A bit of juvenilia from John
Hi there. This science fiction
story was written in two different times, both long ago. The first two
chapters were written in my senior year of high school, and the final
chapter was written in six hours during my final year of college, after
I learned about a literary contest, the deadline of which was the next
This is not a very good story, I'm
afraid. The characterizations are shallow, the dialogue is show-offy,
the plot is lame and the final chapter is just two guys talking at each
other for eight thousand words. What can I say, I was seventeen (or
twenty-one, depending). On the other hand, the story did come in third
place for that literary contest and got me $250. So maybe it isn't all
bad. Okay, it is. I think the judges knew I needed the cash.
At the very least, you can see
some of the same sorts of things that exist in my writing today, here in
(very) rough form. Some things never change, they just get done better.
Paul Foster found William Shaeffer
in Papa Garibaldi's Pizza Place. Shaeffer was sitting on a small stage,
strumming a song on the guitar. Paul thought it might be something from
the Beatles, but he couldn't be sure. Nobody listened to that stuff
Shaeffer saw Foster approaching
and decided to ignore him. This wasn't very hard for him to do; during
all the time that Foster was his immediate superior, Shaeffer had
ignored him without any effort. Now that Shaeffer no longer worked for
Foster, ignoring him was that much easier.
"Shaeffer," Foster said.
Shaeffer did not reply, and started playing another song. If Foster had
known his Beatles, he would have recognized the song as "Run For
Your Life." However, he didn't, so this was lost on him completely.
"Shaeffer, I know you can
hear me. Stop being childish. You were always childish, you know."
growled Shaeffer, "didn't I tell you that if I ever saw you again,
I would rip your heart from your body with my bare hands?"
"No, as a matter of fact, you
"Well, I should have,"
Shaeffer said. "I suppose it's too late to threaten you now."
"It is, unless you don't want
to hear me tell you that you can have your job back at Aaron, Brown, and
Shaeffer looked at Foster at for
the first time. "And what makes you think I want the job back? I
don't need the aggravation, Foster. I don't want to get fat and bald,
"Shaeffer, anything would be
an improvement over what you're doing now. What are you doing now,
the entertainment coordinator at this fine establishment." Shaeffer
stopped playing and swept out an arm to encompass the pizzeria. Two
booths were occupied. In one booth, a teenage couple were kissing and
otherwise being generally unsanitary with each other. In the other, a
small drunken man had collapsed into his pizza. Papa Garibaldi's poodle,
in a gross violation of federal health codes, perched on the table,
eating the pizza that was not covered by the drunkard's head.
Shaeffer took this all in and
smiled. "Face it, Paul. I've got everything here. Fame, fortune,
and all the greasy Italian food I can eat." He started playing
again. "I don't think you'll be able to pry me away from this
"I'm also supposed to tell
you that you'll be receiving a $50,000 bonus."
Shaeffer stopped playing. "Of
course, I reserve the right to change my mind."
Foster smiled. "I thought you
might come around to my way of thinking."
"My only problem with this is
that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. First, you want to give me my
job back --"
"I never said I wanted you to
have your job back."
" -- and then, to top it all
off, you're going to give me a $50,000 bonus. Since when did I start
doing things right? You must love me, Foster."
Foster sighed. "I repeat: I
never said I wanted you to have your job back. As a matter of fact, if
it were up to me, I would send you out on the next cruiser and sabotage
the engines. You were a disgrace to the investigative division of Aaron,
Brown and Corum."
"I had the best record of
successful cases, Paul. Some disgrace."
"That's irrelevant. Your
practices were unsound, your methods unethical, and your sense of morals
skewed. You're also an asshole."
"Hey," Shaeffer said.
"Watch the language, Paul. This is a family place."
"Despite your faults, or more
accurately, probably because of them, the new owner of Aaron, Brown and
Corum wants to get you 'back on the team,' to use his quaint
"Wait a minute. Back up. 'The
new owner?' What's been going on over at the beloved firm that I don't
"Shaeffer, don't you read the
newspapers at all?"
"No. I don't know how to
"I'm not surprised. The firm
of Aaron, Brown and Corum, Attorneys at Law, Inc., was purchased by the
Percy Investment Group two weeks ago."
"Percy Investment Group.
Ah," Shaeffer said. "The one with the cute acronym."
"PIG. Right. It's mostly in
media and entertainment, but it's been diversifying into services.
Bought into a number of psychiatric hospitals a year ago, and made an
unsuccessful bid for UPS last May."
"So why would PIG want to buy
ABC, Atty., Inc. ?"
"To quote J. Allen Percy,
founder, chairman, and principal stockholder of the Percy Investment
Group, 'Because it's there."'
Shaeffer picked at his strings.
"Sounds like this Percy character woke up, took a shower, had some
breakfast, bought the firm, and went to the links for his daily
"It would have been fine if
he had stayed on the course. But he went looking through the company's
files instead. And found yours. He called me and told me to send you up.
When I told him you had quit --"
"Quit? There's a
"-- He told me to find you.
When I said I didn't know if I could, he suggested that, if I did not, I
ought not bother with coming in tomorrow."
Shaeffer smirked. "Sweet guy.
I'd love to meet him."
"Don't worry. You will."
"I was joking."
"I'm not. I was told that
upon your acceptance of reemployment, which I hope for my sake is not
too far in the future, I was to give you a check for $50,000, and the
address of Percy's home, at which you are expected at ten tomorrow, for
tea and conversation. I think you'll like him, Shaeffer. He's an
"My, but aren't we in a testy
mood today?" Shaeffer pulled up to Foster in mock concern.
"What's the matter, Paul? Someone forget to wake you for your four
Foster glared back. "Listen
to me, Shaeffer. Today my job was threatened by someone I don't know in
order for him to meet someone I wish didn't exist. These things don't
happen to me every day. They are your fault. I'm not happy. In fact, I'm
pretty angry. In fact, I am struggling, at this moment, to keep myself
from wrapping my fingers around your throat. So, if you would kindly
accept this offer of employment, I would be grateful, and you would walk
out of here alive."
"Well," Shaeffer said.
"How can I argue with that. I accept."
"Thank you." Foster
pulled out an envelope. "Here is your check. You will find Percy's
address inside the envelope as well. I'm sure you'll find J. Allen an
interesting experience. And, Shaeffer, try to make a good impression. If
you don't , he might fire me for finding you."
J. Allen Percy's idea of tea and
conversation was rocketing around the grounds of his considerable estate
in his souped-up Rolls-Royce convertible aircar with a can of beer in
his hand. Shaeffer was not sure if their ideas meshed at all.
"Now this is living!"
Percy hollered at Shaeffer, not for emphasis, but to be heard.
"Here we are, in a fast car, wind whipping by at 200 kph-plus, a
can of Bud in our hands, having the time of our lives! How could it get
"It could get better if there
were seatbelts!" Screamed Shaeffer, who noticed that the odometer
registered 220 kph.
goggled at Shaeffer. "Seatbelts are for wimps! I figure anyone who
can't handle their aircar, regardless of speed, terrain, or weather
conditions, shouldn't be driving in the first place! Whoa!" The
aircar tumbled down an embankment. A third of Shaeffer's Bud spilled
into his crotch.
"Gotta watch for those!"
Percy yelled at Shaeffer. "You okay?!?"
"No, not really."
"Nonsense! Sure you
are!" Percy took the aircar up another embankment at a ninety
degree angle. "Anyway, when I got this baby, I took out the
seatbelts! Haven't had any problems yet!"
"Don't be too sure,"
"What? Did you say
"Oh! Hell! Ain't it a
beautiful day? When I bought this property twenty years ago, there was
nothing on it but scrub brush! Look at it now! Ain't it beautiful! Best
damn 100,000 acres anywhere! Don't you think so?"
"They would be a lot nicer if
you slowed down so I could see them!"
Percy laughed. "I'll be
damned if you don't have the best sense of humor!"
"Oh, come on! You think this
is fast?!? Hell!" Percy swerved to avoid a deer and pegged the
accelerator to the floor, smashing Shaeffer back into his seat. Shaeffer
noticed that they were headed directly for a large grove of trees.
Percy turned to Shaeffer.
"You like country music?"
"It's not my favorite,
no," Shaeffer admitted.
"I love the stuff. Can't get
enough of it. I got some really good tapes down here somewhere..."
Percy reached down into his tape case, taking his hands off the wheel to
do so. The Rolls dipped dangerously close to the ground. Shaeffer, who
had been trying to keep hold of his seat and his can of beer at the same
time, tossed the can and grabbed onto his seat with new determination.
The odometer registered 275 kph.
"You like Willie
Nelson?" asked Percy.
Shaeffer decided not to argue.
"Sure I do! Love his stuff!"
"I hate him. Can't stand him.
Waylon Jennings, though. Now there's a real country singer. He went to
prison, you know. Knows what life's about."
"Listen," Shaeffer said.
"I'm sure glad to know about Waylon Jennings, but right now, we are
heading towards some very large trees at --" Shaeffer checked the
odometer "-- 307 kph, and if you don't put your hands on the wheel
real soon, I think we are going to crash and die, and I don't know about
you, but that doesn't seem like a good idea to me."
"Hmm?" Percy peered up
from his tape case and looked judiciously at the oncoming trees.
"Don't be silly. We have plenty of time." He went back to his
tape case, got a tape, put it in, pressed the play button. That
accomplished, he placed one hand on the wheel and the other on a small
lever sticking out of the dashboard. The trees became dangerously large.
Waylon Jennings came on the
Percy pulled the lever. The aircar
went on its side, slipping vertically through spaces that would have
spelled death horizontally. Percy hummed and blazed through the trees as
if there was nothing unusual about his driving at all. Shaeffer tore at
his armrest so he would not fall onto Percy, who sat, humming, below
Shaeffer looked out briefly, saw a
brown haze of trees, and decided it would best to keep his eyes closed.
A few seconds later, Shaeffer felt
the car return to normal and opened his eyes. He glared at J. Allen
"You, sir, are mentally
Percy didn't answer this directly.
"You know why I like country music?" he asked, turning Waylon
Jennings down so he could talk.
"I can't imagine."
"Because it's so consistent.
Ever since it began. It hasn't changed a damn bit. That's integrity.
"It's also boring as
"Noted. Most consistent
things tend to be. Most. You know what I like more than
"Driving by sense of
"I like boldness. The ability
to look at something and make it work from a completely different
angle." Percy stopped talking for a moment. "'Driving by sense
of smell.' Should I?"
"I'd rather you not."
"Right. But that would be
boldness. Taking something and reworking it from a new
"It would also get you
Percy laughed. "You make me
laugh, Shaeffer. You don't treat me with any respect at all."
"You haven't earned it.
Driving through a small forest sideways intimidates the hell of out me,
true. But it doesn't make me respect you."
"Well, that's fair enough. I
should say, however, that I have a measure of respect for you."
Shaeffer said. "Why?"
"Because if there's something
I like more than consistency and boldness, it is someone who can
synthesize the two together. Boldness in execution, consistency in
results leads to the creation of a character who is larger than life. It
is what legends are made of. Washington. Napoleon. Einstein. Mozart.
