CWIN Vol. 3, No. 9
Auto-Combat Fiction
Déja Blues

Written by Robert J. Garitta

Published by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team, September 08, 2000
Updated September 08, 2000

Smokey Seevers had the makings of a champ. That is, he was in the right place at the right time. When Reuben Vasquez cut him off with his Hotshot, Smokey was only driving a Blockhead compact. Vasquez probably thought he'd put on a show for the news helicopter flying overhead. Smokey didn't take it well. He caught up to Vasquez, braving the Hotshot's flame throwers. The copter was filming when the little compact slammed into the bigger car pushing it onto the shoulder and then the divider. As the Rockaway Overpass came up Smokey's blackened car and the Hotshot parted company. The Hotshot driver saw the overpass and tried a hard drift away but fishtailed and slammed into it sideways breaching his already shattered side armor. Vasquez probably thought he'd put on a show and he was right. Of course his clone would be up in a few weeks and the reporters could ask him.

Smokey had his nickname. He gave a great interview to Gloria Muny of Channel 91. A week later with his name fresh in the viewers' minds he had a disagreement with the Kingsway motorcycle gang. The bikers thought they'd keep his ram car at a distance and snipe at him. Smokey proved them wrong, three of them terminally. Once again the news helicopters were watching. Smokey went pro in the arena. He got a backer and a mid-size ram car. He got a match in Division 25 and then things went sour.

A good street duelist is not necessarily a good arena duelist. He tended to go after a target single mindedly while everyone else blazed away at him. He was . . . mediocre. In a week, the backers had pulled out. There was this new kid who cubed a van of anarchists in Queens. You know the story. Smokey was living high and now the bills came due. His creditors took his dreams, the beach house and his sponsor stamped body armor. You'd think they would have the decency to leave him his little Blockhead. But Smokey was behind a few payments. No doubt he was doing more important things, like sipping champagne with starlets, and forgot to mail the check. A sad story indeed.

Anyway that was why I was breaking into his car that morning. It was a rainy Saturday about a half-hour before dawn. The rain was good and bad. It was good because the gloom would tend to make people wake up later. No one would get up if they didn't have to on a day like today. It was bad because I was getting wet. Then again, it should not have taken long.

Should and did were two different things. For the fourth time I stopped and ducked behind a mailbox at a sound. It was rough working without someone watching my back. This job was more hazardous than most. I spared another look at Smokey's apartment window. As I did I dropped the probe I was working with. It fell to the slick asphalt with a clatter and I swore softly. I couldn't be this out of practice.

This stunk. I was badly out of practice. The love of my life had talked me into being a courier some time ago. Repossessing cars was dangerous with a good partner, and I didn't have any. No one was watching my back with a motor idling for a quick getaway. No one would give me a lift to the job. People gave the weirdest looks when I rode the bus in body armor and gas mask. I did get a seat though.

Sandra had lost me once and gotten me cloned. She had worried enough about me for one lifetime. That was why I tried hard not to let her know I was taking repossession jobs on the side. A couple of times she had almost caught me checking the elmay boards for wanted vehicles, but I had convinced her I was looking for porno. It's amazing what you do for love.

A cycle was coming down the street. I lay down between the curb and the Blockhead's wheels. That made a lot of people's predictions come true. The bike went past; it had PR radials. I quickly resumed. This time the door yielded to the probe. I jumped in and lay under the dashboard. Then I got my needle nosed pliers caught in my back pocket. I was lying there wriggling around when I heard the tap-tap of footsteps coming closer. I drew my pistol just as Sandra stuck her head in the car. Crap.

"What are you doing here?" she asked loading the simple question with enough feminine reproach to dissolve gold.

"You came just in time. An invisible woman is trying to have her way with me," I replied still pulling at the pliers and twisting around.

"Sean told me what you were doing. Isn't the courier job enough for you?"

"Protestant work ethic?"

"You're an agnostic. It's one reason God keeps hosing you."

"Look, I'd appreciate it if you let me steal this car," I replied hotly.

"That's some attitude. You're always around me when I'm working," she said sounding hurt.

"That's what you get for working in a bar. My compliments on waking up so soon. I was sure I plied you with enough wine to keep you sleeping till lunch. Now get lost dearest." I gave her my best 'if you know what's good for you young lady' tone. Apparently, being my girlfriend, she didn't.

"Right. Well there's some muscle head that phoned at our place, asking about you. Are you in trouble?" The 'again' was unvoiced, but I had learned to speak woman a while ago. It was just the new improved me. Well, new at any rate.

"I'm a little busy right now. Break his legs for me. That's a joke by the way." The starter wires were sparking in my hand but the car wouldn't power up. Maybe the regulator board was shot? You never knew what was falling off on a ram car.

"We're going to talk about this when you get back to the house," meaning she'd talk, I'd listen (or do a good impression). It was at times like this I reflected that she treated me like I was six. The problem was I was six, technically and she had a receipt for me from Gold Cross to prove it. She often considered getting her money back on me.

"Working!" I grumbled. She stood there for a second and then left I heard the tap-tap of her boots recede.

The Blockhead's onboard was reluctant. But it finally began the power up sequence. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I heard that tap-tap approaching. I hauled myself upright, ready to give Sandra the bawling out of her life for bothering me again. Smokey Seevers stood before me wearing pajamas and a flak jacket. He gripped an aluminum bat convulsively.

"You're late," I said.

"Moonlighting is going to get you killed," Sean was saying. "Then I'll have to make your rounds while I train your replacement." He took a gulp of his beer. It was eight o'clock in the evening and we were at Dooley's. The usual crowd was rolling, walking and swaggering in. Dooley was on vacation on Long Island and Sandra was running the place on her own. I was showing my support by ordering as much beer as I could hold, usually while Sandra had her hands full.

"Yeah right. I was repossessing cars for years before you got me this courier job, remember?"

