely. Lingering a moment too long, I pull away. I feel dirty, but at the same time, justified. "See you soon, doll." I take my hat in one hand, putting it on as I push my way out the door with the other.

As I come down the stoop, Grant steps around the corner, waves for Kent. I wait until he comes around, then tell them both what I know.

"It's not much," Kent points out.

"No," I say, "but Papa Sal is as bad as they come. If Dungan was telling Lorraine about him, then that's who it had to be."

Grant slaps his open right palm hard with his left fist, his crooked smile now straightened by revenge and redemption. "Then let's get over to Papa Sal's. He needs to be fitted for his pine box." ********************************* Papa Sal Retorio hates being disturbed, especially when he's eating his wife's linguini. That's why he's employed Vino and Victor, the Delspucci cousins, since both of them were knee high to a zoot suit. Not even when they were kids stealing apples and playing stickball in the streets of The Kitchen did anyone ever hassle them. You might get close to the Delspuccis, but you'd never get past them if they didn't want you to. Papa Sal pays both of the jugheaded lugs well to keep on doing that. And they usually do a very good job of letting Papa Sal feed his jowels in peace.

Just not today.

I hear Papa Sal spew linguini out of his mouth as Kent slings Vino through the solid oak door leading into Retorio's study. I come up behind Kent, just in time to get white sauce on my tie. Betsy in my hand, I take two steps in and gently, but firmly put Betsy's well polished nose right up against Papa Sal's scarred, often broke bulb of a nose.

"Hello, Papa Sal." I laugh at the old man, so feared in the alleys and halls of government all over the city, right now staring up at me with doe's eyes, strands of linguini dangling from his thick lips. "How's Rosa's cooking these days?"

"Hammer," Papa Sal's gravelly tone sends a shiver through me somewhere inside, even though sauce drips from the corners of his mouth, "you worthless little punk! What are you doin'-"

Before Papa Sal finishes telling me that I've just ended my life as soon as I leave his house, he watches as Kent yanks Vino's piece from its holster…and crushes it with one hand like it was paper. I smile as linguini plops on Papa Sal's lap as his mouth drops open wide. Unable to continue his threat, he mumbles, "What…what…did you do…with Victor?"

I look back at Kent, both of us realizing for the first time that Victor never came flying in unconscious the way he was supposed to. I nod to Kent, throw my head toward the door, where we all can hear some kind of fight still going on, grunting, swearing. Kent checks to be sure Vino will sleep a while longer, then steps out into the main hall. I keep the gun on Papa Sal and move to the door when I hear Kent yelling.

"Grant! Stop! You're killing him!"

Trying to keep one eye on Papa Sal, I watch as Grant, one knee in Victor's chest, feeds the goon both of his fists over and over, blood all over Victor's face and Grant's hands. I've seen it before in boxers, even felt it a few times in myself. Grant's face was blank, an empty, angry sneer, just a rumble, a low growl of fury and death rolling in his throat. Victor's gun is still in his holster, visible at his side. Kent yells at Grant again, like words could break the fervor the fighter's in, then moves, it seems like in one step, the full length of the hall. With a swipe of his left hand, Kent knocks Grant up the hall toward me. Grant lands about ten feet from me, a crumpled ball of rage. He jumps up almost as soon as he lands, darting back down the hall. He is going to fight, it does not matter who. I yell at him, but by the time he hears the words, he runs straight into Kent's right cross. Grant flies down the hall again, a human missile sliding hard into the floor. Grant stands up, ready to go again. Then he sees Kent's eyes. So do I. Hard, determined, unwavering. Kent will not be beaten. Grant sees that. And chooses to live.

"To hell with this! He was going to tell us everything!"

"How?" Kent lifts the nearly broken Victor Delspucci up by his collar. Victor's breath is shallow, spotty, rattling shards of broken teeth and bones as he breathes. "You've knocked all his teeth down his throat and busted both lips to swelling! He is unconscious, Grant. And probably dying."

"What he deserves, then." Grant glares at Kent, spits the blood from his mouth, then turns, coming down the hall at me. He's rubbing his left fist in his right hand, rubbing the blood into his skin. "Come on, kid," he says to me. "Let's pound the old bastard until we know what we need."

