A couple of years ago I followed up my Jack Brand stories on Raygunrevival.com with another series that ran under the overall title: This Raygun for Hire. The stories featured a character named Frank Carson, an intergalactic soldier of fortune, who hired out his gun savvy and investigative skills to highpriced clients with problems to solve. He worked mainly in the same universe as Jack Brand, a planet called Tulon in a future about 300 years away. Tulon was rich in oil and was exploited to fuel the Terror War on Earth. Brand’s story took place after alternative fuel sources were discovered, making oil an obsolete commodity. Tulon became a burnt out wasteland.
The Frank Carson stories took place about 100 years earlier, when the planet was still booming and there were a lot of people with enough money to hire the expensive services of a Raygun for Hire. The story in which I introduced Carson, was The Vincent Stone Affair. Looking it over now, I think it’s a pretty fair short story. I’ve revised it somewhat to improve some of the writing. But it’s essentially the same story that ran in Raygun Revival in October 2008. There were about a half dozen of these Raygun for Hire Stories. I’m thinking of putting them out as an ebook. Think that would be a good idea?
THIS RAYGUN FOR HIRE:
THE VINCENT STONE AFFAIR
John M. Whalen
The hover-van pulled up under the carport of a steel and glass tower known as The Westerly. It was one of the new condos put up in the middle of the desert, part of the Tulon Central complex that sprang up at the start of the oil boom. The driver, a burly guy in a maroon jacket, opened the rear door and Frank Carson got out of the vehicle. The two men went into the lobby and rode up in the elevator to the penthouse.
“Have to pat you down,” the driver said. Carson stretched his long arms out.
When the door opened, the driver led the way into a wide-open area with a lot of furniture, a big holo-screen, a bar, and deep champagne carpeting. The view of the red and purple sunset over the desert outside the window was spectacular.
There was a man sitting behind a huge oak desk at the end of the room. Vincent Stone was young. Early thirties, he had shiny black hair, and a dark sun tan. His narrow grey eyes watched without any expression in them asCarsonapproached.
“Care for a drink?”
“I’ve got the real thing,” Stone said. “Not that Synth-garbage you find everywhere on this lousy planet.”
He nodded at the driver, who went over to a bar and fixed the drinks. “Good flight from Earth?” he asked Carson.
“Not bad,”Carson said.
The driver handed the two men their drinks. “Thank you Tony. You can go,” he said. “Cheers, Frank,” Stone said, raising his glass. “You don’t mind if I call you by your first name do you?”
Carson took a drink. “I got your deposit,” he said. “A hundred grand. The transfer of funds came from an outfit called Abigail Designs.”
“A dummy corporation I set up for transactions I don’t want traced back to me.”
Carson nodded. “So, what can I do for you, Mr. Stone? You said you had an important matter you wanted me to take care of, but you weren’t very specific over the phone.”
“I want you to kill my wife,” Stone said. He picked up a manila folder and held it out over the desk.Carson sat there for a moment without saying anything. Then he got up, and grabbed the folder, and sat down and opened it. There was an 8×10 glossy headshot of a blond woman at least ten to fifteen years older than the man behind the desk. The chiffon sleeves of a gown covered her arms and shoulders, trying unsuccessfully to hide the flabbiness of aging. She was smiling.
“Speed is of the essence,” Stone said. “Our ranch is an hour’s drive from here out in the desert. No neighbors for miles. It’s Saturday. All of the servants will be off. They go home to their families on weekends, unless we’re entertaining. No one will disturb you.”
“What about security?”
“Tony will handle that,” Stone said.
Carson sifted through papers that were under the photo. There was a map showing the location of Stone’s house, and a schematic of the building.
“Two million Universal Credits,” Stone said.
Carson didn’t say anything.
Stone set his glass down. “I did some checking on you,” he said. “You’re currently in some serious financial trouble. You lost a huge investment in a selenium mine on Venus six months ago. You sank almost everything you had into it. Then to keep afloat you borrowed some money. From a very dangerous source. I hear Black Angie doesn’t like to be kept waiting for her money. Your note for 500,000 Universal Credits is due in two days. You know what her goons will do to you, if you can’t come up with the money. With two million, you can pay Angie off and have enough to live on comfortably for quite a while.”
