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Chapter One:
The Best Laid Plans

Chapter Two:
Facing The Music

Chapter Three:
From Bad To Worse

Chapter Four:
Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Chapter Five:
Scene of the Crime

Chapter Six:
Dancing with the Devil

Chapter Seven:
Turn of an Unfriendly Card

Chapter Eight:
The Cold Hand of Death

Chapter Nine:
So Close...

Chapter Ten:
Hunting Season

Chapter Eleven:
Leap of Faith

Chapter Twelve:
Incriminating Evidence

Chapter Thirteen:
Unhappy Homecomings

Stripped of Honor!

- A Tale of the Broadway Bombers -

By Geoff Skellams

Chapter Six: Dancing with the Devil

Loyle Crawford closed the bathroom cabinet and looked at himself in the mirror. The shiner around his left eye had faded to a pale purple, tinged with sickly green. A short cut above his left eye stung like crazy.

For more information see:
Loyle Crawford

It was times like this he really regretted being on the cover of so many magazines—he'd barely escaped from two angry mobs that had recognized him since his arrival in the I.S.A. two weeks ago. After that, he'd dyed his hair black and grown a beard to try and disguise his famous good looks.

For more information see:
The Industrial States of America

It's lucky the press in the Empire State can't see you now, he thought. Just look at you.

Loyle straightened his tie before he doused the bathroom light out and walked over to the bed. He picked up a cigar box that had been left on the dingy, bare mattress and opened the lid, revealing what remained of his rapidly-dwindling supply of cash: a ten-dollar bill accompanied by a pair of twenties.

The pirate Devastator he'd "liberated" hadn't fetched much after a run-in with the Empire State militia near Niagara Falls. The militia's old F-4 Bandits had chewed great holes in the Devastator's wings; Loyle had been able to see the ground through his port wing. By the time Loyle had put the plane down near Three Rivers, the engine was badly misfiring. The old farmer who had bought the plane for his son had driven a hard bargain.

For more information see:
Hughes Devastator; The Empire State

Loyle grimaced at the thought of the small fortune he'd spent bribing people in his search for the torch singer in the picture he'd acquired at the wrecked pirate base. Every night, he'd been in a different club or speakeasy looking for her, buying round after round of rotgut. He felt no closer to finding her now than he had when he arrived in the Windy City.

Loyle knelt down next to the wall and pulled the heating grate free. After sliding the cigar box back into its hiding place, he quickly replaced the grating and made sure the screws were tightly in place.

He stood up and took his overcoat from the bed. Slipping it on, he patted his pockets to make sure he still had the photo of the girl and his pistol; they were right where they were supposed to be. Loyle belted the coat and walked over to the dresser where a half-empty bottle of bourbon and a glass sat waiting.

He poured himself a generous measure and knocked it back in one swig.

For luck, he thought.

He grabbed his fedora from the bed, switched off the light and locked the apartment door behind him.

"Here's fine, thanks driver," said Loyle, leaning forward towards the aerotaxi's pilot. He slid a five-dollar note through the slot as the autogyro landed softly in the middle of the street.

The driver turned to face him. "Thank you, sir" he said. A flash of recognition crossed his face. "Say, don't I know you from someplace?"

Loyle shook his head. "No. I get that a lot, though...I must have that kind of face. Good night." He stepped out of the cabin, ducking his head to avoid the rapidly spinning rotor blade. He closed the door and ran to the pavement, as the taxi leapt into the air again.

Loyle flipped his collar up against the cold wind that whistled down the street. He shoved his hands in his pockets and quickly walked the block and a half towards Finnegan's bar.

Pushing the door open, Loyle stepped through into the smoke filled room. The bar was crowded; most of the tables were already filled. Up on stage, the band was playing a slow, soulful ballad. The singer was an attractive redhead wearing an off-the-shoulder green evening dress.

Loyle slid into an unoccupied booth at the back where he could keep an eye on the singer. He laid his hat on the seat next to him.

A waitress appeared at Loyle's elbow. "Can I get you anything?" she purred.

Loyle looked up at her. Her big brown eyes glinted with a hint of mischief. "Not tonight, darling," he said. "Just a glass of cider."

She sighed. "Your loss, handsome," she said as she moved away to the bar.

Loyle looked around the bar. It was a rough looking crowd; most of the men were sporting the colors of several minor pirate gangs. I'll have to watch myself, thought Loyle.