I move completely into the doorway, my body blocking Grant's tirade. "Not that way, Grant. I got no problem with beating on thugs to get what I need to know. But I do have a problem with people who beat on people because they like it."

"You think that, Hammer?" Grant is livid, his dark eyes narrowed into knives through me. "Then you don't know shit about boxers, kid. It's got nothin' to do with likin' it. It's all about being the only thing you know how to do. Boxers, the good ones, kid, are just like anyone else. They are born to use their hands to grind somebody's face into sausage. It's a God given talent like brains or…" he leers back over his shoulder at Kent, "special abilities. Difference is, there ain't no really cultured way for somebody with that gift to use it. You grow up doin' all you know you can, beatin' and fightin' your way through life. Pretty soon, it's all you know how to do, it's the way you get what you want. That's why you become a boxer. Or a crook. Me, I'm a boxer. And still only know one way to do things." His eyes are sad, almost like he wishes what he said wasn't true. "And that's with my fists."

I can't say anything, not after that. Good thing Kent could. "It's not the only way, Grant." He walks up to Grant slowly, his hands low, ready for the boxer to strike at him again. "There is waiting, working it out, starting with a question and eventually finding the answer."

Grant stares at his bloody hands. "These have always been my answer to everything. My only answer."

Before I can feel any worse or Kent can offer up any more philosophy, Papa Sal curses in Italian. Damning myself, I turn back into the room to find the old man up out of his chair, his supper all over the front of his hand tailored suit. From somewhere under the table, he has pulled a pistol, an old German WWI pistol.

"Put it down, Papa Sal." I nearly choke on the fear in my throat, but only razor edged seriousness fills my voice. I pull Betsy's hammer back. "We just want to know some things. About you and Joe Dungan."

"You come into my house, disrupt my meal, beat up my men, and you just want to ask me questions about a dirty cop?" He chuckles, a throaty wheeze, as he fondles the trigger. Grant and Kent come up behind me, not able to get in because of the Mexican standoff I'm in.

"Dungan's dead." Grant's voice still swells with the fevered fit he had moments ago. "We were told you and he had…..business together. And that it ain't been good business lately."

"Ain't been no business," Papa Sal replies. Vino groans from the floor, struggling back from the nap Kent knocked him into. I nearly walk right out of my skin, but grit my teeth not to show it. Papa Sal doesn't even wince. "Me and Joe, we done deals years ago. Nothin' between us now but memories."

"Shit." I know there is more than that. "His widow tells different, Papa Sal. She says he talked about you all the time."

Papa Sal smiles. "Broad don't know nothin' about Joe's business. Knows even less about singin'. You got rotten information, kid." Papa Sal's fleshy lips even out into a fat solemn line. "So rotten it's gone and gotten you dead."

Kent yells out, trying to get by me. He throws me aside, but not before I squeeze one off. I go down, roll over onto my back. Kent catches the bullet from Papa Sal's gun in his hand. The old man looks blankly ahead, the blood from the hole between his eyes trickling down his round nose. Vino grunts, still fighting to stand. Papa Sal Retorio pitches forward, his gun trapped in his death grip, and hits the floor with a sickening thud.

I watch the old man, the old, dead man hit the floor. Then everything I have in my stomach comes boiling up and over. And I go numb.

"Hammer? C'mon, kid, we gotta go."

"You sons of bitches! You killed Papa Sal! You bastards! You're dead!"

"Grant, get him out of here! Now!"

"You bastards are gonna bleed all over this city!"

"Come on, Mike. It's all right, kid, it's all right. Kent?"

"Go. I'll clean this up."

"You sons of bitches are gonna bleed!!!"

"I'll tell you what we're going to. We are going to walk out of here with no trouble. We are going to walk down the street every day we want to and not have to worry about you or anyone else coming after us. We are going to do that or I am going to keep squeezing your throat until your head comes off. Do you understand? Just nod if you do…… Good. Now, here is what you are going to do. Take a few deep breaths. There, good, good. Now, tell me what Papa Sal wouldn't. About Joe Dungan."