Carson studied the man’s tanned, well-cared for face for a moment.
“The price is right,” he said. He sensed someone, probably the driver, Tony, behind him on the other side of the door they’d come through. If he was right, Tony had a blaster trained on him. It didn’t worry him.
“How would it play?”Carson asked.
“It’s to look like an intruder broke in. Marion hears you and wakes up. She tries to call the police. You hear her moving around and go into her room and shoot her. I hear the shot, get up and discover you in her bedroom. You shoot me. In the arm. She keeps some jewelry in a chest on her bureau. Take some. It will look like a burglary gone bad.”
“And the cops will buy that?”Carson asked skeptically.
“Why not?” Stone said with an arrogant smile. “The Tulon Central chief of police is a poker buddy of mine. I also happen to have some information on him, that, let’s say, will make him go along with whatever story I tell him. No problem for you. You’ll be long gone.”
“You must want her dead pretty bad, to pay such a high price,”Carson said. “How come?”
“What do you care?”
“I’m always interested in the reasons why people hire me,”Carson said. “Someday I may write a book. The names will be changed to protect the guilty, of course.”
“Is that some kind of joke?” Stone asked.
Carson stared at him blankly. “What’s your reason?” he asked.
“All right,” Stone said. “It’s like this. “Marionfound some text messages on my wrist-top. They’re from a certain young lady I’ve been seeing. She’s contacted her lawyer. She won’t leave me with a penny.”
Stone got up and refreshed his own drink. “My wife owns sixty percent of all Trans-Sinclair Oil shares,” he said. “She inherited them from her father. Her brother, Reggie, owns 30. I only own the remaining 10 percent. They were given to me byMarionwhen I married her. If she divorces me, she’ll throw me to the wolves. Now will you take the contract? I need to know now. I have to act before her lawyers get started on me.”
Carson heard the door creak the least little bit behind him. Tony was getting restless.
“Half now,”Carson said. “Half when it’s finished. I’ll go back to my hotel. When I see the funds have been transferred, I’ll make my move.”
“Good, Frank,” Stone said. “That’s good.”
Carson got out of the chair. “There’s just one thing.”
“Which arm do you want to be shot in?”
Carson pulled the rented Hover-Jeep up behind a clump of rocks about 200 yards from the back of the Stone property. It was a moonless night, but there was enough starlight to see the dark brooding house Jason and Marion Stone called home. It stood three stories high, was made of Terrazzo stone brought all the way from a quarry in Arizona, and surrounded by a rail fence. There were no other houses or buildings visible anywhere on the dark, distant horizon.
Carson got out of the Jeep. He was clad in black pants and turtleneck. A wide utility belt encircled his waist. As he started toward the fence, he pulled a black ski mask over his face. A pair of infrared night glasses came out of a pouch in his belt and he slipped them on. He reached down to the Colt laser pistol strapped to his right leg, and switched the activator button on. He could feel a slight vibration in the palm of his hand as a tiny red light glowed on the surface of the grip.
He hopped over the fence and moved toward the house. He’d studied the schematic Stone had given him and knew exactly where he wanted to go. A rain gutter drain pipe ran up to the second story from a stand of rose bushes on the side of the house. He shimmied up the pipe, crept quietly along the eave that jutted out from the second floor, and stopped at a large stained glass window.
The window casement was all metal and had a lock on the inside that fastened it tight to the window frame.Carsontook a small cigar-shaped aerosol tube out of his belt. He aimed the aerosol at the point where the lock met the frame and pressed the nozzle. He turned his head away from the corrosive smell as the acid spray ate the metal away. He tucked the aerosol tube down behind his belt, and a minute later the window slid sideways and he was inside.
It was a library. He could smell the musty bindings of old books and crept quietly across a carpet, circumventing a large orange globe that stood on brass legs. Carson reckoned the books belonged to Mrs. Stone. He didn’t figure Vince to be much of a reader. He opened the door to the hallway slowly and slipped the night glasses down over his eyes. The hallway was empty. Marion Stone’s bedroom was the next one down from the library on the right. Vincent Stone’s room was across the hall from hers.
