Another golden morning in a seedy town, and a new memory tape and assignment for intrepid PI-turned-hitman—and last robot left in working order—Raymond Electromatic. But his skills may be rustier than he remembered in Killing Is My Business, the latest in Adam Christopher’s robot noir oeuvre, available July 25th from Tor Books.
Read chapter 2 below, or head back to the beginning with chapter 1 here, along with an excerpt from Ray Electromatic’s novella-length adventure, Standard Hollywood Depravity.
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—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 twentyfour-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 rd 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. IfI 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.
Vaughan Delaney lay in the concave roof, arms and legs spread out like he was getting comfortable in his big bed in Gray Lake after a good night out with the boys in accounting. Said boys were still in the office above the car and were now leaning out and looking down and pointing, as though there was some other direction their former colleague could have gone. I heard more shrieks and sobs from above as the realization spread across the whole office like the blood spreading out from Vaughan Delaney’s ruptured insides onto the roof of the car, turning the white leather covering it the same color as the bodywork. Soon enough other windows up and down the whole side of the building and its neighbors opened and more heads looked out. A man in a uniform that marked him out as the concierge ran out of the building and raced to the car fast enough to leave his peaked cap floating down the steps behind him. He was joined by a couple of other men, one of whom had flown off the sidewalk next to me to lend a hand at the scene. Around me people stopped and stared and either turned away with a shudder or a gasp as they dropped their shopping or they just stood there and looked on as they sucked their cigarettes and adjusted their hats.
I didn’t have a cigarette to suck but I was wearing a hat and I adjusted it just like everyone else. I stood there and watched as in just a few minutes more people came out of the building and from up and down the street to form a not insubstantial audience around the wrecked car.
I walked back to my own vehicle and got in. I kept my eyes on the scene. Someone in shirtsleeves had climbed up onto the hood of the Plymouth Fury, but on reaching the windshield he’d stopped with his hands on hips like he was unsure of the route ahead.
Sitting between me and the passenger seat in my car was a telephone. It started to ring. I let it ring and I started the car and pulled away and headed up toward Hollywood. When I was clear of the scene by an intersection or two I picked the phone up.
“Hi,” I said.
“What’s cooking, Ray?” Ada sounded cheerful as she always did and she sounded like she was pulling on a cigarette which she sometimes did and which I knew to be merely an echo in my circuits of someone else, given that my boss was a computer the size of an office.
”I’m heading back,” I said. “Get the coffee on.”
“Nice piece of action downtown, Ray.”
I frowned, or at least it felt like I frowned. My face was a solid flat plate of bronzed steel-titanium alloy and my mouth was a slot and a grill that was about as mobile as any of the four faces carved onto the side of Mount Rushmore.
“If you’re talking about the untimely end of Vaughan Delaney, then I guess that is action of a fashion,” I said. “Although I have to ask how you knew about it given that it happened all of three minutes ago.”
“Oh, it’s all over the place, Ray. Someone called it in to the cops and I just happened to be listening in. Then everybody started calling it in to the cops.”
“I did think it was a little early for the late edition.”
“It’ll be front page tomorrow,” said Ada. “Perhaps below the fold. Depends what other standard Hollywood depravity goes on before sundown, I guess.” Ada blew smoke around my circuits. “Not your usual style, but you know what I say, whatever works, works.”
“Except I had nothing to do with the death of Vaughan Delaney.”
“That’s good, chief. Keep it up. Deny everything, ask for your phone call, and don’t speak until you get a lawyer.”
I came up to a set of lights that were red. rd come several blocks and was at the corner of Beverly and South Union. I didn’t like this part of the city. Hollywood might have been crummy but downtown Los Angeles was strange to me, too many tall buildings standing too close to one another. I wouldn’t be happy until I was back home.
The lights changed and I kept on in a westerly direction.
“Ada, listen, it wasn’t me,” I said. “The city planner hit terminal velocity under his own volition.”
“Oh, as in, oh well, accidents happen.”
“You don’t sound too worried.”
“Should I be?”
“Do we still get paid?”
“Well,” said Ada, “the target is dead, isn’t he?”
“That he is.”
“So job done. That was good of Mr. Delaney to do our work for us. Nice and clean is the way I like it.”
I made a buzzing sound like a bumblebee trapped under a glass. Ada got the message and she laughed.
“Don’t worry about it, chief,” she said. “Come back to the office and take the rest of the day off.”
I thought again about the paperback book I was going to buy. As I drove I kept an optic out and I hit pay dirt nearly at once.
There was a bookstore on the corner with a Buick-sized space right outside it.
“I’m on my way,” I said as I pulled the car up. “I’m just making a little stop first.”
“Going for a root beer float, chief?”
I frowned on the inside again and Ada started laughing.
“Go knock yourself out,” she said. And then the phone was dead.
When I got out of my car I paused a while in the sunshine of the late morning. I turned and looked at the bookstore, and then I turned and looked down the street in a southeasterly direction. Four miles away Los Angeles city planner Vaughan Delaney was being scooped out of the broken roof of his red-and-white 1957 Plymouth Fury.
Then I swung the door of the Buick closed and I headed into the bookstore with just one thought buzzing around my solenoids.
It sure was a shame about that car.
Excerpted from Killing Is My Business, copyright © 2017 by Adam Christopher.