"I knew that was
"And you, Shaeffer."
"Oh, please," Shaeffer
said, annoyed. "I'm nobody's legend."
"No, you're not, but you've
got all the ingredients for full blown legendhood in you. Whether or not
you achieve it is of no concern to me. What is of concern to me is that
these ingredients make you the best at what you do. There is no one
better than you, Shaeffer."
"That's not what Paul Foster
Percy waved a dismissing hand.
"Paul Foster is confined by his own mind. He's too caught up in the
trees to see the forest. Being a small tree, he expects the big trees to
be just like him. The big trees, meanwhile, have other plans."
Shaeffer smiled. "And what
plans do you have for me, O mighty redwood?"
"I have an assignment for
you. Offworld, and I know you don't like those. But, as I said, you are
the best, and only the best will do for this assignment. This assignment
is a fairly big affair, and it could do one of two things. If handled
badly, it could blow up in your face quite literally. However, if it is
handled successfully, not only will it be good for Aaron, Brown and
Corum's investigative division, but, in the process, you could become
very, very famous. Very well known. Much respected, admired, and looked
"In other words,"
Shaeffer said, "a legend."
"We understand each other,
"Ooh. Appeal to my vanity,
why don't you."
"Why not? It always
"On everybody. You're not
that special. Yet."
Shaeffer was greeted at the door
of the investigative division of Aaron, Brown and Corum by Paul Foster.
"I've been dreading this
moment," Paul said.
"Jesus, Paul," Shaeffer
said. "Give me a break. I haven't been on the floor more than ten
seconds, and already you're on my case. Truce? At least let me spill
coffee on your tie before you blow up on me."
Foster ignored this. "What do
you know about Ceres?"
blinked. "What, the goddess?"
"The asteroid colony."
"It's Las Vegas in space. And
they do some manufacturing there too, I think. I don't know. Why?"
Foster slapped a folder onto
Shaeffer's chest. "You're going there, that's why." He began
to walk down a corridor.
Shaeffer followed, flipping
through the folder. "What's at Ceres that needs me to go
Foster looked back. "Shaeffer,
when you told me you couldn't read, I thought you were joking. Now I'm
not too sure."
"What do my mental
deficiencies have to do with Ceres?"
"Because if you took the time
to read the newspaper, you would know that there's been a series of
murders on Ceres."
"So? Not that I condone
wholesale slaughter of human beings, but I would assume that Ceres
security forces could handle the job. Murders are commonplace in
asteroid colonies, anyway. People figure they've got several million
miles between them and anything else, get a little crazy, and shoot
their neighbors out of sheer boredom."
Foster reached a door and stopped
walking. "I'm sure you're absolutely correct, Shaeffer. However, it
really doesn't concern me anymore, because I am not in charge of this
"What do you mean?"
"When you got rehired,
Shaeffer, I specifically asked not to have you assigned under me. I have
better things to do then pulling you out of the holes you dig for
yourself. Thankfully, they granted my request."
Shaeffer look hurt. "Well,
golly, Paul. And here I thought there were no hard feelings. I was going
to get you a present."
"Get a clue instead. Goodbye,
Shaeffer. Your new superior is behind this door. Welcome back. If you
ever come over my side of the building, I will have you killed."
Foster walked off. Shaeffer, mildly amused, watched him go.
From the other side of the door
Shaeffer heard a female voice. "Doors work better if you knock on
them," it said.
Shaeffer shook himself out of his
daze. "Excuse me?"
"I said, doors work better if
you knock on them. It keeps the person on the other side from having to
guess if someone is there."
"I haven't knocked,"
Shaeffer said. "How did you know I was here?"
"I heard Paul Foster bitching
"Well, now that you know I'm
here, what's the point in knocking?"
"Because," the voice
said, "it is the correct thing to do. Because if you don't knock, I
won't give you permission to enter my office. Because if you try to
enter my office without my permission, I have a very large caliber gun
that has a bullet with your name on it."
"Possibly," the voice
admitted. "What do you think?"
"Come in," said the
Shaeffer opened the door and went
It was a very classy office. The
wall were paneled with oak. The furniture was made from the finest
cherry, ebony and mahogany woods. Shaeffer looked at it all. "What
did you do," he said, "deforest a small country?"
"Would you prefer plywood and
"That's what I have at my
house, what's wrong --" Shaeffer stopped as he got his first look
at the body from which the voice emanated. He was very impressed. The
body was 165 centimeters tall, slender, with brown hair and brown eyes.
It carried itself very well as it walked out from behind a huge oak desk
over to a cherry file cabinet. Shaeffer stared as it opened the cabinet
and flipped though some files.
"We can start as soon as you
stop drooling," she said.
Shaeffer closed his mouth.
She nodded and pointed at a chair.
"Have a seat," she said, sitting behind her desk and opening
the file she had brought from the cabinet. She started to look through
Shaeffer sat down and extended his
hand. "Hi. My name is William Shaeffer."
"I know," she said. She
didn't look up from her file.
"What can I do for you?"
She didn't answer.
"I'm very good at doing
things for people."
She flipped a page.
"How about lunch? I was going
to take Paul Foster, but he's being anti-social. How about
Without looking, she flashed out a
hand, grabbed Shaeffer by the tie, and pulled him onto the desk so hard
his teeth clacked together. Finally, she looked at him.
"You are coming very close to
annoying me, Shaeffer."
"What, you don't like
"Shut up. Listen to me,
Shaeffer. Let's get something straight. I've heard about you. I have
neither the patience nor the lack of self-esteem to put up with your
pathetic come-ons or your sad attempts at wit and urbanity. I would ask
you to try to elevate your mentality a few rungs on the evolutionary
ladder when you speak to me. Try, in short, to be civilized."
"I was being civilized. I
invited you to lunch. That's being civilized. It's not my fault you
react so violently to Chinese food."
She tightened her grip on his tie.
"Look," Shaeffer said,
"you can't strangle me until we've been formally introduced."
"Because that's not the
correct thing to do. I would expect you to know that, at least."
"My name is Andrea
"Percy? You're not related to
that madman who I had the misfortune to take a drive with, are
"He's my father, as a matter
"Oh. Listen," said
Shaeffer, "why don't you kill me now, before I choke to death on my
feet? I can't seem to do anything right this morning."
Andrea let go of Shaeffer's tie
and pushed him away. "Get off my desk, Shaeffer."
"Gladly." Shaeffer sat
himself back into his seat. "Let's start over, shall we? What can I
do for you?"
"What do you know about
"There has been a series of
murders that the security there hasn't been able to do anything
"That's not too bad."
"I was briefed."
"Two days ago, the management
of the Ceres colony issued the following statement." Andrea handed
a piece of paper over to Shaeffer. "What it says, basically, is
that the Ceres management is accepting outside help in the search for
the murderer, with the reward for this person's capture placed at one
Shaeffer looked over the paper at
Andrea. "I can read," he said.
"That's not what I was
"What it says,
basically," said Shaeffer, tossing the paper back at Andrea,
"is that the management is condoning bounty hunting within the
walls of the Ceres colony."
"Well, that certainly is
swell. You're going to have a lot of trigger-happy amateurs
blowing holes in each other. And probably everybody else in the
"That's correct as
"And I assume that your
father, who now runs this firm, wants me to go out to Ceres, guns
strapped to my side, and find this psycho because it appeals to his
sense of romanticism."
"That too is correct."
"Well, he can go to Hell, as
far as I'm concerned. I'm not that romantic. What could I do, anyway?
There are probably enough professional bounty hunters out there already.
Probably too many."
Andrea handed him another paper.
"It seems that the murderer is killing bounty hunters as well. This
morning, as a matter of fact, two of them were found murdered in the
same manner as the previous victims."
"And your father thinks I, a
simple private detective, could handle this slasher?"
"He seems to think that you
possess some sort of extraordinary ability that would allow you to do
what the bounty hunters couldn't. I think he's probably wrong--"
"-- but my father also has a
knack for choosing his people wisely. So there must be more to you than
I have seen so far. But I wonder."
"If you would've let me take
you to lunch, you would have seen a whole other side to me."
"You probably chew with your
mouth open," Andrea said.
"I do not," Shaeffer
"In any case," Andrea
continued, "you don't have too much choice in the matter, as you
are scheduled to leave for Ceres on the next cruiser."
"What?" Shaeffer gripped
the sides of his chair. "Since when?"
"Since yesterday. You are
leaving for Ceres in four hours."
"Four hours? Wha --"
Shaeffer got up and paced angrily for about two seconds. "What the
hell does you father get out of this anyway?" Shaeffer asked
Andrea. "He doesn't need the million dollars, that's for sure. He
makes that much in interest payments in an hour."
"I believe he has already
discussed this with you. The benefits are thus: first, it would look
good for you, because you would have captured the 'infamous Ceres Series
Killer,' as they call him in the tabloids. You would receive the million
dollars, as well as being the subject of numerous articles and stories,
in addition to probably receiving offers for movie depictions of your
"Second, it looks good for
the company, who will realize an increase in the number of clients, all
of whom will be willing to pay through the nose to have the 'famous'
firm of Aaron, Brown, and Corum on the case. Third, and most important
to my father, it will make him look good, since he owns the firm. And,
since my father has bigger plans, anything that makes him look good is
good. Those are the benefits. For everyone --"
"Has your father considered
the possibility that I could get killed?"
"And ?" Shaeffer
motioned her to continue.
She shrugged. "I guess that
he's decided that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages."
For him, sure. For me, certainly
"Than you should attempt to
keep yourself from being killed." Andrea rose from her seat and
glanced at her watch. "If I were you, Shaeffer, I would go home and
pack. You don't have much time. That folder that Paul Foster gave you
should have all the information you will need. Your tickets will be
waiting at the spaceport. Please be prompt, as I'm sure World Spacelines
won't want to hold back their departure time on account of you."
"They wouldn't wait."
"Yes they would. My father
owns World Spacelines."
"Then why should I rush? I
could take my rime and organize my socks, it I wanted to."
"Because I don't like to be
kept waiting, either."
Shaeffer blinked. "Come
"I'm going to Ceres
"Because I'm supposed to
watch how you work. And something else. I've read your file, Shaeffer.
Very impressive. My father thinks you're a genius."
"Nonsense. You've just been
lucky. It's my personal guess that you are going to make a mistake on
this one. I want to be there when it happens. And then, after you've
made your mistake, I want to go to my father and laugh in his
Mrs. Grinowski, who lived down the
hall from Shaeffer, looked through the peephole. Shaeffer was on the
other side. When she opened the door, Shaeffer thrust his cat into her
"Have a cat," he said.
The cat, named Trotsky for the red streak on the back of its head,
"Of course, I'll take care of
Trotsky," Mrs. Grinowski said. "Where are you going this time,
"I'm going to Ceres."
"Is that far away?"
"I have a vague feeling it's
not too attached to reality, if that says anything."
"What are you going to do
"Well, if everything goes
well, I will shoot someone, become famous, get a million dollars, have a
movie made on the incident, and retire to a life of quiet debauchery. If
things do not go well, I will get hideously mutilated, and, after my
body is processed at some fertilizer factory, a rather cold and frigid
young woman is going to have a good laugh at my expense."
