Home for the Holidays
by Mike Bullock
Starring Dr. Dusk
In what has now become affectionately known as “The Age of Adventure,” mystery men patrolled the streets of our bustling cities, stalking the shadows and preying on those who would harm innocent citizens. Doctor Dusk, one such man of mystery, walked the line between order and lawlessness. As the stories go, the man who became Dusk had experimented on himself until he was able to unlock his body’s peak physical potential, making him faster, stronger and more agile than any normal man could ever dream of becoming. Armed with two modified 1911 Colt .45s that fired special rounds, and his heightened physical prowess, the Doctor quickly became the scourge of the underworld. While little else is known of Doctor Dusk, his exploits have recently come to light in a series of journals, found within the walls of an old tenement building on the lower east side. The following was taken from one such journal.
A staccato rhythm of bullets ripped into the brickwork over my black-cowled head. While most might find this an odd moment to concern oneself with the clock, I couldn’t help but push my ebony glove from my wrist to catch a quick glimpse of my watch. While I reloaded my augmented model 1911 .45s with custom rounds I designed in my lab, the thought of not making it in time chilled my blood. As I mentally processed the position of the minute and hour hands, one thought stabbed at my mind with more impact than the rain of lead:
Time was running out!
While the thought of not completing my mission was unacceptable, I couldn’t see a way to hit my deadline unless I acted quickly and decisively. I anxiously pored over my mental picture of the scene on the other side of the roof, where the perp was firing at me like he bought bullets wholesale. While it wasn’t possible to get a clear shot at him with the chimney in the way, the realization that I could trap him up here and make good my escape presented itself. The sirens blared from down the avenue, assuring me the police would be here soon enough—perfect timing. I used my gum to stick a business card to the wall, since I wouldn’t have the opportunity to properly introduce myself to the perp. This way, the authorities would have no doubt who left them this present. It was the season of giving after all.
Without hesitating any longer, I spun on a heel and stood up, firing two shots in quick succession. The first bullet dug a furrow through the top of the perp’s fedora; making him duck for fear the second shot would hit something lower and more vital. However, the bullet from my other gun flew off to his left, tearing into the latch on the roof access door. At the moment of impact, the second bullet released its charge: a 1000-watt burst of electricity that invariably welded the latch to the door frame, effectively imprisoning the perp on the roof.
Knowing I had no time to waste, I fired over his head once more to keep him down. The shot was also intended to prevent him from realizing I’d just melted the door latch, drawing his attention to his own livelihood instead.
Before the muzzle flash faded, I had turned and raced for the side of the roof, launching myself headfirst over the edge as my black cape caught the wind of the updraft. While the distance between this building and the next was too far for any ordinary man to jump, I wagered that a dive from one such as myself, chemically enabled to perform at the peak of human ability, would take me just far enough to grasp the fire escape on the neighboring structure.
For what seemed like an eternity, I hung in the air some seven stories over the dark alley below. It’s uncanny how time can seem to grind to a halt in moments like this, allowing your mind to entertain the amount of speculation you might normally experience over the course of several minutes. As I contemplated this oddity of chronology, the ticking clock transfixed my thoughts forcing me to face the specter that I might not make it on time …
And then my hands closed on the railing and I swung my legs in to land silently on the iron walkway. Without hesitation, I was through the window and into the abandoned apartment I’d used as a base while awaiting the buy. With any luck, it would be several minutes before the perp realized Dr. Dusk had left the building—and taken his shipping manifests with him.
Doing my best to stay out of sight, I watched from the shadows as the police surrounded the neighboring structure. I could hear bits and pieces of their conversations, such as “… shots fired …,” “… on the roof …” and “… cover all the exits …” which was enough to convince me my work was done here.
But, the clock was still ticking and there was much to do …
“Here’s another one, Sarge,” the uniformed officer said as he held the black business card up for his commanding officer to see. Several other policemen moved about the rooftop as two escorted the handcuffed perp down through the roof access door the police had been forced to break down.
“Doctor Dusk: Villain Removal’ … where do these crackpots come from, Calhoun? It’s like this city is infested with crazy guys who read one too many funny books as a kid.”