"Nothin'…nothin to tell. Papa Sal's havin' trouble with a cop, a cop who owes him money. gambling debts, but not Dungan….Papa and Joe were thick, a long time thick. Papa Sal and Joe ain't…talked in a long time."

"The other cop. Who is it?"

"No…don't know….Arghhh..honest…let go..don't know."

"Remember what I said. No one comes after us. Or I come back for you..and your head."


"Watched you in there, Kent. You got a savage side yourself."

"Not much, Grant. That was acting. To get a point across."

"Understand that, but not much different. Making points, getting by, all the same to me."

"You do your bit out of refusing to see other ways, Grant. My little matinee back there was out of sheer fear and desperation of being caught."

"Like I said, not much different. All the same to me."

"It's not the same." The words crack in my throat. Feels like I haven't talked in days. It's just been two hours. Every time I speak, I taste the vomit and the guilt bubbling up. "It's not the same."

Both Grant and Kent walk over to me. I don't look up, just out in front of me, at some empty blank spot that, the longer I stare, just gets bigger and bigger, eating everything around it.

"Your first, kid?"

I don't say anything to Grant's words, just grunt at how obvious the answer must be.

Grant moves, I see him out of the corner of my eye. His back is to me, he's looking down at the floor as he speaks. "Don't know about Kent's past, don't mean to ask you, either, but I know I have a dead man in mine. My first and last, I pray to God. He was a fighter, a friend. I was boxing him about two years ago. My manager had tied me up with these two hoods, but blind, stupid me who wants to be famous, I don't know no better. Till this friend dies in the ring one night. Found out later the two lugs had bet against him to lose, so they stuck a needle with some kind of drug on it in my glove to be sure he lost." Grant slams his right fist into his left hand, harder, faster each time, as if he is trying to knock his left hand free from his wrist. "He lost all right. He died. 'Course, I found out later I'd been set up by those two goons and my manager. I went after 'em, cleared my name," he laughs, "even threw together a silly cat mask from some party to hid my face so cops huntin' me down wouldn't know it was me. It was a cat mask. Funny… "Wildcat" Grant chasin' gangsters in a cat mask. Who'da thunk it? Point is…" he turns around, moves over in front of my ever growing spot, forcing me to look at him, "I went after the bastards who made me kill him, I caught 'em, cleared my name, but the pain, the black scar on my soul never went away. But me, I did what I had to do, got the creeps who set me up to kill him. You, you did what you had to, too, Mike. And in the end, that's what you have to do. No matter who dies."

Grant looks at Kent, expecting a reaction. I look, too. Kent says nothing, but I see it in his face. His past, a choice made, someone dead because of it. He agrees with Grant. That has to make his words mean something. Even if it doesn't, it's enough for me. I nod, standing, saying nothing about what he just said, although it will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Do what you have to do. No matter who dies.

"So," I say, wiping my dry mouth with my sleeve, "what do we know?"

"That Dungan and Papa Sal had a history," Kent says, walking around to where he can see us both, "but no bad blood lately. But there was someone banging heads with Retorio. Another cop. With gambling debts."

"Ain't much," Grant groans.

"All we got," I say, reloading Betsy. "What we don't have much of is time."

"Agreed," Kent says, "But where do we start?"

I smile. Back into something a New York kid knows. "Place where all gamblers in the city go sooner or later." ************************************

St. Thomas Church over on 53rd makes me pause every time I see it. Its impressive spires reaching up into the sky, its gray walls still a welcome sight to so many, despite the drab color. And its priest, a gangly man, a shock of black hair dancing atop his narrow head, his narrow blue eyes smiling wider than the thin grin his mouth seems permanently fixed in. Even when he was on the hard losing end of a flush beat by four of a kind, Father Patrick O'Danion never stopped smiling.

"Michael," Father O'Danion spits all over me with his phony Irish accent, 'put on for the locals,' he says in his authentic Tennessee drawl. He thinks, and he's right, that New Yorkers won't trust one of their best known churches to a priest named O'Danion who is really a German-American from the Smoky Mountains. He shakes my hand, nods to Kent and Grant standing on the stairs behind me. "An' whatever brings ye 'ere, me lad?"