He raised the glasses up on his forehead and crept silently to the door. He unholstered the Colt and turned the doorknob. The door swung open slowly and he stepped into the room.
There was a small cone of light shining down from the ceiling on a woman’s head. It was Marion Stone. She was on her back, looking up at the ceiling. It was the only part of her body that was visible. The rest of her was encased inside an iron lung!
He stepped further into the room to get a better look. She lay there with eyes shut, long dark eyelashes still and unblinking. Graying blonde hair splayed out over the pillow under her head. There was an oxygen tube in her nose. A brace of electronic medical equipment stood next to the lung. Monitors recorded vital signs, a machine that looked as though it were some kind of automatic respirator throbbed with the rhythm of her breathing. The woman was being kept alive by the machines.
Carson stood for a moment, taking in the scene. What he saw didn’t make any sense. Stone could be cheating with a hundred women and his wife would never know it. So why did the man tell him she’d found out he was playing around and had called her lawyer? He wondered what had happened to the woman. Ages ago, an iron lung used to mean polio. He’d heard they were using iron lungs now to treat a respiratory problem that developed in some people when they came to Tulon from Earth.
Carson moved silently to the woman and touched her cheek. Her skin was cool but there was no reaction to his touch.
“Mrs. Stone?” he said quietly.
He heard a noise. He turned and saw Stone’s driver, Tony, standing there in the darkness. There was a plasma gun in his hand. A purple flash blurted from the muzzle of the gun and Carson dove for the floor. The plasma ray struck the iron lung, sending up a shower of sparks.Carson fired from the floor and a red beam shot from the Colt. The big man jerked and yelled, then crumpled to the floor.
Carson got to his feet, watching the medical equipment hooked up toMarionStone go up like a fireworks display. Lights flashed, bells and whistles sent up a cacophony of alarms. Marion Stone’s closed eyes twitched slightly. He didn’t know what to do about any of that. He went out the door and across the hall to Stone’s bedroom. He threw the door open. The big four poster bed was empty.
He went back out to the hallway and there were bodies dropping down from the ceiling. They were dressed in black, and had masks over their faces, and carried long steel swords. The man closest to Carson charged, the blade in his hands swinging in a furious arc. Carson stepped back and fired his pistol. The swordsman went down. Carson heard movement behind him. He spun and something hard struck the side of the head. Lightning flashed across a black pool and he fell to the floor.
Carson shook his head and pushed the swirling darkness back to the corners of his mind. He realized he was sitting up in a chair. His ski mask, utility belt, and night glasses had been removed. A green-shaded lamp sat on the corner of a desk and provided the only light in the room. He was in the library. Vincent Stone sat behind the desk. He had the dead security man’s plasma gun in his hand. Carson’s own pistol lay in the middle of the desk top. Four men dressed like ninjas stood silently, one in each corner of the room, their arms folded over their chests, their swords sheathed behind their necks.
“Welcome back, Frank,” Stone said. He waved a hand at the men standing in the corners. “You’ve already met my private security team. Imported from Neo-Tokyo back on Earth. I trust you have sense enough not to try anything foolish. That’s why I haven’t put any restraints on you. They would cut you to pieces before you got out of the chair.”
“What this all about, Stone?”Carson said.
The young man smiled. Hooded lids lowered over his steely grey eyes. “I should ask you that question. I watched you on a security cam. I don’t believe you really intended to fulfill your part of the contract. Did you, Frank? I heard you call her name. Were you trying to wake her up? Warn her?”
“You were misinformed about me. I don’t do jobs like this.”
“Why’d you take it then?”
“With your boy Tony behind the door of your office, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to refuse. You’re not the kind of guy who likes to take no for an answer.”
“You’re right about that.”
“I came out here to ask her how much she’d pay to see you dead. I don’t like pretty boys who live off women and think they own the world.”