“Well, crazy or not,” replied officer Calhoun, “he’s done a number on Murati’s gang. Word is this goon was helping Murati smuggle something into the country. Something big. Hopefully, the detectives can get it out of him. Either way, ya gotta hand it to this Doctor Dusk; this clown is the third lieutenant the Doctor’ has taken down this week—like he’s made it his own personal mission to wipe ’em all out by Christmas..”
“He better get a move on, then, being Christmas Eve and all… by my count Murati’s still walking free. And don’t forget Marko. That giant Albanian bastard makes my skin crawl …”
Murati wasn’t hard to hunt down, despite his best efforts to remain unfound. Simply follow the trail of vermin and they’d surely lead me here, to his place.
It was just after midnight by my watch, which gave me less than six hours until sunrise … until …
I moved down the hallway on the thirteenth floor, silently as a wraith, leaving no sign of my passing. As I inched along the wall, my mind rewound time by several months and I recalled a day before Murati and his scum had moved in. Joseph Hancock, the new Mayor, was cleaning up the city’s image, literally hiring dozens more sanitation workers to clean the streets, while authorizing overtime for all the police to remove the unwanted “elements.” He’d even authorized the first annual Youth Christmas Festival that the Fifth Precinct was throwing in the morning. Too bad he hadn’t lived to see it. We need more men like Hancock.
Like a fool, I dared to dream of retiring from this life. I dreamed the war would actually end and I could devote more time to … them, instead. After several months of peace in the city, I allowed myself to believe I could finally put Dr. Dusk to rest and don this costume no more. What a fool I was …
But then, the sickness struck, wasting away Mayor Hancock in a manner of weeks. The disease that took his life wasn’t nearly as bad as the rumor that the mayor was poisoned. The rampant speculation that someone could assassinate him plunged the city into chaos once more.
The official coroner’s report said it was a rare form of blood poisoning, a contagion carried in shellfish usually only found near the Adriatic Sea. A few in the police department had made the same connection I had, noting the uncanny timing of Murati’s movement from Albania to the city less than three weeks prior to the onset of the Mayor’s illness. While the police were unable to act on such suspicions without any evidence to back them, I had no such restraints.
After shaking down a few of my old informants, it wasn’t hard to find the source of the new money bankrolling the recent surge in criminal activity. A few loose connections between Murati’s departure from Europe helped bring the picture into focus. News of a bank heist in Switzerland that had netted the perpetrators a sum so large the bank denied the robbery ever took place, lest they lose all credibility with their investors, was just another piece of the puzzle.
It seemed Murati had lost a turf war with a crime lord in western Bulgaria and decided to move his operation to greener pastures, namely our city. With the bankroll from Switzerland, he was able to grease the right palms and move on in. And those that weren’t into playing ball with the new boss? Well, they just found themselves on the fatal end of a variety of strange circumstances, like shellfish blood poisoning.
Worst of all, unlike the old crime bosses this berg had seen, Murati and his men had no qualms about killing innocent civilians, especially women and children. Word was he thought it carried with it a certain message, written in terror, that he was not one to trifle with. While that message carried loud and clear to the other lowlifes, as well as terrifying half the city, it had a decidedly different effect on me.
“All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That had become my motto and mantra after seeing my firstborn killed in a crossfire between the old gangs. It was then I found myself galvanized to action; instead of merely living the good life with my wife and remaining child, I would put my resources to use in pursuit of justice. I’d felt the pain of losing a child to senseless violence and wanted to make sure no one in this city ever felt that again.
And, with help from men like Mayor Hancock, I was succeeding … until Murati showed up.
“Boss! They got Edvin. Do we send the lawyer … or should I visit him?” the voice resonated through the hallway in a deep baritone, laced with an uncanny accent that was unmistakably Albanian. The slight speech impediment made it obvious I was listening to none other than Murati’s personal enforcer.
“No Marko. We will wait.” While Murati’s words were mundane, each syllable dripped with sadism. “Once the sun rises and they see what I’m capable of, the police will be begging Edvin and the others to leave their jail.”
I was just outside the slightly ajar door now. The odd mixture of black pepper, mint and olive oil permeated the hallway; it was an odd departure from the more offensive smells that normally hung cloyingly in the air of the projects. If they had just eaten, Marko would be slower than normal as his digestive system drew resources from his mind. It wasn’t much of an advantage, but I would need all I could get when facing the giant of a man. He was easily a head taller and outweighed me by close to a hundred pounds. He had been a prize fighter before Murati found him. Prior to that, he was one of the Eagles, a special forces unit of the Albanian military. Word had it that killing people in unarmed combat was his specialty.
