You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Mike Wilson stepped out of his store, and was immediately confronted by an irate middle-aged woman.

“How can you encourage these gangs?” she asked. “Gangs are bad for these young people, and bad for the rest of us! Here you are, running gang stores, catering to those criminals!”

Wilson just smiled and stepped past her. She followed him to his car, continuing to lecture him on the disservice he was providing to his community.

Once he was in his car, he waved at her, and pulled away. She was still yelling when he looked at her in the rearview mirror. Her blue dress contrasted with the red storefront. The large number fourteen, painted in white on the front of the building, stood just above her head.

He wondered if she had chosen the color blue on purpose. That was the color of another of his stores, located in another part of town. That one had a large white number thirteen painted on it. He had several other stores in other locations, with other color schemes and symbols. Each catered to a particular clientele.

No weapons, of course. Just clothing and items indicating pride and affiliation with whatever social club they were involved in. Deep enough in the respective territories not to have to worry excessively about graffiti or vandalism.

Wilson was accustomed to the accusations. For the most part, they were right. He abhorred the gangs he catered to. However, the stores were useful.

They provided intelligence. Information. The bangers relaxed in his stores. Being relaxed, they often said things. Things that the video systems and audio systems picked up. Things Wilson could use.

Things like the name and photograph he had in his pocket.

Wilson turned in to a rental storage depot. He cruised slowly back to the garage he had rented for the past two years. He parked near the garage, and stepped out of his car. He opened the door, rolling it up quietly. A van sat inside. In moments he had the van out next to his sedan.

Both the van and the sedan were non-descript. They had been carefully chosen so as to attract as little notice as possible. Both were white. The van had some generic looking business logo on the side. The logo was replaced by painters in some other town, every six months or so. Each new logo was as generic as the other.

Wilson put the car into the garage, and closed the garage door. He got into the van, and drove away from the storage depot. He would return in the morning, when they opened.

He drove aimlessly, for a while. He stopped for fuel at a station he did not remember visiting before. He wandered a bit more, and then headed for the area described on the short document in his pocket. A center of gang activity. The heart of his customer base.

Wilson parked on the street, careful to orient the rear of his vehicle toward the nearby intersection. He stepped into the back of the van behind an obscuring curtain. Nobody would see him through the windshield. Wilson set to work.

First, he covered his clothes. He put on a paper jumpsuit. He put on rubber gloves, and covered his face with a plastic shield. He put on paper shoe covers, and used rubber bands to seal the cuffs and the sleeves of the paper suit.

These preparations made, he examined one of the rear window panels. The material that stood in place of the window was intact. His earlier examination of the outside, while getting gas, had indicated that the illusion was adequate. A shear cloth, treated to look like a dirty rear window. That was ready.

As always, he did everything systematically. He set up the tripod mount, locking it in place and setting the levels. He opened the case, and removed the rifle components. He assembled these onto the tripod; carefully setting the locks that would secure the entire system together.

He had designed the system himself. It had been refined over the last two years, and worked flawlessly. He tested and sighted the system every week out on his property in the Mojave Desert. The property was halfway between his city businesses and a small venture near Twenty-nine Palms. The trip required switching cars three times, and took most of the day.

Wilson opened another cabinet, revealing a computer monitor and keyboard. He initiated the computer, and soon had a view of the nearby intersection on the screen. The camera was hidden in a vent on top of the van. It was beside a sonar range finder, both mounted on a very quiet system that allowed remote direction and aiming.

First, he got the range to some of the items on the far corner of the intersection. A light pole, a street sign, and a newspaper box. Satisfied, he ran one or two small diagnostic programs to insure the rifle was following the aiming directions. He realized that he was engaging in busywork, and made himself stop.

Out of another sealed container Wilson removed a photograph. It was set in a frame, alongside a newspaper clipping. Wilson looked long on the face of the young man in the photograph. He read the article to himself, his lips moving.

“Killed by senseless gang violence.” He whispered, as he read. Driveby, he formed with his lips. A tear fell on the glass covering the photograph. Wilson wiped it away, and put the photograph back in its sealed container. “For you.” He said, softly. “For you.”

For the next hour he watched the foot traffic along the corner he had targeted. Over time faces he recognized began to congregate. People he had expected based upon his intelligence. Not the face he wanted, however. Not yet.

Wilson checked his watch. Any time now.

There! Behind the two taller young men. Yes!

Wilson checked the image on the screen against the photograph he had brought from his shop. It was a match!

He manipulated some controls, and then took a set of ear protectors from the rifle case. After adjusting these on his head, he began to move the camera controls to put the crosshairs on his victim. On target. He pressed the control key on the keyboard, and then the enter button.

The ear protectors as well as the special housing in which the rifle was mounted muffled the report of the rifle. The interior of the van was also comprised of sound absorbing materials. The bullet itself exited the muzzle and passed through the screen serving as one of the rear windows of the van. The material gave way so readily that there was not even a ripple in the taught surface. The resulting hole was hardly perceptible.

Down range the projectile flew. Lead hollow-point. No jacket. Nothing intervened between the rifle and the intended target. Entry and exit. A significant portion of the target’s brains exited with the bullet, and painted the wall of the building behind him. The body collapsed, and several people loitering on the corner began moving toward the bleeding form.

Wilson backed up the recording, and reviewed the hit. He removed the ear protectors. External sensors picked up a scream. He relished the sound. Satisfied that his target was dead, Wilson began breaking down the equipment.

Ear protectors back in the rifle case. Shut down the computer, and stow it in the proper container. Break down the rifle assembly, and place it back in the case. Put away a few little items, gather up any trash. He then stripped off the paper suit. Last of all, the gloves. He took these off in such a way as to allow him to use them to stuff the paper suit into the garbage bag. He left the gloves with the suit, and tied the bag closed.

Emergency vehicles were arriving. It was time to go. If he left during the confusion, he would look like any other professional vehicle in the flow of traffic. He knew the timing. He had done this many times before.

For less than an hour he drove randomly about. He made a few short stops near convenience stores, but none of them felt right. He finally found several similar service vans parked along a dark street. He pulled in behind them. This place felt right. Wilson climbed into the back, pulled some bedding from another sealed container, and bedded down for the night.

Before first light he was awake, again. He stowed his bedding, and was on the road in minutes. Again he drove without particular direction, until about twenty minutes after the self-storage facility opened. He drove in and switched vehicles. In less than an hour he was back at his apartment, getting ready for the day.

Wilson pulled into his south county store at a little before nine. As he stepped out of his car, a woman stepped away from the wall. She waved a newspaper as she approached him.

“Another one dead!” she declared. “Killed by gang violence! How can you encourage this?”

“Didn’t I see you at my north county store?” Wilson inquired, politely. “Yesterday? You were wearing blue.” He noted that she was wearing red.

“Yes. I want to shut you down!” she cried.

“You and half the county.” Wilson replied. “Please, feel free to protest here all you like. However, keep in mind that this bunch might not like you wearing another gang’s colors. Have a nice day!”

With that, he unlocked the door and stepped inside.

No comments: