Grey sheets of rain were falling in stair-rods from a sullen grey sky, impacting and bouncing as they hit the grey, uncompromising ground. Streetlights made little impact in the crepuscular gloom, their insufficiency of light struggling through the dim haloes around them. Only the garish neon sign made any impact on the greyness, and its reflection broken into random shapes on the slick pavement might have been a magical sight if only the promise of the lush interior of the club it proclaimed had not been a sham.
I was waiting on top of a building across the street and some way down; and I had a high velocity rifle as my only companion in my long, wet, vigil.
You can say what you like about laser rifles – and a lot of hired guns do, in nauseatingly tedious detail – but you cannot beat a high velocity rifle. It is not subject to diffusion by the rain as a laser weapon must be.
I must admit that doing pro bono work is not my usual thing. Nor indeed vigilante work, as this might be seen to be. However the circumstances were unusual; almost personal.
The man I was waiting for was the most influential controller of the new addiction; the Pleasure Dome. Don't get me wrong; on the whole I have no interest whatsoever in the foolish fits and starts people will get up to in order to bring some kind of excitement into their grey, humdrum lives; they might as well kill themselves with some kind of addiction as by blowing their brains out. Same result; just as messy for the morgue men to deal with, and their choice. My choice of excitement is to lurk in the shadows of society, defying authority and making a living taking down those who have got in someone's way. Last month I took down one left wing extremist, one right wing extremist and a banker on the take. I couldn't tell you for sure which of the extremists was left wing and which was right; there isn't a whole lot to pick between them when you come down to it.
My street name is Cobra; and I'm good at what I do and I charge accordingly.
So, you ask, why pro bono work and what was it about?
I have an excellent landlady, who thinks I work in the Parks Department. It explains odd hours and coming back rather the worse for weather. She's under the impression I dig graves, instead of making work for gravediggers. It's a convenient fiction. My excellent landlady also has a cute niece who lives with her, being an orphan. And last week the kid was snatched and wired up to a Dream Helmet and made into an addict of the Pleasure Dome. TM. Did I forget the TM? It's legal enough for adults after all. In the unadulterated form. A connection to the pleasure centre and the ability to slot fantasies into it to play, half hour slots of ecstasy. Of course the adulterated ones have no time limit and can slot fantasies with darker themes too. These were the ones Takashi Sato was supplying.
And I kind of have a down on people who think it's okay to snatch teenage kids off the street and make them pleasure addicts.
Yes, the kid is getting treatment, and yes, I have contributed towards it. Don't go thinking I'm soft though. If my landlady gets upset she doesn't cook so well, that's all.
So, I was waiting in the rain, for a certain crime lord to turn up to inspect his club. The club where some of the girls were trained with darker fantasies in their Dream Helmets to willingly engage with those clients who had the other side of the same fantasies. With the promise of a slot of a good Dream if they did well. And one reason I wanted to take him down here was that the cops would be almost forced to get involved – and would hopefully find all this out. It had not taken me long to find it out, but then I have shadier contacts than the police. I also take short cuts that they are not allowed to take.
I also had a head start because the kid recalled the licence plate of the car that snatched her. Bright girl; and as shamed by what had happened to her as she was desperate for another slot. She was determined to help. That number led me to a man, and he led me further. Were you wondering if I tortured him? Nothing so crude. I gave him nothing but pleasure; the way he gave it to the kid. To get his next slot he was willing to tell me anything. I left him with a reboot box in his hand; if that means he starves rather than give up his buzz, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. People who live by such rapacious rules should not complain when they also die of them.
I was wearing the latest Gore-Tex full body suit of course, allowing sweat out but no rain in, but it was still pretty miserable. It occurred to me as I waited that killing one crime boss would ultimately make little difference; there would always be more to take his place. However if I let it be known WHY he had died, at least the snatching of kids off the street might stop as a form of aggressive salesmanship. My street name is not unknown. My readiness to go to any lengths to fulfil a sanction is also quite legendary. It should be a salutary lesson and a reason to make any hard sell crime lord pause.
When Takashi Sato emerged, it was almost an anticlimax.
I had him in my sights, breathed in, released a part of it and held the rest, gently squeezing the rifle's trigger.
The silencer reduced the sound to a genteel ladylike cough; and Sato clutched his chest and went down. A red blossom grew on his shirt front.
Unprofessional to go for a body shot you say, not a double tap to the head? Perhaps; but it was raining. And I had filed a cross on the bullet's nose. He was not going to be getting up again.
The rifle was one I had purloined for the purpose from a hunting supply store; they would get few enough clues from it, I wear gloves to prepare and load my bullets. It would stay here. Out of sight; I stowed it in a ventilator shaft. They might or might not find it.
I was not about to wait for the sirens.
I had my escape route planned. Over the rooftops and down a fire escape to the sleazy hotel room I had hired earlier. The really top feature of this hotel was that the trash chutes led straight to an incinerator. My overcoat went straight down it, and the Gore-Tex bodysuit and on went the costume of an unassuming travelling salesman. The cleaning bot was already sorting out the wet patch on the floor where I had come in the window that gave to the fire escape. No evidence there.
Covering one's trail can be an expensive business. That's one reason I charge such high fees. Another is to make sure the client REALLY wants the job done. Killing people is easy; bringing them back to life because someone changed their mind isn't covered in the warranty. And it's why you won't find a hired gun ready to do pro bono work.
Sometimes, though, just sometimes, a point has to be made. And I took on this one with pleasure.