Death Watch

Jack Slade #9

by Richard Dawes

After witnessing a gangland assassination, Jack Slade must escape the assassins wearing only swimming trunks, shirt, and sandals, with no money and no ID. Arriving in a strange town, he rescues a woman from rapists and goes to work in her gambling hall and whore house as a bouncer. He is recruited by a crime boss, and rises to be a top operative in the local underworld. Fists and bullets fly, however, when he revolts against his employer. Blood flows and dead bodies pile up as he cuts a red swathe through the criminal underworld.


Chapter One


Dressed only in swimming trunks, his shirt folded over a pair of sandals lying on the grass beside him, Jack Slade luxuriated in the warm mid-summer sun that played over his leanly muscled torso and long muscular legs as he lay on a lounge chair beside the pool. His body soaked up the sun’s warmth as a sponge soaks up water, easing his frayed nerves as he recovered from a tough job on the East coast that had been almost more than he could handle. The motel where he was staying was in a small town nestled within tree-covered mountains, a quiet place he had discovered some years previously, and had used more than once when he needed to get away and recuperate.

He cracked an eyelid and glanced around. The fenced-in area was deserted except for a bald, middle-aged, heavyset man, dressed in a silk bathrobe and leather sandals, lying on a lounge chair on the other side of the pool. A cigar clamped between thick lips, beady brown eyes, shaded by heavy black brows, studied a racing form held in large hands with fingers that had been broken. Two younger men, with hard faces and muscular bodies, dressed in long trousers, shirts open at the collar and light jackets, sat in chairs on either side of the first man. Alarm bells went off in Slade’s mind at the telltale bulges under the left arms of both younger men.

Bodyguards, he surmised.

His own .38 Colt automatic was stored in his traveling bag in his room, along with extra ammo and the black leather jacket that carried his tools. He’d never needed it when he’d visited before, and, although his body reacted nervously to acknowledge that he was in the presence of armed men, he had no reason to believe he would need it now. He was reassured by the fact that none of them were paying any attention to him.

Lulled by the sun’s warmth, he closed his eyes and drifted off into a light sleep.

Rusty hinges grated as the gate was thrown open, jerking him into wakefulness. He opened his eyes as three men armed with automatic rifles stormed into the area and rushed toward the men on the far side of the pool. The bodyguards clawed for their weapons and leaped to their feet, but they were too late. The staccato roar of gunfire shattered the afternoon stillness as the assassins pulled triggers. Before their guns cleared leather, a hail of hot lead riddled their bodies, lifted them off their feet in a shower of blood and hurled them against the cement wall. Babbling hysterically, the bald man attempted to crawl behind a bush, but bullets shredded his body into bloody meat in a split second, and he dropped onto the grass in a pool of his own blood.

Before the bodyguards hit the ground, Slade was on his feet, grabbed his shirt and sandals and sprinted for the back wall.

Shouts sounded behind him.

“Hey, that guy saw us.”

“Get him!”

Lucky for Slade, the assassins had emptied their clips into the three dead men and were forced to pause and re-load. That gave him time to reach the wall before the roar of gunfire re-commenced. He was in the air, sailing over the wall when bullets plowed furrows in the ground and pockmarked the wall. Dirt exploded. Grass shredded. Sharp cement shards cut his bare legs like shrapnel. He hit the far side on his shoulder and rolled, came to his feet and, without pausing, sprinted down an incline toward a cluster of trees that offered cover. He reached them at the same time the assassins reached the wall. He dove into the cluster and came up against the trunk of a mighty oak just as a sleet of lead sizzled the air around him, shredded leaves and chipped bark from trees.

Squatting with his back pressed to the trunk, he endured the deafening gun-thunder while squinting against the hail of sand, broken twigs and shattered bark that buzzed around him like maddened hornets. Glancing desperately around for a way out, his fevered gaze locked onto a freight train rolling slowly over tree-lined railroad tracks about a hundred yards below the copse of trees. Remaining perfectly still, he waited for the assassins’ clips to hit empty. As a lull descended over the incline and an acrid cloud of gun smoke wafted through the trees, Slade catapulted to his feet and sprinted down the slope, using every tree and bush for cover as he headed for the train.

