Raymond Chandler famously hated science fiction, saying "They pay brisk money for this crap?" However, it has recently come to light that Chandler secretly wrote a series of stories and novels starring a robot detective. He then burnt all the manuscripts and went on writing his noir masterpieces. Unknown to Chandler, his housekeeper had managed to save some of these discarded manuscripts from the grate in his study, preserving the tales for future generations.
The first of these stories was recently unearthed by author Adam Christopher. On the topic of how the manuscript made its way from Chandler's study in California to Christopher's home in England, Christopher is suspiciously quiet.
Ray Electromatic Mysteries
Made to Kill
Standard Hollywood Depravity
Killing is My Business
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Adam Christopher is a novelist and comic writer. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand's highest science fiction honor. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow's Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. His other novels include The Age Atomic and The Burning Dark.
Read an Excerpt
By Adam Christopher, Gérard Dubois
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Adam Christopher
All rights reserved.
I pulled into the curb and stopped the car. It was dark and raining like nothing else, and when I killed the headlights I couldn't see anything in particular. Just the night outside, the street light filtering in multicolored rivers through the water as it poured down the windshield. The rain had started heavy and gotten worse and now it was like there was someone lying on the roof of the car, pouring water over the glass in the same way they might lean out of an apartment window to water a particularly difficult-to-reach planter.
For a second I remembered a guy I once met who leaned out of a high window a little too far. Or maybe more than a little.
And then it was gone. Overwritten. Just another fragment.
I picked up the phone that sat cradled between the driver and passenger seats, pulling the coiled cable free from itself as I pressed the earpiece to the side of my head. The phone clicked in my ear and began to hiss, the sound fighting against rain. It was like someone was shoveling coal into buckets out there.
"So I'm here," I said.
The voice on the other end laughed, and the image came back to me: your favorite aunt, the one who smoked too much and sat out on the porch on summer evenings wearing a skirt that was too short, and when she put her bare feet up on the rail, rocking back and forth in her rocker, she'd laugh and blow smoke out of the corner of her mouth.
It's the image I always got when I talked to Ada. I didn't have much of a memory and the image wasn't mine, so it must have been one of his. Thornton's. I guess he used his mind as the template for mine, although I didn't know this for sure. Maybe one day I'd ask him. If I remembered, which was unlikely, so there you go.
"You're early," said Ada. Her voice didn't come from the phone. I ignored this fact and held the phone to my ear anyway.
"It's raining," I said.
"There's an umbrella in the trunk."
"No, I mean I left early."
"You lost me on that one, Ray."
"So I gave myself extra time in case I got lost, because I don't much like driving in the rain. So now I'm here, wherever 'here' is."
"You've got one minute."
"So not that early, then."
I peered out of the windshield. The street was lit up like it was Christmas, the red and white of the flashing signs and neon mixing with the constant yellow wash of the sodium street lamps. None of it helped. The whole world on the other side of the glass was twisted shadow, the rain reducing everything in my view to just shapes and movements. Cars cruised. People walked. Hunched over, against the rain. Maybe some had umbrellas. I couldn't tell and I couldn't have cared less.
"I hate the rain," I said into the phone, and listened as Ada laughed inside my head.
"Afraid you'll rust, detective?"
"It's not that. You know it's not that."
"Until what?" I switched the phone to my other ear and turned in the driver's seat, seeing maybe if the view out the rear was any better. It wasn't. It was raining as hard at the back of the car as it was at the front. A quick check confirmed it was also raining on the right and on the left.
Ada didn't say anything, but I could hear her ticking away, like the fast hand of a pocket watch.
"You know," I said, "for a secretary you sure as hell don't tell me much."
Ada laughed at this and I would have sighed if I could, but I couldn't. I wasn't made that way. But I knew what a sigh was. People did it plenty when I was around. I even thought I knew how to do it, the way your mouth moved, the kind of shape you had to make with it. Thornton again. He sighed a lot too. I must have caught the knack from his template.
"Need to know, Ray," said Ada. "And less of the secretary, if you please. I'm your partner, right? Just because I stay put and answer the phone."
Partner? That was a new one. "Uh-huh," I said.
"And about that."
Ada sighed. She could do that even if I couldn't. "You know you don't need to pick up the phone to talk to me, right?"
"Habit," I said. But that wasn't true, so I corrected. "Okay, not habit. Programming."
"Someone had a sense of humor."
I shrugged. "Gives me something for my hands to do."
Then the passenger door swung open quick and a man got in. He was wearing a tan trench coat colored at least two shades darker than factory issue thanks to the rain, and when he tilted his head as he brought his gun out from inside his coat, the rain ran around the brim of his hat and splattered onto his knee.
I froze with the phone in my hand and my eyes on the surprise visitor. I guess this is what Ada had been talking about.
I heard her laugh and she said "Good luck," and then the phone was dead. Like it had ever been alive.