I laugh. "What always brings me here, Father."

"Ah, yes." The grin doesn't change, but the eyes flicker. "Tha' black hearted soul a' yers, me boy."

"No," I say, gripping his hand a bit harder. "It's the fact that you happen to be the only priest in town that every two bit card sharp and confidence man feels he can bare his soul to. Maybe that has to do with the fact that you still can't resist turning a card over for money."

"Yeah," he snickers, letting the brogue slide away into Tennessee drawl, "Maybe it does at that." He's an older man, nearly forty, but wears his age well. "So, you want to come inside and handle this over a shot and a few hands of five card like always," he eyes Grant and Kent, both of them behind me, I'm sure looking over both shoulders for cops or any of Papa Sal's men, "or are you in a hurry today, Michael?"

"As much as any man accused of murdering a cop is, Father." He doesn't ask, just keeps smiling. His line of work teaches you not to ask too much. "We need to know what policemen have come to you for guidance? Of the gambling variety."

"Yeah," Grant said, "The unlucky kind."

Father O'Danion raises an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

Kent, obviously tense by being so out in the open, says, "Meaning a policeman has borrowed a lot of money from the wrong people."

Father O'Danion nods. "Describes three quarter of the uniforms in this city. But, there has been someone lately, someone who has come to me seeking guidance."

That means a poor schmuck who stumbles into the church after one too many late night beers on duty and spills his tortured soul to Father O'Danion without ever making it all the way to the confessional. "And who might that be?"

"Now, Michael," he smiles coyly, "I tell you every time, what kind of priest would I be if I were to tell you that a young beat cop by the name of Elaney came in here and over a desktop of cards and whiskey told me that he had been heading up a gambling operation for the entire police department, an operation involving people all the way to the top, and that he had had to borrow money from Papa Sal Retorio to keep it running because he had been stealing from the operation all along?"

"You'd be my kind of priest, Father. My kind."

"Elaney," Kent says solemnly.

"That crooked bastard," Grant growls.

He doesn't lose the eternal grin, but I see Father O'Danion's brow furrow. "Michael," he says, slipping the Irish accent back on, "By the angry looks on ye and yer friend's faces, me thinks that this fella is the root a' yer problems?"

I nod. "A root we are about to dig up."

"Then," he says earnestly as he opens the door to the church, "I suggest ye lads come in 'ere and pray about what ye must do," He waves at someone behind us, we all turn and see two policemen on the street corner, waving back. "Unless a' course, ye'd like to visit with those fine officers 'ere."

Grant passes me up, heading for the door. "Never been much for church before, but the Father may have a point."

Kent and I follow quickly. I look back, both cops see me and move up the stairs. Once inside, I start to ask for a back door out, but Father O'Danion has already opened it, Grant and Kent disappearing through it. As I go out, I shake his hand. His accent fades again as he asks, "I know how you get when you are slighted, Michael. What do you intend to do?"

I mean every word I say as Father O'Danion pulls the door shut.

"Crucify every single one of them."


11:00 PM, May 2nd, 1938, New York City

Thomas Dearbaugh wheezes like the crisp New York night air crawled inside his lungs just to rattle around. He walks back and forth at the far end of the alley. Not ten feet away from Doley's, the cop tavern in this part of the city, staying in the weak light shining from the street. He showed up, a surprise to me, not expecting him to take my phone call much less do what I asked. Of course, he wanted to pick the place, to make sure he wasn't too alone. Kent, Grant, and I were fine with that. Let all the damned rats die on the sinking ship together.

"Dearbaugh."

His head pops up, his jowls rippling, I can hear them. "Hammer. What the hell is this, kid? You call me out here in the dead of night to confess! You could have done that downtown!"

"You misunderstood, Detective." Dearbaugh nearly loses his four beer dinner when Kent steps from the dark behind him without a sound. Dearbaugh goes for his gun, but Kent's hand is already in the coat, crushing the revolver in its holster.

"What- Dearbaugh spurts, nearly screaming, "What the hell do you mean?"

"He means, you slab of porkbelly," Grant walks from his spot against the alley wall to Dearbaugh's left, his right fist slamming hard into his left palm, "that Hammer didn't call you out here so we could spill our guts. He did it so you could."

