Illustration to accompany "Hard Times" Copyright (c) 2018 by John Waltrip. Used under license.

Hard Times

Story by Jason J. McCuiston

Illustration by John Waltrip


There’s that feeling when you know absolutely nothing else can possibly go wrong in your life, and then it does. That feeling hit Nick Bowman in the gut like the Sultan of Swat’s own Louisville Slugger when the half-faced goon stepped out of the crowd. The speakeasy’s drunken revelers didn’t seem to notice that Nick’s world was ending.

Nick recognized the bruiser as one of the Dutchman’s hired muscle, and Nick was into the Dutchman for five grand thanks to that lying weasel, Benny the Bean. That’s why he was at Chumley’s in the Village on this particular night instead of one of the upscale Midtown joints like Ms. Guinan’s 300 Club; Nick was looking for the bookie so he could get square with the Dutchman before things got messy.

If he had only known just how horrifically messy things were about to get, he might have done something stupid and desperate at that moment.

But he couldn’t afford to simply blow town; not this town. The Big Apple was where he made more than half his bread and butter. So he had been scouring Manhattan’s speakeasies and gin joints for more than a week in his hunt for Benny. Now, it would seem, his time was up.

He thought about throwing his hat in the big guy’s half-face and trying to get lost in the crowd. This notion evaporated as soon as the metal hook rested on his right shoulder. He knew the bruiser’s one-handed counterpart stood behind him.

Nick was well and truly caught.

That’s what I get for betting on baseball. He flashed his winning smile and said, “Hello boys! Can I get you a drink? They’ve got the straight stuff here; I can tell you aren’t the type for pansies.”

“The Dutchman wants to see you,” Half-face said from behind his wax mask, taking Nick by the upper arm and escorting him to the door. Hook grabbed his other arm. Thankfully with his flesh-and-blood appendage.

“You know, I was just on my way to see your boss,” Nick said, trying to keep his cool. “I needed to make a collection first.” The big men hailed a cab and squeezed him into the back seat between them.

As the taxi left Greenwich Village and made for Hell’s Kitchen, Nick reconsidered his personal prohibition on firearms. After getting pinched with an unloaded .38 in Chicago a couple years back, he’d sworn off carrying them, even for show. They were just too loud and messy, and too likely to result in somebody getting really hurt. However, in his current situation, he wondered if one might not be just the thing to keep him from getting really hurt.

The lights of Manhattan slid past the rain-spotted windshield and Nick looked to his custodians, recognizing the hardened features of men who had come out of the Great War with a taste for violence and little in the way of conscience. He knew his charm would be wasted on them, so he resigned himself to reasoning with their employer. After all, Mr. Huber was a businessman and had seemed more than pleasant the one time they had met.

It had been a warm, sunny October Sunday afternoon and Nick was surprised that the mysterious Dutchman had opted for such a public venue as Central Park to conduct their illegal activity. Benny had not only informed Nick of the rigged World Series, he had also brokered the meeting with Mr. Huber in order to finance the bet.

In hindsight, Nick realized just how shady the whole thing had been, but he was a burglar by trade and not accustomed to big-money wagers. But he had been bitten by the gambling bug, and bitten hard after making a mint on last year’s Derby. It made him reckless at times. Reckless and stupid.

“Mr. Huber?” The large man had been in an expensive seersucker, tinted spectacles, and a white Panama-style hat; feeding pigeons from a park bench. “I’m Nick Bowman.”

The Dutchman had looked up and smiled like an old friend. “But of course you are! Please have a seat, Mr. Bowman.” The two had talked of the weather, of the recent political upheavals around the world, the growing number of “talkies” in American cinema, and of the pending World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics. “I’m not much of a sports fan, myself,” Mr. Huber had confessed in his heavily accented baritone. “But I am happy to help others enjoy such things. My friend Mr. Bean tells me that you would like to invest a certain amount in this event. Five thousand, I believe?”