"Yes. Did you ever have a repo job go smoothly? Just asking, I mean those stories in ADQ . . . "

I slammed my drink down angrily. "Listen, those stories were just the funnier jobs. I had to pitch interesting stories. Besides, that ghostwriter they got did a lousy job. He made me look like a screw up."

Sean drank silently. Sandra passed by with a tray of drinks and gave me a reproachful look. I turned slightly so she wouldn't look at the sling around my right arm. Smokey was washed up in the arena, but he might have a career in baseball. After they fixed his kneecap.

"You know what you're doing is dangerous," he counseled.

"Hey, I don't want to work alone. I just haven't found the right partner yet."

"I wasn't thinking about doing it alone. I was thinking about doing it behind Sandra's back. Why didn't you at least slip her a mickey?" he said.

"Use drugs on the woman I love? Never. I'll just stick to alcohol. Maybe we'll have some turkey tonight too . . . " I quieted down as Sandra approached. She set another beer in front of Sean then pushed his money back at him. As she left she gave him a sweet smile.

"So accepting free drinks to brainwash me, eh?" I said. "I thought you were my friend."

"If I'm your friend why don't you ever buy me drinks?" he asked. I was working on a suitable reply when Sandra came back fast. I knew there was trouble because she never moved that fast waiting on the customers.

'Lucky, that muscle-head who just came in was asking for you," she said. Our love may not run smoothly, but it will run over anyone in our way. It's like Smokey's ram car. Sean looked concerned, but I knew he favored grenades and Dooley's had a strict no grenades rule after what happened to the espresso machine. I waved him off and turned to size up the muscle.

Sandra hadn't exaggerated. The gray suit he wore must be custom made, armored too most likely. I adjusted my sling and walked over to him. His eyes narrowed as I approached him sizing me up. It didn't take long.

"You the guy looking to get Lucky?" I asked. More than one fellow chasing me wound up sidetracked by saying that.

"Yes. Are you Lucky?" he asked.

"Well if you don't know that, what business could you have with him?" I asked. It is a grave breach of etiquette in my circle to admit you know someone, or don't know someone. Of course if they owe you money all bets are off.

"I think you're Lucky. You fit the description. Short, big mouth and most likely injured. Someone told me you'd need a partner for repo work and I had a chance at the job." I was wondering who the hell this guy was and what he wanted, so I forgot about the derringer in my sling for the moment. He stepped closer.

"I heard you'd take me on if I crawled over flaming oil for you," he whispered.

Fifteen minutes later Otto and I were having drinks in a booth in the back. Sean and Sandra were keeping their distance under my watchful glare and we were drinking coffee. I had gotten over most of my surprise at actually meeting someone named Otto.

"So tell me what the deal is with Hammer," I said after sugaring my coffee. Any mention of Hammer got my full attention these days. I hadn't heard from the human SUV in months. That time I told him I would take him back after he crawled over flaming oil. Of course Otto had to have his fun.

"I don't know, you weren't too clear about who you were before. Maybe I want to see some photo ID. A wanted poster or something," he said sipping from his mug.

"Did you get so big and tall by taking Viagra?" I asked. Apparently that established my credentials sufficiently. Hammer was the best partner I ever had, and my best friend. Hell, at times he was my only friend. I wasn't about to let the fact that he had enough money to have people change that.

It had been two years since Hammer got tired of repossessing cars with me and turned to Ob-racing. Apparently being shot at on live feed paid a lot better than I was used to. Obviously if they paid repo-men extra for being shot at, no one could ever afford to have a car repossessed. I pretty much took it as on the job feedback. Being shot at in a Vegas arena was pretty lucrative indeed. Hammer had the size to handle any other racers who got in his way and had the speed to avoid most of the traps. At the end of two years he had money, a loyal following and a failed marriage to show for it.

"Mr. Hammer is now filming in the area," Otto capped Hammer's career to date.

"Assume you mean acting overtly as opposed to Ob-racing," I said. Otto narrowed his eyes at my tone.

"Mr. Hammer said you had a low opinion of the sport," Otto said.

"I think it's a damn meat grinder. Ob-racers get used up by the sport at an alarming rate and usually don't get to spend their money. That is unless the backer's manage to make a few films with them that make money. If the films don't make money, or the racers hold out for a bigger share; well it's amazing what events racers under contract have to endure." For all I knew Hammer was already washed up. I hadn't been following his career in a while. I didn't like the idea of people shooting at him when I wasn't involved. I finally got a lid on my bile as Otto proceeded to the chase.

"Mr. Hammer is having some trouble in his filming. He has asked me to secure your services," Otto finished. Secure my services? This had tax write off stamped all over it. But who was I to refuse my friend and a movie producer's money. I'd just have to boil the money first. To my credit, I'd run to help Hammer if there was no money involved. Of course with money involved, I'd run a little faster.

Otto gave me the location of filming and a studio pass. I was impressed as they were using the old Brooklyn Navy Yard complex. Apparently they were keeping the nature of their work quiet to avoid video pirates and such. Otto was barely out of the door when Sandra and Sean descended on me like gossipy vultures. I told them what happened.

Sandra gave me a slap in the head; "You were so mean to Hammer when he left, pouring water on all his hopes, saying you'd never take him back."

"Now Sandra, that's just how guys try for closure," Sean explained. Then he slapped me on the head. "That doesn't make it right!" he scolded.

"So what are you going to do?" Sandra asked sliding next to me and cuddling against my shoulder.

"Well I was going to try to cut you both in on this job, but seeing as you both slapped me in the head splunge off! And that's my hurt shoulder you're rubbing against you phony." The last was directed at Sandra. She shifted position slightly and gave me a peck on the cheek. I let her. After all, she had two good arms.

The next day saw me at the Studio bright and early. I parked my trike a few blocks away and secured it. Most people don't regard trikes well. I heard of a guy with a trike that he kept garaged. He woke up one day to find his garage broken into. Running inside he found someone had left him another trike. Ha Ha. Anyway, I drove a nondescript black trike that Sandra had christened Triklops.

