He preferred a revolver to an automatic. A revolver didn’t spit empty shells all over the goddamn place. But a .40 calibre roscoe still made one hell of a noise. And he was starting to hear doors creaking open down the hall as the brave-curious stuck their noses out to sniff the cordite air.
The loser of this particular gunfight lay dead on the India carpet, sizzling in a pool of liquid silver that smelled like roasted marshmallows. It was a mess in some unlucky stranger’s apartment. But he’d just been doing his job, and that was how Telford Goblins checked out. In three minutes, there’d be nothing left but a flaky silver residue and traces of nitric acid. Under different circumstances, you could have taken a photograph with it. But he wasn’t a photojournalist. He was Arlo Fountain, and he hunted goblins. He also hunted Tall Whites, Reptilians, Andromedans, Flatwoods, Hopkinsville Goblins, Greens and Greys, and anything else visiting from out there. Anything in from the stars that he could earn a bounty on. The price on this paunchy boogeyman’s head would buy new whitewalls for his Pontiac. That was good. Arlo was a guy who kept up appearances.
He knelt down and used a matchbook from Grady’s Diner to scrape some of the bubbling liquid into a specimen bottle. They’d test it against records at the lab to confirm the kill was fresh and legit, a process using deoxyribonucleic acid. Top secret, he’d been told. Not a topic for lunch counter conversation. The goblins weren’t, either. And neither was his job. It was all hush-hush. He put egg man down on his income tax. Rosy had thought that one up, because she said he always delivered. The name had stuck. Maybe that’s because there really wasn’t any other tag for what he did, and who’d believe it anyway. He was just an anonymous punch card, shot through a compiler a week before every payday. Which was fine by him. No fame, no blame. So, it was the egg man who visited the visitors, and eliminated them before they became more than myth and their presence started to make the masses have second thoughts about God, His angels and the need for good government.
Who was Rosy? She was sort of a problem, an Andromedan. She looked like any other Earth dame on the make, but she was pure alien. He didn’t mind that she was something of a money pit. The Depression was hard on everyone, even extraterrestrials. One day, though, he or someone like him would be duty bound to scrape a bit of what was left of her into a specimen bottle and send it off to the lab. If she was smart, she’d get out of Dodge before that had to happen. For now, however, they were copasetic.
But back to what was left of the goblin in the parlour. It had no name or known affiliation. It just occupied space in the universe. That’s all he knew. That’s why it had shown up on the Central Dispatch Monitor. Which likely meant it was rogue, likely a mercenary working with a larger clandestine team.
Another thing he knew was that Telford Goblins weren’t just extraterrestrial. They were extra-dimensional, as well. And it was obvious that this one had just arrived. It’d still been wearing its utility belt when he plugged it, still been wearing its snub-nosed pulse toaster. It had drawn on him first, the cheeky troll. He’d ducked the pulse, but it’d reconstituted a huge section of the wall behind him. The striped wall paper was now a patch of caramelised, radioactive sapphire/graphite aggregate. The whole block would have to be evacuated, and the building bulldozed and carried off to a desert half-life silo complex. But that wasn’t his problem.
His problem now was the extra-dimensional angle. It meant that there had to be a closet-port nearby. He’d checked behind the doors in the apartment, they were the usual collection of dead-ends and dust bunny alcoves. But one of them opened onto a cold black void where duffle coats and windbreakers should have hung. It was a classic, but undoubtedly obscure, domestic closet-port on an infinite meta-hole network that spanned countless universes.
He pulled a barricade grenade from his trench coat pocket, dropped it into the void and closed the door. In a second, a bright light shone round the door’s edges and he felt a minor tremor. When he opened the door again, it was once more just a regular closet. There was a lady’s floral print dress swinging on a cedar hanger and a pair of bedroom slippers on the floor.
He went to the telephone and dialled a thirteen digit number.
“Central Dispatch,” an operator answered.
“Arlo Fountain,” he said, “Gimme Bruster Cunningham.”
There were a few clicks and buzzes, then a gruff voice said, “That you Fountain? Tell me you closed that damn closet-port. I don’t care about the troll – we can get it later. I just want to know that that port is shut.”
“The goblin’s bug splat,” said Arlo Fountain. “And I closed the port. What’s the going rate for closet-port closure, by the way?”
“The cheque’s in the mail,” Bruster Cunningham said. “But I’ve got another thing to say to you, Fountain. It’s about that arachnid you’re dating. I told you to dump her a month ago. I don’t want you in the room when I send someone in to get her.”
“She ain’t no arachnid, Cunningham. She’s Andromedan. Show some respect for a fella’s girl.”
“It’s a cluster-fuck, Arlo. A major protocol conflict. There’re suits up the chain that don’t like it. They say it makes us look soft.”
“It’s a lonely universe, Bruster. Rosy’s a champ in the linen, knows her quantum physics and pours a damn fine shot of rye. I don’t wanna have to dump her only to end up dating my landlady’s painfully introverted, stamp collecting daughter.”
“Then you’re just a shovel digging your own hole, Arlo.”
“And there’s a strange sort of satisfaction to that, Bruster. I’d encourage you to try it some time.”
Bruster Cunningham hung up, and Arlo reflected on the exchange. There was a certain strange kind of satisfaction in breaking the rules, even, or maybe especially, when a guy knew it was bound to turn out bad for him. It was the sort of thing that separated the men from the Reptilians.
The Cog Saloon was in Gastown. He went there often to think about his lucky stars, the ones he counted every time he got out of a tussle with an alien alive. He knew he was good at what he did. But he also knew that survival was a numbers game. Sooner or later, he was gonna get it. The odds hated a guy with a gun.
He ordered the good hooch that night, doubles. And he was sipping. He’d start belting it back later, maybe even buy a bottle and watch the sun rise down by the train tracks.
“The skinny is you waxed a goblin today.” It was Rosy. She took the barstool next to his. “Maybe even closed a closet-port. Someone out there in orbit isn’t gonna appreciate that.”
Andromedans have Japanese features. Rosy looked like a Tokyo starlet. Her eyes were an odd shade of blue, never seen on Earth before she arrived. He liked that. They were hypnotic eyes. And he liked being hypnotised.
“It was self-defence,” he said.
“It was a hit,” Rosy said, as she signalled the bartender. She ordered Absinthe. “It’s like everything you do. It’s got the taste and smell of murder.”
“Call it what you like. I won’t squawk.”
“It’ll be me one day,” she said. “Won’t it, Arlo?”
“You know the score, doll” he said. “And since you know what it takes to get from there to here, I figure you know how to get back, and when to do it.” He gulped back his drink and quietly banged the glass on the bar. The bartender heard and arrived to pour. “I think we’re swell together, that’s all. And don’t ask me why, but no one at Central Dispatch has pulled your number yet. Sometimes I wonder about that. Maybe you’re being protected for some bigger reason.” He looked into her hypnotic eyes, and said, “Are you being protected for some bigger reason? Is there something going on in the ether that a common citizen like me can’t know?”
She pulled a cigarette from her bag and lit up. “Maybe,” she said.
“Then this conversation is redundant, and ruining the general mood of the Cog Saloon.”
They spent the rest of the night together, up in her flat over Water Street, laying on her bed together, listening to quiet jazz 78s. She’d placed a red silk scarf over the lamp, and they looked up together at the coloured ceiling as they talked. He drank straight from the bottle now, as several deep space battle cruisers silently entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The wall telephone was ringing in his empty apartment on the other side of town, and Bruster Cunningham cursed the name of Arlo Fountain.