He reached the trees lining the tracks just as the assassins’ rifles again erupted in a withering hail of lead. He risked a quick glance back, saw that the men had vaulted over the wall and were sliding down the incline, firing as they came. He turned back to the train. Apparently, it had just left the station in town and was picking up speed. If he didn’t make his move soon, it would be going too fast for him to jump aboard. Another lull in the gunfire gave him his opportunity, and he broke cover and leaped for the train. About to jump for a ladder stretching up the side of a boxcar, which would leave him exposed to the assassins’ guns, his peripheral vision caught sight of an open door a few cars down to his right. He turned and sprinted at a half-crouch for the opening, still using the trees for cover.

As it came abreast, he dove head first through the door, slid on his stomach over a hay and dirt littered wooden floor, slammed with bone jarring impact into the far wall then scrambled behind the barricade just as slugs shredded the wall where he had lain. The thunderous roar stopped, and shouts of frustration sounded behind him as the assassins realized he had gotten away.

* * *

Slade still gripped his shirt and sandals in his right hand. He dropped them on the floor beside him and began examining his feet for cuts and stickers embedded in his bare flesh. As he did so, for the first time, he noticed four men leaning against the far wall. They had lain flat during the gunfire but were now sitting up and glaring at him threateningly. Clearly derelicts. Faces unshaven. Dressed in ragged cast-offs with holes in the soles of their shoes.

He stopped what he was doing and stared back at them, eyes smoldering dangerously.

Their gazes roved over his black hair brushed straight back, harsh features, cold grey eyes, wide, thin-lipped mouth, leanly muscled torso, bronzed skin etched and puckered with scars of old battle wounds, then glanced uneasily at each other.

“What was that all about?” one of them asked.

“Just a misunderstanding,” returned Slade coldly. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Those gunmen could come back looking for you,” said another.

“Very likely.”

The men glanced again at each other, apparently came to a decision, and surged to their feet. One pulled a blackjack from his jacket pocket. Another slid his fingers into a pair of brass knuckles, while a third pressed the button of a switchblade. Eight inches of cold steel glimmered in the dim light. The fourth man simply raised a pair of mallet-like fists, prominent knuckles covered with scars.

“We don’t want you here when they come back,” the first speaker rasped through clenched teeth. “Either jump back off the train, or we’ll throw you off.”

“After we’ve had some fun beatin’ you to a bloody pulp,” added another.

Slade came to his feet with them, eyes cold, hard, mouth a grim line. He glanced out the open door and realized that at the speed the train was going, to jump out would be suicide.

The men studied his scarred torso, and caution flared in their eyes.

“Careful,” one of them muttered. “This guy’s been around.”

“Yeah,” another added. “But there’s four of us and only one o’ him.”

Slade watched them move menacingly toward him. The confined space of the car didn’t allow them to spread out, and they formed a compact knot, backing him against the wall. Slade took a step back as a feint. Then, without warning, he erupted in a blur of motion. Gliding toward the unarmed man on the left, his left foot slid forward, his left fist streaked out and struck him a crushing blow on the nose. Cartilage crumbled beneath his knuckles. Front teeth snapped. The blow lifted him off his feet and hurled him against the far wall where he slid to the floor and lay still.

Without pause, Slade turned to the next attacker, pinned the brass-knuckled right fist against his side with his right hand, torqued his hips and with his left fist punched him just below the ear. The jawbone gave under that devastating strike, and the man simply closed his eyes and dropped like a sack of meal to the floor. Grunting with rage, the next attacker slashed viciously at Slade’s head with a backhand sweep of the blackjack. Slade ducked beneath it and buried his right fist to the wrist in his stomach. He doubled over, bad breath coming in a whoosh. Slade jerked a knee up into his face, destroying nose, splintering teeth, cracking facial bones.

Out on his feet, Slade pushed him into the man holding the knife, throwing him off balance. The attacker hurled him aside to give himself room to wield the blade. Before he could bring it into line, however, Slade whipped up a bare foot and kicked him hard in the groin. The man screamed in agony. His knees buckled. Slade planted the foot, checked the knife-wielding arm with his left hand, then punched him hard in the throat with his right fist. Gagging horribly and spewing blood, his eyes rolled back in his head as he dropped face down over the others.

Slade took a moment while his breath returned to normal and his body stopped shaking from reaction. Then he grabbed each man by his collar and the seat of his pants and hurled him off the train. He stood in the open doorway, enjoying the brisk breeze against his bare, sweating torso, and glanced around. The train was passing through a desolate stretch of country—rolling tree-studded hills covered with underbrush. He grinned coldly. It would be quite a while before anyone found them in the dense brush.


"Jack Slade: Death Watch" by Richard Dawes



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