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I'll Cry When I Kill You
By Peter Israel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Peter Israel
All rights reserved.
People jog in the suburbs, too, it turns out. The men get out first with the birds, before the sun. Some wear reflector armbands. The women come later, heel-and-toeing under the tall shade trees in their sweat suits, looking like they hate it like women joggers everywhere. Jogging's like life, somebody told me: the boys have all the fun.
I was into my second half hour of it that morning when the car stopped me. I'd come downhill out of the estate area, which was like some dark, forested graveyard, and into tree-lined streets where the early sun dappled onto sidewalks and there were signs of morning life like from some time warp. I saw teenage kids delivering newspapers off bicycles and dogs sniffing at green plastic garbage cans. Once I passed a milk truck and heard the clinking of bottles inside. There were birds chirping in the trees, sprinklers working the lawns and every so often the cough of a motor. But there was more human traffic than car, and it was the kind of community where the walkers and joggers wave at each other regardless of race, creed, sex or color.
For good reason, if you stop to think about it.
Pure Wasp America, in other words, and it felt a long way from the Central Park Reservoir, even though a crow could have made the trip in thirty minutes give or take.
The car broke my concentration. It was a Mercedes, gunmetal gray, and the driver wore a suit to match. It slowed down as it passed and parked some twenty yards up the street, diagonal to the near curb. The driver reached across the front seat and opened the door on my side.
He knew who I was. No matter that I'd never seen him before.
"He wants you," he said, when I pulled up abreast.
"Who's He?" I asked.
The driver was big, blond, young, and he wore a blue button-down shirt and navy knit tie under the gray suit. I suppose from his point of view there was only one He. With a capital H.
"What's He want me for?" I asked, swinging into the front seat next to him. I was a little annoyed. It was 7:17 A.M., this was my first morning on the job, and I didn't work for Him anyway. I was only on loan, so to speak, a gift from my boss, who also happened to be His attorney. Although, knowing the Counselor, the client would be billed amply for my services.
The driver didn't answer that question either. His mission, apparently, was just to pick up the package and deliver it. The Mercedes did a well-oiled K-turn maneuver. Five minutes later we were winding our way up through the broad lawns and deep woods of the estate area, glimpsing some great gray fieldstone mansions, and up to the spiked iron gates of Bashard's domain—the crenellated, betowered Victorian pile near the top of the hill from which, as I'd seen from my tower window the night before, you could make out the distant lights of the Big Apple.
When I'd gotten there the night before, I'd had to wait outside the gates until identified. This morning, the driver of the Mercedes executed a series of signals with the brights and dims, and the tall gates slid back on tracks automatically, and in we went.
Twenty minutes later, I was toweling down after a shower and shave when my bathroom phone rang.
"Mr. Bashard's waiting for you in the second-floor study," a male voice told me. Then the phone went dead in my ear.
Raul Bashard, Raul R. Bashard, Raul Rogan Bashard. You'd have to have been blind, deaf and/or asleep not to have recognized the name, even if you were part of the third of the country that's supposed to be illiterate. I guess a lot of people must have thought he was dead, along with that older generation of science-fiction buffs who went back four or five decades to when Raul Bashard was contributing to magazines like Amazing Stories for a penny and a half a word. By the time I discovered his writing, which wasn't yesterday either, he was already known as the Dean of Science Fiction, and you'd see pictures of him and his wife in the papers, crossing the Arctic Circle on an ice floe, found (after having been lost) in the Andes, or shaking hands with the astronauts just returned to Earth. The wife died; Bashard lived on, wrote on. The last publishing contract I ran through the word processor at the office called for a two-million-dollar guarantee to the Author.
The Counselor and Raul Bashard went way back, back before me, certainly, and the Counselor's Wife, and the five-story town house in the East Seventies, back at least to The Firm, which the Counselor abandoned years ago (to, as he liked to put it, "go private" with his clients). Bashard's wealth and the Counselor's had grown together, only Bashard's grew faster. He used our office for most of his affairs, including the real estate (of which the Victorian pile was but one holding), the sheltered investments, the foreign accounts, the trusts, the charitable endowments. Strange, then, that not only had I never laid eyes on the man before that morning but had never so much as talked to him on the phone. When Raul Bashard wanted his attorney he invariably had an intermediary place the call, and he wouldn't get on the line himself till he knew the Counselor was waiting.
Wealthy beyond what most of us dream about, adventurer, guru, recluse, a paranoid as I found out, Bashard was also something of a medical freak. Brain tumors, heart attacks, cancers, all the modern-day scourges—Bashard had confronted them all, and if he'd lost a battle here and there, he was still ahead in the war. At least for the time being. What he looked like now, though, few people knew. Once he'd been a striking figure of a man, that you could tell from the picture on his book jackets, but they hadn't changed the photo in years.
