Fire and Brimstone
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1930. Somewhere south of Virginia.


When Harold "Mad-Man" Angelo caught wind of three government cars on his tail, he knew the sensible move was to dump Mercy's tank of spirits and run. But Harry didn't get his nickname on account of letting things like good sense get in the way of making a dime.

The customized Studebaker whined with anticipation. Mercy’s engine was a modified Straight-6 that guzzled torment and belched power; her backseat was loaded with enough liquid damnation to drown every preacher's pulpit from Meat Camp, North Carolina on up to Chicago, Illinois. The G-men were puttering behind her in their pretty little tin lizzies — they might as well have brought horse-drawn buggies.

He pumped the gas. Mercy roared in triumph as her engine slaked its thirst on the souls of the damned. The Studebaker Special Six shrieked down the mountainside, bellowing sulphur and brimstone. What was previously a scenic woodland trail became a blazing streak of trees, smoke, and hellfire.

The revenuers behind him didn't concern Harry. Mercy could spin circles around them all day. But for every G-man you saw, there were two you didn’t — and he wasn’t sticking around to shake their hands and say how-do-you-do.

The road flattened out into a curve up ahead. Harry lifted his foot off the pedal and eased into it, leaning against the door. The suspension creaked — Mercy tilted. Her left side rose off the road. The tank of ectoplasm sloshed behind him; he could hear the souls wailing and moaning. "Quit your bellyaching," he growled back. "Y'all were goin' to Hell anyway. Chicago ain’t that much worse.”

The curve leveled out. No sign of the revenuers behind him. But ahead?

The G-men had themselves a roadblock.

Harry smashed the brake. Mercy squealed — metal screeched across metal. Once his speed was cut in half, he yanked his foot up, snapped on the emergency brake, and flung the wheel to the left.

Rubber snarled through gravel as Mercy’s tires gouged a curved trench into the road. By the time she was done spinning, she managed to kick up a twenty foot cloud of dust — and pointed Harry back the way he came. He snapped off the emergency brake and pumped the gas again.

Mercy lurched forward. The revenuers behind him were finally catching up — and they brought friends. Six black lizzies were buzzing down the mountain, sirens yowling like a pack of frisky tomcats looking to score.

"Applesauce." Harry gave Mercy’s steering wheel a pat, then reached under the seat and twisted open the block valve. A fresh slug of damned Confederate souls slammed into Mercy’s carburetor. She swallowed a gulp of air and belted out a rebel yell.

The whole frame shook. Her Straight-6 spat flame and hate — she lunged ahead like a mortar shell ripping its way through the bowels of Hell. Harry’s body was squashed back against the seat as his ears filled up with the high-pitched squall of half a dozen murderous old cusses. They whooped and hollered their way through Mercy’s carbon-steel innards, scorching a path back to the lake of fire from whence they came.

It wasn’t until Mercy ripped past the line of black cars that Harry saw the second barricade, hastily erected to block the way back.

By the time they blinded him with the floodlights, it was too late. He slammed the brakes and tried to turn. Mercy’s wheel spasmed under his sweaty palms. His stomach lurched up; her wheels left the ground as she tilted to the left.

She didn't stop.

Harry lost control.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Each hit jerked him into a new direction. The world was a blur of noise, heat, and violence. Mercy was rolling off the road, spinning wildly as chunks of her twirled away.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Harry threw his arms over his head and pushed against the roof, which was now the floor, which was now the roof again. He was getting banged up something fierce, though he knew the poor old girl was taking the brunt of it.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. CRRRNCH. The world settled down and leveled out. Harry struggled through a haze of pain. He could feel the hard, savage pounding of his heart; he could smell burnt rubber and leaking fuel. He could hear the gentle pop, pop, ssss of the radiator's water supply as it sizzled away. Something stung his eyes. Blood, he realized. His blood.

By the time her twisted wreck settled, they were a good quarter-mile off road. He was upside down. He fought to breathe through the smoke, fought to lift his arms and open the door. Everything was fuzzy. Every breath was agony. He had to get out, had to —

The last thing he saw before the darkness swallowed him up was the polished boots of the G-Men as they charged toward Mercy’s door.


The sedatives helped with the pain, but not the nightmares. It was the same one he had every night: the heavens above parted to reveal a hand that burned as bright as the sun. As it opened wide, Harry drove as fast as he could — but Mercy was never fast enough. That burning hand fell upon him like a boot on a bug — squashing him down into the mud and the earth. Pushing him down into that big fire below.

The dream ended just as he smelled something through the cloying odor of perfume that permeated the hospital room. Shoe polish and cheap cologne. He lifted his cheek from the clean linen pillow and focused his bleary eyes on the two men in their freshly pressed suits. They were standing at the foot of his bed.

"Good morning, Mr. Angelo."

