Story Excerpts

unity_con-HankBlaustein
Art by Hank Blaustein

Unity Con: A Spade/Paladin Conundrum

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When Paladin called to ask for my help, I was sitting in a planning meeting with some fen at an ancient Holiday Inn outside of Garland, Texas. We were crowded around a fake wood conference table so old that it had cigarette burns in the laminate. We were in a calm discussion about the best way to handle hotel negotiations when my cell phone rang.

The fen—fannish lingo for a gathering of true fans—all recognized my ringtone.

It was “The Ballad of Paladin,” from the old Richard Boone TV show, Have Gun Will Travel. Paladin took a lot from that show, including her business card, which read:

HAVE GUN

WILL TRAVEL

EMAIL PALADIN@PALADINSANFRANCISCO.COM

 

Of course, Boone’s card read “Wire Paladin,” but you get the idea. Paladin was a fan, even though she rarely admitted it.

And the fen in the room were savvy enough to realize from the ringtone alone who was calling me.

Paladin and I had become quite a team. When some cons had problems, they even asked for us together, which pissed her off. She preferred to work alone.

She would probably be upset at the ringtone. She had given me her cell number just a few months ago. She was stingy with information. Even though we had worked together half a dozen times, she had yet to tell me her real name.

I excused myself and went to the dusty hallway, with its sun-faded red carpet, sneezing once before answering the phone.

“Hey, Paladin,” I said cheerfully, even though I knew this wasn’t a personal call. Paladin rarely called me for personal reasons. Most of those reasons had to do with Casper (no, not her real name either), an utterly brilliant girl we had cosponsored at one of the best boarding schools in San Francisco. (Long story.)

Paladin didn’t bother with hello. “Where are you?”

“Near Garland,” I said.

“Texas? Oh, good,” she said, even though she didn’t sound all that thrilled. “How long will it take you to get here?”

Typical Paladin. She thought I kept track of her. Much as I would have loved to, such behavior was called stalking and was against the law.

“Where’s here?” I asked.

“Unity Con,” she said.

The very name put my back up. The folks running Unity Con had irritated me from the start. I’m a SMoF, just like all the fen in that run-down conference room. We’re known as the Secret Masters of Fandom for a reason. We run conventions, which are multimillion-dollar organizations, and we do it smoothly.

But SMoFs had nothing to do with Unity Con. It was being run by a group of writers who thought they knew how conventions should operate, rather than how conventions did operate. READ MORE

 

 

ScrapDrive_TimFoley
Art by Tim Foley

Scrap Drive: A Four Horsemen Story

by Loren D. Estleman

“I can’t feel my privates,” Detective Burke said.

Sergeant Canal shifted his cigar to the other side of his mouth. “If that’s an invitation, count me out.”

“A little respect, fellas.” Lieutenant Zagreb inclined his head toward a loudspeaker blasting out Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” The men crowded around the great heap in the middle of Grand Circus—those who weren’t in military uniform—stood with their hats off, the women with their hands over their hearts. The servicemen stood at attention, saluting.

Burke dropped his voice to a grating whisper. “What I mean is, right now some dogface in Buttcracken, Germany, is wearing my long johns. I just got ’em broke in when Sadie packed ’em off to her brother in the hundred and first.”

“We all make sacrifices,” Canal said. “My toaster’s in that pile. Ever try to eat ersatz bread raw?”

“Cheer up. Maybe a slice’ll find its way up Hitler’s ass.”

The normally well-tended park in the center of downtown Detroit resembled a city dump. Iron stoves, aluminum pots and pans, copper kettles, brass door knockers, coils of wire, toy trains, candlesticks, tin cups, sardine cans, galvanized pails, claw-foot tubs, bowling trophies, and small appliances stood in a mound fifteen feet high and thirty feet in diameter, surrounded by spectators. If it was made of metal, it could be converted into tanks, planes, destroyers, bullets, and bombs aimed at Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Detective third-grade McReary joined them. “All clear, L.T.”

Zagreb studied the young man from head to foot, looking for a telltale bulge in his overcoat that might belong to a smuggled coffee pot. The lieutenant himself had been known to score a useful treasure or two from such displays, but not when it was his duty to protect them from scavengers. “Keep your eyes peeled,” he said, “all of you. I don’t have to tell you what happened last time.”

Fourteen months earlier, in the fall of 1943, an olive-drab truck with a khaki canvas sheet stretched over the trailer had driven up to one of the community events staged by the mayor to encourage support of the war effort, loaded up with donated scrap, and rumbled away, to cheers from the crowd. The cargo never reached the local plants, which had suspended automobile production in order to build combat weapons. Instead, the truck with u.s. army stenciled on the side of the cab was found abandoned in a barn in neighboring Oakland County, its load likely divvied up among unscrupulous manufacturers paying rock-bottom prices for raw material.

Burke said, “If we pinched Frankie last month like I said we should, we wouldn’t be out here freezing our nuts off. You can’t give orders from the hole at Thirteen Hundred.”

Thirteen Hundred Beaubien was police headquarters, where Zagreb’s Racket Squad worked with a skeleton force of officers not yet caught up in the draft to tighten the screws on gangsters like Frankie Orr, who’d invested bootlegging profits left over from Prohibition into the wartime black market.

 READ MORE