Authors: Chris Bunch
Again Wolfe held back his words.
“That’s as may be,” he said. “A little martyrdom never hurt a good cause. But later is for mourning. Right now, we’ve got to think about our own young asses.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kristin said. “You can go your own way — go wherever you want. I’ll try to get off Rogan’s World somehow. Perhaps — when — if we recover, we’ll mount another operation against Aubyn for the ur-Lumina.”
“You want to get slapped again? Knock off the defeatism. You ain’t dead till you’re dead, as the eminent grammarian said. I dragged you out of that hotel; I can drag you a few feet further. Besides, I might need somebody at my back.”
“How do you know I won’t kill you?” Kristin asked. “I guess that’s what Athelstan and Kur would have wanted me to do.”
“Lady, a piece of advice: stop second-guessing corpses.” Wolfe’s voice sharpened. “Now pull it together, dammit!”
The image of that universe-encompassing “red virus” filled his mind.
“I can’t — won’t — say why,” he went on. “But there’s no time for you to wander back to Batan and debate, oh so goddamned logically, whether you’re coming back for the Mother Stone and what color your little pink dresses ought to be.”
Kristin took several deep breaths. “All right. What do we do? Take your thirty-fourth easiest option and run?”
“No. Aubyn’ll be expecting that. We do what any good — if maybe suicidal — gravel-cruncher’s supposed to.”
• • •
“A little obfuscation here,” Wolfe said, as he grounded the lifter in an alley behind a business loudly proclaiming itself to be
HJALMAR’S LIFTERS — ONLY THE BEST IN PREVIOUSLY OWNED ANTIGRAVITY DEVICES
. He opened the lifter’s engine lid, located the tool compartment, and muttered under his breath when all he found was a bent screwdriver and a crescent wrench whose jaws barely met. “How are you at deactivating proximity detectors?”
“I never learned how,” Kristin said.
they teaching the young these days?” Joshua said. “Tsk.”
He unscrewed the registration plates of his lifter and changed them for one of Hjalmar’s finest. “In case somebody happens to be alert,” he said, “I’d rather not get stopped.”
He considered the night. The whole planet seemed focused on the still-roaring inferno seven miles distant. “Now watch and learn something,” he told Kristin. “Normally any lifter’s proximity detectors are up front. Here, just below the driving lights on the traffic side. Pop the little panel, like so. All that you have to do then is yank this wire — here — and the same one on the backup unit. The drive won’t pick up any closing signal. Handy thing to know, if you plan on, say, ramming a baby carriage or something scummy like that.”
He realized he was babbling a little, from fear of what was to come as much as relief at having the bomb gone.
“And now we go marching through Georgia,” he said.
• • •
Wolfe shot the two guards outside Walsh’s mansion and steered the gravsled through the gates. There were lights on in the mansion’s east wing.
Kristin obediently tumbled onto the grass. An alarm clanged from the gates, but Wolfe paid no mind.
He turned the lifter toward the west wing, set the height designator at five feet above the ground, and slid the drive-pot to full power.
As the lifter accelerated toward the mansion, Wolfe jumped out and went flat.
Someone heard the turbine whine, ran out of the main entrance, saw the speeding lifter, and shot at it twice. Going about sixty miles an hour, the lifter smashed into the stone building, flipped, and crashed through the great bay windows. A moment later it exploded. All the lights in the mansion died.
“That’s our calling card,” Wolfe said. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
There were shouts, screams, and another alarm went off. Wolfe ignored them and trotted across the dark lawn and up the steps.
A man — perhaps the shooter — was gaping at the flames starting to flicker in the far wing. Wolfe shot him neatly in the neck.
“Where …?” Kristin started.
“Shut up.” Wolfe reached out,
and went through the door into the house.
• • •
“Breathe gently,” Wolfe advised.
Edmund Walsh, half-dressed, obeyed. His face was white, silhouetted in the glow from a pocket flash on the bureau in front of him.
“Move away from the dresser,” Wolfe ordered.
Walsh did, moving very slowly, hands lifting to shoulder height as if they belonged to a marionette.
Wolfe pocketed the gun beside the light. Walsh started to protest. Wolfe reached out and stroked the old man along the neck with three fingers. Walsh dropped bonelessly. Joshua shouldered him. “One little memory trot, and we can be on our way.” He turned off the flash and dropped it into a pocket.