“That’s what I thought,” Stone said. “As for owning the world, I already do. Or I soon will. This entire planet will be mine for the taking once I acquire the majority of shares of Trans-Sinclair Oil.” He pointed a finger atCarson. “You’re a bright guy. Tell me, who was that dude —he’s big and has muscles and he’s got the world up on his shoulders? I saw a picture of him in one ofMarion’s books.”
“Yeah, that’ll be me. Atlas. I’ll own the world and carry it around on my shoulders like a big beach ball. I’ll do anything I want with it, and when I get tired of it I’ll throw it away and find another one. How do you like that?”
“I think you’ve got your mythology a little mixed up,”Carson said. “Atlas didn’t think the world was his toy. He was a Titan who was forced to bear the burden of holding up the world as punishment for being on the wrong side of a war.”
“Really?” Stone seemed surprised. “Well, I guess Marion would know more about that.” He grinned and nodded his head. “A titan, you said. Well, that fits anyway.”
Carson frowned. “Why the cockamamie story about the lawyers and divorce?” he asked. “In her condition she’s not going to divorce anybody.”
Stone put the plasma gun down next to Slate’s pistol and folded his hands on the edge of the desk.
“I’m afraid I wasn’t completely honest with you, Frank,” Stone said. “It’s true my wife found out about my affair, and threatened to sue me for divorce. But that was three months ago. You see, I’ve always been aware of my precarious position. A younger man married to an older woman. It does create problems of jealousy and suspicion. I decided when I first married Marion to prepare for eventualities. I have friends in the shadier sections of Tulon. I asked them if there was a way, if I ever had to, to just make her sick enough so she couldn’t do me any harm. They provided me with an untraceable drug that once injected induces coma. When she threatened divorce, I had to do something.” He grinned. “Poor thing. She woke up for a brief moment as I injected her and knew what was happening to her. She looked so surprised.”
“You had her out of the way,” Carson said. “Why bring me into it?”
Stone picked up the plasma pistol again and got up out of the chair. He walked around a corner of the desk and sat down on the front edge of it, folding his arms casually over his chest. He left Carson’s gun where it lay.
“It’s because of Marion’s brother,” he said. “Reggie. A very suspicious fellow. He suspects I’m responsible forMarion’s condition. He’s made some fuss about it, but it didn’t do no good. He has no proof. But recently Reggie made some legal moves to obtain control ofMarion’s Trans-Sinclair holdings. No longer content to try to prove my guilt concerning Marion, he’s trying to accomplish what she had threatened me with. He’s trying to push me out into the street with nothing.”
Stone scratched the side of his cheek with the tip of the gun barrel.
“I couldn’t take care of him the way I did Marion, so I had to come up with another way. That’s why I sent for you. When your body is found, and your identity is established, the police will run a check on you. They’ll find the million Universal Credits I deposited in your account through Abigail Designs.”
“That will lead the cops back to you.”
“No, Frank. They will discover that Abigail Designs was created by none other than Reggie Sinclair himself. That’s right. Several documents and electronic transmissions I’ve arranged will make it look like he was the one who set up the dummy corporation. Sorry I had to lie to you about that. But you should have checked. Careless of you not to. At any rate, this will lead the police to believe that, frustrated by failed attempts to gain control of the company by legal means, Reggie hired you to killMarion.”
“Not bad for a chiseler,”Carsonsaid.
“I have my moments,” Stone said. He grinned at Carson again. “I gotta say you’re a pretty cool customer. I’m almost sorry I’ll have to kill you. But it really can’t be helped.”
Stone turned the barrel of the pistol on Carson and nodded his head. One of the Ninjas came up behind him like a silent shadow, and Carson felt cold steel against his Adam’s apple. Stone’s finger tightened around the trigger slowly. “So long, Frank.”
The tension in the room was suddenly snapped by a movement and a choked, gurgling sound that came from the hallway door. Stone looked to his right and his face turned ashen.Carson turned just enough to see a ghostly figure dressed in a white nightgown standing in the doorway. Marion Stone staggered forward, her arms stretched out. Her face was bluish and her eyes shone bright red with madness.
“Marion!” Stone stepped a few backward paces away from her. “Stay back!”