In other words, he'd been reported dying so many times you sort of assumed he was dead. Until, that is, the manuscript of the new novel arrived, not a comma to be changed without permission of the Author, "created and written by Raul R. Bashard," as it always said on the title page—and the million-dollar contracts started spewing out of our word processor.
I went down by the central staircase, one of the most imposing features of the mansion. Its wide stone steps circled back on themselves, leaded windows at the half-landings gave out on the rear sward of the estate, and the center airwell was wide enough for a little wrought-iron elevator to run up and down inside.
By the standards of the place, Bashard's second-floor study turned out to be a small room, almost cozy. It had a mahogany and marble fireplace and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves wherever the doors and windows would allow, with a polished mahogany stepladder on wheels for the higher shelves. I didn't realize it at first, but every volume on the shelves was a Bashard, arranged by country, and most were in mint condition. Brass plaques fixed to the shelf fronts identified the countries. There were leather-bound editions, hardcover editions, book-club editions, illustrated editions, paperbacks, translations, anthologies, copies of old magazines in plastic slipcases.
Tall leaded casement windows, framed by drapery, gave out over the front of the house. The trees on this side were too tall to give you much of a view, but you could see the graveled driveway circling up to the stone portico of the main entrance and beyond it part of one of the fieldstone outbuildings.
In front of the windows, a computer layout—an oddity in that Victorian setting—sat on a long, glass-covered, mahogany table. CRT screen, television screen, modem, keyboard, printer, all forming a kind of control center. And Raul Bashard, his back to me, bent forward, palms on the glass top, scrutinizing the television screen.
Second oddity: If you didn't already know, you'd never have guessed he was seventy-nine. And sick. Possibly he'd shrunk a little, I thought, and his hair, slicked to his scalp as it always had been in the photos, might have thinned, and there were other signs, as I'd soon notice, that he couldn't always hide. But his bearing was as strong and erect as an officer's on a parade ground; his facial skin, apart from the trim white mustache, was pink, glistening, clean-shaven and devoid of wrinkles; his clear dark eyes pierced, appraised, accused like a cat's.
Not a man, in sum, who looked afraid for his own life.
But he was. Or so he said.
His clothes, with one exception, bore out the military impression. He wore a tailed tweed jacket over a pale green turtleneck that seemed molded to his body. Olive-drab flannel trousers were creased to a knife's edge. The one anomaly—the more remarkable for his otherwise impeccable look—was a pair of yellowed and dirty white sneakers.
A quick word about the sneakers. I noticed there was no carpet in the study, only a gleaming floor of inlaid parquet squares. In fact there was no carpeting anywhere in the house other than a few Oriental rugs in the formal rooms, and these were small. The Master, you got the feeling, didn't like people getting close to him unannounced. Whereas he went around in sneakers.
"What use are you to me, Revere, if you're not here when I need you?"
He spoke sharply, without turning from the television screen.
"I didn't know you needed me," I think I answered.
"If I didn't need you," he snapped back, "you wouldn't be here. Jogging will ruin your body anyway. If you can jog, you can run. If you can't, walk. I used to walk eight miles a day, thirty inches to the pace. I did it up to two years ago. I don't anymore. Jogging belongs to the contemporary idiocracy. Look at this one!"
His voice grew agitated, angry. He waved me forward toward the television screen. It showed, in color, a middle-aged woman in gray sweat suit and running shoes, a white towel wrapped around her neck, laboring uphill on a paved road under an umbrella of oak trees. She gasped and flailed her forearms as the camera followed her. I thought the road, the trees, looked familiar.
"Ruthven, Eleanor," Bashard called out next to me, his fingers pushing buttons on the computer keyboard. "Function: housewife; age: forty-one; sign: Taurus; spouse: Ruthven, Ed; function: senior vice-president Chase but he'll go no further; age: forty-two; sign: Virgo; inhabit: Four Puck Road, 3.7 acres, paid $155,000; date: 1974; current appraised value: $525,000, overvalued; three children, ages eighteen, fifteen, three but she can't have any more"—he chuckled at this point—"last observed: sixteen May, skipped a day, it was raining yesterday morning; time: 7:50 A.M. ..."
Following his excited voice by a few seconds, the CRT screen scrolled out, line by line, the same data, minus the asides. It was a weird demonstration. He had it so accurately you might have thought the computer was simply transcribing his voice, but what evidently delighted him was that his memory could "print" faster than the machine's. Meanwhile I realized, as Ruthven, Eleanor, disappeared around a curve in the road and the CRT screen finished displaying her file, why the scenery had looked so familiar. The camera that watched her had to be mounted either in or next to Bashard's gates.