I examined my watch hastily. If I could end this quickly, there was still time …
But, before I could make my move, I heard a door close on the other side of the room. Had they left or had someone else entered? I waited for a moment—listening intently for any sound before I peered cautiously around the doorframe and into the room.
Marko was alone in the room, stuffing what appeared to be some sort of fig leaf wrapped delicacy into his mouth. His fingers dripped with oil as he devoured the last of the wrap and reached for what might have been the largest turkey leg I’d ever seen. Next to it on the table was an old Russian handgun. I made up my mind, it was now or never.
“Give it up, Marko!”
The giant spun around to see me standing there, with both .45s aimed right at his chest. For a man as large as he was, he moved with the fluidity of a ballet dancer, whipping the turkey leg at my head so fast I barely had time to react. As I lunged backward, I brought my right pistol to bear and fired a single shot into the chandelier. The special bullet exploded on impact, shattering the light bulbs and plunging the room into darkness.
The giant grabbed for his pistol just as the lights went out, but the combination of gunfire, sudden darkness and the oil on his fingers prevented him from securing the weapon, instead sending it sailing from the table into the corner of the room.
Marko quickly backed himself against the table and swung a giant of a haymaker out in front of him, hoping to ward off any frontal attack I might have attempted in the sudden darkness. But, unlike Marko, I could see clearly in the absence of light. Beneath my mask I wore my night eyes. The special goggles refracted what little light streamed in from the open window allowing me to see as if it were merely dusk and not completely dark.
With two quick steps I was in the room, directly in front of the massive killer. He swung out again, but I stepped in behind the swing and grabbed his right shoulder with my left hand.
With all my might I yanked on his shoulder, pulling him off balance in the direction of his swing. Once he was turned to his left, I continued my motion, twisting around as fast as humanly possible. My aim was true and my right elbow struck the side of his neck at the base of his skull. I’d built just enough torque by spinning my hips and shoulders to collapse his carotid artery momentarily upon impact. The resulting loss of blood to his brain dropped the giant like a ton of bricks.
I couldn’t help but glance at my watch again while I tied him to the radiator under the window. While Marko hadn’t taken as long as I’d anticipated, the thought that I now had to track Murati brought with it a certain anxiety that I found distasteful.
Turning from Marko, I grabbed the phone and quickly dialed the local police emergency number. “I’ve been shot,” I lied once I was assured someone had answered. Without waiting for a reply, I set the receiver down on the table and placed a black business card next to it. A moment later, the room was empty, save for an unconscious Marko. The only sound was a bewildered emergency operator’s voice coming from the phone, telling me to remain calm.
I had exited the room onto the fire escape just in time to catch a glimpse of Murati’s sedan heading uptown. He had a club on Pearl Street called the Montenegro he’d taken over when he first landed on our shores; a place he spent more time in than the hole I’d just vacated, with good reason. Since the car was heading in that general direction, I gambled that I’d find Murati there.
While most decent folks were home with their families, the city had always had that seedy element that couldn’t even keep good company on Christmas Eve. Those were the sorts the Montenegro attracted this very night.
As I landed on the roof across from the club, a glance at my watch told me it was almost half past three in the morning. If I had to fight my way through them to get to Murati, all might be lost. Without a doubt, I knew there was little time left …
“Mr. Murati, sir, let me show you to your table.” The host, a slender man in a finely tailored tux waved his hand toward the private seating in the rear of the club. Murati, a tall, wiry fellow himself, handed the host his jacket and waved him aside.
“I can seat myself, Andre. Send over a bottle of Chateau LaTour. You pick the year … it’s Christmas after all.”
Murati moved to the back of the club eyeing several women along the way. By the time he made it to his table, he had four young lovelies by his side, along with his two bodyguards.
The flashing lights above the dance floor cast strange silhouettes about the room, as the drunken revelers whirled and pranced, completely unaware of what was to come.
The waiter hastily brought over the bottle of champagne and poured Murati a glass. The Albanian raised it on high as if to deliver a toast as the waiter quickly scurried away.