The woman marched slowly toward him and he pointed the plasma gun at her. Carson could only surmise the shock of her life support equipment going down, instead of killing her, had jolted her out of her coma. She seemed unaware of the gun in Stone’s hand. Carson tried to move, but the ninja pressed the blade harder against his throat. With all eyes on Marion Stone, though, no one noticed as he moved his hand over his belt. His fingers found the aerosol container of acid he’d used to open the window.
Stone aimed the gun at his wife’s chest. “Kill him,” he shouted hoarsely at the ninja.
Carson raised the aerosol container up over his head and sprayed it. The ninja yelled and clutched at his eyes. Carson jumped out of the chair, grabbed the man’s sword arm, twisted it and broke it. The Ninja screamed again and Carson grabbed his sword and gave it back to him point first between the second and third rib. He turned and the three other swordsmen came toward him. One of them rushed forward with a yell and Carson parried his blade, twisted it down toward the floor, and with a lunge, drove his blade into the man’s chest. The ninja reeled back into the onrushing path of the two killers behind him.
In the midst of the action, Marion Stone walked toward her panicked husband. Vincent Stone raised his gun to fire. Carson threw his sword and the blade struck Stone’s gun hand. The man yelled and the gun fell to the floor.
The two remaining ninjas crept steadily toward Carson. One of them, seeing that Carson no longer had a sword, tossed his blade away and began whipping a pair of nun chucks around his shoulders and head. He advanced menacingly toward Carson, closely followed by the other one, whose blade made whooshing sounds as he sliced the air with it.
The first ninja ran forward screaming, the nun chucks whizzing all around him. Carsonbacked away, and bumped into a floor lamp. He grabbed it and held it in front of him with two hands. The wooden end of the nun chuck spun around the iron lamp pole on its chain and Carson deliberately fell backward. He pulled his attacker down to the floor with him, and used the momentum of the fall to flip him over. The ninja crashed into the wall behind him. The other one ran forward, and swung the sword down at him. Carson rolled away and the blade dug into the floor.Carsonjumped up.
The two ninjas were both moving toward him again. Carson shot a glance over at his laser pistol still lying on top of Stone’s desk. He tossed the floor lamp at his two antagonists and dove for the desk. He rolled across it, landed on his feet on the other side, and raised the pistol. Red lasers streaked across the room and the ninjas fell, black smoke rising from their twitching bodies.
“No,Marion, get back!” It was Stone. He now stood with his back to the big globe by the stained glass window. Marion Stone held the plasma gun. Stone raised his arms out in terror as she came steadily forward. “Please,Marion.”
“Why, Vincent?” the woman asked. “I loved you.” Then, without waiting for an answer, she fired.
A purple ray struck Stone in the chest and he fell back with a groan. He sprawled backwards, arms outstretched, over the top of the big globe. Marion Stone dropped the gun and started to fall. Carson ran and grabbed her.
“Who are you?” she asked.
She collapsed and he picked her up. It was like carrying a wounded bird. He took her to the room with the empty four-poster bed and laid her down on it. He grabbed the Comm-link clipped to his utility belt and dialed the Tulon Central emergency number and told them to send an ambulance to the Stone mansion.
Carson walked out of the house and got into his Hover-Jeep. He pressed the ignition and felt the vehicle lift slightly above the ground. As he swerved out onto the desert highway, he dialed another number.
“Yes?” A female voice that had no expression in it answered.
“Angie,”Carson said. The blue flashing lights of an ambulance and police car moved rapidly in his direction from the distance. “Call off your dogs. You’ll get your money tomorrow.”
He was glad he’d asked Stone for half payment up front. A million UC’s in his account from Abigail Designs. He had a hacker friend who could eliminate all traces back to Stone or Reggie Sinclair. The rescue squad ambulance and police vehicle flashed by him. He floored the accelerator and in the rear view mirror watched the blue lights recede into the dark on their way to the mansion. He thought of Vincent Stone spread-eagled over the big globe. He’d had the myth of Atlas all wrong. But that didn’t matter now.
Copyright 2008 by John M. Whalen