"Well," Mrs. Grinowski
said, doubtfully, "I'm not sure if I approve of this."
"That's okay," said
Shaeffer. "I'm not sure I do, either."
Shaeffer hated space travel. More
than anything else Shaeffer hated, from snotty waiters to Brussel
sprouts, earthworms to evangelists, Shaeffer hated space travel. Given a
choice of space travel and having earthworms and Brussel sprouts served
to him by an evangelist with attitude, Shaeffer would have picked the
latter, provided that he was on terra firma.
As it was, Shaeffer's in-flight
meal was floating uneasily in his stomach, slapping up against the sides
and occasionally traveling up the tubes and knocking on his epiglottis
to see if anything was going on. To keep his mind occupied on things
other than his dinner, Shaeffer looked through, for the second time, the
file that Foster gave him.
The first section of the file gave
information on Ceres Station. Ceres Station, a small elliptical asteroid
positioned in orbit around Ceres itself, was touted as one of man's
greatest architectural achievements. Shaeffer looked at the accompanying
picture and thought that it looked like a rock with hoops sticking out
of it. The hoops were habitation rings, which ran through the asteroid
in some parts, occasionally bursting out of the rock, and submerging
again when the asteroid coincided with the ring's circumference. There
were three such rings, nestled one in another, providing different G's
for different purposes. The whole asteroid rotated along an axis to
maintain one G in the outer ring.
Ceres Station came into existence
a half century before, not long after Dr. Alan Ring synthesized a
jelly-like substance that possessed the interesting property: the
ability to radiate heat out and away. It was, in effect, a one-way
molecular conduit for heat, with the one way being out. A superthermal
This substance had great and
immediate application for things like refrigeration and air
conditioning, and was particularly helpful on early
low-relativistic-speed cruisers, whose reaction engines had an
unfortunate tendency to overheat and explode, taking the ship (and
attendant cargo, crew and passengers) with them. RingIce, as this
substance came to be called, eliminated this messy and potentially
embarrassing problem admirably, making space travel safe and effective,
spaceship companies happy, and Dr. Ring very rich.
Later improvements in RingIce
production achieved through production in low-G chambers dictated a move
off-planet and into space. Ceres was selected by Dr. Ring because the
presence of water on the asteroid (water of hydration, which gives Ceres
its comparatively low density of 2.3 g/cm. cubed, a piece of information
that Shaeffer found he couldn't care less about) would allow the Ringice
Corporation to produce their product without importing water over
interplanetary distances, a hugely expensive proposition. Ceres Station
was constructed to house the RingIce corporation, its offices, its
laboratories, its workers and their families.
In the time since its
construction, Ceres Station had become the hub of commerce between Earth
and the outer planets, pulling in a sizable chunk of revenue as a
fueling depot, as a trade center, and as a vacation resort in the Las
Vegas tradition. Presently, Ceres Station was home to some 530,000
inhabitants, and as many as two million people were On Station at any
one time, buying, selling, relaxing, dealing, whatever people do.
The end result of this bustle and
activity was to make the RingIce Corporation in the enviable position of
being almost too rich. There were very few corporations that could equal
its economic power and influence.
The end result of being almost too
rich, however, was to make the quarterly board meetings of the RingIce
Corporation, a publicly-owned company, the stuff of legend. The internal
politics of the RingIce Corporation made the intrigues of the Italian
city states of the Renaissance look like second-rate soap operas. Every
quarter, the financial journals would speculate that this would be the
meeting where the board of directors would finally turn against the Ring
family, the largest, but by no means majority, stockholders, and install
a new CEO. And every quarter, after long, bitter and sometimes
physically violent meetings, the Ring family, headed by Dr. Ring's son,
Charles, maintained their leadership of the company that bore its name.
Rarely in the history of the world had so much agitation produced so
Shaeffer read all of this,
absorbed it, then put that part of the file down and picked up another
section. This section was thick, due to the number of photographs it
held. Shaeffer glanced at the pictures, grimaced, put them down, and
read the report.
The report concerned the recent
murders on Ceres Station. Twenty-three people had been killed on Ceres
since the murders began a month back. Each murder had been performed in
the same manner: The victim had been shot, the body disemboweled, and,
for some reason known only to the murderer, the right hand sawed off at
the wrist and taken. Someone on Ceres had a collection of right hands.
It was the opinion of Ceres
Security that the victims had been shot first, and were therefore
generally dead before the murderer proceeded with the rest of his
agenda. Shaeffer looked at the pictures again and decided that this was
a good thing, relatively speaking.
Added to the report was another
slip of paper updating the file with the information on the two bounty
hunters. These two loud and obnoxious men, it seemed, arrived at Ceres
declaring loudly to all within earshot their intention to dismantle the
station level by level until they found the scum that had been
dissecting the good people of Ceres. Having said this, they bounded into
the streets and were found twenty-four hours later, shot, disemboweled,
and missing digits.
Shaeffer noted that his prediction
concerning bounty hunters and their over-enthusiastic methods was
correct: so far, three other bounty hunters were dead, shot by others of
their kind who had concluded that anyone besides them who was carrying a
gun must be the murderer. In addition to these, the casualty list
included two bounty hunters who were wounded but unfortunately not
killed, five wounded bystanders, a large dog, and a child-sized
mannequin. Shaeffer felt sure that Ceres Security was beginning to
regret its decision.
The final section of the file
grated against Shaeffer's mind like sandpaper. The firm had decided that
Shaeffer would be able to complete his job more quickly and efficiently
if he were "undercover." To this, Shaeffer held no opinion.
What he did have an opinion on, however, was the persona he was asked to
assume. He was supposed to be a bounty hunter.
Shaeffer said to Andrea when he first read the file, immediately after
departure. "It's bad enough I have to fly through space in this
rinky-dink can. I have no intention of walking around Ceres like a Guns
& Ammo poster boy."
Andrea, who had been resting,
cracked open an eye. "What are you whining about now?"
"Why do I have to be a bounty
hunter? Why can't you make me dignified?"
"Shaeffer, two bounty hunters
were found dead."
"So? What about them?"
"What does the fact that
these two men were found dead tell you?"
"That our murderer friend
knew that these people were coming him, and got to them before they got
to him. I realize this. I also realize that going in with my
six-shooters blazing will put me at the top of this character's list of
people to shoot and maim, a place I do not want to be."
"But since you are going to
be so high on the list, he will come looking for you instead of you
having to look for him. This will save you an enormous amount of
Shaeffer snorted. "Great.
Unfortunately, I don't know what I'm up against, here. Who is doing
this? What does he look like? Is he short? Tall? Green with mean little
red eyes? Is he a he? Might not he be a she? Could he or she actually be
a we? Do you know? I sure as hell don't. And by the time I figure it
out, I'll probably have a few slugs in me and my right hand chopped off.
So you can tell your father that I am not walking into this thing with a
neon sign saying 'Kill Me First!' Your father seems to have a death wish
for me. First the drive, now this. Why doesn't he just blow a hole in my
head and get it over with? Why prolong my misery?"
Andrea gave up trying to rest.
"My father doesn't want you dead, Shaeffer."
"Good. Then he won't mind if
I go in there as a Certified Public Accountant instead."
"I'm afraid you don't have
any choice in the matter."
Shaeffer pushed himself into his
seat insolently. "I figured. Would you kindly tell me why?"
"Because Ceres knows you are
coming. 'You' being Evan Sheen, bounty hunter. The firm has created
quite a character. 'You' were a CIA operative who had a rather checkered
but successful career in that agency before you entered private
"Ah. I see. I just hope no
one takes the time to ask the CIA about me."
"If they did, they would find
that the CIA is perfectly aware of your existence."
"Which 'my' existence?
William Shaeffer or Evan Sheen?"
Shaeffer glanced over at Andrea.
"How did your father manage that?"
"A lot of people owe my
"Well. What does this assumed
identity do for me?"
"Any number of things. First,
we told Ceres Security that you were coming, and gave them your
credentials. They are very interested in working with you, and have
assured us that they would assist you in every possible way."
"Imagine my relief."
"Don't be ungrateful. The
information they give you could keep you alive."
"I doubt it."
"Second, your arrival is
"Big deal. Even if I have an
impressive record, that record's on paper. No one has ever met or even
heard of Evan Sheen."
"My father has taken the
liberty of planting 'bounty hunters' who have heard of you."
"Your father takes a lot on
"My father wants this to go
off without hitches, Shaeffer. Even you can appreciate that."
"Hmmph," Shaeffer said.
"No doubt these 'bounty hunters' are filling the barrooms of Ceres
with tales of my incredible intelligence, superhuman abilities, and
inexhaustible sexual prowess."
"Well, at least they won't
have to lie."
Andrea looked at Shaeffer sourly.
"You really are a disgusting human being, Shaeffer. When I met you,
I suspected that the thin coating of slime you bear went further than
skin-deep, but I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I
"Gosh, Andrea," Shaeffer
said, "you're absolutely right. I am without any redeeming
qualities whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I am so disgusted with the
way I turned out that as soon as I am done talking to you, I am going to
toss myself out the nearest airlock." Shaeffer stood up and started
to signal for the stewardess.
Andrea grabbed his hand and pulled
him back down to his seat. "Stop it," she said.
"Golly, Andrea, you've taken
my hand. Does this mean we're going steady now? Gosh," Shaeffer
tugged at his collar with his free hand, "I'm getting all moist and
clammy all of a sudden...."
Andrea thrust his hand away.
"You make me sick."
Shaeffer looked at her intently.
"It may just be me, madam, but I think that I'm not the only one
here with personality problems. Andrea, you are a very cold person. I
imagine you have a hard time keeping your blood from freezing and
rupturing your arteries."
Andrea's eyes narrowed. "What
are you trying to say?"
"I just don't think it's very
normal, that's all. I can't see how someone like you came from someone
like your father. Your mother must have been a meat freezer."
"Wait," Andrea held up a
hand. "What do you mean, you can't see me coming from my
"Just that. I'd say your
father is on the other siae of the emotional spectrum, if you know what
"No, I don't know what you
mean at all. My father, Shaeffer, is quite cold-blooded and logical.
Otherwise he could not have made it as far as he has."
"I'd say driving through
trees at 307 kph is not the mark of a cold-blooded and logical
"Rest assured, Shaeffer, that
my father ran you through that gauntlet for some reason of his own. It
was a test, if you will."
"Test of what?"
"I haven't the slightest
idea. I'm not my father. But I do take after him. You may count on that.
All of this is digression, Shaeffer. The topic under discussion is your
persona, Evan Sheen. I think you realize by now that this persona cannot
be dropped, so I would suggest that you spend the time between now and
arrival to Ceres Station getting into character. I want you to feel
entirely comfortable being Evan Sheen by the time we get to Ceres."
Andrea closed her eyes again, and appeared to go to sleep. Shaeffer
grumpily started reading through his papers.
An hour into his reading, Shaeffer
looked at Andrea, who still had her eyes closed. "And who are you
supposed to be on this trip?" he asked, rhetorically.