"Do you keep a file on all your neighbors?" I asked.
"Of course I do," he retorted. "What would be the point of having some but not all?"
"Then the ones to worry about are the ones where there's no file."
"I see you've a penchant for stating the obvious, Revere," he said icily. "That's right. And wrong. The ones with a file could be just as dangerous." He straightened then and stared at me full face. The eyes were hard, dark, penetrating. They reminded me of cat's eyes, except that unlike the cat's his had a way of reflecting no light. We were standing close enough for me to smell his toothpaste faintly. It was hard not to back off.
"What do you know about the fans, Revere? Never mind, you will. You'll read the mail. Love, hate, resentment, adulation, slavishness, rage ... every human emotion. Noble, ignoble. Dangerous, benign. But now more dangerous than ever. There are fans who write me every week, have for years. There was a woman who wrote me every day for four months, intimate letters, letters that made you blush. Then she stopped. I never heard from her again. When I had the kidney operation, they were lined up in the street to offer me transplants. Now you'll ask yourself: what did he ever do to deserve it? I'm a journeyman writer, Revere; that means I write books for a living. I've made a lot of money at it—that's thanks to them, they buy the books—but does that mean they have to move in with me? That's what they used to do. Camp out, hang out. It damn near killed my wife. When I still went to their conventions, it got so I had to sneak out of the hotels through the kitchen. So I stopped going. Heinlein, Herbert, Latham, Clarke, it's been no different for them. Heinlein lives in a place like this, except in the West. Behind barbed wire. Herbert, before he died, moved around all the time. Ollie Latham lives on a farm. Arthur's in Sri Lanka. I guess they don't read novels in Sri Lanka."
He laughed, red in the face, laughed a little too long, I thought, at his own joke. The laugh became a cough. He turned his head away, covered his mouth, and then I saw one of the signs: his hands developed a tremor when they had nothing to do, nothing to push against or grab. It was slight until he noticed it, or saw you noticing it. Then it got severe until he controlled it or, more often, distracted you with something else. Probably that was one reason he never shook hands with people.
"Do you know what happened here last week?" he went on. He'd turned back to the television screen, talking now as he watched two cars outside the gates. The cars slowed to negotiate the curve and the camera picked up their license plates. The computer, I learned later, had a file by license plates, too, but Bashard chose not to demonstrate. "Eight May; nine-thirty in the morning. There was a terrific commotion down at the gates. Somebody who wouldn't take no for an answer. He refused to go away until I talked to him. Do you think it was a fan? Hell no! It was an IRS agent! I was writing, damn it! I told him over the intercom to identify himself. He held his credentials up for the camera. Do you know what he wanted? He said he'd come to check the 'so-called' office space I deducted on my return! I told him he had no appointment, that he could write for an appointment, better yet that he could write my accountant for an appointment and the two of them could inspect the premises together. At my convenience, not his. I told him if he didn't cease and desist I'd get him transferred to Point Barrow, Alaska, and if he didn't believe me, he should just keep at it. Do you know what he did? He tried to stone the camera! Literally, he picked up a rock and threw it at the camera. It wasn't till we turned the dogs loose at the gate that he went away."
He was staring at me again, grinning.
"Science-fiction fans, IRS agents, who else? Women," he added. "Now do you understand why I live like this, Revere?"
I was a little at a loss for an answer.
"You should call me Phil," I said.
"Philip," he said. Then he repeated: "Science-fiction fans, IRS agents, women. And one of them wants to kill me."
He paused for a second, and I could've sworn I saw a gleam of pleasure in those cat eyes.
"But what's wrong with Pablo?" he asked. "That's a good name."
It stung me all right. That he should know the name, for one thing, and also that he would use it.
He saw that it stung, I guess. At least he pulled one of those little self-defense numbers, meaning his body seemed to sag, he said he was tired, that if he stood up too long in one place it hurt his back, etc. When I reached for his chair, though, he straightened abruptly, and his palms went forward onto the glass tabletop in the posture I'd first seen him in, his gaze now fixed on a new image on the television screen.
It was like I wasn't there.
"Look," he said after a while. "There are the only three creatures I trust. In this galaxy anyway."
There must have been another camera—not the only other one, as it turned out—mounted at the rear of the house. It covered gardens first, then a swimming pool and patio, then a wide sloping lawn that ended in woods.
Bashard himself controlled the shot. By working switches on his table, he could shift the camera angle and close in on his subject.
Excerpted from I'll Cry When I Kill You by Peter Israel. Copyright © 1988 Peter Israel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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