Sandra was still asleep. I had seen to that. It turned out champagne was her weakness. It was a good thing to know. I'd have to get a six pack for emergencies. The studio was a crazy mob of people running around furnishing, jumping over cables and jostling large dangerous looking machinery. It wasn't that different from Ob-racing. Extras went bustling about and jostling crew. Actors strode around like they should have had their own soundtracks. Forklifts and power armor suits shifted loads around. Hammer's RV was in the north corner of the lot. It was a killer. Literally.

I found Hammer in a chair with his name on it having make-up applied by a pretty young lady. He was sporting a bright red Mohawk that was a foot high. I had never realized the quiet dignity of my job before. I celebrated our reunion by sneaking up and throwing a dummy grenade in his lap. The make-up woman gave a little scream and fled. Hammer just picked up the grenade and handed it back to me.

"Mirror," he said indicating the dressing table in front of him.

"I never could fool you. You want to tell Otto get his gun out of my back?"

"I think that's his call," he got up turned and shook my arm vigorously. He always seemed to get the hand and most of my forearm into his hand. I winced as he pumped my hurt shoulder. I had left my sling at home. Otto put his gun away.

"Swell digs," I said smiling.

"Not really. Otto, if you'd please." Otto exited.

"So what's going on here?" I asked. I was sure he didn't need a car stolen. That was pretty much what I did.

"I was in the area, I wanted you here for company. " I dropped into a chair. It began vibrating and doing nice things to my hurt shoulder. I let out a heartfelt sigh. If Sandra did this sort of thing, I'd take housework.

"I see. Nothing's wrong. That's why you sent Otto to get me?"

"I couldn't go back to the old neighborhood. Go figure, it's forbidden in a clause of my new insurance policy." That was the first thing that made sense in this studio. Lloyd's of London wouldn't take that action. I relaxed slightly, mainly because of the chair. Hammer opened a fridge and pulled out a bottle of bourbon.

"It's before lunchtime," I protested.

"It has to be after lunchtime somewhere in the world," he countered. "Besides, I've been up since 2 a.m.."

Hammer and I had a few drinks, though I opted for coffee. I was taking some painkillers for my shoulder to appear fit. I brought him up to speed on the old neighborhood. He told me about his divorce, and how he wanted to make his wife slug it out with him in a winner take all death match. Legal reform was never an interest of mine. There was a knock at the door. I was hoping it was the cute make-up woman. Instead it was a mature woman in a blue pantsuit with a laptop. She gave Hammer a practiced, minimum contact kiss on the cheek. He introduced her as Barb-his-agent. Then he introduced me.

"I've heard so much about you Mr. Dimarco… Your side should be interesting," she summed brightly. I laughed politely. Then she asked Hammer to attend to some business. She needed his signature and retina checks on some agreements. The retina checks seemed a bit extreme, but I never signed anything.

After that exchange she asked Otto to show me around. He seemed relieved. I guess a bodyguard didn't have a lot to do with Hammer for a client. The studio was a place of movie magic. That is to say a bullshit factory. There were cars with fake ram plates and guns for the actors to use and functioning dueling machines for the extras to kill each other with. I guessed they just divided a lump sum among the survivors at the end of the day. There was a trailer where some CGI was added, but Otto told me modern audiences were too sophisticated and wanted real killing. In all it made amateur night at the arena look good.

One car was parked off to the side. Its front end smashed and shot up. On the side 'Hammer' was printed in fancy techno-lettering. I looked under the hood and the weapons all seemed real, though heavily damaged. Otto was giving some instructions to a security man and not paying attention, so I slid into the driver seat and turned on the status systems. I was glancing at them when Otto found me.

"Hey Lucky, Ms. Withers wants you to join her for lunch," he said tugging at my arm. I smiled.

"I'd love too," I said.

"Mr. DiMarco, Lucky, I just wanted to thank you for coming to help Hammer. I'm sure you're looking forward to spending some time with him, but we're on a tight schedule here. Hammer isn't always aware of this," Barb was saying over cracked crab and martinis. I was contenting myself with a roll and coffee.

"Barb . . . I'd like to thank you for all this. It's the nicest I've ever been thrown out of anyplace," I said. She stopped smiling. The gloves were off.

"Lucky, you seem to be an engaging little character, but I'm not impressed. I don't want you in the way of filming. If Hammer doesn't like it, he'll have to deal with it till the filming is over."

"Well, he's getting to be a big boy now and should learn he won't always get his way. I guess he'll live with it." She sat back with an accomplished smile on her face.

"I -- on the other hand have to get my way or bad things happen," I said.

She scowled and hit a button on her speakerphone. "Get me the front gate," she growled. The connection clicked on.

"Front gate, Willis here," said the voice at the other end.

"Willis. I don't want to see Mr. Hammer's friend Dimarco on this lot again. Is that clear?" she said face impassive.

"Ms. Withers, er . . . there's no log of Dimarco arriving," stammered the guard.

I gave her my biggest smile.

In the time it took Barb-the-agent to regain her composure Hammer found me. He wanted me to check out his next scene and I obliged, knowing Barb was having a cow. I hoped it was the two-headed kind too. The scene involved Hammer racing through gunfire to his car. About halfway to the car it was going to blow up and he was supposed to leap free of the blast. I knew this because the script on Hammer's laptop said so. It would be great to have all my fights scripted. I wondered what it would cost me. The script was titled Hammer of Justice. I didn't wince until Hammer commenced acting. As the shoot began I slipped the computer into my vest.

Watching him get shot was nothing new to me. He was just being paid more now. But when he got to the mark for the explosion something went wrong. The car blew all right. In fact, too good. The armor on the car was all doctored fiberboard so there were no fragments from the explosion, but the force was enough to rattle me twice as far from it as Hammer. Hammer threw up an arm to shield his face from the flash and was flung to the ground. I was running before the echo quieted.