Without opening her eyes, Andrea
said, "I get to be your wife, Shaeffer. Consider yourself
"Lucky. Sure," Shaeffer
said, looking out the port window at the blackness beyond. "Well,
golly," he said to himself, "this is just getting better and
Just after arrival, Shaeffer
belched loudly and hiked up his pants.
"What are you doing?"
Andrea snapped, looking around to make sure none of the other passengers
"Listen," Shaeffer said.
"You wanted a bounty hunter, you're going to get a bounty hunter.
As long as I have to do this anyway, I might as well enjoy it." He
grabbed Andrea and kissed her sloppily.
Andrea pulled away savagely.
"If you ever do that again," she said, "I will kill
Shaeffer smiled at her sweetly.
"There you are wrong, my little muffin. Because if you are supposed
to be my wife, you might as well start acting that way in public. Now,
given bounty hunters' lack of taste in general, and lack of taste in
women in particular, Evan Sheen's ideal wife would be a bimbo." He
looked Andrea up and down appraisingly. She was dressed like the female
executive she was and wore very little makeup. "You, my dear, are
not a bimbo. But we'll change that." Shaeffer saw the docking door
open, belched again, and got up.
"Where are you going?"
"We are going shopping. We
need to get you out of these clothes and put you into something
unrespectable." Shaeffer linked an arm around one of hers and
pulled her towards an exit.
They hit a gift shop first.
Shaeffer bought a T-shirt with "Ceres Station is Way out"
written across the chest and a pair of shorts.
Andrea looked at the shorts.
"These shorts are too small."
Shaeffer smiled. "I
"I know. Go change." He
pointed to the women's room.
Five minutes later Shaeffer
slammed into the women's room. "Andrea!" he yelled. "Godammit,
where the hell are you?!?" He belched. The women at the sinks
From a stall at the far side of
the restroom, Shaeffer heard a small voice. "I'm over here,
Shaeffer went over to the stall
and tossed a small tote bag he had over the top of the door. "I
bought you a tote bag to put your old clothes in. You'll also find some
cosmetics in the bag. I suggest you use them. Heavily."
From the other side of the door,
Andrea hissed out a whisper. "Get out of here, Shaeffer. You don't
just walk into a women's room."
"I just did. You forget, I'm
a big bad bounty hunter. I can do anything I want." Shaeffer raised
his voice. "Hurry it up, woman! I ain't got all day! Jesus!"
Shaeffer belched, thought about it, and belched again.
whispered, and Shaeffer noted that it was the first time he had heard a
pleading tone in that voice, "could you please go away? I'll be
right out. Go away. This is very embarrassing."
"Hey," said Shaeffer,
"I'm just 'getting into character."' He hiked up his pants
banged his hand on the stall door, and looked lecherously at every
female on his way out.
When Andrea emerged from the
women's room, she found that Shaeffer had hailed a cab buggy and was
waiting inside. As she got in, Shaeffer gave a nice appreciative
whistle. "My, my," he said, sardonically, "don't we look
"Eat it," Andrea said.
"I'm getting out of this as soon as we get to the hotel."
"Whatever." She looked
around. "Where's my luggage?"
"I threw it out,"
Shaeffer said, typing the address of the Ceres Motel into the cab
buggy's passenger terminal. "I knew that you might want to 'get out
of character' once we got to the motel. But, you know, this is a
twenty-four hour a day job."
"Christ," Andrea said,
and looked at her apparel. "This is humiliating."
"Sure is," Shaeffer
said. "Almost, but not quite, as humiliating as having to be a
bounty hunter. But don't worry. I'm not humiliated by the way you look.
Really. By the way, I got you these." Shaeffer pulled out some long
gold-electroplated rope necklaces and a pair of huge hoop earrings.
"They should complete the picture quite nicely." He handed
them to Andrea, who looked at them distastefully before putting them on.
"I'm not going to forget
this," she said, as they pulled up to the Ceres Motel.
Shaeffer looked her up and down.
"Neither am I," he said, and climbed out of the cab before she
The Ceres Motel was a dump.
"Welcome to the Ceres
Motel." The clerk didn't bother with looking up from his newspaper.
"What can I do you?"
"We'd like a room,"
Shaeffer said, as Andrea came up.
"You gonna want double
"Yes," Andrea said,
"Ain't got no double
Shaeffer put his arm around
Andrea's shoulder. "That's all right," he said.
"No, it's not," said
"Of course it is,
darling," Shaeffer said, constricting his grip.
"Are you going to take a room
or not?" asked the clerk.
"Yes," Shaeffer said,
casually putting his hand over Andrea's mouth.
"Room 13," the clerk
said, and gave Shaeffer the room key, looking up for the first time and
getting a gander at Andrea.
"Looks like you're in for a
good time," the clerk said to Shaeffer.
"Don't be too sure."
Shaeffer took the key.
"Hello," the man at the
door said. "Are you Evan Sheen?"
"Pardon?" The man
"Yes, I am," Shaeffer
said. "Who are you?"
The man pulled out a wallet with a
badge. "I am Security Agent James Brigs. I thought I might talk to
you about this case."
Shaeffer took the badge and
examined it. He handed it back. "Come in, Brigs. Anything
"Well," said Brigs,
entering and, after Shaeffer had motioned, sitting down, "There was
another murder today shortly before you arrived. Another bounty hunter,
it seems. The usual procedure: shot, gutted, and so on."
"Not very pretty, eh? Would
you like something to drink, Brigs? I sent my wife out for a sixer about
an hour ago."
"I suppose that would be
fine, but --"
"Andrea! Andrea!! Get me two
glasses of beer! You hear me?"
From the other room came a muffled
reply. "I hear you."
"Well, speed it up!
Andrea came out with two plastic
cups filled with beer. She handed one to Brigs, who took it and muttered
his thanks. She turned to give the other cup to Shaeffer, caught her
foot on Brigs' chair, tripped, and spilled the beer down Shaeffer's
"Thanks," said Shaeffer.
"It was an accident,"
Andrea said, mildly, and left. Brigs chuckled into his beer. Shaeffer
glared at him.
"Sorry." Brigs put his
beer down. "What I came here to tell you, anyway, is that our
murderer is taking a new direction."
Shaeffer, who was putting a new
shirt, looked over shoulder. "Really? How so?"
"It seems he doesn't have
interest in the ordinary citizens of Ceres anymore. He's more interested
in going after the bounty hunters now."
"Well, if I had a bunch of
trigger-happy assholes after me, I'd be plugging them first, too. I
imagine this guy has some amount of self-preservation. But we already
knew he was gunning for the bounty hunters."
"You don't have the full
story, Mr. Sheen. The murderer is leaving his victims where bounty
hunters would find them first. The latest victim was found in the
hallway of the Expressway Motel, where a Mr. Alvin Waters, bounty
hunter, is currently residing. According to witnesses, there was a note
addressed to Mr. Waters."
"What did it say?"
"We don't know. Apparently,
Mr. Waters read the note, went into his room, got his guns, and left
before the police arrived at the scene. I wouldn't be surprised if he
lands on someone's doorstep sometime soon."
Shaeffer took a chair and sat
down. "And you think he's going to show up on mine."
"Well, if not him, the one
after him. Or maybe the one after. But eventually, this murderer is
going to leave his calling card. You have a considerable reputation, you
"So I've heard."
"What I'd like to do is work
with you on this. When someone shows up on your doorstep, I want to know
about it. And I want to know what's in those notes he sends." Brigs
rose from his chair and handed Shaeffer a card. "When anything
happens, give me a call."
Shaeffer looked at the card.
"Is this your office number?"
"Even better," Brigs
said, pulling a portable phone from his belt. "It's the number for
this. More direct, really."
"Fine," Shaeffer put the
card away. "In the meantime, is there anything you want me to do in
"Not really." Brigs
headed for the door. "Just do whatever it is that bounty hunters do
when they're off duty. But, if you can, avoid shooting innocent people,
would you? That seems to be a problem with your kind."
"Wake up, Shaeffer."
Shaeffer was on the couch,
sleeping off the night before. Shaeffer had spent the night before at
the Ceres Convention Center cocktail bar, drinking CEOs of electronics
firms under the table with a deliberate, and some would say grotesque,
sense of purpose. He was not amused at Andrea's attempts to shake him
"G'way," he said,
swatting aimlessly with his hand.
Andrea pulled him off the couch.
"What the hell are you
doing?" Shaeffer, and immediately grabbed his head.
"Ouch," he said. "I feel terrible."
Andrea grabbed him underneath the
arms and tried to lift him. "Get up, Shaeffer. Get up."
"You realize," Shaeffer
was mumbling, rather indistinctly, "that if I were allowed to sleep
on the bed for once instead of always sleeping on the couch, I might be
in a little better condition. But no. I get the couch. Now look at me. I
feel like my head was used for a nuclear test --" Shaeffer shut up
as he got a good look at Andrea, who was dressed in a bathrobe.
"You look about as good as I feel," he said finally.
"Shaeffer, there is a dead
man out in the hall."
"Dead? Are you sure?"
Andrea nodded. Shaeffer sighed and
lifted himself, unsteadily, onto his feet. "Oh, Jesus," he
said, holding his head again, "I'm in no condition to deal with a
dead man. Are you sure he's dead? Maybe he's just resting. I could deal
with a resting man," Shaeffer said, reasonably.
"I don't think resting men
are usually disemboweled," said Andrea.
"No," Shaeffer agreed.
"They usually aren't. Damn." Shaeffer stood for a few seconds
more, grabbed his robe, and went into the hall.
People, in general, do not look
their best when they have had their intestines ripped from their bodies.
The man outside Shaeffer's hotelroom was no exception. The fact that he
was missing his right hand didn't help matters either. His remaining
hand held a note addressed to Evan Sheen. Shaeffer leaned over and
picked up the note.
It read: AJ and 193rd, 2:35.
A door opened down the hall. A man
came out, glanced casually at Shaeffer, began to walk the opposite
direction, stopped. He turned around again.
"What's the matter,"
said Shaeffer, "you never seen a dead man before?"
The man took off quickly. Andrea
appeared in the doorway. "Is there anything you want me to
do?" she asked.
"Call Brigs. The card's on
the bedtable." Andrea disappeared. Shaeffer looked back down at the
murdered man and glanced again at the note.
AJ and 193rd, 2:35.
"Hell of a way to send a
message," Shaeffer muttered.
"Well," Brigs said,
after he and Shaeffer had packed the body into the mobile transport unit
that Brigs drove to the motel, "It looks like our friend is trying
to arrange a meeting with you. Look. AJ and 193rd. North-south streets
on the station are alphabetical-"
Shaeffer said. "Relative to what? This is a space station."
"Relative to the direction of
rotation. North is the rotational direction, south is the opposite.
Anyway, AJ. The first "A" means that the street is located on
the "A" ring. That's this one, the one-C ring. The
"J" is the location of the street. The eastern-most street
would be "AA," the street slightly west of that would be
"AB," and so on. East-west streets are numerical. AJ and 193rd
would put you on the other side of the station. And as far as 2:35, I'd
say that's when he wants to meet."
"AM or PM?" Shaeffer
"AM," said Brigs.
