Thursday, December 21, 2006

Players - 20

The Black Rock Desert, Nevada. The sun a fiery nail hammered high in the wide blue sky; hot wind blowing threads of alkali dust across the playa towards bare mountains rippling behind glassy layers of heat haze.

Carl Kelley was standing in a thin wedge of shade at the rear of the big RV, wearing a baseball cap, an unbuttoned denim shirt and black combat pants, sipping from a bottle of spring water, and watching with edgy and uncharacteristic impatience as Dirk Merrit’s ultralight stooped and turned and climbed a couple of miles away. The buzz of the ultralight’s rear-mounted prop sounded like a bee at a window, rising and falling as Merrit harried the sacrifice to and fro across the dry lake bed, taking his bloody time about it.

The RV, a Coachman Cross Country SE finished with ten coats of hand-rubbed black lacquer and customized from stem to stern, was an ideal way of transporting sacrifices to remote sites where Dirk Merrit could act out his fantasies. The sacrifice could be kept trussed and gagged on the bed in the main sleeping compartment; Dirk Merrit liked to stretch out his unlikely length on the modified recliner behind the big, comfortable driver’s chair. And because people who own RVs often attach all kinds of leisure equipment to them, no one looked twice at the trail bike hung on the rear rack, or the Cumulus motor glider folded on its twenty-foot trailer.

The volume of the walkie-talkie clipped to Carl’s belt was turned right down because he was tired of listening to Dirk Merrit’s breathless whoops of glee, and he didn’t bother to follow the action with the pair of Bushnell field glasses hung around his neck because he knew from all the other times how it would go. If the sacrifice stood its ground, Dirk Merrit would fire shots around it until it ran; when it ran, he chased it and dive-bombed it and took pot shots until it was too tired to run any more, and then he landed and dispatched it with his crossbow.

All in all, it was an expensive, complicated, and dangerous way to get your rocks off, and Carl had lost all patience with it. Also, he felt a squirt of acid in his blood every time the flimsy little aircraft swooped low. Dirk Merrit took unnecessary risks because he thought he was smarter than anyone else and was going to live for ever. Carl would be glad enough to see the back of him, but it wasn’t quite time for him to die. Soon, but not quite yet.


I’ve just received advanced copies of Players, and as usual had the strange feeling holding in my hand a physical representation of something that’s been in my head for the past couple of years. I must say the design and layout is striking and quite handsome. But as yet, I haven’t read any of it, being very aware of the Awful Curse of the About-To-Be-Published: an author, on reading in the first copy of his new book a random sentence on a random page will spot a howler that’s entirely his own fault. Unread, the book remains, like Schrodinger’s cat, uncollapsed into its final quantum state.
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