What anger Dearbaugh was trying to slip into flees suddenly into fear. "What the hell are you talking about? I didn't kill Dungan!! I got nothing to confess to!"

"Not much." I move into Dearbaugh's site from the shadowy far entrance to the alley, Betsy aimed straight at the fat man's head, knowing he keeps his badge over his heart. I don't want to tell him too much, like how mostly we are out here on a hunch, how a buddy of mine at the Precinct told us that Elaney didn't walk the beat by Dungan's place until the day before he died, how Dearbaugh called down the change. Still, just a hunch. The ace in our hand full of jokers. "Just the fact that you along with most of the cops on the force and the brass at the top of the shit pile have been playing long odds. Gambling in the halls of the finest of New York. That can't be pretty."

"No," Kent says, now standing where Dearbaugh can see him, "especially not when the man you set up to handle all the money starts stealing from the pot. And keeps stealing and stealing and stealing."

Dearbaugh's eyes dart over to his right, toward the entrance to the alley. We all know what he is doing. Stalling for time. "We…we didn't know Dungan was stealing, not until Elaney told us! We wanted rid of Joe, had to get him out, but didn't want something like…like what happened!"

"Dungan was stealing?" Kent's disbelief, or maybe plain confusion, fills me, too, and I see it wash all over Grant's face. Two different stories. From two different cops. Just because Elaney's version filtered through a priest didn't make it anymore reliable.

"Yeah, Elaney needed help handling the cash, so he recruited Joe. He came back to us about a month later, said Dungan was stealing, so we set up to get Dungan gone. But not like that! We didn't mean for him to die like that!"

"Hell you didn't," Grant said, moving up against Dearbaugh, both of his hands rolled into fists now, waiting, poised, right in front of Dearbaugh's trembling lips. "You wanted to be sure the whole world knew a cop couldn't have killed another cop that way! So you had someone go in there and make it look real messy. Then we all stumbled into it, mucked it all up for you and the others. So you just figured to mix us on into the thick of it all!"

"No! No!" Dearbaugh loses all he has, all his dignity flooding out of his mouth, the rest running down his left pants leg. "That ain't the way it was played! Yes, Dungan was targeted, he had to go. Too many political ambitions riding on this for him to keep stealing! So, I paid Elaney several hundred dollars to take out Dungan. We all knew Evan needed dough, with this expensive new lady he's been with the past few months. He said he'd take out Dungan, but I never expected him to butcher the bastard!"

I start to say something else, then I notice Dearbaugh's facial expression change. It goes from sheer terror to relief and superiority. We all look at the entrance to the alley and see the uniform there. A young guy, my age probably, his built frame fitting tightly in the uniform. He stands there, watching us all.

Dearbaugh shrugs his way past Grant, moving slowly to the cop in the light. "Glad you came by, kid. These three are wanted for murder and were about to rough me up!"

I don't take Betsy off of Dearbaugh. "Not the way this is happening, friend. Just trying to straighten some things out."

The cop doesn't say anything. Dearbaugh still walks toward him, one nervous step at a time.

"Hell," Grant spits, primed to leap at this kid in a cop's clothes and take him out, come bullets or jail, "this guy's probably placing his bets alongside this fat bastard and friends, too."

"It doesn't matter," Kent said, standing his ground. "Dearbaugh gave us what we wanted."

"Yeah," I say, "Something different than what we had before. Just what we needed, another road to walk down blindly."

Dearbaugh laughs weakly, trying to regain some of the pride that we just stripped from him. "Do you no good now! Not with a cop here who will back up someone with a badge like his before he will three police murderers!"

I look at the policeman. His eyes meet mine, but tell me nothing. He's watching now, his hand on his revolver, but still just watching. Until he speaks. "I don't know what's happening here, sir," he says in a low rumble, "but step over here. I'll make sure they don't move on you."

"Nowhere else to move," Grant says furiously as he stomps past me, heading out the far end of the alley. Kent follows him. Me, I watch Dearbaugh as he stops, about four feet from the young cop. Dearbaugh just stares at me, trying to cut me in two with his eyes. I look at him, trying to figure out why he hates me so much. Then I realize it doesn't matter and turn to walk away, never expecting to hear the sound of a pistol sliding from a leather ankle holster.

