"Robot noir in 60s Los Angeles? You had me at 'Hello.'" John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author
Another golden morning in a seedy town, and a new memory tape and assignment for intrepid PI-turned-hitmanand last robot left in working orderRaymond Electromatic. But his skills may be rustier than he remembered in Killing Is My Business, the latest in Christopher's robot noir oeuvre, hot on the heels of the acclaimed Made to Kill.
"Gripping, funny, deadly and suspenseful." Boing Boing on Made to Kill
"Effortlessly swift and clever." NPR
Ray Electromatic Mysteries
Made to Kill
Standard Hollywood Depravity
Killing is My Business
About the Author
ADAM CHRISTOPHER is a novelist and comic writer. Made to Kill was an Indie Next Pick. His debut novel, Empire State, was a Financial Times Book of the Year and SciFiNow's Book of the Year, and nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel Award. His other novels include Seven Wonders and The Age Atomic. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in the United Kingdom since 2006.
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Vaughan Delaney was a planner for the city of Los Angeles. He occupied a position high enough up the ladder that entitled him to an office at an equally high altitude in a tall building downtown that was home to a number of other local government desks. The office came with a salary that was high for a city employee but nothing to write a favorite uncle about, and a view that was simply to die for.
Vaughan Delaney was forty-two years old and he liked suits that were a light blue-gray in color. He carried a buckskin briefcase that wasn't so much battered as nicely worn in. On his head he liked to position a fedora that was several shades darker than his suit. The hat had a brim that looked at first glance to be a little wide for the kind of hat that a city planner would wear, but Vaughan Delaney did not break the rules, neither in his job nor in his private life. He had a position a lot of people envied, along with the life that went along with it, and he stuck rigidly within the boundaries of both.
Actually, that wasn't quite true. Because the one thing that didn't fit Vaughan Delaney was his car.
His car was a 1957 Plymouth Fury, a mobile work of art in red and white with enough chrome to blind oncoming traffic on the bright and sunny mornings that were not uncommon in this part of California. The machine had fins like you wouldn't believe and when the brake lights lit you'd think they were rocket motors. It was the kind of car you could fly to the moon in, only when you got to the moon you'd cast one eye on the fuel gauge and you'd pat the wheel with your kidskin-gloved hand, admiring the fuel economy as you pointed the scarlet hood off somewhere toward Jupiter and pressed the loud pedal.
It was a great car and it was in perfect shape. Factory fresh. It was getting on for ten years old but Vaughan Delaney had looked after it well.
And, I had to admit, that car caught my optics. It wasn't jealousy — I liked my own car well enough, a Buick that was a satisfying ride, functional and elegant and with a few optional extras you wouldn't find outside a science laboratory.
No, what I had for the red Plymouth Fury was something else. Admiration, and admiration for Vaughan Delaney too. He was every element the city man but that car was a jackrabbit. Perhaps it was his mid-life crisis. Perhaps he was telling the city to go take a jump while he sat shuffling papers in his nice office with his sensible suit and practical hat. Look what I get to drive to the office in the morning, he said. Look what I get to drive out to lunch every Wednesday. Look what I get to drive home in the evening. It was the kind of car that people would lean out of the office windows to take a look at, and Vaughan Delaney did every bit to help, the way he parked the red-and-white lightning bolt right outside the office door.
Because Vaughan Delaney had reached a certain level within the city hierarchy that allowed him to pick his own secretary based on the color of her hair and the length of her skirt and he was not a man who had to walk very far from his car to his desk.
He was also a family man. When the Plymouth Fury wasn't outside the office or being driven to lunch on Wednesdays it lived in a two-car garage that sat next to a modest but modern bungalow in Gray Lake. Next to the Fury was commonly parked a yellow vehicle that General Motors had shooed out the door without much of a fuss, a rectangular lozenge on wheels with whitewall tires shining and seat belt tight and the sense of humor removed for safety reasons.
This was not a car to take much of an interest in. It belonged to Vaughan Delaney's wife. Her name was Cindy Delaney.
Cindy Delaney loved her husband and let him know by kissing him on the cheek each and every morning before her husband went to work. The children loved him too. There were two of those, a boy and a girl, and both of them had blond hair like their mother and they were both a decade shy of joining the army and both of them kissed their father on the cheek each and every morning like their mother did, the only difference being that Vaughan Delaney had to go down on one knee so they could smell his aftershave. Then he blasted off in the Plymouth Fury and the quiet street in Gray Lake was quiet once more until Cindy Delaney took the children to school in the yellow boat and then came back again twenty minutes later. Then she put on a housecoat to keep her dress clean and she drove a vacuum over the bungalow while her husband drove a desk down in the city.