"Piss off."

The two men exchanged glances. "Mr. Angelo, we're here to —"

"I said piss off. You know what that means? It means: 'Piss off'."

The taller one removed his hat and cradled it to his chest. "Mr. Angelo, do you know who we are?"

He knew. When you worked as a bootlegger, there were only two types of suits you dealt with — and the other type let their guns do most of the talking. "Somebody who can't understand plain English."

Again, they exchanged glances. The short one was flustered; still a greenhorn. The tall one, though? Cool as an iceberg. Feds probably pulled him in after the War. Harry could always recognize a fellow doughboy. Something about the way they moved, the way they carried themselves. Quiet. Focused. Deliberate. The sort of man who knew that every pleasant conversation was one misspent word away from ending in a spray of bullets and blood.

Didn't mean Harry hated him any less, though.

"We're with the Unusual Incidents Unit."

"Feds are Feds," Harry replied. "I ain't ratting on anybody. Now, piss off."

"Your vehicle did not contain a gun. Why is that?"

Harry winced through the pain and sat up. Neither Fed had spoken; the question had come from the back of the room. A pale old man sat in a chair, arms folded. He watched Harry closely. The man looked ancient — wrinkles so deep they were carved into the bone. He wore a white, wide-brimmed hat and a crimson scarf fastened around his neck.

Harry narrowed his eyes. "Who the hell are you?"

"This is, ah, Agent Reid," the tall agent said. "He's here as —"

"Most bootleggers carry, at the very least, a rifle," Reid cut him off. "You do not. Why?"

"Don't need a gun if you drive fast enough."

"You clearly did not drive fast enough."

Harry couldn't decide whether to be amused or pissed. He settled on pissed. "Fuck you."

"Your criminal history is extensive, but notably bloodless," Reid continued. His arms unfolded. "I want to know why."

The room grew tense. Neither of the agents moved. Harry and Reid locked eyes, staring at one another for quite a long time.

To his own surprise, it was Harry who finally gave in: "Did my fair share of killing in the war. Got no taste for it. I just want to run my spirits in peace."

This answer seemed to satisfy Reid. He rose to his feet and nodded to the tall agent. "He will do." Reid left the room.

"Wait. What? 'He will do'?" Harry's irritation swelled, providing a brief distraction from the pain. "You fucks really don't understand plain English, do you? I told you, I ain't gonna rat on —"

"We don't want you to rat on anyone, Mr. Angelo." The tall agent turned back to Harry and smiled, reaching into his coat. He retrieved an envelope and tossed it atop of Harry's lap. "Your government wants to hire you."

He was half-tempted to tear the envelope in half. Instead, Harry peeled back the flap and drew out the folded document tucked inside. He opened it up and examined it. He wasn't a lawyer, but judging by what he was reading — and that fancy seal on top? It looked like a presidential pardon.

Harry looked up from the paper and focused on the tall agent, his eyebrows crunching together. "Hire me? To do what?"

"To rob a train."

That was different. Still didn't mean he was going to do it, though. "Look. I don't know the first thing about train-robbing. I ain't ever robbed a goddamn train —"

"Yes, you have."

"Alright, I robbed a train one time —"

"Twice."

"Twice," Harry corrected himself, glowering. "That still don't mean spit. I don't do government work, and I certainly ain't working for no fucking prohee. Herbert Hoover himself could offer to suck my cock and the answer is still piss off. Take your pardon and shove it."

"I think you've misunderstood your situation, Mr. Angelo," the tall agent said. "The pardon has already been signed; it's due to be issued in three weeks. We're not offering it in exchange for your cooperation. We're offering to rescind it."

Harry wasn't sure what to say. He always figured the Feds had a few screws loose, but this was taking it to a whole new level. "Rescind? Like, 'take back'?"

"Yes."

"I think you need to work on your negotiation skills."

The tall agent smiled. "And I think you need to read what that pardon says."

Harry's eyes dropped back to the document:

…NOW, THEREFORE, I, Herbert Clark Hoover, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted…

…all offenses against the United States which he, Harold P. Angelo, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from…

…as he has conducted these crimes only on behalf of the Department of the Treasury; specifically, in his capacity as an undercover agent for the Bureau of Prohibition.

Harry's blood went cold. He reread that last line again, then again; then, he read it one more time. Just to make sure.

An undercover agent for the Bureau of Prohibition.

He laid back in bed and tossed the piece of paper down into his lap. This wasn't a pardon. This was a death-warrant — or worse. When it came to stoolies, the Chicago Spirit's official position was that dying is too good for 'em.

High above, he could see that burning hand opening wide. It was coming down fast.

Harry "Mad-Man" Angelo opened his eyes and lowered his head. "Alright, you limp-dicked yankee pricks. Tell me what train I'm robbin'."


Next: Mack the Knife