I spin, Betsy coming around fast. Not even Kent whirring past me is fast enough to stop the two gunshots. I tremble slightly, waiting for one of the slugs to hit me. It never does. Dearbaugh gurgles, blood spilling out the wide hole in the front of his neck, as he pitched forward dead. We all look at the young cop Dearbaugh was so glad to see. His pistol is out…and smoking.

"He had a hidden gun," the cop says matter-of-factly. "Wasn't going to let him shoot someone in the back. Even if you are murderers like he said you were and I didn't hear a word of his confession."

"Thanks," I say as I start out behind Grant and Kent hurriedly leaving the alley. "Thanks much, Officer…"

"Chambers," he says, glancing behind him at the crowd of policemen coming from Doley's to see who died. "Pat Chambers." *********************************

Evan Elaney struggles before his mind even realizes he isn't still sleeping. He tosses and shuffles, his hands tied into fists slapping wildly in the air. Kent stands beside him, his left hand clamped down on Delaney's mouth and nose like an iron shackle. Grant looms at the foot of the bed, his back to me and the single bulb swinging from the ceiling of Elaney's cramped, dirty room. I watch Grant's shoulders roll like angry waves as he tenses his arms, always ready to throw a punch before saying a word. I wait, watch Elaney's eyes snap open in sheer horror, then pick up the phone. I listen as I dial.

Kent relaxes his fingers just enough for Elaney to sputter out a weak scream. "What in the….Goddamn..what….are…you….-"

"Just dropping by to settle a bet," Grant says wryly, not a bit of humor in his rugged voice. "See, I bet Kent here that a lying sack of crap like you who would set up another cop for the money you're stealing, then kill him could survive being suffocated. Kent said it wasn't possible, that even crooked cops who butcher people to cover their own asses need to breathe. So, we came by to see who won."

"Trouble is," Kent continues, sarcasm riddling every word, "You woke up before we could find out."

I see Elaney's eyes in the dim swinging light. For an instant, just long enough for him to remember how it felt not to breathe, he thinks about clamming up shut and not saying one word, fighting his way out of this one. But just for an instant, then he tastes Kent's hand on his lips, inhales his own fear again. And he can't tell us enough.

"I was going…to be found out…"Elaney breathes deeply four or five times, trying to fill his body with as much air to clean out the terror still growing within him. "I'd been taking a little off the top each time I handled…money from the other cops for…races, cards, whatever." His breathing slows, but he still looks like a frightened dog ready to bolt at any moment. "Then..I found out that..Joe knew. He knew what I was doing."

"How did he find out about the money?" Grant asks.

"Not..the money," Elaney shakes his head. "Not just the money. Joe found out about me….and her."

I clench the receiver of the phone, feeling the blood drain from my knuckles, the words strangle in my throat.

"He….knew about us," Elaney rambles on. "She tells me he's going to stop it, kill me. She says that he told her he knew where she'd been getting all her new clothes and jewelry. How I was getting the money, everything."

"So," Grant says, "You killed him."

Elaney nods, no fear, no anger, just a lifeless nod. "She says that I have to get rid of him, get him out of the way, or I will go to jail, or worse, and I will lose her. She tells me how I can save us both, how I can set Joe up as the one who stole from the all the cops, who had to go to Papa Sal, not me. How I can make it look like Papa Sal's crazy boy, Littles, cut up Joe, did him in for Papa Sal. She says that would put us both in the clear."

"All it did," Kent says, flinching suddenly in mid sentence, his left hand going to his temple, like he's in pain. He still finishes, "All it did was get Papa Sal Retorio killed and set you up to take the blame for everything."

"I'm done," I say, hanging up the phone, my voice as hollow as the rest of me feels me right now. Grant turns to face me.

Elaney tries to sneer at me, but it looks like a weak smirk, "Who the hell were you calling from here at one in the morning, Hammer?"