"The station runs on a twenty-four hour clock. Assuming the
murderer has been On Station for any amount of time, if he wanted to
meet you at 2:35 in the afternoon, he would have written 14:35."
Shaeffer looked at his watch.
"That gives me about fifteen hours to get ready."
"Just about. Well, now that
we know where and when, all we have to do is get him, eh?" Brigs
grinned and got up. "Well, Mr. Sheen," he said, sticking out
his hand, you're certainly living up to your reputation. You've done a
damn good job for us so far."
Shaeffer took his hand and shook
it. "Actually, I haven't done anything at all."
"That's what I mean, Mr.
Sheen. You've shown remarkable restraint for someone of your profession
and temperament. And tonight, when you meet with our murderer, please
try to do the same. I'll be there with the Security Forces. Try not to
fire on him, if you can. But if it comes down to it, better him than
you. However it comes out, the capture will be credited to you. You'll
get the reward."
Brigs withdrew his hand.
"I'll be going now, " he said. Shaeffer moved to open the door
for him. "Mr. Sheen," Brigs said, "do me the favor of
calling me a couple of hours before you leave tonight. I would like to
get things in order, if you know what I mean."
"Sure," Shaeffer said.
"I'll make sure to do that. Goodbye, Brigs." Shaeffer closed
the door behind him. Then he slid down the door, and grabbed his head.
"I want to die,"
"That's a switch from what
you said on the cruiser," Andrea said, above him. Shaeffer looked
up. Andrea, still dressed in the bathrobe, was holding a steaming cup.
"What is that?" Shaeffer
"Coffee," Andrea said.
"It comes from one of those little packets that they thoughtfully
provide in the kitchenette area. Freeze-dried crystals for your
freeze-dried head." Andrea smiled, but it was strained.
Shaeffer took the cup.
"Thanks," he said. "How're you holding up?"
"I don't really know."
"This your first dead
Shaeffer nodded back and sipped
the coffee. He grimaced. "This is horrible."
"I didn't freeze-dry the
stuff," Andrea said.
"No, but you added the water,
didn't you. Fifty percent of the blame is yours. Admit it. You're not a
very good coffee maker."
Andrea smiled again, and this time
it was better. "No," she said. "I suppose I'm not."
"As long as you're admitting
your shortcomings," Shaeffer said, "why don't you admit that
you're not really a private investigator, either."
Andrea stopped smiling.
"Whoops. There I go again,
ruining another perfect moment." Shaeffer took another sip of his
coffee and grimaced again. "Andrea, why are you here?"
"I already told you why I'm
"Oh, yes. That great vote of
confidence in my abilities. I remember."
"Do you think that I was
"No, not really,"
Shaeffer said. "I think that you mostly meant what you said. But I
also think that your being here has more to do with doing your father's
bidding than it does in thwarting his plans. That's right, isn't
"My father's invested a lot
in you, Shaeffer. He wants to make sure that the investment isn't
"Well, there's a mighty
oblique statement. If your father's made the investment then he should
know that I don't need a partner. No offense."
"None taken. Shaeffer, I'm
supposed to watch you. I'm supposed to see how you work."
"Well, there's a funny
thing," Shaeffer said, and took another swig. "Ugh. Because,
so far, I haven't done anything. Haven't you noticed? My involvement in
this case is entirely passive. I get here, the guy comes to me, and the
Security Forces are going to nail him. My expenditure of energy is
nearly zero. The only productive thing I've done this entire trip is
drink the CEO of Apple Computers into oblivion.
"So, my question is, why
observe me working if there's no work for me to do? What are you doing
here? What am I doing here? And why am I still drinking this awful
coffee?" Shaeffer drank the rest of the coffee and tossed to cup
onto the couch, then turned back to Andrea. "There's something
going on here that I'm missing. And I think you know what it is."
"And what do you think that
something is, Shaeffer?"
"I don't know."
"Because I'm too hung over to
"Then don't worry about it
too much." Andrea stood up. "Shaeffer, I'll be honest with
you. I am here at my father's bidding. But all I know is that I'm
supposed to observe what you do and what happens with this case. Other
than that, I know as much as you do. Less, probably, because as you
guessed, I'm not really a private investigator. I'm sure I'm missing
what I'm supposed to be looking for. Give me your hand." She
stretched out her arm to him.
Shaeffer took the poffered hand
and used to lift himself from the ground, with the door as
counterbalance. "So how am I doing?" he asked.
"What?" Andrea said.
"You're supposed to be
observing me, right? How am I doing?"
"Well, you said it yourself,
Shaeffer. You're not doing anything. But you do that very well."
"Why don't you go lay down on
the bed, Shaeffer. You're not scheduled to die for another fifteen hours
or so. You ought to rest up for the event."
Andrea trundled Shaeffer over to
the bed and let him drop onto the mattress, and then went into the
bathroom to dress. While she was dressing she heard Shaeffer mumble
"What did you say?"
Andrea asked, cracking the door open to hear.
"I said, did you notice that
we were civil with each other throughout that entire last
"I suppose we were, Shaeffer."
"Well," Shaeffer said,
"We can't have that. The quality of our witty repartee will
"Don't worry, Shaeffer. I
still think you're an overrated bag of wind."
"Ah," Shaeffer said,
satisfied. "There we go. Old ways are the best, you know."
"I know." Andrea came
out of the bathroom and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
Shaeffer asked, somewhat fuzzily.
"Well," Andrea said,
"I figure this little caper of ours will be over soon.
"And that means I can stop
'being in character."'
"Well, then," Andrea
said. "It should be obvious where I'm going. I'm going clothes
shopping. And when we are on the cruiser back to Earth, I'm going to
take these clothes I'm wearing now, and I'm going to shove them down
your throat. Sleep well, Shaeffer." Andrea walked out the door.
Shaeffer lay there for a few
minutes. Then he said, to no one in particular, "She loves me, you
know. I can tell."
Shaeffer woke at 10:53.
There was a shadow over him.
Shaeffer lay totally still and
then spun quickly off the bed, hitting the ground rolling. He snaked his
arm about, grabbed the leg of the bedtable, and tore it off. The table
crashed to the ground. The water pitcher spilled over tabletop and
shattered on the floor. Papers flew. Shaeffer rose to his feet. He
prepared to brain his opponent.
"That's really very good, you
know," Andrea said. She was holding a baggie in her hand. "Of
course, if I were the murderer, I would have plugged you with a bullet
by now. You'll have to pay for that bedtable, by the way."
"Jesus Christ!" Shaeffer
said. "What are you doing, lurking around like that? I could have
"No you couldn't,"
Andrea said. "And I wasn't lurking around. I was going to wake you
up. I went out to dinner. I brought you a doggie bag." She jiggled
the baggie in her hand.
"I'm preparing to crack your
skull, and you're talking about a doggie bag?" Shaeffer prepared to
continue, but stopped. He looked at the bag. He looked up at Andrea.
"What's in it?"
"New York Strip Steak."
"Give it here." Shaeffer
dropped the table leg and took the baggie.
An hour later, Shaeffer was fed,
cleaned, and dressed. Andrea took this opportunity to do a little house
cleaning, tossing out the bedtable, cleaning up the shattered water
pitcher, and recycling the soggy papers.
This presented a problem a few
minutes later, when Shaeffer went looking for Brigs' card.
"Where is it?" He asked
"If it was in the pile of
papers on the bedtable, then I threw it into the trash machine,"
she said. "It would be pulp by now. Sorry."
"I ought to brain you with
that table leg," Shaeffer said.
"You can't. I threw that out
as well. Why don't you call the Security Forces office and get his
number from there."
Shaeffer thought of various ways
to humorously annoy Andrea while he dialed the Security Forces number.
Shaeffer had a good imagination for those things, but he was cut short
by an unusually quick connection to the Security Forces office.
"Ceres Security." The
voice on the other end was pleasantly female.
"Hello," Shaeffer said.
"My name is Evan Sheen. Could I talk to James Brigs, please?"
"Security Agent James
"Who is this?"
"Excuse me? My name is Evan
Sheen. I already --"
Shaeffer was cut off. "Will
"What?" Before Shaeffer
could say anything more intelligent he was put on hold. He seethed.
Shaeffer hated hold.
"Mr. Sheen?" A new voice
said. It was decidedly not female.
"This is Security Agent
Tolson. Why do you want to speak to James Brigs?"
"He and I are working on a
"Brigs and I are working on a
case together. I'm a bounty hunter. I'm working with Brigs on the serial
"The serial killer
"Yes," Shaeffer was
beginning to get annoyed. "The serial killer. You know, the guy
running around killing people in a series. You must have read about it,
I'm sure. Or at least had someone explain the basic concept."
"You say you are working with
James Brigs," Tolson said.
"Yes, I am. What, isn't it
his case? Is there something wrong?"
"Mr. Sheen, Security Agent
James Brigs has been dead for six weeks."
"Well," Shaeffer said,
stupidly, "I suppose there is something wrong with that, isn't
there." Shaeffer's brain ground into neutral.
"Mr. Sheen," Agent
Tolson said, "Where are you?"
"Ceres Motel," Shaeffer
said, absently. "Room 13."
"I'm sending someone over to
you, if you don't mind."
"No, no, that would be
fine," Shaeffer said. "Yes, I'd like that very much."
"We'll be over in about five
minutes," Tolson said, and hung up. Shaeffer put the receiver back
down on the cradle. As he did so, his brain skidded out of neutral and
"Holy Shit!" he said,
stumbling into a chair. "Andrea!"
"What?" Andrea came into
the room from the kitchenette.
"Are there any beers
"I took the last one out of
the fridge yesterday, but I didn't drink it. It's warm."
"I don't mind," Shaeffer
said. "Would you give it to me, please?"
Andrea retrieved the beer and
handed it to Shaeffer. Shaeffer took the beer, popped the tab, and drank
it in about three seconds.
"Hope you're not planning to
drive to AJ and 193rd," Andrea said. "Did you get hold of
"I sure did," Shaeffer
said, and laughed wildly. "Jesus Christ," he said, after he
"Shaeffer," Andrea said,
"Brigs is dead, Andrea,"
Shaeffer said. "He's been dead for six weeks. And if you hadn't
thrown that card out, I'd be dead, too." Shaeffer looked up at
Andrea, who was only now beginning to make the synaptic connections.
Shaeffer grabbed her hand.
"Don't you get it?" He
said, shaking her hand slightly. "Brigs did it. Brigs is the
killer. And he's going to try to kill me tonight." Shaeffer let go
of her hand and grabbed his head. "Holy shit," he said.
"I would've walked right into it."
Shaeffer waited in the alleyway
behind AJ and 193rd.
"Hello, Sheen," Shaeffer
heard a voice say from behind him. He turned.
"Hey, Brigs," he said.
"Where the rest of your crew?"
"Security will be here soon
enough," said Brigs.
"You didn't call before you
came here," Brigs said. "I asked you we were working together
on this. Why didn't you call?"
"Well, it's a silly thing,
really," Shaeffer said. "Andrea lost your card when she was
cleaning. Women. You know."
"Of course." Brigs
started towards Shaeffer.