I pulled off my friend's helmet as the rest of the crew rushed forward. The director was already screaming that I'd ruined their scene. He tried to shove me and I elbowed him in the trousers. Hammer was coming to already he seemed to have trouble focussing. When the lot doctor arrived, I backed off. A couple of stagehands helped him to a go-cart and drove him away. I ran along behind the cart. A half-hour later Hammer and I were in his RV. Otto sat vigil on the mini-fridge. Hammer had a cold cloth over his eyes. Luckily the blast had only jarred him. I wondered if they'd be able to edit me out.

"I take it, you were supposed to survive the blast. What's going on here?" Hammer removed the cloth and looked at Otto who was not encouraging. Hammer spoke anyway.

"About six weeks back we started filming. The first day I was supposed to drive the Hammermobile up a ramp. The steering and brake systems failed and I slammed into a wall. I wound up with a concussion," he explained.

"I saw. I don't think the car ever regained consciousness," I said.

"Yeah, well I lost a couple of weeks recovering and getting some rehabilitation. It was a doozy of a hit on the head. I wound up losing some short-term memory, about a week. Now we're behind production, so everyone's a little tense. That's all. Time is money."

"Love is hell. Like I said; I saw that car. Something is wrong. Movie people don't make mistakes with first rate equipment like that. Not with the star driving." Otto looked like he was about to defend the movie industry's incompetence, then shut up. "Speaking of stars, where's the gorgeous female sidekick I read about in the script?" I asked.

"The actress they wanted is on location in Hawaii until next month. They're adding her in with computer effects later."

"Great, that they decide to fake! Well, I saw that car. I want to have another look at it now," I got up and pulled my mini-tool set out of my vest pocket. At that point there was a knock at the door. Barb-the-agent burst in gushing concern for her client. She spared me a worried look and a squeeze on the arm. She was all set to be friends again, yay. That was after she set Otto to work making her a martini and dropped her shoulder bag on my lap. After she drank the rest of her lunch and left, I headed over to the Hammer vehicle. Shooting was over for the day and the crew and actors had vanished. Hopefully most would make it back to work tomorrow. The lot was largely deserted.

It looked much as I left it. The status board still indicated multiple brake and steering glitches on the control chips. I loved technology. I stuck my head under the hood and in five minutes found where the brake lines and steering lines were cut. I wasn't surprised. In all my years I'd never seen such easy to find breakdowns. I guessed that no one bothered to do a hand's on inspection with the cause of failure listed on the car's screen and all. Even the cars were lousy actors.

There was a scrape of boot leather and I turned expecting Otto. It was Hammer. I never caught him stealing up to me so he looked chagrined.

"What'd you find?" he asked slipping on some shades. His eyes had dark rings around them.

"You've been set up. These fluid lines are cut. Who worked on this car?"

"I don't know. Barb said if I even touched a car engine the unions would shut us down." Movie people. I looked over the dashboard screen and punched up a menu. Sure enough the car had a repair log with mechanics listed by name. Most vehicles that belonged to companies did these days. I pulled out a pad and pen and jotted down the names. Then I pulled the laptop out of my vest.

"What are you doing with my script?" Hammer asked.

"Nothing. I switched your laptop for Barb-the-agent's back in the RV."

"Well, it's her own fault I guess, leaving it near you."

I punched up a listing of artists, then crew before narrowing it down to the vehicle pool. The vehicle crew was a small one. I checked the names against my pad. Then I wrote down the only name that wasn't listed on the vehicle's repair log. While he was waiting Hammer pulled of the damnable Mohawk wig and leaned tiredly against the car.

"I never worked you this hard. I usually gave you a whole day off after being blown up," I remarked.

"I've been beat since my crack up. Can't seem to get my wind back easily. I guess I've been living too soft." He smiled thinly and I said nothing.

"O.K. I'm going to go check out this mechanic. It says on the schedule he has the day off. He also had the day off when you got hammered, pardon the expression.."

"Right. I want a piece of that," Hammer growled standing straight.

"No." He looked at me puzzled.

"Hey, I'm not all in yet. I'm going, " he made a grab for the pad. I closed the laptop on the pad before he could grab it. Then I cracked the best friend I ever had between the eyes with the laptop. The laptop had one of those heavy bulletproof casing. His eyes crossed, but he stayed up and made another clumsy lunge for me. I ducked to the side, much too easily and brought the computer across the back of his neck. Hammer crashed to the ground. He was trying to get up as I brought the computer down between his shoulder blades, knowing the fight was all wrong. On impulse I left my bottle of painkillers near him.

The name I had was Mike Rossi, and was probably phony. There was a cell phone number too. I ignored that for the moment. It was too easy to get a phone under a fake name. I looked up the whole dossier on Mike Rossi on Barb-the-agent's computer, while I sat in my Triklops. Sure enough there was a car listed by his name with a make and license. Mechanics were permitted parking on the lot.

I warmed up my trike's PC and accessed DMV records. That was pretty easy if you were a repo man. Of course all I would get officially was the owner's name and address from the registration. It took a minute for the computer at the DMV to access the information and decide that I was either authorized or a mediocre hacker and release it. The car was registered to a Tiffany Slocum in Bensonhurst. I made a quick call to Sandra and told her to meet me at the address and headed over.

Mike's car was listed as a '47 Raptor. As I pulled up to Tiffany's apartment building I kept my eyes open, but didn't see the car. Sandra was waiting for me outside the building on her bike. Being a barkeep she was only slightly less nocturnal than say, Dracula. She had her feet up on the bike's bars and was dozing. Her balance must have rivaled Snoopy's because the bike remained upright. I pulled over and blew the horn. She didn't appreciate that.

"This guy is probably using his girlfriend's car so he can't be traced through it. We have to make her talk about him," I said after telling about the day's events. She gave me another smack in the head.