"Come on," said the man. He pointed with his gun, which I took to mean I should put the phone down, so I put it back in its cradle. I tried to keep the cable neat but it twisted all by itself. Never mind.
"Come on what?" I asked, but I had a fair idea. The man nodded towards the windshield, towards the rain and colored lights. Then he lifted the gun up and tapped it against my cheek twice. Don't ask me why he did it, but after he did he smiled like he was pleased with himself and the dull metal- on-metal tapping sound his action made, then he nodded forward again.
"Just drive," he said.
I started the engine and pulled out into the street and drove like the nice man with the gun said.
* * *
The man with the gun had relaxed a little by the time we'd driven all over town and back again. We weren't lost. He knew where we were going, or at least he said he did. I don't know. I didn't ask. I figured either he was trying to shake a tail that I knew wasn't there, or he was trying to make sure I couldn't find my way back later to wherever we were going now. That wasn't going to work, mostly because I'm a machine and I can remember lots of stuff that the guy with the gun probably couldn't. And also because when we got to where we were going, I knew exactly where it was.
Playback Pictures, Hollywood, California. Any dumb schmuck with a positronic brain or a copy of the Los Angeles telephone directory could have found it, because it wasn't hard to find. I lamented the waste of gas driving all over town for the last two hours, but the man with the gun didn't look like he wanted to be interrupted, so I didn't bring it up. We cruised past the main gates and down a side street, then through a smaller trade entrance that I'm pretty sure what supposed to have been locked up. It was getting late and the place was deserted. We pulled up in the middle of the parking lot and my mystery passenger sat there with the gun pointed at me and his nose pointed out the window on the passenger side. He was looking for something. Or someone.
On the way over, he'd relaxed. It was a long drive, after all. He managed to keep the gun on me most of the time, held below the dash to keep it out of sight.
In fact, he was more than relaxed. He was as chatty as a talk show host. I didn't speak, but the less I said, the more he did, like he was compensating. Maybe that was how it worked. Maybe I should have been programmed to be a newspaper reporter, the way this guy was going on while I did nothing but keep the car on the road. He talked about restaurants we drove past. He liked to eat and he liked to drink, I got that. I thought that might be nice. Eating and drinking. People seemed to go on about it a lot. This guy in particular.
After a half hour of drive-by restaurant reviews he started whistling, and after a half hour of drive-by whistling he finally turned to me and looked me up and down. The gun was still in his hand.
"Don't see many of you around, y'know?" he said.
I checked the rearview. We were on Santa Monica Boulevard doing a steady rate of knots. There were plenty of other cars on the road but none had been following us. I know, because I photographed all the license plates I could see as we drove and was comparing them against each other even as I spoke to the guy with the gun.
"Private detectives?" I asked.
"Naw," he said. Then he waved his other hand like he trying to hurry someone up. Maybe that someone was him. "Robits. Y'know. Like you, Chief."
For a moment I wondered why Ada never called me Chief. Then I wondered how Ada knew this guy with the gun and why she never bothered to tell me anything.
"Oh," I said. "Robots. Right." I said the word right, because it seemed important that I should. The guy with the gun didn't notice. He was still rolling his other hand.
"Yeah. See," he said, and then he stopped, and then he kept going. "See, used to be there was a robit what worked the traffic down on Melrose. Y'know, that big junction where it all goes to shit." Now the gun was pointing somewhere else and he mimed 'all goes to shit' with both hands like a master sculptor working in clay. Then he shook his head and pointed the gun back at me. But I could see his heart wasn't in it. For the most part, I had settled into my new job as chauffeur.
"They had them on busses too. Y'know, tickets and stuff. Even was one down on the corner at the newsstand. I swear it. Kid next door used to buy comics from him every freaking Wednesday. Huh." The man shook his head and said "Every freaking Wednesday" again to himself and then he turned to me. "So what happened to them all, Chief? Something must've happened. Left here."
I took the corner smooth as silk. That's one thing I liked about the car. The suspension was custom. Smooth as silk. Had to be, considering the driver weighed nearly as much as the vehicle.
"Didn't work out," I said. The man nodded. He seemed interested so I kept talking. "The public program included lots of different phases—traffic, public transportation, sanitation. All government to start with, then came private investment and some cooperative projects. Office work. Stores and warehouses."
"And newsstands." I wasn't sure that was right but he was the one with the gun so I wasn't going to argue. I also wasn't going to point out that the gun wouldn't be much use against me, even point-blank. He seemed like a nice class of crook and I didn't want to disappoint him.
"Didn't work out, huh?" he asked.
"Nope," I said. "People didn't like robots. Not really. Preferred talking to other people instead of machines. And robots have limitations, too."
The man with the gun nodded vigorously. "Turn right here," he said, and then he said "So you're one of the lucky ones, huh?"
I turned right and thought about his question and whether I considered myself lucky. I hadn't thought about it like that. I just ... was, and that was that. Nothing more to it. The last robot rolled out of the lab. The first of a new class of machines with the sum total of one completed unit. Was that lucky? I thought maybe I should ask Ada about it some time. She was the one with the connections. She understood people better than I did so maybe she was the one who got the luck while I was the one who got stuck behind the wheel of the car, driving around a guy with a gun.