They were a nice family. Middle class, middle income, middle ambition. The children would grow up and the boy would play football at high school with his parents watching and the girl would play flute in the school orchestra with her parents watching and all was right with the world.
I knew all of this because I'd been watching Vaughan Delaney for three weeks. I'd been to the street in Gray Lake and had sat in my car and I'd watched life in and around the bungalow. I'd been to the office building downtown and had sat in my car and watched the Plymouth Fury come in for landing and Vaughan Delaney hop, skip, and jump up the stairs into the building and then waltz down the same steps some eight hours later.
Vaughan Delaney looked like a swell guy with a good job and a nice car and a happy family.
It was just a shame that he had to die.
It was when Wednesday rolled around for the fourth time that I rolled the Buick into a spot across the street from the downtown office in which Vaughan Delaney parked his blue-suited behind Monday to Friday, nine to five. While the building was owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles, it wasn't actually city hall, which was good because paying a little visit to a target in city hall would have made the job a little more difficult than I would have liked. It wasn't exactly going to be easy here but I had some ideas. I'd been scoping it out for long enough and it was now coming up to eight fifty-five in the morning on the last Wednesday of Vaughan Delaney's life and it was time for me to get to work.
Two minutes after I turned the Buick's engine off the red Plymouth Fury swept into the slot right outside the steps that led up to the front door of the building. The slot wasn't posted as belonging to anyone in particular but it was always free. There was a spot marked for Vaughn Delaney in the parking lot out the back of the building, but that spot had the disadvantage of not being visible from the main street, and Vaughan Delaney was proud of his car and he liked it to be visible.
I knew about the parking lot around back and the slot that was posted for Vaughan Delaney because I'd checked. I'd checked everything there was to check about Vaughan Delaney and that included where he parked his car during the day and during the night and what his lunch habits were.
Lunch was my moment of opportunity. More specifically, lunch on Wednesdays, because Wednesday was the one day a week he poked his head out the office door before five o'clock. On Wednesdays he came out between twelve oh-two and twelve oh-three and he skipped down the office steps with one hand pressing his fedora against his scalp and the other swinging the buckskin briefcase. Then he got into his rocket ship, threw the briefcase on the seat beside him, and blasted off for galaxies unknown before making his re-entry anytime between twelve fifty-five and twelve fifty-six.
Vaughan Delaney was the kind of guy who watched the clock. That was something else I admired about him.
I say "lunch," but that was really a misnomer, given that in the three weeks I'd been following him Vaughan Delaney hadn't done much in the way of eating food, unless he had Cindy Delaney's homemade sandwiches in his buckskin briefcase and he ate with one hand on the wheel. Because what Vaughan Delaney did during Wednesday lunchtimes was drive.
The first Wednesday I watched and waited in my own car outside his office. I didn't move it from the spot across the street and I didn't move myself from the driver's seat. I just kept my optics on the office and watched as the city planner came down the stairs and got into the car and drove off and I watched as he drove back and got out of the car and went up the stairs again.
The second Wednesday I followed him and I must have been surprised at what I discovered (although I didn't remember — I never remembered) because all he did was drive in circles around downtown LA, going along East 1st Street until it become West 1st Street and then hooking in Figueroa and then down to Olympic Boulevard and then around and about and back to his office. I kept a good distance but he never got out of my sight. He never stopped for lunch either, and if he was eating on the go then I never saw him do it through the acreage of glass that wrapped around the upper half of his vehicle. The leather seats inside the Plymouth Fury were red and white like the outside of the car and you certainly wouldn't want to spill mayonnaise and ketchup on them. Vaughan Delaney was nothing if not a careful man.
The third Wednesday he fired the boosters on the Fury and he headed into my territory. Hollywood, California. Beverly Boulevard. Highland Avenue. Santa Monica Boulevard. The Plymouth Fury bucked and rocked and weaved. It stopped at lights and I stopped with it. It roared off when the lights changed and I did my best to keep up.
Then he went back to the office and went up the stairs and that was that.
It was interesting but perhaps not remarkable. Maybe he just liked driving. A car like that, I'd stoke its afterburners once weekly too. Maybe Cindy Delaney's sandwiches were waiting for him in the drawer of his desk.
Vaughan Delaney's Wednesday sightseeing tours gave me an idea. Because one week he'd take off and then ...
Well, one week he'd take off and he wouldn't come back.
Vaughan Delaney had made my job just that little bit easier and for that I was much obliged. I'd been sitting in my car for too long and I was feeling restless. I didn't know if we were on any kind of timetable but Ada hadn't said anything about it.
