A New Villain in Town

Fred Davis 1949

The crisp, night air blew across the dark chainmail of the Hammer's suit. Though the uniform and the person in it had changed since the war ended, the mission was the same. He patrolled Detroit and tried to make it safe for the people who called it home. The intelligence he got from his gang contacts told him the Crimson Nightmare was meeting with his lieutenants here. The warehouses and the harbor made for a good place to run the drug trade. The fact that it also served as a dirigible dock increased the amount of searching the harbor patrol needed to do. There was a greater chance for the heroin to slip through the cracks.

Movement caught his eye. The lenses in his helmet had been created by Father Dusk and gave him the ability to see even in the darkest of situations. He would have killed for them on any of his missions overseas. A group of young white men were gathered near the loading dock of a building owned by Henry Ford. That was nothing odd, since the man owned about half of them. They wore uniform coveralls to keep the night chill from their skin. When they rolled their caps down to cover their faces it could have had two purposes. The fact that they all did it in unison narrowed the potential purpose down to one.

Short clubs filled their fists and flickered with little arcs of electricity. Not street legal and not even common among the gutter trash represented by these punks, it meant they had a serious backer. None of this matched what he was told to expect. A flash of light and the sound of a powerful diesel engine caught his attention.

He turned his head to take in the new comer. The heavy duty truck hauled a trailer behind it. The headlights had been turned off, leaving only the running lights to show where it was. This was no drug deal, or if it was they were moving some serious weight. He reached up to his shoulders and freed the twin hammers from their clips. These weren't the brick on a stick his teacher used. The heads were slightly bigger than a roofing hammer and the picks on their reverse could puncture quarter inch steel with ease. They were as black as his armor.

He stepped from the roof's edge and floated down the side of the building. His boots, another gift from Dusk, allowed him to fall as though supported from a parachute. He'd done enough parachute jumping over Germany to be quite the accomplished faller. Landing without a sound, he stepped behind a light pole. There were no streetlights on, another hint that this whole area was prepped for nefarious dealings. The truck came to a stop just beside the loading dock where the punks with the arc batons waited. The driver might not have even seen them.

Hammer was ready to move the second he saw any sign of trouble.

The driver got out. The movements were odd, almost jerky. Hammer couldn't see what he looked like, as he was covered in an immense cloak. In fact, it wasn't clear the driver was even male.

The punks came out of the darkness and surrounded the driver.

Hammer tensed, waiting to jump out from where he was hidden. When the driver directed them to form a phalanx, he was shocked.

When they were ready, for whatever came next, the driver flung the door open. A deep ruby light came from inside.

Hammer had only seen that particular color light under a few circumstance and they all involved the Nightmare.

Two of the punks climbed up into the rear and came out with a figure wrapped in canvas and bound in lengths of chain. Red light pulsed, visible even through the thick layers. They grunted with exertion as their prisoner struggled. From experience, Hammer knew the being within was also heavy.

"Good work, boys." The driver spoke, the voice clearly feminine. There was an electronic sound to it, as though she were speaking through a microphone with a hint of reverberation. "Be careful with him. We don't want him damaged, yet."

They brought the Crimson Nightmare out entirely and lay him down in the midst of the group.

"Lie still or you'll be treated to another round of beatings." The woman in the hooded cloak spoke.

Hammer was surprised when the Nightmare obeyed.

"Good. Now, you were told that this part of the city, and in fact now the entire city belongs to me. Your men should be here soon. Either they will find your body, or they will find you chained up and waiting. That's your choice."

The deep rumbling was audible, though the words weren't clear.

"I'm glad you feel that way."

Hammer thought about stepping in. Nightmare was a criminal and a mad man. Still, there was no excusing the treatment he'd been put through. The Silver Hammer would have already jumped in. As the Hammer, he took a more restrained approach, but he needed to know who this woman was. She claimed to have control over the city's entire drug trade. That was news to him.

With a nod to himself, he stepped out of the shadows. "I can't tell you how much it pains me to take the side of the Nightmare, but you're clearly breaking the law." His voice, amplified by the helmet, cracked through the night.

The punks whipped around, clubs crackling.

"The Hammer?" The mystery woman turned as well. She laughed, a sound like a car's transmission giving up the ghost. "Well, isn't this a nice surprise. You know what to do."

Four of the toughs rushed him. They had to cover ten yards to get to him and by the time they'd made half the distance he was ready. The hammer heads hung from short lengths of chain that connected them to their handles. He whipped them around like the kusarigama he'd trained with in Japan. The use wasn’t quite the same, but it had some of the same advantages.

He knew that if he let them come into contact with the clubs they wielded he might not be safe, even with the insulating properties of the padding under his armor. Best not to let them get close. He smiled to himself.

The first of the quartet got in engagement distance before his friends. He must not have seen the whipping hammer heads. The one in the Hammer’s right hand caught him right on the temple. The sound of steel striking bone was loud in the street. He dropped bonelessly to the pavement.

