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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Zelazny Roger
 

«Home Is the Hangman», Roger Zelazny

 

Big fat flakes down the night, silent night, windless night. And I never countthem as storms unless there is wind. Not a sigh or whimper, though. Just a cold,steady whiteness, drifting down outside the window, and a silence confirmed bygunfire, driven deeper now that it had ceased. In the main room of the lodge the only sounds were the occasional hiss and sputter of the logs turning to ashes onthe grate.

I sat in a chair turned sidewise from the table to face the door. A tool kitrested on the floor to my left. The helmet stood on the table, a lopsided basketof metal, quartz, porcelain, and glass. If I heard the click of a microswitch followed by a humming sound from within it, then a faint light would come onbeneath the meshing near to its forward edge and begin to blink rapidly. Ifthese things occurred, there was a very strong possibility that I was going todie.

I had removed a black ball from my pocket when Larry and Bert had gone outside,armed, respectively, with a flame thrower and what looked like an elephant gun. Bert had also taken two grenades with him.

I unrolled the black ball, opening it out into a seamless glove, a dollop ofsomething resembling moist putty stuck to its palm. Then I drew the glove onover my left hand and sat with it upraised, elbow resting on the arm of thechair. A small laser flash pistol in which I had very little faith lay beside my right hand on the tabletop, next to the helmet.

If I were to slap a metal surface with my left hand, the substance would adherethere, coming free of the glove. Two seconds later it would explode, and theforce of the explosion would be directed in against the surface. Newton wouldclaim his own by way of right-angled redistributions of the reaction, hopefully tearing lateral hell out of the contact surface. A smother-charge, it was called,and its possession came under concealed-weapons and possession-of-burglary-toolsstatutes in most places. The molecularly gimmicked goo, I decided, was greatstuff. It was just the delivery system that left more to be desired.

Beside the helmet, next to the gun, in front of my hand, stood a small walkie-talkie. This was for purposes of warning Bert and Larry if I should hear the click of amicroswitch followed by a humming sound, should see a light come on and begin toblink rapidly. Then they would know that Tom and Clay, with whom we had lostcontact when the shooting began, had failed to destroy the enemy and doubtlesslay lifeless at their stations now, a little over a kilometer to the south. Then they would know that they, too, were probably about to die.

I called out to them when I heard the click. I picked up the helmet and rose tomy feet as its light began to blink.

But it was already too late.

The fourth place listed on the Christmas card I had sent Don Walsh the previousyear was Peabody's Book Shop and Beer Stube in Baltimore, Maryland. Accordingly, on the last night in October I sat in its rearmost room, at the final tablebefore the alcove with the door leading to the alley. Across that dim chamber, awoman dressed in black played the ancient upright piano, uptempoing everythingshe touched. Off to my right, a fire wheezed and spewed fumes on a narrow hearthbeneath a crowded mantelpiece overseen by an ancient and antlered profile. I sipped a beer and listened to the sounds.

I half hoped that this would be one of the occasions when Don failed to show up.I had sufficient funds to hold me through spring and I did not really feel likeworking. I had summered farther north, was anchored now in the Chesapeake, andwas anxious to continue Caribbean-ward. A growing chill and some nasty winds told me I had tarried overlong in these latitudes. Still, the understanding wasthat I remain in the chosen bar until midnight. Two hours to go.

I ate a sandwich and ordered another beer. About halfway into it, I spotted Donapproaching the entranceway, topcoat over his arm, head turning. I manufactureda matching quantity of surprise when he appeared beside my table with a, "Ron! Is that really you?" I rose and clasped his hand.

"Alan! Small world, or something like that. Sit down! Sit down!"

He settled onto the chair across from me, draped his coat over the one to hisleft. "What are you doing in this town?" he asked. "Just a visit," I answered. "Saidhello to a few friends." I patted the scars, the stains on the venerable surface before me. "And this is my last stop. I'll be leaving in a few hours." Hechuckled. "Why is it that you knock on wood?" I grinned.

"I was expressing affection for one of Henry Mencken's favorite speakeasies."

"This place dates back that far?" I nodded.

"It figures," he said. "You've got this thing for the past, or against thepresent. I'm never sure which."

"Maybe a little of both," I said. "I wish Mencken would stop in. I'd like hisopinion on the present…What are you doing with it?"

"What?"

"The present. Here. Now."

"Oh." He spotted the waitress and ordered a beer. "Business trip," he said then."To hire a consultant."

"Oh. How is business?"

"Complicated," he said, "complicated."

We lit cigarettes and after a while his beer arrived. We smoked and drank andlistened to the music.

I've sung this song and I'll sing it again: the world is like an uptempoed pieceof music. Of the many changes which came to pass during my lifetime, it seemsthat the majority have occurred during the past few years. It also struck me


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