Nick had smiled and looked around to see if there were any cops nearby. That’s when he had spotted the two patchwork gunsels under the shade of a nearby tree; smoking cigarettes and watching him like a pair of buzzards. “Yes.”

The Dutchman had produced a small notebook from his breast pocket. “These are my terms. If they are agreeable, please use the pen and sign on the page next to the amount you require.”

Nick’s eyes had bulged when he saw the twenty-five percent interest rate, but then the word shark had not been added to the word loan for nothing. And this exorbitant amount was waived if the loan was paid back in full within ten business days of making the deal. Nick wasn’t familiar with this sort of thing, but he thought that was a rather generous gesture on Mr. Huber’s part. If Benny was right, then the Cubs would win four games to one within the week and there would be no problem. Even if something went wrong, and the Series took longer, it still would not run past the next Friday. Again, Nick could not see a problem. The five grand would earn him nearly fifty; it was too good a deal to pass up.

Except that the A’s had been the team to win four games to one. And then Benny the Bean had disappeared. Just like the Dutchman’s five grand.

The cab pulled up in front of a rundown pawn shop on a rundown corner of a rundown street in Hell’s Kitchen. It was raining hard when the goons hauled Nick out of the backseat and pushed him into an alley as dark as one of his worst nightmares. “We’re not going in the store?” he asked with a dry mouth.

The only answer was a rough push deeper into the shadows. After his eyes adjusted to the wet gloom, he made out a heavy steel door over the entrance to a cellar or an old coal chute. Half-face produced a key, worked the latch and opened the door. Flickering red firelight and scratchy opera music escaped the pit.

“Down,” Hook said, prodding Nick with his metal extremity.

Nick swallowed, wondering just how far he could get if he actually managed to punch at least one of these guys and make a run for it. As if reading his thoughts, Half-face stepped back and opened his coat to show a holstered automatic.

Nick forced a smile, ducked into the cellar door, and descended the stone steps. The music grew louder and the firelight grew brighter and the air grew thicker as he went deeper down the narrow, steep stair. He had the sudden notion that he was quite literally going to hell.

The stair ended abruptly in a large, low-ceilinged room; its corners lost in shadow. A Victorian writing desk sat in the center of the cavernous space. Atop it were a pair of large golden candelabras glowing with a dozen long red candles. An antique gramophone stood beside the desk, playing at full volume. Mr. Huber was near this, his broad back to Nick, his head nearly touching the ceiling. Nick was shocked at just how truly gigantic the Dutchman was.

A gargled scream tore through the room, drowning out the Wagner for a moment. Nick nearly jumped out of his skin, “Sakes alive!”

Mr. Huber turned, his long face glistening with sweat and flecks of blood in the candlelight. He smiled and Nick saw that the big man had screened another figure from view. Nick strained his eyes against the glare and the gloom.

The Dutchman held a small saw in his hand. A row of bloody items that might have been cutting-edge medical equipment during the Civil War lay arranged on the desk. And Benny the Bean sat strapped to a Chippendale chair, stripped to the waist and covered in blood and opened wounds. He may have been missing a few things.

Mr. Huber did not remotely resemble the kindly eccentric he had been on that sunny day in the park. He wore a tailored black tuxedo with a crimson waistcoat; onyx-and-gold flashed at his wrists and up the front of his blood-spattered white shirt; his bowtie dangled from his opened collar like a garrote in waiting. “Ah, Mr. Bowman! So good of you to come. Mr. Bean and I were just discussing the best way to break bad habits. Won’t you join us?”

Nick’s knees went out. The two patchwork bruisers scooped him up, and in a moment he was seated in another Chippendale in front of the desk, staring at Benny’s tortured face and being serenaded by Brunnhilde.

“… Isn’t that right, Mr. Bowman?”

Nick blinked; realized the Dutchman spoke to him. He licked his lips and looked from the bloody surgery to the big man’s smiling face. “I’m sorry, what?”

