Once upon a time (1988), I created and wrote a comic for DC called Checkmate!. which ran for about 33 issues, and was recently revived by DC for another 30 issue run, playing a major role in whatever mishagas the DC Universe recently through. But way back when, I apparently had the bright idea to do a Checkmate! novel and even went so far to write a couple of chapters. I don't remember doing this, but then, I have so many bright ideas, who can keep track? The date in the story itself is 1990, so I'm assuming that's around when I wrote it. Here's the first chapter (heavily influenced, I notice, by Adam Hall's style in his Quiller novels...highly recommended!):
Checkmate (c) DC Comic
Everything else (c) Paul Kupperberg
New York City. September 5, 1990. 1:36 A.M.
Twisted metal. Safety glass popcorned from impact, little diamonds littering the pavement, glistening in the lamplight. Acrid gasoline stench. Hissing steam from mangled engines. The cemetery stillness of night.
And the dead. Innocent and guilty alike.
Time’s still speeding, senses heightened by adrenelin. Heart pounding, blood pounding, head pounding.
This is the worst moment, when it’s over. Slumped against a wall, skin itching, the whole being surprised to be alive. It takes the conscious mind a while to catch up with the environment, adjust to the cessation of danger. And fear. That was a big part of it, the motivating factor in survival. Fear of death, or worse, of pain.
The other players in this game were lucky. They weren’t going to have to deal with pain. I was luckier, because neither was I and I was still around to appreciate the fact.
And wonder who the hell wanted me dead.
Wrong question. My line of work is all about people wanting to kill me, for one reason or another. The right one would be, who wanted to kill me at this particular moment in time? I haven’t been active for almost two months and I’d been in New York for less than an hour, my flight having just landed at Newark Airport. Even in this city the odds of having a car full of heavilly armed individuals trying to blast you and your taxi to bits in the heart of Manhattan inside of sixty minutes are astronomical. So either I’d won some bizarre sweepstakes, or somebody is real unhappy me with.
I wasn’t being presumptuous assuming I was the target of the attack. The only other warm body in the vicinity during the incident had been the cab driver, one Mohammad Hardeji according to the hack license on the dashboard. He took the first hit when the black sedan had pulled abreast of us on Houston Street, splattering his head like an overripe melon in mid-complaint about those sorry bastards at the Taxi and Limousine Commission. I was doing what I’ve done with verbose taxi drivers the world over, tuning him out with thoughts of the nice, soft bed awaiting me uptown at the Plaza Hotel.
I guess two months out of the saddle blunts the edge, dulling the instincts that you rely on to keep you alive while a mission’s running. I didn’t do more than glance at the Buick as it came alongside the cab before settling back in my seat and closing my eyes, wishing Mohammad would shut up.
Something exploded. Glass shattered. Mohammad screamed, a high pitched cry of terror and pain cut short by the disintegration of the top of his head, his hands reflexively jerking the wheel to the left. I didn’t get it right away, sitting up ready to deliver a few well chosen words about his driving skills. That’s when the flying glass and bits of human tissue flew into my face and the reality of what was happening hit me.
I didn’t know what or why, and it wouldn’t have made a damned bit of difference if I had. The cab was careening out of control, bumping up over the curb while automatic weapon fire chewed up its side, and me without a weapon handy. They didn’t let you carry artillery onboard airplanes these days. Damned stupid regulation as far as the good guys go, at least from my current vantage point. But who the hell thought I’d need one for the cab ride between airport and hotel?
The Buick was speeding past us, guns trailing heavy fire out its windows. Forget them! The emergency, any emergency, was composed of moments, fragile slivers of time, each holding their own danger. The worst mistake you can make is not taking them in order, one at a time. Start thinking ahead and the control is lost. Concentrate on the instant.
The instant: Mohammad was slumped over the wheel, a dead man steering us straight towards a brick wall. I didn’t know if I was going to survive the bullets, but I wanted the chance to try and that meant I had to get out of the cab in one piece. I was over the back of the front seat before I even knew what I was doing, shoving aside what was left of Mohammad, grabbing the wheel, fumbling to find the brake pedal with my foot. I felt it under my shoe and squashed it down to the floorboards. The brakes caught with a tortured squeal, but we were going too fast, the brakes locking and the cab sliding without any appreciable slowing. I spun the wheel hard, feeling the automobile about to tip over before slamming into a wall broadside with spine jarring impact.
The instant: The Buick was skidding around in the middle of the street, coming back around for another straffing run at the cab.
The instant: I slapped the gear shift into reverse and jammed down on the gas, gunning the car back onto the street, then into drive. The Buick was coming for me, so I went to them. They wouldn’t expect that. The victim is always supposed to turn and run in the face of overwhelming firepower, right? The Buick’s driver tried to swerve, but there wasn’t time or space. I stayed with the cab just long enough to make sure of that before I yanked open the door and rolled out onto the pavement, still rolling as I heard the metallic scream of the head on collision.
The instant: I was on my feet, adrenelin filling my ears with a dull roar. I’d taken the initiative; the trick was to keep it, not let my adversaries regain their balance. Don’t do a single damned thing they might expect. Drive straight at them. Charge into their guns. Take away the security they derive from superior numbers and heavy firepower. Make them wonder just what the hell kind of suicidal maniac they were dealing with.