"Another guy you tried to set up, like Dungan." I don't even look at Elaney, just move toward the door. "The one you wanted to go down for his death, before we came along. You remember, Evan. He hangs out just down the street here." Now I turn, still able to see Elaney's face behind Grant. Easy to find him really, just called Vino Delspucci over at Papa Sal's. He was more than happy to tell me where Littles was when I told him how it was you that started all this."

The light in the room doesn't have to be good to let me see Elaney's face go stark white, like the dismembered corpse he'll be pretty soon, when I mention Littles. He starts trembling, his hands shaking like leaves in a wind storm. His right hand shivers its way near a pillow propped up against the wall. Before I can move, Kent looks at the pillow, through the pillow, still holding his temple. He shouts, "GUN!" as he slaps Elaney unconscious with one flat hand. Grant spins, I step twice and end up at the foot of the bed. Kent says nothing, but leans over, pulls the pillow away, revealing the revolver hidden under it.

Grant cocks his head, looking at Kent. "Hurt like that every time your eyes let you see through things?"

"Worse each time, not much, but a little." Kent shakes his head. "But it's passed. We'd better leave."

Yeah," I say, going back to the door. "I told Littles he'd have Evan here all to himself."

"Nearly over," Kent says, "This is nearly over."

"Helluva day," Grant says, almost genuinely laughing, "ain't it?"

"Yeah," I say, "helluva day"

"Do you know where we're going, Hammer?" Grant asks.

"Yeah," I say. "Back to the warehouse. Until morning."

"Then?" Kent asks.

I open the door slowly, closing my eyes tight as I say, "Then we have breakfast with a lady."


******

I watch as the side door moves, the rusty hinges squeaking like tortured rats as she leans her body into the door to force it open. She walks in, not sheepishly, fearful of what may lay waiting for her in the dark, dusty walls of the warehouse, but instead confidently, her well crafted legs gracefully slicing through the shadows, almost in a defiant tone. She stops, speaks, her voice low, quivering, scared, but not convincingly.

"Mike? Michael, are you here?"

"I'm here, Lorraine."

"Where, I can't see you. Mike, it's so dark in here. I'm afraid. I can't see you."

"Over here, to your right."

As she turns to her right, the early morning sunlight cutting through the shards of broken glass above her shimmers off the tiny pistol she holds firmly in her left hand.

"Why did you have me come out here, Mike, so early in the morning?"

"I needed to talk to you, Lorraine. Like I said on the phone, I know the whole story about Joe's death. The other two goons I was running with ran out on me last night, left me here. They were scared by what we found out, I guess. But I needed to see you."

"Then," She pauses as she raises the pistol, her eyes locking on my trenchcoat and hat cloaked in the cobwebs and darkness, "You are alone? What did you find out, Mike? Did you find Joe's killer?"

"Yeah," I say, the disgust rising in my words and my throat. "That and whole lot more. Like how it wasn't Joe who owed Papa Sal money. And how Joe was being set up by another cop. And how that other cop was only setting up Joe because.." I pause, "because you told him to."

"What?" The little-girl-scare-of-the-dark tremor leaves her voice, a razor's edge replacing it. "Who told you that, Mike?"

"You did, Lorraine." I move closer to her, my hands out, her eyes not wavering. "By choosing Evan Elaney to sleep with, by bullying him into buying you everything you wanted, then by getting him to kill Joe just because you didn't want the gravy train to stop rolling. You told me. Just took me awhile to hear it."

She levels the gun, her hands as steady as granite. No fear at all in shooting me. Just like she had no fear at all in getting Elaney to carve up her husband. "It was all going to be all right, Mike. Everything. Joe couldn't see past himself to give me what I had to have. He wouldn't even get me far enough away from Brooklyn. His whores were all he spent his money on. Evan, now Evan was a different story." Her voice takes on a savage sparkle, like a sharpened knife blade. "He wanted a woman like me, one who knew what she wanted and would make him give to her, so bad he couldn't get my taste out of his mouth. He bought me everything, Mike. Everything I wanted."

"Until Joe found out."

She steps forward, gun still steady. "That and when Evan thought he was going to get caught. For stealing the money, that is. So I had to help him out of it. I gave him the idea about Joe and Retorio-"

"And me."