Mr. Huber set down the saw and stepped to the gramophone. Surprisingly, the shrieking volume rose even louder. Nick tried to clear his throat, “Look, Mr. Huber, I’m real sorry about all this. But I know we can work it out —.”

The Dutchman took something from the desk drawer, touched Benny’s head with it. The gunshot was louder than a thunderbolt in the subterranean room. Nick’s ears rang for what seemed like days as he stared at the corpse that had been Benny the Bean; erstwhile bookie, erstwhile conman, erstwhile living, breathing human being.

Huber turned the gramophone off and leveled the tiny automatic at Nick. The sudden silence in the hazy room was deafening. “Now, Mr. Bowman, do I have your attention?”

Nick stared at the smoking black muzzle of the .380; toy-like in the giant man’s hand, yet the tiny barrel yawned like the door to eternity. He dragged his gaze from it and focused on Huber. “Complete and undivided.”

“Good. Now, it may surprise you to know that Mr. Bean never actually placed your bet.”

Nick’s heart leapt. “You mean you got the money back?”

“Sadly no. Apparently Mr. Bean’s last few days on earth were appallingly expensive.”

Nick swallowed. “So, I guess I’m a dead man.”

The Dutchman laughed, set the pistol on the desk and sat down behind it. “Not at all, Mr. Bowman.” Nick stopped breathing when Huber added, “at least not yet.”

“You’ve a proposition,” Nick said. “You know I don’t have the money, but I do have skills that you can use.”

“Precisely, Mr. Bowman.” Huber leaned back and folded his bloody hands. “I am, after all, a businessman. And while your death gains me nothing, I happen to have a client who is willing to pay enough to offset your debt and then some in exchange for your services.”

“I’ll do it,” Nick said. Whatever the job was, he knew it was his only chance of getting out of the basement with all his parts in working order.

— ♦♦♦ —

“What the hell?” Nick muttered as he stepped from the ninth-floor window of the Algonquin Hotel and onto the narrow ledge. Nearly a hundred feet above the darkened alley, he did not question the sanity of this specific action, however. Given how much he owed Mr. Huber, he would not have balked at scaling an even taller building in the dead of night, nor at breaking in and stealing a priceless heirloom from any member of the nation’s upper-crust penthouse suites. What rankled Nick was that he wasn’t stealing cash, jewels, or even some fine piece of art; something of value.

“A historic artifact,” the Dutchman had called it. “A small stone effigy depicting a long-forgotten deity of the Aztec peoples. My client has made several attempts to purchase the item legally, but Mr. McCain has thus far declined. And my client is not the sort of man to take no for an answer. We have that much in common, Mr. Bowman.”

So, on a nearly moonless October night, Nick clambered up the side of a ritzy hotel in Midtown Manhattan to steal an ugly piece of worthless stone from Abel McCain, one of the wealthiest men in the world. Fortunately, growing up in a family of circus acrobats, his body and skills were honed for just this sort of work. Most kids dream of running away and joining the circus. Nick just dreamed of running away; he’d made it the focus of his life.

He couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. He was the best B&E man in the country, if not one of the best in the world, and that carefully-cultivated reputation was responsible for landing him in this jam. That and his newfound addiction to gambling. He didn’t doubt for a second that Huber had used Benny to hook and reel him in.

Nick just hoped that Benny’s messy exit was due to him bailing with the dough, and not just the Dutchman tying up loose ends. If that was the case, it did not bode well for Nick once the caper was done. He tried not to think about this possibility as he scaled the building.

A nest of sleeping pigeons exploding into startled life on the eleventh floor almost tipped him off the wall. Aside from that, he made it to the penthouse without incident. Though the lights were on in a few rooms, Huber had assured him that Mr. McCain and his retinue were currently in Europe on business.

A housekeeper was the only occupant he need worry about, lest she somehow manage to alert the hotel detectives. Nick didn’t like roughing up dames, but he couldn’t let that happen. The Dutchman’s violent retribution could find him just as easily in the clink.