The waitress came back with Loyle's drink. "Are you sure there's nothing more I can do for you?" she asked as she set the cider in front of him.

Loyle shook his head, sorely tempted despite his precarious situation. The waitress was a looker, that was for sure. "Sorry, sweetheart," he said. "Just the drink." He picked it up and took a sip. It wasn't the best cider Loyle had ever tried, but it was drinkable.

The waitress smiled back, her eyebrow arching. . "Like I said, your loss." She turned and started towards the next table.

Loyle gently grabbed her wrist. "Wait," he said, putting down his glass. "Maybe there is something you can do for me."

The waitress turned with an expectant look on her face. "There is, huh?" she said, the hint of mischief back in her voice.

Loyle fished the photo of the singer from his coat and showed it to the waitress. "Do you know this woman? Her name's Lily. She's an old sweetheart of mine and she ran away year or so back. I was stupid and let her go. But I've realized what a fool I was, so I've come looking for her. I want to propose to her."

"Oh, that's so sweet." She took the photograph and looked at it for a few seconds. "I wish I had some good news, fella, but I don't. I don't remember anyone called Lily singing in here. Sorry."

Loyle used the best pleading look he could muster, one he'd had a lot of time practicing over the last couple of weeks. "You're sure? Please have another look."

The girl studied the photo again. "Hey, wait a second. The drummer, I recognize him. His name's Ralph and he's a real sheik. I remember them playing here a couple of months back. Yeah, now I remember her. Her hair was shorter I think. But her name wasn't Lily; I think it was Marlene. She had a nice voice, all sultry and that. But they haven't been in here for a few months." She handed the picture back.

Loyle smiled up at her, slipping a five-dollar bill into her hand. "Thanks, doll, you've been a big help."

"Anytime, sweets," she said as she walked off to the next table.

Loyle looked around the room again; there was no one that he recognized. No point hanging around here any longer. He knocked back the rest of his cider, grabbed his hat and headed for the men's room.

He didn't see the man at the bar nod subtly at two other men, who got up from their table and followed him.

Loyle was washing his hands when the door opened and two men walked in. One had a jaw that looked like it had been carved from solid rock. The other was shorter, with a pencil-thin moustache and weaselly eyes that darted back and forth.

"Well, well, well," said the taller one, cracking his knuckles. "If it isn't the infamous 'Show-stopper' Crawford."

Loyle looked at them as he wiped his hands on a towel, feigning surprise. "Who, me? Sorry boys...you got the wrong guy." Crawford stepped forward, trying to casually move past the pair.

"Don't give us any of that bushwa, Crawford. You've got some brass coming to Chicago. There's a price on your head around here." The jaw cracked open into an evil grin. "One that I mean to collect." His partner's face also split into a malicious smile, like predators gleefully closing in for the kill.

Loyle realized there was no point in trying to prolong the charade. "What makes you think I'm just going to give up?"

The weasel pulled out a folding knife, the light glinting on the shiny inlay on the handle. The knife handle was decorated with an image of four aces...and a skull and crossbones on the Ace of Spades.

The pirate—obviously well-acquainted with knife fighting—flicked open the weapon with a practiced snap of his wrist. "Simple," he growled. "You come quietly, and no one gets hurt."

Loyle threw his head back and laughed.

"What's so funny?"

Crawford drew his pistol and pointed it at the two men, his face now deadly serious. "Didn't anyone ever tell you? 'A Smith & Wesson beats four aces.'" He motioned them away from the door with the gun. "Up against the wall."

He disarmed the weasel and quickly patted them both down. The taller one had a pair of handcuffs, which Loyle quickly pocketed.

"Your trousers. Take them off, both of you."

The weasel glanced around. "What?"

Loyle jammed the barrel of his pistol into the man's kidney. "Don't make me repeat myself. Take off your trousers and give them to me."

Both men quickly stripped off their trousers and handed them over. Crawford put them both in the toilet. That should stop you putting them back on in a hurry. He looked around the room quickly, spotting the column heater underneath the window.

"Right, you two, over here."

Loyle handcuffed the two men to the heater and headed for the door. He paused and looked back at the two thugs. "Guess I'll be seeing you."

Loyle slid the pistol back into his pocket and walked back out into the bar. If anything, it seemed noisier now the band had finished its set. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat and headed for the door.

A man in a dark suit got up from the bar and blocked Loyle's path. He had dark, beady eyes and a hawk-like nose. "Going someplace, Crawford?"