The instant: An unsteady figure in a dark suit dragging himself out of the crumpled sedan’s window on the driver’s side, steam hissing from the mangled front ends. I was on him, charging out of the obscuring cloud of steam before he was halfway through the window. He had his gunhand outside the car, leveraged against the door panel to help pull himself out. He saw me and started to bring up his weapon, a Steyr A.U.G. autoloader, but I slammed my foot into his wrist, pinning his arm against the door and jamming my elbow down into his throat. If he made a sound, I didn’t hear it over the rush in my ears and the escaping steam. The Steyr dropped from dead fingers as he slumped in the window frame.
The doors on the passenger side of the Buick hadn’t been jammed shut by the collision and they flew open as I stooped to retrieve the fallen weapon. Timing is everything, because as I bent, the two other occupants of the car opened fire over the sedan’s roof, bullets ripping the air over my head.
But the score had just evened up.
My hand closed around the weapon, my arm swept up, finger tightening on the trigger to unload what was left in the magazine through the window at their exposed bellies.
A dotted red line chewed its way across the face of a white shirt framed in the window, just above his belt, smashing him backwards and out of sight.
Two down, one to go.
The Steyr was empty, a useless hunk of metal and plastic that I disgarded. The last man was on the far side of the Buick, crouched down below the level of the window, out of range. He had a clean shot at my ankles and feet under the car; he could cover me coming around either end of the wreckage. That left me with the option of going over the top.
I took it, heaving myself up on to the roof, sliding on my stomach across the polished surface.
He heard me scrambling over the roof and was rising as I came for him. He was too smart to expose himself, pointing the gun over the edge to fire blind at me. I grabbed the barrel as he squeezed the trigger, jerking the weapon to the sky and throwing my full weight over the side and tumbling to the street, landing on top of him without letting loose of the chattering weapon. I felt something in his arm snap as we hit the pavement in a tangle of thrashing arms and legs. He howled but I didn’t care. I wanted the son of a bitch to hurt, let him know he’d messed with the wrong man, prepare him for even more pain if he he had any thought of giving me a hard time when I got around to asking him why I’d been targeted.
He wasn’t ready to hang it up just yet, even flying on one wing. He kicked out at my face. I caught his ankle in the V of my crossed wrists, yanking up and twisting in the same movement, another bone giving way. I leaned forward and dropped down to one knee, cushioning myself from injury on the hard pavement with the soft tissue of his groin. His whole body heaved up, almost doubling over from the mind numbing agony of having my entire weight crushing down into his most delicate spot.
Had I been thinking rather than merely reacting to the outside stimuli of attack, I probably would have admired the guy’s tenacity. Wrist and ankle broken, balls squashed under my almost 200 pounds, he wasn’t giving up. With his good hand he’d been groping for his fallen gun and found it, smashing it with everything he had left in him into the side of my head. I went over, tiny stars of light exploding in front of my eyes. I wasn’t feeling any pain from the blow, that would come later, but for now there was just the sensation of warm wetness oozing down my cheek from the gash in my forehead. I was bleeding red.
So I took him.
The heel of my shoe found his nose and mashed it into his face, jamming the stiff cartilage up through his sinus cavitity and into the soft mass of his brain. His mind was dead several seconds before his body got the message and stopped twitching.
I was gasping for breath, shaking my head like a wet dog to clear the blood from my eyes, staggering to my feet. The adrenelin was still pumping, but with the danger over, I didn’t have any way to burn it off. I just had to wait for the glands to stop manufacturing it, for the uncontrollable shaking and stimulation of every nerve ending to die down. Only then would it be truly over as far as my body was concerned. But considering the alternate scenario, I could wait it out. Gladly.
And that’s where I found myself now, propped against a wall, wondering why I’d just gone through this madness. I didn’t have anything even remotely close to an answer, and I wasn’t about to get one from the trio of corpses with which I’d littered the Manhattan streets. Maybe they’re carrying something that could point me in the right direction. A long shot; they were professionals and pros don’t carry identification. The best I could possibly hope for was to get a Scenes Investigative Team out here to do their usual fine tooth combing of the bodies and car.
Except for the thin, distant wail of sirens.
Far away, but getting closer, and fast. There had been enough shooting to attract an army of cops. From the sound of things, they’d be here in a matter of moments, which left me with two choices.
I can wait for them like a good little citizen and spend the rest of the night in a New York police precinct, trying to explain what just went on without blowing my cover. Local law enforcement agencies don’t usually take kindly to shoot ‘em ups in their streets, especially when they’re between members of a government intelligence agency and a car load of assassins. Something about the feds in any capacity sets their collective teeth on edge in some strange territorial imperative.
Good luck on that score.
Or I could leave this mess for them to clean up and figure out on their own while I reported in to the nearest safehouse, getting what little information I had to people who could do something with it. My superiors would handle the N.Y.P.D. They won’t like being shut out of a triple homicide on their own turf, but things are tough all over.
I’m gone before the first patrol car screeches to a stop beside my handiwork.