Sucker Punch is a short story set in the 1920s featuring wealthy heir to a gummed tape forture, Richard Drew III, his bodyguard Katie “Kate-O” O’Hara, and his bare-knuckle boxing champion sparring partner, Tank McGuire. This is the first installment of the first short story I will be posting here weekly on Thursday mornings.
“Dat’s just not fair,” Tank McGuire said again, flipping through volume D of the Encyclopedia Americana at the New York Public Library. “Ya hit a guy in da chin, an’ he supposed t’ go down!”
“Shhh!” the woman behind the counter hissed at Tank’s rising tone.
“Don’t ‘shhh’ me,” Tank muttered under his breath. “I punched a demon in da chin an’ it din’t go down!”
* * *
The day had started simply enough. Tank McGuire had gotten up at the usual time, did his calisthenics, sparred with Katie in the gym, and cleaned up. Summerholm had his usual breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs, vegetables and fried potatoes ready when he sat down at the breakfast table in Richard Drew’s penthouse. Katie shook her head from across the table, as she did every morning over her bowl of cornflakes, today garnished with fresh blueberries, and her cup of strong, black coffee.
“How do you stay so skinny eating all that?” she asked over her newspaper. It was the same routine every day.
“Clean living, miss” Summerholm replied in his polished butler’s tone before Tank could swallow. They all smiled, but said nothing more.
Richard Drew emerged from the library dressed is a gray, pin-striped suit, with a red shirt, and a bright green tie. The heir to the gummed tape fortune amassed by his mother smiled brightly as he entered and sat at his usual place.
“Are we going out, sir?” Summerholm queried, raising one eyebrow.
“Yes, Summerholm,” Drew said in his deep, enthusiastic voice. “That telegram was from my old college chum, Parker Maxwell. You remember him, don’t you?”
“Of course, sir,” Summerholm replied in his neutral tone. “Wasn’t he the young man who broke your nose Freshman year?” Katie looked up from her bowl.
“Right you are,” Drew replied. “Old Parker decked me good for hitting on Matilda Stevenson at the Spring Dance. It was a good hit, too,” he added, turning toward Tank to mime hitting himself downward on his nose.
“Dat it was,” Tank said with alarm. “If he’d a gone up instead a down, he mighta killed you!”
“Fortunately for me,” Drew nodded, “old Parker was a foot taller than me in those days.” He stared into space reminiscing.
“Where are we off to, sir?” Katie asked with her usual professional tone, though Summerholm and Tank shared her alarm at his attire.
“Parker has asked me to meet him at his hotel this afternoon at 2:00, Kate-O,” Drew said, adjusting his pocket square.
“Very good, sir,” Summerholm said glancing to Tank. “Perhaps you should change for your training session with Mr. McGuire after breakfast.”
* * *
At exactly 1:55, Katie O’Hare entered the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel and scanned the room for threats. She wore twin .45 automatics in shoulder holsters beneath her jacket, twin .22s in ankle holsters, and sheathed knives on both forearms. Katie liked to be prepared.
The dim lighting, fading wallpaper, and battered furniture to the right of the entrance cast a forlorn and neglected atmosphere about the room. On the left side, an ancient-looking man with thick glasses sat asleep, perched precariously on a stood behind the weathered counter. There was no one else in the room.
“The room is clear, sir,” she said over her shoulder. Drew and Tank entered.
“Not up to Parker’s usual standards,” Drew said with surprise, “but perhaps he doesn’t want to attract attention.”
“Did he say what he wanted ta you about,” Tank asked.
“No,” Drew replied. “All very hush, hush.”
“I don’t like this, sir,” Katie said warily.
“Nonsense, Kate-O,” Drew said with the disarming grin that worked on everyone except her, “I’m sure there is a rational explanation for his secrecy. Probably just being dramatic.”
“If you insist, sir,” Katie replied. “Do you have Mr. Maxwell’s room number?”
“Room 503,” Drew said, leading the way toward the stairwell at the far end of the room. Katie stepped in front of him as the reached the foot of the stairs. “Of course,” he said, “Ladies first.”
Katie shook her head and took the lead. Sometimes she wondered if Drew knew she was supposed to be protecting him. His mother paid her wages, and for good reason. Drew had an uncanny knack for stumbling into trouble. But, to Katie’s surprise, more often than not he somehow managed to stumble back out again.
Katie stopped their progress just short of the fifth floor landing, which was the top floor. They had seen no one else on the preceding floors, and there had been no sounds from behind any of the doors. In fact, there had been no sounds at all.
Katie advanced to the landing. The stairway had wound up the back end of the building. There were two doors on either side, and a dirty window facing front at the opposite end of the hallway. As with the other floors, there was no one present. But she heard a faint rustling sound from the nearest room on the right. Room 503.
Katie drew one of her .45s, but dropped it as Drew tapped her shoulder. She glared at him silently as she retrieved her pistol.
“You should be more careful with those Kate-O,” Drew said, and nodded to Tank, who knocked on the door. There was a crash from inside. Katie pushed Drew to one side, but the door did not open, so Tank kicked it in.