Despite the Algonquin having the best locks in the business, Nick’s skills were better. He moved through the empty apartment like a ghost, keeping to the shadows in total silence. He reached the spacious den and crept to the mantel where he had been told the item was to be found.

“What an ugly bugger you are,” he muttered. “Why in hell would anyone want such a thing, much less keep it in plain sight?” Roughly the size of a healthy cat, the sandstone figure looked like a portly man attempting to deal with a case of the piles while holding an empty bowl atop his fat belly. The grotesquely large head was adorned with human skulls hanging from oversized ears; a row of curved fangs protruded from its leering mouth, and a necklace of severed arms and legs encircled its squat neck.

He got the uneasy feeling that the thing stared back at him, judging him as he judged it.

Nick picked it up. The hideous thing was surprisingly warm. And heavier than it looked.

The light came on.

He turned to see a tall, good-looking blonde in a silken housecoat staring at him with wide blue eyes. She held a rolling pin in her hand. “Don’t move,” she said in a thick accent.

Nick smiled and put the statue back on the mantel. “Easy, sweetheart.” He raised his hands. “No need to get bent out of shape over this.”

“You should go.” The woman’s eyes drifted to the closet door on the other side of the room. “You have no idea what you are dealing with here.”

Nick almost dropped his smile. Her words were not what he had expected; no threat to scream, to call the front desk or the police. Just a warning to scram. “Look, sugar, I’ve got a job to do and I aim to do it. Now, I don’t want to hurt anybody, least of all you, but —.” He stepped toward her.

The door opened behind him. He turned just in time to see a grinning man raising a blackjack. Then everything went dark.

— ♦♦♦ —

Nick woke to a massive headache and blurred vision that turned his stomach. All the lights in the den were on and he was tied to a chair. The man who had suckered him smiled, swirling a crystal tumbler in his hand. He had salt-and-pepper hair swept back from his forehead and a pencil-thin mustache which kept twitching like he enjoyed some private joke.

The blonde girl lay sprawled on the floor.

Nick looked up at the man. “Abel McCain, I presume.” The Dutchman had royally screwed him.

“The very same, Mr. Bowman,” the aristocrat replied. “Yes, I know who you are. In fact, I am the client who hired Mr. Huber to acquire your services. I’ve been tracking you for some time and now I finally have you.”

Nick let that roll around in his addled head for a moment, nodded at the unconscious woman. “What happened there?”

McCain frowned as if the question were irrelevant. “She tried to warn you, and then she turned on me with that rolling pin. She had to be dealt with.”

Nick promised himself he’d knock a few of McCain’s shiny white teeth out for that. “So what am I to you? Did I make off with some of your dough that I don’t recall, or did I loot one of your poker buddies’ estates?”

“Do you know what this is, Mr. Bowman?” McCain said, caressing the ugly stone statue on the mantel. Apparently, this was to be a long answer, which pleased Nick. He went to work on the knots binding his wrists. Uncle Louis had been an escape artist for Barnum back in the day, and Nick had been his favorite nephew.

“Or,” McCain said, turning back with a smile, “rather who this is?”

“Your mother?”

McCain indulged him with a smile. “This is Niatloatec, the Aztec god of death and glory. He is a much-forgotten deity, having been replaced by newer faiths. But unlike those fictitious gods, he is very real.”

Nick raised his chin. “You ever think you might need a head-shrinker, McCain?”

The millionaire laughed. “I can understand your skepticism. I was skeptical too until he spoke to me.” The man drew a snub-nosed revolver from the pocket of his smoking jacket. “I had just returned from France after giving the Kaiser the old what for when I received word that my father was on his deathbed.

“Being a faithful son, and not wishing to lose my place in the will, I naturally hastened home. The night my father passed, Niatloatec came to me in a dream. He told me how he had come to be in my father’s possession and how he could benefit me.”

Nick just stared and kept at the ropes.