"I can't believe you'd try to deck Hammer, and succeed," she said. She was muttering the same thing since I told her that part, but waited until I finished the briefing to slap me. I ran the rest of my plan past her and she agreed and we mounted the apartment building's steps. Fortunately I was wearing my best blended armor for meeting famous movie people.

Tiffany's door had a television camera hook up and a small gun port. It didn't jibe with the flowery welcome mat. I rang the bell and we waited a minute before a voice answered.

"Yes. Can I help you?"

"Ms. Sloane? I'm L. Dimarco, an attorney for Ms. Rossi here," I indicated Sandra who burst into tears on cue. "I have reason to believe you're involved with her husband." After a moment the door opened.

I have often noticed that nothing brings women together like male infidelity. In the late twentieth century it was the subject of excruciating television movies. In the enlightened present the injured parties rent arena time. Tiffany saw us in and was engrossed in Sandra's tale of woe. Of course Sandra had to keep it simple, since she never met Mike Rossi, and all we had was a computer image of him from his studio file. It turned out that our Mike was Tiffany's Chester Lawrence. I didn't blame the guy for changing his name.

"I always thought it was odd that Chester would run to a check cashing service instead of letting me use my bank account," she said as if she were waking slowly.

"That was because the name on the checks wasn't the name he gave you," I nodded sagely. Sandra started crying again. It was a pity we weren't filming this. It had the makings of high drama. After a few minutes I was convinced Chester-Mike was at least a creep. Sandra was ready to give Tiffany self-defense lessons until I made a subtle cut-your throat-gesture.

"That explains the phone calls and being called out at night on business. I was so stupid! Who needs a mechanic at 3 in the morning on a movie lot," she said wringing her hands. She sat next to Sandra and in a minute they were embraced, consoling each other. That sidetracked me for a moment but I drifted over by Tiffany's phone and indicated her caller id.

"Would you have any idea where the ra- er, Chester is now?" I asked. She looked at me and shook her head sadly.

"He said he was going to work late tonight. You told me he didn't even come to the film studio. He must be running out on me now. With my car!" she shouted. I started scrolling through the phone log. Sandra had her cell phone out and was assisting Tiffany in reporting her car stolen. One of the numbers on the phone log was for a Grogan's Pub. I memorized it.

We left Tiffany ripping Chester-Mike's clothing up. Fortunately she was too distraught to ask me for a business card. I didn't think my resume on a napkin from Dooley's would pass scrutiny. We hustled out and I told Sandra about Grogan's Pub. She looked worried.

"I know that place. It's a gang hangout. Some people think it has ties to ARF," she said waiting to see my reaction.

"Great. Look, I want you to go home…" I began.

"Go home! What do you think, I can't take care of myself!?"

"Go home and pick up the gyro-slugger, my good SMG -the Alamo Arms Lone Star with the extended clip, folding stock and laser sight and any other firepower you can carry and meet me there. " I finished. She gave a squeal of happiness and hugged me.

"I'm under sentence of death anyway. I beat on Hammer," I joked.

"I know, thinking about what he's gonna do to you kept me crying," she said.

Grogan's Pub was in an area of Brooklyn where the psychotics traveled in groups, for their own safety. I was only nutcase I knew at the moment. I parked my Triklops in the parking lot for the strip mall Grogan's was nestled in. As I locked the doors and armed the alarm to men in battered body armor staggered out of the pub. Wobbling mightily, they drew pistols and fired at each other from 10 feet away. I ducked behind the trike and drew my own pistol. Shots rang out and pinged off walls and cars. Then it was quiet. The two looked at each other over smoking guns. Their pistols were empty, the slides open, but the two drunks were fine. That is they weren't staggering any different. They re-entered the pub arm in arm. I really wished I had brought my Lone Star, it was .50 caliber too. Then I saw the Raptor across the lot. Great, Chester or whoever was here. He couldn't have been here long. The car still had its tires and doors.

If there was a smoke detector in Grogan's it had died of frustration a long time ago. If it could be rolled somebody was smoking it. I walked over to the bar, but every stool was occupied. I took a booth in the back and looked around for Chester. It seemed like everyone in the place was eyeing me furtively. A battered steel door with chipped paint behind the bar was marked "Private." That was probably where they made their liquor, with tar water and grain alcohol.

The waiter came over. He was a big slab of muscle with a red face. He smiled genially as he got out his order pad. It made me relax slightly.

"You seem like a nice guy. I'll tell you what," he said. "Get a drink and leave. This is a neighborhood bar and you aren't neighborhood." He stopped smiling as he gauged my reaction.

"Fair enough. I'm just waiting for a friend. In fact, I think I got my directions mixed up. Your sign out front is kind of shot up, is this Dooley's Bar," I asked hopefully.

"Get your drink and go," he scowled. I ordered a beer and he stomped away.

The beer tasted like battery juice. The smoke made my eyes water. Over in the corner some bikers were arm wrestling with candle set up under their hands. The two pistoleers were singing something unintelligible. If Chester was in the washroom, I wasn't going in after him.

On impulse I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Grogan's number. A phone rang behind the bar. The genial waiter grabbed it.


"Hey. This is a friend of Chester. If he's there tell him there's a guy coming down there looking for him," I whispered.

"Awright. But there's no Chester comes in here," the mixologist recited.

"Right, whatever. The guy might be FBI " I hung up and finished my beer. The muscle head punched a button on the phone and spoke into it urgently. I was getting up to leave when the door behind the bar opened. Chester came out carrying a bag. With a glance at the waiter he made a beeline to the door. I jumped up and walked as quickly as possible after him.

Someone stuck his or her foot out and I crashed into a bar patron and fell to the floor. He was just turning around to grab at me. I got my legs under me, drew my gun and jammed it under his chin. His eyes rolled as his head snapped back. With my free hand I jammed a few singles under a strap on his jacket.