She smiles, I see it out of the corner of my eye as I move closer. "You were heading that way anyway, Mike. That's what everyone in the old neighborhood always said. Either a cop or a killer. I just thought I would help you along. But those other two fools messed it up." Her smile widens. "But, they're gone now, aren't they?"

"Yes, Lorraine. It's just you and me. Like it used to be in the neighborhood. Except you have all your clothes on now."

"Yes, Mike," She says, pulling back the hammer. "And I won't leave you smiling this time."

She fires. She screams out in surprise when the bullet bounces off the trenchcoat. She shoots again, but still the bullet ricochets off into the shadows. "Fall, damn you!" I grab her from her left side knocking the gun away, as Kent steps from the shadows, my trenchcoat draped over his massive shoulders, two holes still smoldering in the coat. Grant moves in from behind her, slowly, just in case there are any surprises. I wrestle her down to the ground easily, her mind still in shock from what she just saw.

"What…how…how…"

"Wonders of the world," I say to her in a whisper, just like I did the first time we made love so many years ago, but not with the same emotion, "Wonders of the world."

Kent and Grant lean over, each taking one of her arms, lifting her up, as I stand. I look at her, trying to find the innocent girl that I thought I robbed of her innocence. Now I see something else, a woman who was never a girl, never pure, not even way back in Brooklyn. I turn away from her, walking away a few steps. As I turn, I see Kent let her go.

"Mike," he says, "Are you all right?"

"Will be," I say, "I will-"

"Damn!"

Grant's cursing spins both of us around, me drawing Betsy as I turn. Grant is bent over, holding his crotch. Lorraine points another gun, one she had hidden, at me.

"You won't take it away from me, Mike." She's ranting, no idea what is happening, just that she won't give it up.

"It's already gone, Lorraine." I aim Betsy at her, my arms trembling. "Elaney's dead by now. It's already gone."

She shakes her head wildly, her hands tensing up. I can't wait, not anymore. I pull the trigger. Suddenly, everything slows down, I swear I can almost see Betsy spit the bullet out. Grant shouts, "Kent!" Kent steps once, throwing his hand in front of Lorraine's head. Grant comes up, a flat hand to her gun, batting it away, then an uppercut to her chin, knocking her unconscious, laying her on the warehouse floor. Kent pulls his hand back, tossing the smashed bullet to the floor beside Lorraine's head.

Grant moves to me. "Couldn't let you do that, kid. Bad enough you had your first, couldn't let the next one be a woman. Especially one you cared about once."

I look at Lorraine. "Wouldn't have been, Grant. That woman never really was here. Ever." *********************************

"So," I say, looking at Kent and Grant standing across from me, the Brooklyn Bridge towering behind them. "Guess we can all walk away free men

now."

"As free as a man can," Kent replies, "from something like this."

Grant nods, his eyes falling heavy on me. "Don't care how free I am. The notice this thing is going to get, in the papers or on the street, is going to make me too hot to fight in this town for awhile. Nobody gonna want an honest fighter who they heard mighta killed a cop."

"No, not for awhile anyway," I say. "What about you, Kent?"

He shrugs his shoulders. "I came here wandering. I'll leave doing the same. You're welcome to go, Hammer," Kent says, his voice softening, "if you need to get out of town for awhile."

"Same for me, too, kid," Grant adds. "You got pretty good hands. I could use a good sparring partner."

"No," I say, my eyes drifting above them, lighting on the most beautiful horizon I've ever seen to this date. The Bridge there against the mottled blue gray of the sky. The sky over New York City. "I think I'm going to make a go of things here. After all, the city's like a lady that loves you." I smile, pulling my hat down as I turn to walk away. "No matter what you do, she's always there for you."

End of A MAN NAMED KENT: THREE NAILS

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TheYesterYearFan Fiction Group acknowledges that Clark Kent and ALL other non-original characters are the property of respective individuals and corporations not linked to this story. These companies retain complete rights to their characters. These concepts are used WITHOUT permission for NO PROFIT, but rather a strong desire to peer into the potential these characters have in a combined setting. This also acknowledges that original concepts presented here are the intellectual property of the author.

This YesterYear story is © 1998 by Tommy Hancock.

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