• • •
Joshua went unhurriedly across the drawing room to the wall lined with testimonials, holographs, and photos behind the glare of the flash. He pulled one holo free and tossed it to Kristin. “Don’t lose this. We’ll need it.”
Emergency power went on, flickered, went out.
Wolfe listened to the shouting from the other wing and heard the screams of firelifters approaching. “Out the back,” he decided. “Look for something to steal.”
• • •
The windowless delivery vehicle sat behind the mansion’s kitchen. The ignition key was in place, the lifter’s driver probably having reasoned that no one but a desperate fool would dare steal from Edmund Walsh.
Joshua slid Walsh into the back, started the drive, lifted the craft silently, and sent the lifter across the grounds, away from the flames and excitement. He found an unguarded rear gate and floated down the long avenue toward the city.
“What we need,” Wolfe said, “is something nice, quiet, and dark. Like — like this.”
The sign read
FLORIET REGIONAL PARK
, and the entrance was blocked by two barrels. Wolfe shut off the lifter’s lights, grounded the craft, rolled a barrel out of the way, moved the lifter through, and replaced the barrel.
He lifted the ‘sled without turning the lights back on and went slowly along a curving, narrow drive. He passed slides, swings, and climbs, then grounded the lifter in the playground’s center.
Wolfe propped Walsh against a wooden clown with peeling paint. He started slapping Walsh on the cheeks with two extended fingers, not hard, not gently. “Stop faking,” he said. “The nerve block wore off a couple of minutes ago.”
Walsh’s eyes came open. “You’re better’n I thought, Taylor. I didn’t think you’d live through our little demonstration — let alone come back this fast.”
better. A lot better. But I don’t have time for compliments. I need some information.”
“I don’t think so,” Wolfe said. “I’m in a hurry, so it’s going to hurt. Show him the picture.”
Kristin handed him the holo of Edmund Walsh being feted at a banquet, standing behind a podium with an unusual symbol on it.
“What’s the emblem mean?”
Walsh compressed his lips.
Wolfe set the gun on the sand and took Walsh’s left hand. Walsh tried to pull away but wasn’t able to. Wolfe slid two fingers down to Walsh’s little finger, twisted.
“Ring finger.” Joshua broke that one as well.
“Stop!” It was Kristin.
Wolfe turned, stared at her. She shuddered, turned away.
“Middle finger …”
“I’ll tell you!”
The bone snapped with a crack, and Walsh stifled a scream.
I said I’d tell
“It’s the logo of the Fiscus-MacRae Fund.”
“A big — really big — research firm,” Walsh said, biting his lip against the pain. “They do political research, sociological studies — that kind of thing.”
“Yeah,” Joshua said. “That kind of thing. Nice cover — you can do anything you want to with something that vague. Nobody’s going to ask who’s coming, who’s going, or why, whether they’re gangster or pol. And research justifies a ton of electronics, doesn’t it? Enough for a whole world’s command center. Not stupid at all.”
He pointed to a woman sitting at the podium table, a mildly striking woman with short, dark hair. Her face was in silhouette, and it was hard to say what she was looking at. “Who’s she?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ll run out of bone joints before I run out of patience,” Wolfe said.
“Oh, I’m talking, I’m talking. I was just trying to remember — ”
Wolfe broke his index finger.
“I’m telling you the truth!”
“You’re more afraid of her than you are of me?”
Walsh stared into Wolfe’s eyes. His head moved up, down, a bare inch.
“We’ll have to rectify that,” Joshua said. “Kristin, you might want to go back to the lifter. This is going to get messy.”
“No,” she said. “I’ll stay.”
“Then stay quiet. Listen closely, Edmund. I’m going to hit you once, just above the cheekbone. Your eye is going to come out of its socket. I’m going to pull it out by the ganglion then pull until the ganglion snaps. After that — who knows? We’ll concentrate on your face, first, because that’ll be pretty damned gory, and second, because it doesn’t do any lasting damage. But I’ll leave you your tongue, hearing, and one eye. You want fear — we’ll deal on that level. If you still aren’t talking, I’ll get something sharp from the lifter, and we’ll start down from your navel. Look at me! Do you think I’m bluffing?” Wolfe turned the flash on his own face and waited.