The remaining trio respected the distance created by the unusual chain weapon.

“You’re outnumbered.” The tallest one growled through his mask.

Hammer said nothing.

The punks didn’t respect the rules established by comics and movies. They didn’t all rush him at once, but they did surround him as best they could, feinting in and out.

With a snap of his left hand, he reeled the hammer head in and used the one in his right hand to keep the men in front of him at bay.

Sensing an opening, though perhaps not thinking it through, the tough at his back rushed in, swinging the arcing club over his head.

Hammer widened his stance and lashed out with a mule kick to his rear, keeping his eyes on the men in front of him. There wasn’t a lot of force in the kick itself, but the man ran full force into Hammer’s hard boot heel. There was a shout of pain and the crack of bone.

How had these men managed to take down the Crimson Nightmare?

Now there were only two of them. They rushed him from roughly fifteen feet apart.

The one on his left struck out at the whirling chain with his club and crowed when it wrapped around his weapon. He must had thought he could outmuscle the Hammer and wrench the weapon’s handle from the hero.

With a powerful tug, the masked criminal almost succeeded in throwing the Hammer off balance. Instead of fighting it, Hammer just through the metal and wooden truncheon at the man’s head. Then he brought his back leg up, spun on his heels, and swung the remaining weapon into the final man’s midsection. Again, momentum combined with the blunt force of the hammer was the criminal’s undoing.

All four men lay clutching at broken and bruised bones. Hammer had given up one of his weapons in the process, but wasn’t much worried about it for now. With his freed right hand, he reached to one of the pouches at his belt and unsnapped it. “Anyone else?”

The cowled figure clapped slowly, the sound of her gloves coming together carrying a metal on metal undertone. “Nicely done.” She extended a hand and electricity arced from it to where his feet touched pavement.

Power surged up his chain links, creating quite the light show. The electricity didn’t make it through to him or the trinkets he carried. The crack of gunfire told him the light show may have been just that. Then he realized it wasn’t coming from his opponents.

“The Nightmare’s men are here.” The woman’s voice snapped. “We need to leave. Plan C.”

Hammer watched as the woman’s cloak snapped out like a parachute, creating wings somehow. There was an earsplitting whine and she left the ground and went straight up. With his lenses he could see she wore armor which reminded him of the powered suits that the Luftwaffe wore in the last year of WWII. It was certainly more advanced than even those had been, but he’d be damned if it wasn’t their cousin.

The remaining black clad toughs who could still stand went in multiple directions. There were still three he’d taken out who wouldn’t be running any races. The one he’d kicked and the one who caught a handle to the skull were the most incapacitated.

After collecting his thrown weapon, Hammer ran to where the Crimson Nightmare lay prone. By the time he got there, both hammers were clipped to his harness. “I’m going to let you free.” He could see how the chains were held in place by locks. A few seconds with the picks in one of his pouches and the locks sprung open one after another.

The distant sound of gunfire died out. The Nightmare’s men would be back any minute. The massive creature stood and shook off the restricting canvas. Standing eight feet tall and wearing what appeared to be leather breeches and a jerkin, the Nightmare looked something like a man. The hooves where feet should be and a grinning equine skull with curled horns that sprung from either temple quickly put that to lie.

“Thank you, Hammer.” The voice didn’t come from behind the skull exactly. No one was certain if it was a mask or if it was actually the Nightmare’s head. Where there should be eyes, a deep crimson fire pulsed. He held out a claw tipped hand. “I owe you.”

Criminal and killer, the Nightmare wasn’t the sort who resorted to trickery. Hammer shook his hand. Warmth could be felt quickly even through the insulation of his gloves. “You’re welcome. How did they keep you tied up?” The sound of men running up to them and the reloading of weapons made Hammer reflexively reach for his weapons.

Nightmare held out a hand to his men. “Hold. There is a truce between the Hammer and I, if only for a few moments.” The dinner plate sized hand went back down. “I’m not certain, though even if I were I wouldn’t tell you.”

Hammer got the sense Nightmare would have worn a slightly wry expression. “Fair. Well, you can be sure I’ll be going after her and her men. Any idea who she was or who she’s affiliated with?” He paused. “You wouldn’t tell me that either. Would you?”

Nightmare’s skull oscillated. “I will tell you this. I think they would have known how to kill me. That’s not an easy thing to know.”

“Then they may be out to take out the competition.”

“How did you know to be here?” The voice carried more curiosity than anger.

“You tell me how to kill you and I’ll let you in on that.” It was Hammer’s turn to smile.

“I guess we’re done here. I’ll give you a ten count if you want to leave.”

There was no point in sticking around. Hammer was outnumbered and lacked the proper equipment to pick a fight with something like Nightmare. He began floating quickly and was soon out of reach. When he landed on the nearby roof, he began running and leaping to make his way towards home. He had some questions for his informant on this one and some good old fashioned detective work to do.

Next - Mechsuit Mystery