"The next shot is on me. You decide what kind of shot you want," I said. Then I spun around and ran for the door. Chester was almost at the Raptor. I pulled my keys out and activated my trike's ignition. Chester turned to look at it warily. I sprinted and closed to twenty feet before he realized I was bearing down on him. He fumbled for his pistol and got it out. I grabbed for my own gun, bouncing on my hip and missed. I threw my keys in Chester's face. His shot went wide and I collided with him knocking him back into the car door. He was about my size but more interested in running. I grabbed his gun hand and he tried to beat me over the head with his shoulder bag.

I slammed my forehead into his face. I hurt like hell but I felt his nose crack. He yelped and dropped the bag and I caught him in the gut, I nearly broke my hand on his body armor. He was trying to pull my hand off his gun hand with his free hand. I groped for my gun and found an empty holster. I drew the bowie knife on my vest and pressed it against his throat. He went limp. I shook his wrist and heard the gun fall to the pavement.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm Tiffany's therapist. We're doing an intervention on your sorry ass," I said.

There were a couple of shouts behind me. I pulled Chester toward me and wrapped my arm around his shoulder holding the knife close to his throat. The regulars were boiling out of the place like it was a sinking ship. They all had pistols, knives or clubs. I looked longingly at my Ladyman 10 mm, hollow point loads and all on the ground out of reach, then started nudging Chester to my trike. It didn't look good.

Then the world's biggest bottle rocket flew hissing into the pavement at the feet of the crowd. That's what a gyro-slugger round looks like. There was a bang and a cloud of gray smoke boiled up and around them. They started choking. A few got off shots, but the smoke and confusion did nothing for their aim. Another rocket slammed into the pub behind the mob and exploded peppering them with fragments. I cracked Chester in the head with the pommel of the knife. Then I hit him again to make sure he was out. I bent and retrieved my auto pistol and keys. I put a few shots into the crowd as they scattered. Lousy bastards. A few of them were jumping into cars. I shoved Chester into the Triklops and climbed in shutting the door. The trike was already powered up. I started the oil jet spraying black liquid around the mall lot. At the same time I pulled out of my space. I saw Sandra, gyro-slugger in hand, across the street on her bike and blew her a kiss. She returned the gesture then hit the juice and pulled away. Back in the lot the really big oil slick my little trike had splattered began smoking, then burst into flames. I heard faint cries of rage.

"What kept you?" I radioed.

"Sorry honey. Traffic," she apologized.

There were crashes in the lot as every driver in the lot tried to pull out. A few people were on foot trying to hop through the flames. They were still gasping from the tear gas. A Shogun and two Outlanders got free of the lot and began accelerating after us. I warmed up the spike droppers. The Shogun began firing its machinegun at Triklops, scoring the back armor. One of the Outlanders had hit the oil but was still wobbling along. Its tires were flameproof, scorched and smoking, but intact. He hit a patch of explosive spikes I dropped. He completed the rest of his trip by air. The other Outlander swerved around the spikes and started firing. I was trying to keep my trike between the bikers and Sandra. But she was pulling ahead and would be out of range soon. I began firing rockets from my turreted launcher at the Outlander bike. For a moment I wished I had listened to the dealer and bought that targeting laser. Then Fangio smiled upon me as the round landed right under the Outlander's front wheel. The explosion flipped the bike over. The Shogun cyclist didn't like the new odds and he braked to a halt shaking his fist at us.

When Chester woke up it was dark. That was because he was in a crate I was sitting on. I heard him moan and mumble something unintelligible. I tapped on the crate for his attention. He cursed weakly.

"Okay, Chester, Mike, whoever, that hard round thing you're laying on is a flaming oil grenade. You're going to answer some questions or you are going to learn how a remote detonator works. Understand?" I asked getting off the crate.

"Who the hell are you," he yelled.

"Funny, I thought you'd want to know where you were," I said.

"All right. Where the hell am I?" He was in Dooley's basement, but he didn't need to know that. Sandra had a great little door put in that you wouldn't see unless you knew where to look.

"Shut up," I explained. "There's someone here who wants to say hello." I signaled with a nod.

"Hello Chester," Tiffany said grimly. There was some scrambling in the box.

"Honey, it's not what you think!" There was a frantic banging from the box, but I had liberated it from Sean's courier. It was built to withstand being sent through the U.S. mail.

"This is touching. Listen I'm pretty sure you're with some people who are wrecking my pal's movie. Are you going to name names?" I asked.

"I want a lawyer!"

"Now how could I fit a lawyer in there? The box is barely big enough for you and the flaming oil grenade, which is going to go pop by the way. Now I'm not an unreasonable man, I'm going to count to three. I'd better hear something that makes sense by the time I get to two," I warned.

"TIFFANY! Help me," Chester wailed.

"Where's my car?" Tiffany asked.

"One," I said.

"Help! I'll . . . it's at . . . he stole it," Chester/Mike babbled.

"Two," I continued.

"Okay! I'll talk. They wanted me to sabotage a few cars, set off a few bombs to scare Hammer and his bitch agent…" Chester yelled. I made coaxing murmurs.

"After we pulled the snatch on Hammer, Barb brought in that ringer… so she could stay in production. We figured on scaring off the guy playing Hammer or killing him to show Barb we meant business." Behind me the door opened and Sandra stuck her head in. I motioned to her to be silent and looked back at the crate.

"Anyway we knew if we could hold up production Barb would be in a weaker position for negotiating a ransom," Chester said.

"Wait a minute, what do you mean 'the guy playing Hammer'?" I asked leaning closer to listen carefully.

"The guy at the studio. He's an actor right? I mean a real actor. Barb got him after we grabbed Hammer," Chester answered.

Sandra put her hand on my shoulder, and then I realized the hand was twice the size of Sandra's hand. I looked up at Hammer. Without a word he took the remote detonator from me. He could palm the detonator; his hand was that big. He did and slowly crushed it with deliberation. Then he walked over to the crate and lifted it up slammed it into the wall. There was a muffled moan from Chester.