The guy with the gun reached inside his jacket and pulled out a hip flask. It was silver and I got a good look, but there was nothing on it. No monogram. No initials. No name, address, phone number, social security number. Unlike me. I had some of those at least punched onto my chest plate. Next to the detective shield.
"Hey, you wanna? Oh no, I guess not." The man pulled the offered flask back towards him and took a slug, then returned it to his pocket. "Hey, mind if I ...? Oh no, I guess not." The man pulled out a pack of cigarettes and laid them on his lap and then he squirmed in his seat as his free hand delved into the front pocket of his pants. The hand emerged eventually, clutching a book of matches, along with a small mound of pocket lint.
I don't drink and I don't smoke. Doesn't mean I can't taste and smell. I didn't like the idea of the car filled with smoke, but like I said he was the one with the gun. Even if the gun was useless, I figured that gave him certain privileges.
I took a photo of the matchbook. Figured it was the thing to do, even if I never saw it again. I wasn't doing anything else but driving at the time so it wasn't much bother. I also took a recording of the man's voice. Because that seemed appropriate as well. He had no clue I'd done either, but then I didn't expect him to.
Being a robot had certain advantages.
"Where you from, anyway?" he asked.
"I'm a local boy," I said and the man laughed and shook his head.
"You ain't fooling nobody, Chief! That accent. You're from out East. Oh yeah. I knows it. East."
"If you're asking why I sound like I'm from the Bronx, then—"
The man sighed like he was appreciating a fine painting or a particularly good return on a bet at a horse race.
"I knew it," he said, and puffed on his cigarette. "The Bronx," he said, and he said it like he really meant it. Like he had never been there.
The accent was programmed and I had never been there either, but like I said, he had the gun and he seemed to be having a swell night, so I didn't want to disappoint him.
An hour later and he'd smoked another four cigarettes. The spent matchsticks sat in the ashtray in the console between our seats, a chrome bowl just in front of the telephone. If he'd seen the telephone, he hadn't made a comment. He'd been impressed by the idea that I sounded like I was from the Bronx, and he didn't seem to mind too much that he was sharing a ride with a machine. Maybe he thought all robots had phones in their cars, like that was a thing. Maybe he thought I'd come all the way from New York just to drive him around downtown LA.
We sat in the dead parking lot until the rain stopped. By this time his gun was resting on his leg. Maybe he'd been told to hold it on me, like it was part of the deal. Like it was also part of the deal that all robots had telephones in their cars and spoke like they came from one of the Five Boroughs.
The lot was filled with puddles as big as fish ponds and as black as the gun on my passenger's knee. The buildings nearby were large and low, their few windows dark. They were film studios, the backlot of Playback Pictures. A few sodium lamps were dotted around the access roads, but they did little to illuminate the situation.
There were a couple of other cars parked nearby. A truck, too. But it was late. The cars and the truck were in it for the long haul and there was no sign of anyone around.
Then he leaned forward.
"That's him," he said, and he pointed with the hand that was holding a new cigarette.
There was a guy in a coat and a hat walking toward a door in the side of the one building. He was walking fast, head down. He wasn't keeping to the shadows, not on purpose, but it was dark and there was nobody around anyway, so it wasn't like he really had to try very hard. But we could see him from the car. He walked like he was getting rained on and didn't like it, except the rain had stopped. Which meant he had another reason for walking fast.
"Okay, okay, okay," said the man sitting in my car holding the gun. He said it quickly. The appearance of the other man in the shadows hadn't quite rattled him, but the man with the gun gained focus like a drunk at a peep show. He slipped the gun inside his coat while his other hand reached into the pocket opposite. All the while his nose was pointed to the man in the shadows. That guy—whoever he was, whatever he was doing here—was fiddling with a door in the side of the warehouse. His hat was still low and he was still hunched over so I couldn't see anything else, no matter how far I zoomed in. All that told me was that the windshield of my car was dirty. Then the guy was gone and me and my passenger were alone in the parking lot again. The sky was clearing overhead, which meant nothing except the promise that the rain would stay away a little longer. Suited me.
The man in my car pulled the hand out of his coat and now he was holding a brown packet. It crinkled in his hand, and then he creaked on the leather as he slid around. Soon enough his free hand was pulling on the door handle and a second later he had one foot planted outside.
Excerpted from Brisk Money by Adam Christopher, Gérard Dubois. Copyright © 2014 Adam Christopher. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From the robot's POV, great take. Even if a person does not enjoy detective stories, this one is just fun to read, they should enjoy Brisk Money.
A nice idea with the laws of robotics conflicting with glitches in a computer. The writing is also good, but the plot depends on a twist that is telegraphed a little too early in the story. That makes it a good story instead of s great story.
Great intro to a series with potential.