"Anyway," Shaeffer said,
"I thought the same thing you did. We're in on this together. I
wanted you to know what I was up to. So I called Ceres Security."
Brigs stopped. "What?"
"Well, you know. I figured
they'd have your number. And, I was right, because they did, Brigs. But
they told me your number was up, if you know what I mean. And I think
Brigs began to slide his hand into
"I think I know why you've
been killing people, Brigs," Shaeffer said. "I mean, it's
probably so much fun being dead that you want to share the
Brigs grabbed something in his
"That would be your
gun," Shaeffer said. "I bet it's got a shiny barrel and
"I'm going to kill you,"
"Of course you will,"
Shaeffer said, and looked up. "Now," he said.
Brigs ripped the gun from his coat
and snarled at Shaeffer. Then he was on the ground, grabbing his legs,
which had sprouted bullet holes courtesy of the security forces
positioned on the roof. Shaeffer kicked Brigs' gun away.
Brigs turned on his side and
looked up at Shaeffer, confused.
"You silly man,"
Shaeffer said. "When I said 'now,' I wasn't talking to you. I was
talking to them," he jerked his thumb back at the security forces
that were now beginning to flood into the alleyway.
"Now," Shaeffer said.
"Who are you, really?"
"Come to me," Brigs
said. "I'll whisper it into your ear."
"Not a chance," Shaeffer
"Well, then," Brigs
said, and moved his hand inside his coat.
"Oh, come on," Shaeffer
said, "We've been through this before."
"Tell Percy he's
welcome," Brigs said, smiled, and jerked the arm inside the coat
violently. He screamed.
screamed along with Brigs, but Brigs was louder. And then Brigs was
A Security agent came up to them
and held a gun at Brigs.
"Put that thing away,"
Shaeffer said, and looked inside Brigs' coat. A knife handle stuck out
of Brigs' chest just below the sternum. The knife was serrated. Shaeffer
knew what it would have been used for. He rubbed his wrist
"Jesus Christ," the
Security agent said, and signalled the other Security forces to
approach. "Do you know who that is?"
"No," Shaeffer said.
"You'd know him if you lived
here all your life," He waved the muzzle of his rifle at Brigs'
face. "That's Tim Ring. Chuck Ring's younger brother."
"What?" Shaeffer looked
back at Brigs. "A Ring wouldn't want to kill his renters."
"He would," the Security
agent said, waving his muzzle at Brigs/Ring again. "He's nuts. A
pure nut case. He's been in and out of mental homes since he was a kid.
Supposed to have been so smart he went crazy. Or something like that.
Maybe it runs in the family. Chuck's not so stable himself. Neither was
old Doctor Ring. Jesus," the agent said. "This is going to be
bad news for Chuck."
Shaeffer felt the tumblers in his
brain click into place.
"Holy cow," Shaeffer
The squadron of Security agents
began to secure the area. One of the older ones came up to Shaeffer.
"Evan Sheen?" the old agent said.
"More and more every
day," said Shaeffer.
"I'm Agent Tolson. I'm
assuming that," he waved back at the corpse, "is 'James
"One of your agents says it's
actually Tim Ring."
"One of my agents talks more
than he should."
"You're not going to be able
to keep it a secret long, you know."
"I know that," Tolson
said. "It's going to be a nightmare. But that's not your problem,
now, is it?" Tolson forced a smile. "It seems that you have a
rather large reward coming your way, Mr. Sheen."
"Yes," Shaeffer said,
watching them take Tim Ring away, "I suppose I do."
"We have the whole thing on
video, you know," Tolson said. "We even got what you were
saying to him before he took a bead on you. You have steel guts,
"What a wonderful way you
have with words, Tolson."
"We didn't get what you said
to each other afterwards, though. Too much noise coming from the agents
coming down off the buildings. What about it, Sheen? What were Tim
Rings' last words?"
"They weren't anything,
Tolson," Shaeffer said. "They weren't anything at all."
It was 4:30 in the morning when J.
Allen Percy entered personal elevator. He found Shaeffer sitting at his
"Hello, Shaeffer," Percy
"Hello, Percy." Shaeffer
swiveled in Percy's desk chair and fridge behind him. "Mind if I
have a beer?"
"No," Percy said.
"Not at all."
pulled the tab. He drank. "Nice office," Shaeffer said.
"It's quite large."
"Yes, it is."
"I've seen parking lots that
were smaller," Shaeffer said.
Percy's Rolls-Royce Convertible
aircar was parked in the middle of the office.
"Do you mind telling me how
you managed this?" Percy asked.
"You mean, how did I manage
to slip into your estate, steal the car, leave a note, drive it halfway
across the city and park it, intact, on the top floor of the highest
building in three states without anybody noticing."
"That would about cover it,
"Well, you know. I'm sneaky.
It's in my job description."
Percy started around the car.
"You might be a little more specific."
Shaeffer shrugged. "You own a
private investigation firm, Percy. You figure it out. I will say,
however, that the hardest part was getting it up 125 stories. The
repulsion field's designed to keep a car a meter off the ground. It
gives out after about three meters or so, you know. FAA regulations, and
"What did you do, Shaeffer?
Take a running jump at a speed bump?"
Shaeffer slapped his knee.
"Ha," he said. "No. Actually, I noticed that your private
elevator opens directly onto your personal car level, so I overrode the
elevator's password and programmed your elevator to go down one extra
level, to the executive car level. Then I opened the elevator shaft door
on your parking level, used that nifty lever of yours to fit the car in
the shaft. I then rode up the shaft, with the top of your elevator
functioning as ground level, and the repulsion field set on a slow rise
so as not to overburden the cables. Then I opened the shaft door at your
level, and well! Here we are."
"Very tricky," Percy
Shaeffer said, "the unusual configuration of weight distribution
caused by keeping your aircar tipped on end for such a long period of
time has quite burned out your repulsion generator. I doubt very
seriously if you'll be able to get it off those lovely Persian rugs,
much less on its side and down the shaft. You'll probably have to take
it apart to get it out. Try not to get any transmission fluid on the
rugs when you do, would you? I suspect that they're authentic. It'd be a
shame to ruin them."
Percy stared at the rugs, and then
at Shaeffer. "You'll excuse me if I tell you that I don't find this
little prank of yours amusing."
"I didn't think you would,
Percy. It's probably about as amusing to you as our little Sunday drive
was to me. I noticed, by the way, that the Rolls has had its seatbelts
"Of course it has,"
Percy said, annoyed. He sat down in one a chair opposite to Shaeffer.
"Only an idiot would drive without them."
"And I don't really suppose
that you often jet through your estate on lazy afternoons."
"Or that you really believe
that crap you said about legends."
"Of course not."
"And I'll bet," Shaeffer
said, leaning forward, "that you don't even like Waylon
Percy looked at Shaeffer narrowly.
"Get to your point, Shaeffer."
"Not yet. But let's start on
the road there, shall we?"
"You created a very nice
little scenario for me that morning, you know. The car ride, the country
music, the heavily intoned philosophical musings, all of that. I don't
suppose you'll tell me why."
"Well, that's easy
enough," Percy said. "You want to toss me a beer?"
Shaeffer reached over and took a beer out of the fridge and gave it to
Percy. Percy nodded his thanks, opened it, motioned with it to Shaeffer.
"In your eye," Shaeffer
said, and slumped back into his seat.
Percy took a drink. "I wanted
to see what you were made of, Shaeffer. What sort of man you were. What
went on inside your head. I needed to see whether or not you were the
right person for this case."
"And so you ran me through
"Why not? It's as good a test
as any. Better than most, actually, because running someone into a tree
gives you an immediate and truthful glance into their psyche."
"I recall my psyche coming
close to wetting its pants."
Percy reached over and slapped the
desktop. "Exactly right. But, you see, that's the reaction I wanted
to see. If you had come out of those trees like nothing had happened,
or, even worse, raring to go through again, I would have wished you a
good day right then and there. I'd've only been out $50,000 dollars at
that point. What I was looking for, and found, was a man who realized
that there was a very good chance he could die at any moment. My own
estimation of you, Shaeffer, is that you would fly yourself through some
trees, if you had no other choice in the matter. But you would prefer to
go around them, if you could."
"I'd say that's right,"
"I've read your file, you
know," Percy said. "On the surface, it looks like you're
fighting off a blood and sex laced death wish, and it confuses a lot of
people. Paul Foster, for one, and my daughter Andrea, for another. But
if you really read your file, Shaeffer, then you see that never once did
you take an unnecessary risk. You've taken quite a few risks, to be
sure. Some of them could've gotten you killed. But never once , if there
was a saner way out."
Percy took another sip from his
beer. "That's the person I was looking for, Shaeffer. Someone who
looked before they leaped, would leap only if they had to, and then, if
he had to, did. Our little drive was just confirmation of that fact. As
for the country music and the philosophy, and the 'aw shucks' mentality,
well, if I took you on that drive acting like I am now, you probably
would've suspected I had some ulterior motive. That would've complicated
things at that point. Would've distracted you from the task at
"You mean, being bait for the
"Give yourself a little
credit, Shaeffer," Percy said.
"I would, if I thought there
was some credit to be given. But there's not, and you know it as well as
I do. You didn't dredge me up out of Papa Garibaldi's because you
thought I was the firm's best investigator, Percy. I am, sure, but
that's tangential, really, isn't it? There wasn't any investigation
here. There wasn't any mystery to solve. There wasn't any case. I didn't
"If that's true, then I don't
see why I would have even bothered with you at all, Shaeffer,"
Percy said. "After all, I had an entire staff of investigators at
my disposal. Any of them could have done nothing as well as you."
"But you don't really think
that, do you, Percy?"
"What?" Percy glanced at
"You don't really think that
anyone could have done nothing as well as I do."
"You're being obtuse,
Shaeffer. What you just said makes no sense."
"You said it yourself, Percy.
What you needed was someone who wouldn't take a risk unless he
absolutely had to. Someone who would follow the path of least resistance
and allow the murderer to come to him. Someone without heroic delusions
of grandeur, who wouldn't go off shooting into the night. Someone who
wouldn't be stupid unintentionally."
Shaeffer leaned forward again.
"Someone, in short, like me. You knew what I would do. After all,
you read my file. You weren't looking for an investigator, and you
certainly weren't looking for a legend. You were looking for bait. And
you knew that I was the best bait you could find, at any price. And,
like you said, our little drive was just confirmation of that fact.
Isn't that right?"
Percy leaned back into his chair
and drummed his fingers across the arm.
"Well," Shaeffer said,
"now that we've tabled our first question, let's move on, shall we?
You made an awfully big production of this whole case."
"That was my intention,"
Percy said. "I wanted it known who was responsible for bringing Tim
Shaeffer grinned. "I like
your choice of words."
"I don't see why," Percy
"You wanted it known who
brought Tim Ring down. Who did you want to know?"
"Our potential clients, of
course. I wanted people to know that Aaron, Brown, and Corum had the
best private investigators."
"Like I said, you didn't need
a private investigator. You needed bait."
"That's just the way it
turned out, Shaeffer. You might have had to do some actual work if Ring
hadn't gone gunning for you. And besides, the general public won't
bother to think how little work you did."