“You see,” McCain continued, “my father, in his youth, had been a soldier during the War Between the States, and had accompanied Sherman on his glorious March to the Sea. Whilst burning and pillaging one of those old Georgia plantations, he found the statue hidden in a secret room in the manse’s study. As it turns out, the owner of the plantation, one Ambrose Cahill, had served in the Mexican War before he became a rebel. During that campaign, he somehow discovered the god of death and glory and was given his secrets.”

Nick’s bonds loosened a bit. “This is a fascinating history lesson, but if you could get to the part that involves me, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

McCain chuckled and took another sip of bootleg liquor. “If you insist, Mr. Bowman. It is quite simple actually. Like myself, Niatloatec is something of a businessman. He makes deals. In this case, he demands the sacrifice of a human being on one of the new moons of every season. In exchange, he bestows great wealth on the one who gives him this sacrifice.

“As I understand it, Cahill was of a good family but of little material wealth until his return from Mexico. By sacrificing members of the slave community, he quickly became one of the leading landowners in coastal Georgia. My father was of low rank and birth, but after he left the service, he soon rose in station to become one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania steel … Foundries are notoriously dangerous places to work, so an extra four employee deaths a year were never questioned.

“But for my part, Niatloatec showed me a simpler way. I sold my father’s plants and foundries to U.S. Steel and invested heavily in the stock market. Now my money makes me money, which in turn makes even more money. No need to spend my time traveling to plants, going over production reports, and dealing with labor disputes … Though my course of action does present one small problem.”

“Hard to come up with four bodies a year for your pagan good luck charm.”

McCain raised the revolver. “Exactly. Now, with my resources and connections, I could find ways to sate the god’s thirst for blood rather easily. There are still so many hobos, orphans, immigrants, and prostitutes to be had in any given city of this great nation, but I prefer to adhere to a certain … moral standard.

“You are, after all, a criminal, Mr. Bowman.”

“Ah,” Nick smiled. “That explains this whole ridiculously elaborate scheme. You get a thrill out of your twisted little game; like you’re a crime-buster, a hero from those detective rags, or something. But in truth, you’re really nothing but a rich lunatic playing at being a tough guy. You know that deep down, don’t you, McCain?”

McCain’s mustache twitched and his brow furrowed. His gun hand flexed. “You have no idea how boring it can be when absolutely everything goes your way, Mr. Bowman. I have to afford myself some form of distraction from time to time. There’s no reason I shouldn’t enjoy these sacrifices as much as Niatloatec, is there?”

Nick’s hands were nearly free. But McCain just had to squeeze the trigger and that would be all she wrote. “The new moon isn’t until tomorrow night,” Nick said, carefully working his right hand a little further out of the noose.

“Quite right, Mr. Bowman. However, all I need do is fill Niatloatec’s bowl with the last drops of your blood before the new moon rises. Now, you may not know this, but it takes quite a long time for a healthy man such as yourself to bleed completely out.”

“So why tell me all this? You could have just killed me when you came out of that closet.”

McCain sighed. “One of the stipulations of the deal. Niatloatec demands that his sacrifices know that their deaths are in his service and that he will devour their souls for eternity in the afterlife.”

“Are you a betting man, Mr. McCain?”


“I’ve recently developed a taste for it, and I bet I can get free and take you down before you pull that trigger.”

McCain smiled and thumbed back the hammer on the revolver. “You bet your life then?”

“I do.”

“Then it’s a bet.”

— ♦♦♦ —

Sometimes people do stupid things even when they know them to be wrong. Nick did just that sort of thing in the predawn hours of October 29, 1929.

He sat in the cab beside the lovely young woman who had saved his life a few short hours before. Her name was Ilsa. She was from Bavaria. The ugly Mexican god Niatloatec was stuffed into a leather valise in the floorboard, awaiting delivery to the bottom of the Hudson River.

