Copyright 1998 by Fred Baker
Mrs. Harrington Fordson James, Christian name Darla, watched anxiously from dawn onward. The Guild Representative wasn’t due until ten a.m., but this being her first Contract, she couldn’t sleep anyway.
Her husband hadn’t approved of the Guild, said he’d heard things. On the other hand, Mr. Harrington Fordson James had dropped stone cold dead of a massive heart attack at age forty-five. Darla no longer cared what the Old Bostonian Bastard thought, wherever he’d landed on the inner planes.
At precisely five minutes to ten, a sleek gray flyabout coupe rolled in and parked smoothly in the third of nine visitor parking spots. There was that about the procedure that bespoke manual handling by an expert; this driver preferred the feel of the wheel to the supposed luxury of computerized transportation. On her feet behind her third story window, Darla James found that reassuring. A flydriver herself, she tended to distrust anyone too mentally and physically lazy to handle the controls.
She let out a little sigh of relief. A man after all. She’d requested a man if possible, wanting no female rummaging around in her secrets. Few people could have accurately judged from this perspective, looking down on the plasteel brownstone’s courtyard, but the widow James had her own skills. Yes, a man. One worth bedding, though that was hardly the purpose of his visit. Slim, in a tailored gray suit and carrying a small gray suitcase that looked like it came from Alien Row.
There weren’t many of those shops yet; only the truly affluent could afford such an exotic bit of luggage.
He looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back. Had he felt her gaze? An empath, then, or at least a primitive telepath? Even at this range, his confident male vibration reached up and through the bulletproof glass window, penetrating various parts of her mind and body. Already, this seemed less of a worry, this Guild thing. One more Narvex chewable antacid tablet, then she headed down on her private elevator to greet him in the living room where the Contract would be fulfilled. She smiled again as he entered.
“Mr. Garrett Di Marco, I presume?”
He grinned as they shook hands. “Garrett will do fine. Unless you’re from the South or a military brat and that makes you uneasy.”
Her laughter tinkled musically, a simultaneous release of tension and genuine amusement. “No, I can handle it on a first name basis. Nothing military. As to the other, I was born in Michigan and raised in Indiana; that hardly counts as the South, does it?”
“I wouldn’t think so. Thank you…Darla?”
“Darla is fine. I have to tell you I’ve never done this before.”
“That’s what they all say.” A tired old joke, but they both laughed. Briefly. Quickly enough, the man with the fancy suit and fancy suitcase put on a reassuring face, serious without being grim.
“Mrs. James—Darla–this being your first time, let me at least share my credentials. I’m thirty-seven years old and have been a licensed Guild Representative since I was twenty-four. During that time, I have fulfilled, um–” He paused long enough to check his wrist mounted dayrunner. “–precisely four thousand, one hundred and twenty-three Guild Contracts. Two thirds of those have been female clients. More than half of all clients have specifically requested me by name for one or more additional visits, and I have had just three official complaints. One lady who swears I saved her life even sent me a Geode Award, something even the best of us seldom see.”
That word, official, might mean something, but she wouldn’t pursue it for now. Her tilted green eyes grew thoughtful, blue lacquered fingernails tapping mindlessly while she considered.
“Do you mind commenting on those three complaints, Garrett? I mean, if it’s not violating privacy laws or something….”
He shook his head. “No problem there as long as I don’t reveal identities. Which obviously I would not do on general principles, not to mention the fact that talking out of school is expressly forbidden in our Contracts.”
“Talking out of school? I haven’t heard that expression in decades!”
“No? You haven’t? Well, to get to the point: Complaint Number One was filed not by the client, who was a twenty year old female dying of cancer, but by her widower husband after she died. I did as Contracted and paid for but, after my first visit, advised both Mr. and Mrs., verbally and in writing, that it would take at least three more visits to complete the job properly. Maybe more; she was in bad shape, and it was dangerous in there. The husband let her die rather than pay for the Seeder treatments, then sued me and the Guild.”
He stated this without visible emotion, but his listener was not fooled. She did, however, have to ask. “Was he justified?”
Di Marco sighed audibly. “From his viewpoint, probably. Not according to the Regulators, of course. We had fully filed records, as always, and they spoke for themselves.”
By this time, they were seated at the conference table. She rose for a moment, helping herself to a mug of Brazilian coffee from the RRF, the Refurbished Rain Forest, while the Seeder continued. He preferred not to drink coffee or anything else while on the job.
“Complaint number two came from a black man some forty-eight years of age. He paid for a total of five visits, all of which were completed as scheduled. His energy, which had been seriously depleted for a number of years, returned in full. His asthma, a lifelong problem, improved by eighty percent or more. But his erectile dysfunction, which he’d endured for about two years prior to calling us, did not go away. On the other hand, not even Viagra 3000 Turbo did the job in his case. The Regulators threw that one out; it never even came to trial.”
“I can imagine!” Her laughter tinkled again. “And Number Three?”
He shrugged. “That one was the easiest and most complex to defend all at the same time. It was, as it turned out, an attempted insurance scam. They used a little girl, and the good side of it was, I was actually able to help her. The bad side, as we later proved in court, was that the bastards, excuse my French, had deliberately caused most of the problems I was sent in to correct. She was cute, blonde, blue eyed, ten years old, cheerful under adversity like you wouldn’t believe, and totally victimized.”
Darla shuddered. “I hope the authorities–”
“They did.” His voice suddenly became grim indeed. “She was removed from her parents’ home and placed in foster care with foster parents preinspected and investigated by both the Guild and the government social workers. She’s grown now, has her own family.”
It was the beautiful widow’s turn to sigh. “All right, then. I’m out of excuses, so let’s get on with it. You’re a good looking guy–I admit I don’t think I could ever let a dog ugly Seeder go rummaging around inside me–and even our local prosecutor swears Guild records will stand up anywhere as models for integrity. So.”
Nodding in agreement, Garrett rose from the table and headed for the spare bedroom indicated by his hostess. Changing quickly but carefully into a set of fatigues with bulging pockets, he returned to the living room looking like a Marine ready to hit the beach. If Mrs. Darla Harrington Fordson James had not been well briefed in advance, she would have either run from the house screaming or fallen on the floor in helpless laughter. In truth, though, the man looked good, a quiet but effective warrior. With, she couldn’t help noting, impeccable tailoring whether it might be in a gray business suit or mottled fighting gear.
As instructed, she took a seat in a large recliner, tilting the chair back far enough to allow her body to relax.
“Date of Contract visit,” the Guild Rep read into his lapel mike, “February 3, Year 2144. Recording operative as of now. Here we go.”
He thumbed a stud on a gizmo the size of a deck of cards which was double clipped to his web belt….disappeared.
Darla felt nothing despite knowing he was inside her now, exploring her inner worlds, a stranger in a strange land.
She sipped her coffee. And waited.