“Drink up! For tomorrow, you will dine with a god!”
Moments later, the waiter opened the backdoor, looking around cautiously to make sure no one saw him. Murati gave him the creeps. So much so that he had to sneak out back for a smoke break in the hopes of calming his nerves. No one was allowed to use the service door at night, by Murati’s strict orders, but the waiter had been doing it for years, long before the gangster had come to town. Unfortunately, tonight was a bad night for insubordination.
The cold steel of the .45’s barrel pressed into his temple just as he was lighting his cigarette. The cancer stick dangled limply from his surprised lips as he stammered “Wh-what gives, Mac?”
“Get lost!” The growl froze the waiter’s blood, but urged him on as he wasted no time bolting down the alley. The only evidence he had been there at all was an unlit cigarette soaking up the slime on the alley floor.
Checking my watch again, I set my mind to count down the minutes remaining before all might be lost. I worked my way along the hallway in the storage area behind the main room of the club until I was certain I’d made it to the point just behind Murati’s private table. Looking down the hall to make sure no other employees might come upon me, as the waiter had in the alley, I pressed my ear to the wall, straining to verify that the crime lord was indeed just on the other side of the wall.
“You should come around more often, my dear; a woman such as yourself adds to the atmosphere.” Even when he was trying to be smooth, Murati’s voice carried with it an unnerving sadism that forced my expression into a snarl like that of an attack dog protecting his territory. Before he spoke another word, I found myself compelled to action.
Murati sat with his back to the wall, in an appointed leather booth. Some found it odd that a man with his financial resources was essentially using an old restaurant booth as a “throne” but no one dared ask him why. Had he opted for a higher backed, expensive chair, I might not have been able to reach him. As it was, my fist tore through the wall in a shower of plaster. I opened my hand just far enough to hook into his big mouth with two fingers before yanking my arm back through the wall. Murati came with it.
I dumped the crime lord unceremoniously on the floor, amidst beer kegs and cases of hooch. For the briefest of moments, he was out cold.
As I reached for the handcuffs I kept at the back of my belt for just such an occasion, the first of his two bodyguards dove through the hole in the wall, trying to take me out. I brought the cuffs around and into his jaw in a glancing uppercut that rattled his cage. Before he could have another go at me, the second bodyguard came up behind him, a piece in his hand aimed at my head.
The first goon didn’t see the second one coming, which worked to my advantage. I feinted to his right, which made him dodge left—right into the path of his partner’s gun as it went off. The first goon never knew what hit him. The second did, as he was still trying to recover from shooting his co-worker when my boot crashed into his face, sending him sprawling off to lala land.
Without wasting a second, I turned back to Murati, hoping he was still down for the count. Unfortunately for me, he had come around like a merchant marine after a night of hard drinking.
The rage on his face curled his lips and set his right eyelid all atwitter. I’m not sure I’d ever seen anyone so mad before in my life. The average Joe would have been stunned by this sudden turn of events, but not him. For a jerk like Murati, this was a trigger to delve into the dark recesses of his rotten soul. Unfortunately for him, I got there first.
The side of his face distorted unnaturally from the impact of my fist, accompanied by the crack of what could only be the right side of his jaw breaking. However, as I pulled back to strike him again, Murati slammed a bottle of Kentucky bourbon into the side of my head. The impact dislodged my goggles underneath the mask, rendering me temporarily blind.
Realizing he’d taken me off guard, Murati thrust the shattered neck of the bottle into my right shoulder, drawing blood and eliciting piercing pain. Through some unlucky turn of events, the sharp glass seemed to strike a nerve, and my right arm fell limp at my side.
Using my left hand, I reached under my mask and tore the goggles from my face just in time to see the shattered bottle neck stabbing out for my eyes. My heightened reflexes allowed me to narrowly avoid being Murati’s next victim.
Knowing I no longer had the advantage, I backed down the hallway, out of striking distance, hoping that feeling would return to my right arm before Murati had another opening. The crime lord swung again, but more wildly this time, as if he had given in to instinct and was voraciously trying to finish me off. However, unlike my opponent, I kept my wits about me and waited for the right moment.
I didn’t have to wait long, as Murati swung again, this time over-extending himself. It was the exact opening I needed.
