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Authors: Robert J. Crane


BOOK: Painkiller
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Out of the Box #8




Robert J. Crane



Out of the Box #8


Copyright © 2016 Revelen Press

All Rights Reserved.


1st Edition


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


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Table of Contents
Chicago, Illinois

The alley was dark, a slick of melted snow and recent rain coating the asphalt surface. The liquid caught the glare of the lone light hanging above, the only bulb in the long, narrow alley that hadn’t burned out. It gave the ground a sheen like a sun was burning somewhere overhead beyond a layer of clouds, but this was a lie; the night was dark, but State Street’s brilliant beams seeping in from the entrance to the alley cast a little illumination.

Dumpsters lined both sides of the alley, and the stink of rotting food hung in the cold night. Both the scent of the garbage and the chill air seeped into the waiting man’s nasal passages. He was crouched behind one of the dumpsters, just listening, the sounds of State Street in the early morning filtering into the alley. Noise from an occasional passing car or drunken pedestrian weaving up the slick sidewalk made its way to his ears over the sound of the heating units running above his head, their ticks and clicks fighting to be heard over the electrical hum as they pushed heat into the brick buildings on either side of the alley.

He’d been waiting for a while; the ache of crouching had long ago settled on his muscles. His thighs hurt, his knees hurt, his ankles positively moaned their displeasure. This wasn’t his gig, this sitting and waiting. This wasn’t his life. He preferred booze, cigarettes, and well-heated, smoke-filled casino rooms. Dark alleys in the middle of the night? Not really his thing. Aching joints? Well, that was mostly in his mind, but still not his thing. He massaged his thigh carefully, as though it would help, then he stiffened when he heard the sound he’d been waiting for.

The scuff of a shoe against the wet pavement heralded someone’s approach. Consistent footfalls followed, the steady clop of heel-to-toe walking in dress shoes. He’d seen the shoes before, when he’d decided to wait here, in the damned cold, for their wearer. They were nice. The guy wearing them? Well, he was dressed to match—trousers that covered his long, skinny legs, a brown-toned tweed jacket, and a tie that had been positioned to hide the top button of his thin-striped dress shirt that had been left undone. It looked like a high-end brand, bought at Macy’s or Nordstrom or even a designer suit maker on the Magnificent Mile. The whole look of this guy was like that: top-shelf stuff. He was exceptionally well dressed for a professor.

The Professor—that was how the waiting man thought of him—approached steadily. There was no caution in those footsteps. This was a man who had taken this path many times, was familiar with it. What was that old saying about familiarity breeding contempt? This guy had the familiarity and he had the contempt too; no thought for crossing down a dark alley in the middle of the night with ten good dumpsters on either side that anyone could be hiding behind.

Not too bright, Professor,
the waiting man thought.
Not too bright at all.

The footfalls echoed ever closer then passed the waiting man. The Professor ambled by with his hands thrust into his jacket pockets against the cold. It wasn’t quite warm enough to be out for long without gloves, Chicago’s bitter winter still clinging on to life and refusing to let go for its rival, spring, to come forth. The cold didn’t seem to bother the Professor too much, though. He made his way toward State Street at a steady clip, but slower than he probably could have.

The waiting man took a quiet breath, trying to keep it low so the Professor wouldn’t hear him. This was the moment. The waiting man let his breath out in a slow exhalation, and it misted in front of him. It was time. He stood up.

The Professor must have sensed him. Either his ears perceived the sound of the waiting man unfolding himself behind the dumpster, or he caught a hint of the motion of air coming from behind him, or maybe he saw the shadow fall across the gleaming pavement as the waiting man blocked the lone bulb illuminating the alley. Maybe subconsciously he caught all three. Whatever the case, the Professor had started to turn when the waiting man fell upon him.

The man caught the Professor with a solid cuff to the back of the jaw as he was turning to look behind him. Bones broke, force was transferred in a way the Professor had probably never felt it before. It was a hard punch, aided by momentum from the two long steps the waiting man had taken before he’d reached his quarry. He’d covered the ground quickly, with metahuman speed, and clipped the Professor before the man had even had a chance to turn all the way around.

The Professor took the hit hard, his head snapping sideways, vertebrae in his neck breaking with the force of impact. His jaw looked funny, slack and hanging at an odd angle for the second before the force of the blow carried him away. He flew sideways and hit the alley wall, slumping limply already, his head smashing into the brick and cracking it, leaving a smear of blood that sprayed from the point of impact.