"Aaron, Brown, and Corum was
already known as having the best private investigators before you bought
the firm. What did you have to prove?"
"That it was still the best
after the change of management, Shaeffer. This is getting
"You wanted the general
public to know this."
"How much did it cost you to
send me to Ceres?"
"I own World Spacelines,
Shaeffer. It cost me very little."
"Who's being obtuse now,
Percy? Let me tell you how much it cost to send me to Ceres. It cost you
$50,000 to hire me, at least that much to hire your fake "bounty
hunters" to spread the legend of Evan Sheen, however much money and
however many favors it took to enter Evan Sheen into the CIA's files,
and the expense of sending myself and your daughter to Ceres, of course.
How much does that come to now?"
"Don't forget the million
that I paid you after he was caught," Percy said, wryly.
"Of course not. How did you
put it? 'Matching funds in appreciation of a job well done.' What can I
"'Thank you' might be
"But wait! There's more. Your
daughter once joked that I would be able to sell movie rights to my
story. And you know, just yesterday, I did. For a tidy sum of two
million dollars, no less. I imagine you know which company bought the
"Columbia, I believe."
"Which you own."
"Which I own."
"They were very anxious to
get the rights to this particular story."
"I thought it would be nice
to keep it within the family."
"I know. I'd bet that whoever
plays you in it is going to have a lot of fun."
"Best Supporting Actor,"
Percy said, and Shaeffer smiled.
"Anyone else would think you
were kidding," Shaeffer said. "So, let's see, after taxes, you
ended up spending somewhere in the area of three and a half, four
million dollars for me to catch just this one guy."
"Without any guarantee that I
would, in fact, catch him."
"If you hadn't, you could
subtract at least three million from that price tag of yours."
"But I did."
"Yes you did."
"Four million dollars is a
lot to spend to catch and publicize just one man, Shaeffer said.
"Particularly since, after overhead and salaries, the investigative
division of Aaron, Brown and Corum nets about $250,000 a year."
"I can afford it," Percy
said, testily. "The rest of Aaron, Brown and Corum makes up for
that investment, and even if it didn't, the Percy Investment Group could
absorb the loss without even noticing. Hell," Percy said,
gesturing, "World Spacelines took a $125 million loss last quarter,
and I'm still making money! Damn fare wars are killing me."
"It's not so much the money
I'm concerned with, actually," Shaeffer said. "Like I said,
you made a big production of this whole thing."
"Damn it, Shaeffer, I already
"I know. It's good publicity,
and I think you truly are glad that Aaron, Brown, and Corum is getting
the attention. But I think you're even happier that you are. Your
daughter told me that you have plans."
Percy said, leaning forward, "I don't give a squirt what the
general public thinks of me."
"I didn't think you
did," Shaeffer said. "I think who you care about are the
stockholders of the RingIce Corporation."
Percy opened his mouth to speak,
and stopped. He continued to lean forward. Then, slowly, he leaned back.
He took a sip of his beer. Finally, he looked at Shaeffer.
"What are you accusing me of,
"Nothing that could be
proven, Percy, but you already knew that."
"I don't already know
"Of course you don't. That
way, if I'm wearing a microphone, they won't be able to use it as
evidence." Shaeffer drained his can of beer, crumpled it, tossed it
in the desk trashcan. "Percy, I'm not wearing a wire. This is just
between you and me. I did a pretty fair job of being bait for you. I
think you owe me."
Percy smiled, drained his own can,
crumpled it, tossed it at Shaeffer. Shaeffer caught it and batted it
into the can.
"Ah," Percy said,
"You're saying that I can trust you with my darkest secrets."
"Of course you can,"
Shaeffer said. "You read --"
"-- your file. Yes, I did. Go
on, Shaeffer. Ask your questions."
"How long have you been
interested in controlling the Ringice Corporation?" Shaeffer asked.
Percy returned. "Who isn't? It's the largest single corporation in
the system. It's the most important, too. Without it, space travel as we
know it couldn't be possible. Once RingIce was developed, they never
bothered to change the fundamental design specifics that were making
those spaceship engines overheat in the first place. If they stopped
making Ringice, they'd blow up today just like they did fifty years ago.
It's a crutch, really. But a very powerful and profitable one."
"You don't think the RingIce
Corporation is nearly as powerful as it could be," Shaeffer said.
"What do you mean, that it
has the power to impose a stranglehold on space travel and doesn't? If
the RingIce Corporation used RingIce as a bargaining chip in power
politics, the U.N. Security Forces would be drilling into Ceres Station
faster than you can say 'Nationalization.' Ringice is too important to
play with that way. I think that RingIce's own internal struggles have
kept it too busy to think about system domination, and that's as it
should be. But I think the corporation is dangerous without some
stability in its leadership. It has the corporate IQ of a brine
"And that's where you would
"That's where I would come
in," Percy nodded. "There's something in me that hates to see
incompetence run rampant. I already told you how important Ringice is,
Shaeffer. Do you know how many times that company has gone to the verge
of dissolution because of the jackasses who run that company, the Rings
in particular? Christ, too many times to count. It's not just a matter
of one company, you know. Every component of the interplanetary economic
system relies on that stuff, my companies included."
Percy pounded his fist on the
desk. "I refuse to let the system collapse just because a few
idiots can't agree on some trivial matter," he said.
Shaeffer looked up sardonically.
"You'll forgive me if I can't quite accept altruism as your actual
motive," he said.
"Shaeffer," Percy said,
"I don't need the money. I have all the power that I can wield, and
more. I certainly don't need the work. It may be hard to believe on your
end, but you can reach a saturation point on material goods, if you have
enough brain in your head to know when you've reached it. After which
point you have little other choice than to look at the bigger picture.
RingIce is the weak link in an interlocked chain of survival, Shaeffer.
It needs to be more secure than it is."
"You're still spouting
altruism," Shaeffer said.
"Goddamn it, I am not!"
Percy pounded the desk again. "Fuck altruism, Shaeffer! I'm talking
pragmatics! If I was into altruism, I'd start a fucking foundation! The
Jeremiah Allen Percy Foundation for the Congenitally Stupid! And you'd
be my first customer!"
"Followed, I imagine, by the
RingIce board of directors."
"Damn straight!" Percy
bellowed. "Don't you get it, Shaeffer? This isn't about power or
money or altruism. I'm thinking about the fact that the fifteen
different human settlements from the Moon to Triton ought to be able to
do their work without relying on a pack of quarreling yahoos positioned
over an asteroid!"
Percy slipped back into his chair
and rubbed his forehead.
said. "'J.' stands for 'Jeremiah?"'
"Yeah," Percy said.
"I hate that fucking name." Percy turned to face Shaeffer.
"How much do you think you know?"
"I know enough to know that
every major purchase the Percy Investment Group has made in the last
fifteen years was made with the acquisition of RingIce in mind,"
Percy smiled. "Is it that
"No, Percy, it's not. But you
already knew that, too."
"Yes. I did. But I'm still
not saying I've done anything."
"Of course not."
"Perhaps you'd care to
explain it to me," Percy said.
"In order to understand what
you were up to, you'd have to understand the workings of the RingIce
Corporation itself. Most important is the curious fact that, besides the
Ring family, who owns a solid 25% of the company, there is no
shareholder who owns more than 1.5% percent of the stock. Company rules,
designed to keep the Ring family permanently at the helm."
"That's right," Percy
"Every now and again, a
motion comes up at a director's meeting to have this particular rule
rescinded, usually when the Ring family has the company do something
spectacularly stupid. As they did, for example, twenty years ago."
"That was when they tried to
bust the Chemist's Union, if I'm correct," Percy said.
"Actually, I was thinking of
the habitation ring blowout at Ceres that occurred after a Ring-led
coalition of directors voted down renovation funds," Shaeffer said.
"But you get my point, which is that these votes have come up
fairly often, because the directors hate the Rings.
"But if there is one thing
that the board of directors hates more than the Ring family, it's
another board member. The Rings have always been able to vote down a
proposal to remove the 1.5% bylaw by playing up the fear that, if it
were removed, someone even less competent than they would emerge as CEO
after the position is declared up for contention. And since new
directors are chosen by the stockholders only when one of them dies,
resigns, or is removed, the directors know from experience how
incompetent each of them are.
"The picture is further
complicated by the fact that, thanks to another bylaw, purchases of more
than one-half of one percent of the stock have to be approved by the
board of directors, who have the option of refusing the sale by offering
to purchase the stock at 10% above asking price. The catch is that
director-purchased stock is administered by the Ring family, and every
member of the board of directors would rather cut off his own...."
Shaeffer smiled, "....right hand than to give the Ring family any
more control than it already has.
"The end result of this
rather Byzantine set of bylaws is to discourage the buying and selling
of RingIce stock. And, indeed, the amount of stock that RingIce trades
yearly is so small that the corporation doesn't bother to buy a seat at
any of the major stock exchanges. Not New York, Tokyo, London, or even
Ceres itself. And, finally, RingIce makes so much money for its
stockholders that to sell one little share seems like a stupidity.
"Another beer?" Shaeffer
reached into the fridge and pulled out two more cans.
"Please." Percy caught
the beer Shaeffer tossed to him.
"Where were we?"
"Stock trading," Percy
"Ah. Yes. So, if someone
wanted to purchase RingIce stock, a considerable amount of RingIce
stock, he just couldn't do it. The 1.5% or the .5% rule would catch the
upfront and honest customer. And even if he could find someone who would
sell, he'd have to pay enormously for it. Whoever wanted to buy a
considerable amount of RingIce stock would have to be very sneaky, very
patient, and very rich." Shaeffer opened a desk drawer and pulled
out a small file of papers, and set it on the desk. "All of which
you are, Mr. Percy."
Percy took the file. "What is
this?" He asked.
"It's a file containing the
names of companies and people that have been buying stock in RingIce for
you over the last fifteen years," Shaeffer said. "You've been
very careful about covering your tracks, I see. There are no less than
three intermediaries between you and the purchasing agent. You deal with
one set of intermediaries only, who are contracted to you for personal
services: domestic staff, gardening at the mansion grounds, press
"You pay all of these
intermediaries about three to five times more than they are worth, but
if you're negligent enough to let them get away with soaking you for
services, there's no one to blame but yourself, right? And after the
money's gone from you to them, you can't be held responsible for what
they do with it.
"In fact, after the first set
of intermediaries, none of these people or companies are legally
connected to you at all. They've managed to acquire about over twenty
percent of RingIce between them."
Shaeffer produced another file,
tossed it on the desk. "Here's how much you pay out to all those
people and companies every month. It's all from your own personal
account, so there's no worry about a Percy Group auditor coming across
it. And what you do with your own money is nobody's business but your
own. Anyway, nothing could be proven. And, even if it could, you haven't
broken any laws. At least, not yet."
Percy looked at the second file
briefly, then closed it and dropped it on the floor along with the
first. "You're forgetting one minor detail," he said.