As his left hand, still clutching the shattered bottleneck, whipped past my face, I stepped in with a solid left jab that caught Murati in the other side of his jaw. Knowing I couldn’t let up, I pulled my left fist back while bringing my right knee up into his chin, effectively shattering his jaw, Murati dropping like a stone. This time, I slapped the cuffs on him before we could be interrupted again.
As the feeling returned to my right arm, I drew my pistol to ward off anyone in Murati’s fan club who might decide to find some guts and challenge me. Using my left I grabbed the scumbag by his collar and dragged him bodily through the club and out the back door. His next stop was the trunk of my car and then we were racing across town.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at the warehouse on Fifth Street. At first glance, it didn’t appear to be much more than a large building, but the location made it perfect for Murati. Directly across the intersection was the Fifth Street Precinct house and next door to it was the local Youth Hall. From the warehouse, Murati not only had access to an entire precinct of officers, but in a few short hours when the first annual Youth Christmas Festival began, he’d have a perfect recipe for terror. The Guest of Honor was our new Mayor, who was giving a speech on how he was going to continue the work of his deceased predecessor. If Murati could pull this off, no one would ever challenge him again. Thankfully, I had the prescription for Murati.
As I dragged him through the loading dock and into the warehouse, the crime lord was coming back to consciousness. I could tell from the look of sudden terror in his eyes that he knew exactly where we were and why we were here.
A quick glance at my watch told me I had less than an hour …
We reached the corner of the warehouse closest to the police and youth buildings. It was there we found an extremely large crate, marked with Albanian shipping stamps. The lid on one side of the crate had been pulled off and leaned against the crate itself. The closer we got to the crate, the more terrified Murati seemed to get, although he did a masterful job of hiding his fear.
I tossed him to the floor like the sack of garbage he was before pulling the lid away from the crate. He looked inside and for the briefest of moments, dropped his guard as horror swept across his visage.
“What’s wrong, Murati? You don’t want to partake in your little gift to the people of this community?”
“We gotta get outta here! Are you crazy! Bringing us here ... with ... that?!”
“Well, it seems only fitting. If you want to be part of this town, then you should join the festivities.”
“You are crazy! Look, whatever you want! Ten G’s! I’ll give ya ten G’s! As soon as you get me outta here.”
I reached down and grabbed him by his collar again, lifting him bodily and shoving him into the crate. The ticking sound from within, muffled by the walls of the box, was much louder inside. The sound was more than Murati could bear.
“All right, all right! Cut the red wire, then the green one!”
I reached out quickly with a blade I carried in my left glove and sliced both wires, first red, then green. The ticking stopped. Murati sighed and let his shoulders relax, just as I cracked him in the back of the skull, knocking him out once more. Reaching into a compartment on my belt, I pulled the shipping manifests I’d taken from the goon on the roof and stuck them to the crate, along with one of my cards. Pulling my pistol, I fired a single shot into the floor. Within seconds I could hear the din of police officers yelling from across the street. I quickly ducked out the through the loading dock as they came in the front door, weapons drawn.
I watched from the rooftop of the Youth Hall as the police escorted Murati from the building in handcuffs. We’d made it in time to prevent the deaths of hundreds of good people, including the new Mayor. Looking at my watch, I realized I had less than twenty minutes remaining. Turning, I ran for the edge and jumped over, landing without a sound on the fire escape. I descended as quickly as possible and raced to my destination as fast as my legs would carry me. This mission was a success, however I’d had no choice but to count it a failure if I didn’t make my deadline.
Silently, I snuck in through the back door, pulling my mask and cape from my shoulders. I placed them, my gloves and my boots hastily in a box inside the closet by the back door before pulling a robe over my clothes. Just as I crossed the hall and reached for the knob, I heard it—
Pushing the door open, I stepped into the living room, where my wife and son were just coming in from the bedrooms. The glow from the lights on the tree shimmered about the room, casting a glow that was nothing short of magical. My son’s smile was so infectious I completely forgot my wounds and felt a glow of happiness spread through me.
“Daddy! It’s Christmas!” he yelled emphatically with the kind of zeal only a four-year-old could muster. “Santa was here! Santa was here!”
My wife came over and hugged me and then looked into my eyes lovingly. “Thank you for making it in time.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world …”