The Professor dropped awkwardly, his body like a ragdoll thrown against the brick wall of the alley. The waiting man looked in either direction out of habit to be sure he hadn’t been seen. He knew he hadn’t been. He took a few steps over to the Professor. The light had already gone out of the man’s eyes. He was good and dead.

The waiting man thought about repositioning him, ran through a series of scenarios in his mind about what he could do to delay the inevitable discovery—sit him upright, hide him behind a dumpster—but ultimately, none of that mattered. The body would be found in a few hours, and taken to the morgue, and have the usual battery of tests performed on it. From there, it would be handed over to the Chicago Police Department, and they’d beat the pavement, scour for witnesses who didn’t exist, and try to find forensic evidence that would point to one answer—this man had been killed with a punch that no ordinary human being could have managed. From there, the investigation would be handed off to a very different investigator.

The waiting man took one more minute to look over his handiwork. He hadn’t done this sort of thing in a while. A trickle of blood, begun before his heart had fully stopped pumping, ran down the Professor’s cheek from a laceration above his hairline. The waiting man clenched his fist experimentally and checked his knuckles. They were a little scuffed from the impact, but they weren’t bloody. That surprised him a little. But then, the hit had been so fast, and the Professor had been knocked away into the wall before he could really bleed.

The waiting man sniffed in the night, white mist coming out of his nose and lips like clouds heading for the heavens. He’d lingered too long already, even though it had been only a few seconds since the deed. He sighed once more, watched the cold air cloud the night as it left his body, and gave one last glance at the man he’d killed.

“It’s better this way,” he murmured, and turned up his collar as he strode off onto State Street, shuffling off toward the L train. By the time he got there, he’d already almost forgotten what he’d done.

Sienna Nealon
Eden Prairie, Minnesota

“Aren’t you Sienna Nealon?” the lady asked me, her face telling me she already knew the answer before she’d even asked the question. She was dark-haired, probably mid-thirties, and was wearing a full-length coat in spite of the fact that the bar we were standing in was plenty warm. It was also lit with blue and pink neon, and those colors gave the lady’s face a funny cast. She was tanned, which was unusual for Minnesota in late winter. Most of us don’t tend to tan in the middle of winter. Something about the low winter sun, I guess, or the fact that almost no one is crazy enough to go outside and expose their face to the elements on days when the average temperature hovers well below freezing.

“Yeah,” I said, standing next to the bar waiting for the bartender to deliver my order. The place was pretty big, but it wasn’t too crowded. It was a weekday night, after all, and most people don’t get their drink on during the week for some strange reason. Okay, well, truth be told, I didn’t usually get my drink on during the week, either, but seeing how I was less than a week away from being unemployed, it didn’t seem to matter. “That’s me.”

My tanned admirer smiled for just a second then reached into her long coat and started to pull something out. I was watching her carefully in case she pulled out a shotgun or something, but when her hand re-emerged—slowly and smartly, I might add—she had a long, thin envelope clutched in her fingers. She extended it to me. “Sienna Nealon … you’ve just been served.”

“Gee, thanks, but I ordered a round of beers,” I said, looking at the envelope skeptically. This wasn’t the first time I’d had a process server drop legal papers on me, but it had been a little while. “I don’t think I can drink that.”

“This is notification of a cease and desist order issued by the Federal Aviation Administration,” she went on, smiling slightly at my wit. “In light of your termination from government service—”

“Hey, I quit, okay?” I got a little huffy with her. “They didn’t fire me, dammit.”

She shrugged. “I don’t really care. This is just a job.”

“Uh huh,” I said, gently taking the envelope from her. “What does the FAA want with me?”

“They want you to stop flying.”

“The hell you say.” I took a look at the envelope as if I could read that on the outside. It was blank, though, just a manila envelope that looked pink and blue in the neon light. “Why?”

“Apparently you’re a hazard to navigation,” she said with another shrug. I could tell she wanted to get out of there.

“I’ve never hit a plane … that I didn’t mean to,” I amended quickly after starting out with indignant outrage. “Is there like … a hearing or something?”

“Nope,” she said, starting to edge away from me. “Just a cease and desist order. No flying. Unaided, I mean. You can still get on a plane. Probably.”

“Thanks,” I said, looking at the envelope in my hand like it contained dog poop. So the FAA wanted me to stop flying now that I was leaving government service? What a bunch of assholes.

“You’re welcome,” she said, and gave me a salutatory wave as she beat a hasty path toward the door. She needn’t have bothered; I don’t kill messengers. Usually.

BOOK: Painkiller
11.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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