"I'm going to ask you for an address now," Hammer said. His blackened eyes made him look like an impossibly large panda. "I strongly suggest you tell me."

Chester talked, we left him in the basement with Tiffany and Sandra. I was sure flaming oil was the least of his problems. As Hammer and I drove to the kidnapper's apartment we were both quiet. That wasn't unusual for him. For me it was an accomplishment.

"Thanks for the painkillers," he finally said. I nodded. I didn't know what to say.

"So, I'm not the original?" He finally asked.

"You're Hammer. You just aren't the first one," I corrected. He put his head back and sighed.

"It makes sense. The tiredness, the slow reactions. I figured I was just out of practice or living too wildly," he muttered.

"It's the mitochondria they use. They try to copy your own, but never quite get it right. It takes a while to adjust. It'll come," I said.

"Right. Was that what tipped you off?"

"Tiredness, amnesia, lack of coordination, a manager who crawled out of Snow White. I put it together after she tried to get rid of me. It seemed an overreaction. I thought the original . . . " I bit my tongue.

"You thought the other Hammer was dead. You were trying to spare me until you knew. Thanks." Then he looked me in the eye. "You ever clobber me like that again and I'll pull your skeleton out through your mouth."

"I couldn't think of a good phony reason to leave you behind," I explained.

"When you were cloned, how did you cope?" he asked.

"There's nothing to cope with. You are you. You haven't changed. I didn't change," I answered. Of course the other me was six feet under and not in a position to share my lodgings, car or girlfriend.

The Triklops hummed along most other drivers ignored us or were amused. That was one reason I'd bought it. Everyone underestimated trikes. Which was fine with me. Triklops had enough dirty tricks packed in its unassuming little shell to take out a bunch of pursuers.

Unfortunately it couldn't drive through a garage entrance blocked by fallen concrete and littered with old mines. You could still get a brand new explosion from an old mine. It was one of nature's mysteries. I drove around the building once to scope it out. Once I had to shove Hammer's head down when he peeked over the door. The apartment building looked condemned and I said so.

"That would explain the large 'Condemned' sign by the front door," Hammer pointed out. I bit back a reply that would not promote teamwork.

"Chester-whoever said they were holding him on the second floor, " I said. "I can crawl through the debris around the garage entrance and there seems to be a walkway between the garage and the building on the third floor." That foot high gap wouldn't help Hammer. He couldn't fit through that on the day he was born covered with 10W40.

"Yeah. No sweat, I'll climb the outside of the building," he replied. I did a double take.

"I know people have called you 'Kong" in the past but . . . "

"Hey, you haven't been watching the stuff I do on ob-races, have you?" He hopped out of the trike and faded into the shadows with like a puma. The only problem was, that wasn't him running those races.

I locked the trike and pulled on my gas mask and nightgoggles. I finally had the SMG I craved. I checked it one final time and sprinted to the garage entrance. Once there I picked up a rock and pitched it at the mines. No reaction. I looked them over from ten feet away and they seemed to be vehicular mines. That meant a pedestrian could square dance on them without setting them off. I climbed the rubble, carefully, to the top of the entrance. I squeezed through the gap, pushing my SMG ahead of me, careful of the finish. When I was completely through I stood on the top of the pile. It looked ready to slide if I climbed down. I jumped to the left as debris began to tumble down.

I was just getting up when the explosion caught me in the back and knocked me forward. I stumbled for a few steps. It wasn't like Hammer's movie where the blast picks up and deposits you a few yards away, mostly intact. My ears were ringing and for a moment my vision blurred badly. I could barely see the guard who had waited in the shadows and now stood with his arm thrown across his face to shield his eyes. I brought the streetsweeper up and fired copiously. Holes appeared in his armor and he went down.

"You were the first asshole I had to shoot since '46," I said angrily. It was a record I was sort of hoping I'd extend. I shook my head to clear it and pounded towards the stairs. Someone had used the stairway as living space in the recent past. I tried holding my breath as I ran. There was a tear gas grenade on my vest and I pulled it free as I ran. At the second floor landing I shoved the door open and jumped back. Bullets tore into the open door. I threw the grenade down the hall. It exploded with a dull thud. Thick grey clouds billowed out toward me. I took a test breath through my gas mask and threw myself prone on the hallway floor. A flashlight beam stabbed out over my head. It blacked out my light intensifiers and made me see purple. I fired blindly as my vision cleared and rolled to the side until I met the wall. There was a muffled groan and the flashlight fell to the floor. Another burst of fire from my SMG sent it skittering away. Pistol shots rang out and I heard the bullets hit the wall over my head. The light intensifier stabilized and I saw the gunman. He had a gas mask.

"Give it up. You're a blind man," I said. He pegged another shot at the wall behind me. I was satisfied my killing him wouldn't be bad karma now. One burst took him down. I stood up and brushed bits of plaster and wood from my mask and clothes then ran on. I didn't want to look at the man on the floor. At the end of the hall was the stairwell. I kicked the door open. It hit something more yielding than a wall. But only slightly. As I stepped through the person on the other side slammed the door into me. I was pinned against the door; my SMG pressed against my body. I was struggling to get free as a hand came around the door and smashed a pistol into the side of my head. The door pulled away from me and I staggered dropping the SMG. Then the door crashed into me again. This time my head smacked into the wall and I blacked out.

Rough hands grabbed me, pulled at my battle vest. When I tried to push them away a gun barrel pressed against my temple. I lay still and waited for my vision to clear. The man grabbed my mask and pulled it off. My eyes started tearing immediately. I felt a gag reflex building. The victor turned me over on my side until I was done. I looked up at him in the dim light. I caught a glimpse of a bald head and a thick neck. Then he grabbed me by the collar and hauled me upright. He marched me down the stairs, letting me feel the gun barrel against my head the whole time

I was led into a dimly lit room and thrown to the floor. It was Otto. He sat down on a crate and regarded me for a moment gun in hand. My SMG was balanced on his knee.