Timetables, it had to be said, were not my strong point, given that I had no recollection of events prior to six in the morning, each and every day. That was because I was a robot with a state-of-the-art miniaturized data tape sitting behind my chest plate, a ribbon of condensed magnetic storage slowly winding from one reel to the other, the events of the day recording themselves through the medium of me.
"Day" being the operative word. My memory tape was a technological wonder, but it had a limit. Specifically, a twenty-four-hour limit. Subtract a couple more to allow my batteries to recharge back at the office, and I was down to twenty-two hours of working time. And when I switched back on afterward, the world around me was born anew, the old memory tape boxed and archived and a new clean one installed. I guess I was the one who did the boxing and installing. I don't know. I didn't remember.
So my surveillance of Vaughan Delaney, my three weeks of watching and waiting in my car, of following him on his lunchtime drives around town, my visits to his house in Gray Lake, my observation of Cindy Delaney and her own daily habits — none of this was anything I could actually recall. Every morning I'd wake up in my alcove in the computer room behind my office and my boss, Ada, would give me a rundown on current jobs. In fact, Ada was the computer room, and my alcove was inside her next to her own spinning memory tapes and flashing data banks. All that tape, she had no problem remembering anything at all. Once she'd laid out the details of the current job, including what I had done and what I needed to do, I was out the door with a spring in my step and a few homicidal thoughts fizzing between my voltage amplification coils.
And the current job, singular, for the last three weeks, had been Vaughan Delaney and nothing else. But even if I didn't remember a thing about it, and even though there didn't seem to be any particular kind of timetable supplied by our anonymous client, I figured I'd spent enough time sitting in my car and had better get the job done at some point.
That point was today. Wednesday.
I sat in the car and I watched and I waited. Vaughan Delaney had been in his office for an hour. He wouldn't appear for another two. I sat and I waited. I opened my window an inch and listened to the beat of the city around me.
It was a busy street and the office got a lot of foot traffic, some of which even stopped to admire the car that was the same color as a fire engine parked right outside the door. Back on my side of the street there was a drugstore down on the corner that got a lot of foot traffic too. I watched people come and go and some of those people were carrying brown paper bags. Some people went inside and stayed there, sitting on stools at the bench inside the front window as they drank coffee and ate sandwiches.
I watched them a while longer and then I thought I'd quite like a sandwich and a coffee to pass the time. I didn't need to sit and watch the building. Vaughan Delaney's schedule was as regular as the oscillators in my primary transformer. I had time to spare.
I got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk for a moment, one hand on the driver's door, looking over at the office building. A sandwich and a coffee still felt like a great idea. It was the kind of thing you got when you spent a lot of time waiting and watching. It helped pass the time, like smoking and talking about baseball with the boys and making your own flies for fly-fishing.
Of course, I had no need for a coffee or a sandwich or a cigarette. If I walked down to the drugstore and went inside and bought one of each I wouldn't have any use for them on account of the fact that I didn't eat or drink.
I was a robot.
And still as I stood there in the street the faint memory of the taste of fresh hot coffee tickled the back of my circuits. An echo of another life, maybe. A life that didn't belong to me but that belonged to my creator, Professor Thornton.
A coffee and a sandwich would be a real waste, but maybe the drugstore could sell me something else. Maybe I could get a magazine. A magazine or a paperback book. That sounded fun. I had two hours to kill before I followed the target on his weekly jaunt around the City of Angels.
I closed the door of the car and I pulled my collar up and my hat down and I headed to the drugstore, just a robot minding his own business. Most people in the street minded their own too. So I was a robot. Big deal. The city had been full of robots once. Some people remembered them and some people were too young. Some people glanced at me and held their glance a moment longer than they normally would, but there was some stiff competition coming from the miracle machine parked up on the other side of the street.
I never made it into the drugstore, which was a shame as I was set on the idea of a paperback book. In fact, I never even got close to the corner, because this Wednesday Vaughan Delaney decided to make a change to his routine, and he did this by falling out of the window of his office on the sixth floor of the building and making a splashdown right on the white lid of the red Plymouth Fury.
The crashing sound this unexpected event made was just as loud as if another car had collided with the Plymouth instead of a human body. The initial smash was followed by the slow tinkle of broken glass and more than a couple of screams and shouts from the good folk who had, until that moment, just been minding their business on a sunny midweek morning.
I froze where I was and looked across the street. The car was still rocking on its suspension and the roof had caved in toward the back, bending enough for the rear windshield to shatter. The front windshield remained intact, most likely due to its prodigious expanse of curved glass, which clearly added a great deal of strength to the structure.
Excerpted from "Killing Is My Business"
Copyright © 2017 Seven Wonders Limited.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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