He was immediately set upon by a leering man with a large, curved knife. Tank expertly bobbed to one side and hit the man hard in the solar plexus. As a champion bare-knuckle boxer, Tank knew how to disable an opponent, but his blow struck something solid that absorbed the force of his punch, though whatever it was cracked and the man fell backward into the room.
Katie fired point blank into the face of another man, also armed with the large, machete-like weapon. Her .45 slug easily pierced what turned out to be a wooden mask, and her target fell to his knees and then face down to the floor.
Tank pursued his opponent into the room, reaching the masked man as he recovered from the first blow. As the assailant raised his weapon two-handed over his head, Tank threw an uppercut that hit his jaw from beneath. There was a loud crunch, and the blade fell from masked man’s hands and stuck into the hardwood floor before the body dropped.
Drew followed Katie into the room. It had been ransacked, but the most prominent feature was a bloodied corpse carelessly draped over the far side of the bed. The chest had been ripped open, and several internal organs were arranged on the floor. The face bore a horrified expression and stared blankly up at the ceiling.
“I don’t think he’s gonna to get his deposit back,” Tank said.
“Poor Parker’s seen better days,” Drew replied, kneeling over his former classmate.
Katie searched the closets and under the bed, but there was no one else in the room. She noticed that the sole window on the opposite wall was open, but there was a sheer drop to the alley below. Then she noticed something sticking out of a crack in the brick. She pried it loose with her fingers and examined it. It was a claw from some large predator, about one inch long, slightly curved, and black.
Tank examined the man he had taken out. He wore a bright red, wooden mask. The eyes looked malevolent, it had a large, pickle-shaped nose, and a leering grin carved into it. The weapon he had been wielding had a rectangular blade that was bent inward at an angle on the sharpened side. Only that side had an edge.
Katie checked the hands of the attacker. They wore arm guards into which the claws of an animal had been sewn. Metal rods ran up the length of the leather gauntlets to reinforce the claws, which were mounted on the end of the rods and could be slashed with by balling one’s fists. And the man she had shot was missing a claw from his left hand.
“They climbed up the wall and came in through the window,” she concluded. “It looks like some kind of ritual killing.”
“Dese masks are pretty heavy,” Tank said after removing it from the man. It had cracked nearly in half when Tank hit him.
“Rather shoddy work,” Drew said holding the other man’s weapon to his face for closer examination. “It looks like the edge dented on impact.” He turned the blade over. “And see here, the blade is bent!”
“You shouldn’t touch anything, sir,” Katie said, slapping the weapon from his hands with her arm. It landed with a clatter and she kicked it under the bed. “We should leave the scene for the police.” She heard sirens approaching. “We need to go now, sir!”
Tank placed the mask back on the dead man’s face. As he did so, he noticed a pocket notebook that had been pushed out from under the bed by the machete. He picked up the notebook and followed as Katie pushed Drew out of the room.
“Kate-O, we need to tell the police what we found,” Drew protested as the bodyguard strained to push him out of the room. Drew was almost a foot taller than Katie, and perhaps one hundred pounds heavier. “The front desk man…”
“He was asleep, sir,” Katie replied with exertion in her voice. “He didn’t see us, and we didn’t see anyone else on the way up here.”
“I wonda who called da cops,” Tank mused, shouldering Katie aside to usher Drew across the hallway.
They could hear rapid footsteps coming up the stairs. Katie stepped around Drew, whose mouth Tank had covered with a meaty hand, and quickly picked the lock on the room across the hall. Without looking, she opened the door and entered, closing it behind the others.
“I don’t think they saw us,” she whispered, “but we need to keep quiet. OK, sir?” Drew nodded, and Tank removed his hand and deposited him on the bed. Fortunately, the room had been unoccupied.
“What…” Drew began in his normal, booming voice, but stopped short when Katie glared at him. “Why the secrecy?” He whispered. “We didn’t do anything illegal, and Parker was dead when we got there.”
“We can speak to the police after they calm down,” Katie replied. “That’s a pretty grisly scene in there, and they’re likely to be jumpy.”
“In da meantime,” Tank said quietly, “take a gander at dis.” He handed the notebook to Drew. “I found it under da bed as we was leaving.”
Drew flipped through the pages. “It seems that Parker was researching Indian cults in New York,” he said after flipping through the pages. He stopped at one and showed to Katie and Tank. It was a drawing of one of the knives, called a Kukri. “It says here that these weapons are primarily used by the Gurkha’s of Nepal and other Himalayan tribes.”
“Does it say anything about Parker being threatened by these Gurkha’s?” Katie asked. “Or any reason that would want to kill him?” Drew skimmed some more, but before he could respond, there was a strong knock in the door.
“Police,” the voice on the other side shouted as the door was kicked open. Two officers ran in with their revolvers ready. A third carried a shotgun. “All of you,” the one with the shotgun cried, “show us your hands!”
Drew, Tank, and Katie complied immediately. The officer with the shotgun turned toward Katie when the butt of the pistols in her shoulder holsters were exposed, and one of the other officers quickly disarmed her.
TO BE CONTINUED…