"I knew you were trouble," he said tiredly. I could only shrug. He sounded like Sandra did at times. But, there was no point in telling him that.

"I don't suppose you're here to free Hammer yourself and curry favor with Barb-the-agent?" I asked. He got up and aimed the pistol at me. His face flushed angrily.

"That she devil!" he yelled. "She's responsible for this snafu." He sat back down on his box and composed himself. "Kid, let me tell you something: never make ransom demands of an agent. That bitch has had me negotiating with her for weeks. She even activated Hammer's clone to make us lower our ransom demands!"

"I sympathize. If Cosa Nostra ever crossed paths with Barb they'd be paying her protection money. Didn't want to cough it up huh?" I tried to sit up and he made no motion to stop me.

"You don't know the half of it. I threatened to send her Hammer's ear and she said she'd charge the plastic surgery bills and lost revenues against the ransom. We haven't even decided on a drop off point. We wanted to use a parking lot. She wants to do lunch. I haven't had this much trouble with ransoming repo men, no offense."

"Sure. So why don't you let me go? I'll be glad to tell Barb-the-agent you mean business. May-be I could expedite the ransom collection. What kind of car does she drive?" But Otto was shaking his head.

"I honestly believe you'd like a run at Barb, but then you'd blow the whistle on me. You're not going anywhere. That reminds me, where's Hammer-Lite? He ran out of the studio a few hours ago."

"He didn't look me up. Your copy is probably bending the elbow somewhere." Otto smiled nastily at that. He set the submachinegun down behind the crate and produced a handset.

"Louie, Bubba," he called on the set. "The other Hammer is probably nosing around. Find him and kill him. Then we can get the money and leave this dump." He switched the set back to receive and was rewarded by the sound of choking, followed by a couple of meaty thuds. He shut his eyes for a moment. I managed to get a leg under me. Otto took a deep breath.

"Why don't you go help them look for Hammer, I'll stay right here," I said eagerly. He crossed the distance between us in two steps and whipped me across the mouth with the pistol. I grabbed his right leg and pulled as I jumped up. Otto went over and smacked his head against the crate as he fell. It stunned him for a second. His shot hit square on my armor and not my head. I grabbed for the gun. I was on top and had a momentary advantage. He was big enough to tie me into a fan belt. He tried shaking me off but I held on like a limpet mine. Another shot whizzed by my face. Then he threw me off. He was getting to his feet as I kicked desperately at the gun and connected. The pistol flew out of his hand and out the door.

I dove to the floor and did a tuck and roll as he grabbed for me. The door was clear but I was too slow getting up. He landed a kick on my back that sent me down. My hand was only inched from the pistol. I reached for it, but Otto had grabbed my right foot and pulled me away far too easily. Suddenly something big and fast, like a rogue asteroid, flew over my head and slammed into Otto. He let go of my leg. Two crooks in dirty coverall were running down the hall towards the door rifles at the ready. Behind me Otto and presumably Hammer were scuffling. The way tectonic plates scuffle when they come together. I wished I could spare them a glance. The two thugs walked over as I eyed the pistol dubiously, just out of reach. They grinned. The one in front shouted "Yo," and fired a warning shot from his rifle into the ceiling.

I reached behind the crate and grabbed my streetsweeper. I fired my warning shots into his chest as he was bringing his rifle back down to bear. He and his friend got a couple of wild shots off. None of them near me. Then they twitched under the automatic fire and fell. Obviously they were out-of-towners. I rolled on my back to give Hammer a hand. He was already slumping down, red spreading through his battle vest. Otto looked warily at me, sweat glistening on his face and scalp.

"Put the gun down and let's finish this," he said sneering. I fired full burst at him and kept firing until the clip was empty. That was how men settled things in Brooklyn.

I reached Hammer and was pulling at his vest assessing the damage. I looked around for anything that might stop the bleeding. There was nothing but guns, grenades and my mini-mechanic kit.

"Lucky, go out and turn right. It's the third door on the left . . . I couldn't tell . . . if it was wired or not . . . didn't want to open it . . . pretty sure your pal is there," His eyes were glazing over. The bleeding was getting worse. I had to stop it now.

"Thanks for everything . . . buddy," Hammer said and closed his eyes.

Watching the movie version of events six months later was less than satisfactory and I said so. Even though it was playing on the big screen at Dooley's. The fact the drinks were on the house helped.

"Have some respect," Hammer ordered. "That's my boy there."

"Your boy needs a drama coach," I maintained. "It's a pity I saved him just so he could die on camera." That got me a cuff from Sandra. It wasn't business hours so she was sitting and I was fetching the drinks. Dooley had the day off and we were making sure the quality of bar facilities didn't degrade in her absence.

"I think he acts swell," Sean interjected, slurring the words slightly. "But why were you putting gunk all over his chest. What the hell was that?"

"That's not me. It's some geeky actor they got. That gunk is supposed to be super glue. I always carry a tube in my kit, also electricians tape," I explained. Sean was a little past explanation. But didn't mind saying it again.

"Junior says he barely has a scar; you might have the makings of a paramedic," Hammer said.

"Should we try that next? You and me as Samaritans", I tried to adopt a saintly pose and Sandra made a rude noise. Then I thought of something, "You are back now, for good. I mean you have gotten over this fame thing, right?" Hammer killed the last of his beer and regarded me warmly.

"I've had enough dealing with agents, movie people, bodyguards and entourages. Junior can earn the big money, and send me a share. I'm sticking with you. You have more ethics," he finally said.

"Ehsic . . . ethics? Lucky?" Sean said concerned for a moment. He stood and gestured towards Hammer, "I'll have some of what he'sh been drinking," Sean ordered.