"Even if I did control twenty percent of the stock, I can't do
anything with it unless the board of directors rescinds the 1.5% and .5%
"That's true," Shaeffer
said. "You'd have to influence the board of directors, wouldn't
"I hope you realize that, if
I were to go through all the trouble and expense of purchasing the
stock, the last thing I'd do is announce the fact by thundering in and
offering bribes," Percy said.
blackmail," said Shaeffer.
"Well," Percy said,
throwing his hands up. "You've found me out, Shaeffer. I'm keeping
the directors' family members in the cellar."
Shaeffer slapped his knee again.
"Ha, I say, ha. Really, Percy. Your true vocation is comedy. No,
you wouldn't do blackmail either. That would be dumber than bribing.
Particularly since you could get the board of directors to do what you
wanted them to do, if you gave them a push in the right direction."
Shaeffer pulled out yet another file and tossed it on the desk.
Percy didn't pick it up.
"What's this one?" he asked.
"It's a record of your
pushes," Shaeffer said. "You really are a fascinating man,
Percy. You realized that that the 1.5% and the .5% rules wouldn't come
up unless there was a reason. And they wouldn't vote them out unless
something threatened the very existence of the company. Something like,
for example, Tim Ring. You've been watching the news, I trust."
"Then you know what's been
coming out about Tim Ring. He wasn't just crazy, he was totally off his
hobby horse. His killing thirty people was bad enough for old Chuck
Ring, but Chuck probably would've weathered it. But now the U.N. Bureau
is looking up old unsolved murders at Ceres Station. They're starting to
make correlations between some of them and Tim's recent little spree,
you know. There's even some allegations that some of the earlier murders
were hushed up by Chuck just long enough to bundle Tim off to a
psychiatric hospital Earthside. Before anyone could ask the really
interesting questions, he was gone. Now everyone is beginning to wonder
how much Chuck really knew about his brother's activities. How much do
you think Chuck knew, Percy?"
"I imagine he knew a
lot," Percy said.
"You don't have to imagine
it, Percy, you knew," Shaeffer said. "You bought the hospital
Tim Ring was locked up in the last time you went shopping. And you
bought a couple of other hospitals, too, just to be safe. So people
would think you had an actual interest in the psychiatric field.
"But your interest was
limited to one patient," Shaeffer said, and pointed to the sheaf of
papers he had plopped down on the table. "his file is there, though
I'm sure you don't need to read it again to know that Tim was diagnosed
as schizophrenic with violent tendencies. He also ranks pretty much off
the scale, intelligence-wise. He was, in fact, smart enough to escape
from Webster, not once, but five times. They finally had to cuff an
electronic beacon around his leg to track him down when he ran. But they
didn't really have to, because they always knew where he was going: to
the spaceport, back to Ceres, and back to his brother, who, according to
record, Tim had developed a pathological hatred for after his
"You've been watching too
much tabloid TV, Shaeffer," Percy said. "You sound like that
psychologist on the Today show that said the reason the Tim cut off the
right hand of his victims was so --"
" -- the right hand wouldn't
know what the left was doing. And that was supposed to represent the
brothers' relationship. Yeah. I heard that one, too."
"Shaeffer, this is stupid.
You're saying that I'd purchase an entire hospital to engineer the
escape of one man. Who was so crazy no one knew what to do with him
except pack him away."
"Yes, I know, it does sound
far-fetched to the untrained ear," Shaeffer said. "But you're
talking to me, a man in whom you've invested four million dollars for
doing nothing more than being a living target. You used Tim Ring just
like you used me, Percy. Anybody else would see it as madness, but I
think you saw it as a sure bet. You knew what he wanted to do: he wanted
to get back to Ceres and ruin his brothers' life. Tit for tat. You knew
that, if he were given a chance to escape, that's what he'd do. I don't
think you planned on him indulging in a self-destructive serial killing
spree, but once he did, you saw how to use it for your advantage: track
him down, capture or kill him, and let the horrible truth about the Ring
family come out."
Percy opened his mouth to speak,
but Shaeffer held up a finger. "Quiet," he said. "I'm not
done yet. You knew what Ring would do, if he only could. And if you gave
him a chance, he would. And he did."
Shaeffer jabbed a finger at the
file. "Two months before Tim killed himself, he escaped from
Webster Psychiatric Hospital in Detroit. He escaped during a test of
Webster's electronic surveillance system, a routine examination that was
carried out every month, on the same day, at the same time. SOP as
ordered by the new owners, the Percy Investment Group. Oddly enough, one
of the systems that was down at the time of Ring's escape was the system
that tracked Ring's beacon. By the time they switched it back on and
noticed Ring was gone, he'd already managed to remove it from his leg.
The next time anyone heard from him was when he killed himself on Ceres.
"But what you did shows that
you knew where he was and what he was doing. The day after the first
body turned up at Ceres, you tendered an offer for Aaron, Brown and
Corum. A week later, you bought the firm. You knew that you wanted to
track him down, track him down fast, and pull out the dirty laundry. But
no one at Aaron, Brown was what you needed, so you had to rehire me, and
send me out. You even sent your daughter along to report back the events
of the day. By the way, how much did Andrea know, really?"
"Nothing of what you're
Shaeffer nodded. "Good. From
that point, the rest would be relatively simple. The board of directors
would finally have a concrete reason not only to rescind the 1.5% bylaw
and the .5% bylaw, but to challenge the Ring family's lock on the CEO
position. So they'd vote the 1.5% and .5% rules out, declare the CEO
seat in contention and prepare to buy up as much stock as they could in
a rush to improve their position. But then you'd come out of nowhere
with 20% of the stock already in hand, legally bought from a number of
small stockholders, and with the intention of starting a stockholder war
with the Rings.
"This is where all that
publicity pays off, doesn't it? The stockholders already know you as the
mastermind behind the capture of Tim Ring. Some of the stockholders will
fall in line because of that, followed by the slightly brighter ones who
recognize that you have some experience in business, and those followed
by the stockholders who realize that you represent the quickest,
cleanest end to the whole messy situation. Chuck Ring will vote his 25%
for himself, and he might get an additional 5%. Some of the smaller
directors could bite out as much as another 5% combined. But that still
leaves you with 60% of the stockholder vote. A clear majority. Boom. You
are running the RingIce Corporation faster than you can say
Shaeffer pointed again to the file
on the desk. "It was a long shot, true. So many things could've
gone wrong. The beauty of it all is simply that none of it would ever be
traced back to you. You engineered Tim Ring's escape, sure, but only by
giving him a window in which to escape. You didn't know if he would take
that chance any more than you knew that I would track him down on Ceres.
But in each case, it was a no-lose situation. Every purchase, every
action, every thing you've done in the last fifteen years was legitimate
and accounted for, right down the line. You are as clean as the
Shaeffer shrugged. "Besides,
you could afford for this to be a long shot, couldn't you? This was just
one long shot out of many." He tapped the file a final time.
"There are a few in there, Percy, which are real doozies. I noticed
one of your companies subcontracts for a company that provides RingIce
with essential salts used in Ringice production. Isolate the wrong salt,
and there's a batch of RingIce that's little better than jello. And
whoops! There go a few cruisers. Darn shame. But accidents can, and
probably will, happen, won't they?
"But this one with Tim Ring,
Percy. This one must have been your baby. It was so totally devastating
to the Ring family and so perfect for you. It really couldn't have come
out better, could it? Tim Ring didn't think it could."
Percy jumped. "What?"
Shaeffer leaned into his chair.
"Tim Ring. He told me to tell you you're welcome. That's when
everything started to make sense to me. He knew what you were up to.
He's probably the only person in the system smart enough and crazy
enough to realize that there was no way he could have escaped on his
own. I think he even knew why you did it, and was very happy to
accommodate you. You're very lucky he gave his final message to me. If
he had given it to anyone else, there's a chance that they might have
done what I did, which was break into your files and dredge up the whole
sick affair piece by piece. And anybody else would've busted your hump.
"But he did give it to me, so
you get off easy, Percy. You got what you wanted, and all you had to do
was allow thirty innocent people to die. I just want to you to know that
I know what it is that you did."
Percy sat silently for a few
moments, then opened his mouth. Shaeffer stopped him.
"If you feed me that 'I did
it for the good of humanity' line, I'll break your lousy neck,"
Percy smiled. "Fair
enough," he said. "What are you going to do now, Shaeffer?"
"Now?" Shaeffer looked
at his watch. "I'm going to go to bed, Percy. It's almost daylight.
I've been up a long time, and talking to high-powered slime like
yourself has simply tuckered me out. I've got to be at work soon."
"Yes, I suppose you do, don't
you," Percy said. "Paul Foster won't be very glad to see that
you're still around, Shaeffer."
"Oh," Shaeffer said.
"Excuse me, Percy. You're under the impression that I'm still
working for you. Alas, my good man, I am not. I quit the moment I
slammed your Rolls down onto the office rug. I'm going back to Papa
Garibaldi's. They pay less, but, ironically, the surroundings are less
Shaeffer swung out from behind the
desk and went over to the elevator. "And then, after I'm done
there, I may take some time off," he said, slipping into the
elevator. "After all, I'm a millionaire. I've got spend it
"Try not to waste it,"
"If I wanted to do
that," Shaeffer said, "I'd buy your stock."
The door closed before Percy could
The door opened at the executive
parking level. Andrea Percy was standing by the door.
"Christ," Shaeffer said.
"1 thought I was done with your family."
Andrea held up a small tape
recorder. "You weren't wired, Shaeffer. However, the refrigerator
"Cute," Shaeffer said.
"So you heard the whole thing."
"Except for when you got out
the cans of beer, yes."
"You planning to take this to
the press, Shaeffer?"
"Because there's nothing to
take, Andrea. You know that. Nothing can be proven. And, now that it's
fait accompli, your father is the best thing that can happen to RingIce.
He threw the monkey wrench into the works, and he's the only one who'll
be able to pull it out." Shaeffer rubbed his eyes. "What about
you, Andrea? What are you going to do with that little tape of
"Nothing, now," Andrea
said. "I have a few other tapes like this, Shaeffer. I keep them
because it's good to know what my father's up to without him suspecting
the fact. Call it security, if you like."
"This whole thing was a slimy
piece of business, Andrea. I hope you know that."
"I do, Shaeffer."
"But you don't think that
it's wrong, when you come right down to it."
Andrea smiled. "I told you
once, Shaeffer, I take after my father. Slimy or not, it's
"What a marvellous philosophy
you have there, Andrea. Remind me to have it printed on a T-shirt some
"Are you going home?"
"Let me give you a
"Thanks, no. I've already had
"Shaeffer," Andrea said.
"I'm trying to be nice to you. Don't turn me into a bitch so early
in the morning. Do you read a ride? I know you drove the Rolls-Royce
"Yes, I did. Yes, I do."
"Then allow me to give it to
you." Andrea to her car and opened the passenger door. Shaeffer got
inside. Andrea got in and started the engine.
Shaeffer looked at her for a
minute. "As long as we're being nice to each other," he said,
"would you like some breakfast? I know a nice Italian
Andrea smiled into the front
window. "Papa Garibaldi's, I imagine."
"You've heard of it."
"I don't think they're open
for breakfast, Shaeffer."
Shaeffer said, and held up his keyring. "I've got a key. After all,
I work there, you know."