Nick smiled at the lovely blonde curled around his arm, her head resting on his shoulder. She smelled of honey and vanilla and she made his head swim. Then again, maybe he had a concussion from McCain’s blackjack. He rubbed his eyes and thought about the blurred events following his dialogue with the mad millionaire.

While McCain held him at gunpoint, waxing nostalgic about pagan gods and wealth and death, Nick had seen Ilsa come to on the floor behind the seated megalomaniac. All he had to do was keep McCain’s attention focused on him while the girl recovered her rolling pin and did the rest. The hard part had been keeping her from killing the bastard.

“Easy,” Nick had said, escaping his bonds. McCain had slumped to the floor after putting a slug in the wall. He grabbed Ilsa’s hand before she could deliver a second blow, and disarmed her. “He’s out. No need to kill him.”

Ilsa had stared at her employer with loathing and her eyes drifted to the smoking revolver in his limp hand. “He is such an awful man! He deserves to die!”

Nick had saved her from that moral dilemma by pocketing the heater. “I’ve lived this long without putting anybody in the ground, sweetheart. I don’t aim to start tonight. You might be right about him deserving it, but I guess we all do one way or another.”

“What are you going to do?”

Nick had seized the statue from the mantel. “What I came here to do. I’m taking this thing. I’m not sure if I believe any of that mumbo-jumbo McCain was spouting, but he does. If he doesn’t have this thing anymore, then he’ll have no reason to kill four people a year.”

Ilsa had glared at the statue. “It is awful. Please leave it. Let us go and call the police.”

Nick had laughed at that. “And say what? ‘Yes, officer, one of the richest men in America has been murdering crooks to sacrifice to an ancient Mexican god. I know because I broke into his house and clobbered him.’

“No, doll-face. I’m going to put Mr. Ugly here in the river and hope nobody ever finds him. McCain will sort himself out. If he’s as crazy as I think he is, he’ll be lost without this thing and suffer far worse than whatever our crooked system could ever do to him.”

“Then let me come with you,” Ilsa had said, batting her big blue eyes. And that’s when Nick had gone stupid. She had thrown on some clothes and packed a bag. Meanwhile, he tied McCain into a rig that would have given Uncle Louis a run for his money, then looted everything that looked pricey and portable, including McCain’s wallet full of folding money. Nick just hoped it would be enough to get the Dutchman off his back.

He and Ilsa had then slipped down to his room for half an hour before stepping onto 44th Street and hailing a cab just as the sun was coming up.

The cab stopped at one of the smaller piers on the Hudson. There wasn’t much traffic in the area this time of morning. Nick got out with the valise. Ilsa insisted on coming, so he told the cab to wait. As they walked to the end of the pier, he heard sirens and bells ringing from somewhere in the heart of the city, but paid it little mind.

He was distracted by the notion that the thing in the valise was getting noticeably heavier and actually moving.

“Are you all right?” Ilsa asked as they reached the end of the pier. “You look upset.”

Nick flashed his winning smile. “Not at all,” he lied. He thought about how he could take this thing and make a million bucks with it. Like McCain had said, it didn’t care whose blood it fed on, and Nick knew hundreds of lowlifes all over the world who wouldn’t be missed by their own mothers. At the rate of four per year, it would take him the rest of his life to run out of sacrifices. And what a life he would lead in that time!

He looked at Ilsa. She wasn’t just a pretty face. She was smart and cunning, and not afraid to get her hands dirty when push came to shove. She had just saved his life when she didn’t have to do a thing. He could definitely do worse in a partner. They would make quite the team. And all it would take was a little blood from folks who really didn’t deserve to live…

Nick shook his head at the sinister thoughts he’d never had before. “Damned if I’m not going crazy.”

“What is it?”

Nick gripped the handles of the valise and prepared to toss it as far as he could into the river. “I think this damn thing is trying to cut a deal with me.”