“No,” Walsh muttered after a moment. “You’re not bluffing. You’ll do it. But she’ll do worse.”
“I agree,” Wolfe said. “She’s had more practice than I have. But there’s a difference. I’m now. She’s later.”
“How much of a start will you give me?” Walsh said.
“When you talk, I leave.”
Walsh slumped back against the statue. “I don’t have any choice. She’s the deputy director of Fiscus-MacRae. She uses the name of Alicia Comer. I don’t know much about her,” he said. “She’s not from Rogan’s World. I heard she’s a helluva fund-raiser, which is why Fiscus-MacRae uses her. She was one of the founding partners, come to think.”
“Walsh, you’re still lying. But that doesn’t matter. Where does Comer live?”
Walsh hesitated, then told him.
“Where’s the fund located at?”
That, too, came out.
“All right,” Wolfe said. He rose.
“You’re a bastard, Taylor,” Walsh managed.
“I know,” Wolfe said. The gun slid into his hand, and Wolfe touched the trigger. Kristin half screamed as the bolt sliced through the old man’s head and blood sprayed across the clown.
“You told him you wouldn’t …” Kristin managed.
“Yeah,” Wolfe said, his voice flat. “I lied. I do things like that.”
• • •
Low-power lasers made lines in the near-dawn darkness in an irregular figure, sealing off an area around the spacecraft. Ten bodies still littered the tarmac. Seven were variously dressed; three wore the livery chosen for Wolfe’s pilots. Morgue ‘sleds to one side of the ship-park waited for the scattering of police to finish their work. Three noisy ‘cast teams waited, held back by an angry cop. No one paid much attention to the rangy man wearing a coverall that said
SPACEPORT GROUND HANDLER
as he walked up to the cop.
“Are your officers out of the ship?” he asked.
“Uh — yes. I think so.”
“Good. Mister McCartle wants the ship moved down-row, into one of the hangars.”
“Nobody said anything to me about that.”
“He told me you’d know,” Wolfe said. “Said the police wanted it out of the way to keep off souvenir hounds and like.”
The policeman hesitated, looked into Wolfe’s eyes, then smiled. “Oh. Yeah. That makes sense. Which hangar?”
Wolfe looked pointedly at one of the reporters, who’d edged closer. The cop leaned closer, listening.
“Eight-Six-Alpha,” Wolfe said. “All the way down to the end, in A row.”
“You need any help?”
“Not unless there’s still bodies inside.”
“Nope. Taylor’s crew must’ve come out shooting, not that that did them much good. Regular Kilkenny cats here. Doesn’t seem to be any damage to the ship, but maybe you want to not do any VTOing.”
Wolfe half saluted and went through the line of light, through the ship’s hatch. The lock closed behind him.
Joshua slid into the pilot’s seat, unlocked and activated the controls. Eyes closed, he touched sensors. “I do not like the feel of this beast,” he muttered, touching the secondary drive sensor.
The drive hissed into life.
Wolfe picked up a com button, stuck it to his larynx. “Rogan Prime Control, this is the
this is Prime. Be advised your ship has been seized by proper authorities. I can’t allow you to lift without authorization.”
“Prime, this is the
Police Captain McCartle in command. I’ve been ordered to relocate this ship to the police field for a complete analysis. Plus we don’t want the ship sitting around for gawkers. This whole mess is too loud anyway.”
“Hell,” the voice swore. “I’m always the last to get the word.” There was silence, as Wolfe
out for the woman. “All right. How do you want to lift it?”
“Don’t put me in the regular pattern, Prime. I’ll be holding 1,000 feet, course 284 magnetic, on visual.”
“That was 1,000 feet, course 284,
You’re cleared to take off.”
• • •
The yacht settled down on an almost-deserted open stretch of road, where a gravlifter waited. It grounded, skidded, lazily turned on an axis, and settled, blocking the road. The gravlifter’s canopy lifted and Kristin ran toward the ship. The lock opened, and she went up the gangway and through the open lock door into the control room.
Wolfe nodded as she sat down in the copilot’s seat, and took the
“That wasn’t the best landing I’ve seen,” Kristin said.