"Actually, I was just leaving," said Loyle.

"I don't think so," grunted the man, as his right fist slammed into Loyle's solar plexus, driving the wind out of him. "That's for shooting me down over the Appalachians a couple of months back, you bastard." His assailant's left hand lashed out, connecting with Loyle's chin and sending him sprawling backwards into a table laden with beer glasses.

For more information see:

"Hey," said one of the pirates seated at the table, "watch what the hell you're doing!"

"And that," said the hawk-nosed man, standing over him, "was for my brother, who never came home."

Loyle vision swam as he staggered to his feet. His attacker grabbed him by the shirtfront and hauled Loyle to his feet. Hawk-nose pulled Loyle's face up close. "I've waited a long time for this!!" he said through clenched teeth.

Loyle's knee connected with his attacker's groin, instantly doubling the man over in agony. Crawford stepped forward and launched a kick at Hawk-nose, then turned to bolt for the door.

Someone behind him grabbed Loyle by the right shoulder and swung him around. The next thing Loyle knew was the fist slamming into his face, sending him flying backwards onto the table of a private booth. Loyle's flailing arms collected a cocktail glass on the table, dumping the contents down the front of the evening dress of the attractive young blonde woman who tried unsuccessfully to get out of the way.

"Hey, fella! What are you playing at?" snapped the woman's escort, jumping to his feet. "We were having a quiet drink here!"

Loyle muttered an apology and staggered to his feet. A couple of burly, bandana-wearing pirates were swaggering up to have another crack at him. Loyle wiped some blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand.

He backed away from the table and looked at the well-dressed man who was getting up. He was probably in his mid-thirties, with dark hair and roguish good looks. Dressed in a black dinner suit, he looked very out of place. The anger in his eyes was enough for Loyle, who raised his fists and braced himself.

The two bandana-wearing pirates moved around another table headed straight for Loyle, their evil grins showing teeth stained from chewing tobacco. "Had enough yet, Crawford?" they taunted. "'Cause we sure as hell haven't!"

Loyle grabbed a chair and swung it back and forth in front of him. The two pirates dodged away easily, circling around for another pass.

One of the pirates looked across at the well-dressed man. "Feel like joining in? There's more than enough to go round."

The man looked across at Loyle with a malicious sneer. "Sure," he said. "That would be swell." He moved around a table to stand next to the pirate. "Do you want to go first, or shall I?"

"I saw him first. You finish him off."

"Wrong answer," said the man, suddenly sucker-punching the pirate in the kidneys. The pirate collapsed to the ground, wheezing frantically as he tried to draw breath.

The man leapt onto a table and kicked the second pirate in side of the head. The bandit grunted and collapsed to the ground, catching his head on a table on the way down.

The man on the table grinned at Loyle. "Grab the girl and head for the door. I'll cover you and meet you outside."

Loyle nodded, grateful only for the reprieve. He darted back to the man's table and offered his hand to the young lady. "Come on," he said. "We have to get out of here."

The woman finished wiping her dress with a napkin, grabbed her purse and stood up. She glanced over to her companion, who was facing down another pair of irate pirates.

"Come on, miss," said Loyle, "we have to go now!"

Loyle led the girl quickly towards the door, skirting around the outside of the fighting. Luckily for him, most of the pirates seemed to be more interested in attacking the guy on the table, who was busy punching another brute in the face.

The hawk-nosed man stepped in front of Loyle again. "I hadn't finished with you."

Loyle slammed his fist heavily into the man's stomach. "Well, you should've," muttered Crawford. He grabbed the back of the man's head and slammed it down onto the edge of the bar. He dropped like a rag-doll to the floor.

Loyle turned towards the woman. "Come on, let's get out of here."

He pushed the door open and stepped into the cool night air. They ducked around the corner, away from the door. Loyle offered his coat to the young woman who draped it over her shoulders. "Thanks," she said.

The woman's companion slid around the corner, cutting Loyle off. "Say, there you are. Let's get out of here. We'll get Madeline home, and then we'll see if we can't help you out a little, Mr. Crawford."

Loyle looked at him. "Thanks for the help in there. I thought I was a goner. You obviously know me, but who are you?"

The man's face was split by a roguish grin as he stuck out his right hand. "I'm sorry," he said. "Zachary's my name, Nathan Zachary. Pleased to meet you."


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