“Then maybe you should have accepted,” Ilsa said. He turned to see that she had the .38 he’d pocketed in the penthouse. It was aimed at his heart. Her chin was firm but he could see something else in her eyes. “Now, set the god down. I was supposed to kill you at the hotel, Nick. Don’t make me regret changing my mind.”

He stared. Understanding washed over him just as a black sedan rolled up behind his cab. Ilsa had the same accent as Huber, who was now exiting the car with his two patchwork gunsels.

“You work for the Dutchman. I was just a patsy. You planned on killing us both and making it look like a break-in gone wrong; taking this ugly thing with nobody the wiser. I’ll bet you even collected a sizeable advance to hand me over to that rich nut.” The Dutchman had double-crossed Nick, but he had triple-crossed McCain.

Ilsa smiled. “That was the plan. If I had killed McCain and disappeared, the authorities would have forever searched high and low for his missing housekeeper. And if I had just taken the god and run, McCain would have used his considerable fortune to track us down. There is nothing he would not do to regain Niatloatec.”

Nick nodded, watching the Dutchman approach. “And now, when he gets free, he’ll just hunt me to the ends of the earth.”

“Plans change. You wouldn’t let me kill him,” Ilsa said. “I suppose it was that … gallantry which made me like you so much, Nick.”

“All over that ugly damn statue.” Nick thought of the dark things he’d just considered and understood the power that could drive men like Huber and McCain to such lengths. Maybe it wasn’t just madness. Maybe the damn thing was evil. Maybe it was alive.

“Very well done, mein liebchen,” the Dutchman, who was, in fact, Bavarian, said. He kissed Ilsa’s cheek and smiled at Nick. “I see you have met my sister, Mr. Bowman.”

Nick smiled back. “It was a pleasure,” and at least part of that was true. “I assume you thought I’d be dead by now, Mr. Huber.”

The big man shrugged, then stooped to pick up the valise. “That outcome was irrelevant. All that ever mattered was that I acquire Niatloatec. And it would seem that we no longer need fear any reprisal from Mr. McCain, as he is now all but destitute.”

Nick raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Huber opened the valise. He smiled like a kid on Christmas morning as he looked upon the ugly god of death and glory. “Ah, you haven’t heard the news. The stock market has crashed, Mr. Bowman. The entire United States economy is about to collapse. Your nation will be in utter chaos. And with it, much of western civilization.”

Nick’s jaw dropped. He remembered McCain bragging about his deal with Niatloatec, and how the god had told him to invest heavily in the stock market. Now that McCain had lost the deity, he had also lost his wealth.

Along with the rest of the nation, apparently.

“So what now?” Nick asked. “Am I to be your first sacrifice to that little monster?”

The Dutchman smiled thoughtfully for what felt like an hour. “The notion is tempting, Mr. Bowman, but I’m afraid I do not have the luxury of time. Besides, I can see on my little sister’s face, and the fact that she has not already shot you, that she has developed a … fondness for you. I may disapprove, but I know Ilsa well enough to understand that she will make my life miserable for the foreseeable future should I harm you.

“No, I think it prudent for the two of us to return to the Fatherland before we begin our partnership with Niatloatec. My good friend from the army, Adolf, has just gotten into politics there, and I am sure that he would welcome our financial and moral support. So, until our paths cross again, I will bid you auf Wiedersehen, Mr. Bowman.”

Nick watched the quartet depart, noting that Ilsa looked back only once. He exhaled in relief. “Good riddance … Besides, what kind of trouble can the damn thing cause in a broken down country like Germany?”

— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: 

Thumbnail illustration for Until The Bone Shows Through. Copyright(c) 2018 bu Jihane Mossalim. Used under llicenseUntil the Bone Shows Through Part 3.  By Maxwell Peterson, Art by Jihane Mossalim

PI Switch continues her investigation in the hardest part of New Orleans.  The line between legend, mythology, and reality has gotten very blurry.  Will she uncover the truth in time?  At what cost might that true come?  Read the exciting conclusion.

Leave a Reply