from a story idea given Theodore Sturgeon by Robert A. Heinlein
I put a bullet in Jeremy Newkirk on a bright, breezy Sunday morning during breakfast. The man just refused to see reason, and was out yet again in the front yard with that old gas mower as if he didn't have neighbors trying to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and bowl of cereal.
My Gramps, he was a cop, an actual policeman who'd been part of the protest crackdowns after the Peace And Order law. He always had the best stories. I inherited his old service revolver when he died. It's the gun I learned to shoot with, and I'm really good with it, and I dropped Newkirk from my own front porch, one round to the forehead. I don't think the idiot ever even saw me. Which is a shame.
He dropped to the side. The mower continued on without him to clank to a stop against one of the metal posts of the chain-link fence between our yards. I took the time to walk around and shut off the mower before returning to my breakfast.
Now, knowing me, knowing what I do, and how much money I make, you might well ask: why don't I just move? After all, I can afford a much bigger place, some swanky place with a name architect up in the hills where the neighbors could mow all day and I'd never hear it. I guess the answer is: I like it here. And from a financial standpoint, my money's performing better where it is than if it were sunk into real estate. We'll move eventually, but for now? I like the house, I like the neighborhood, I like my breakfast nook.
Newkirk's official assessment at close of business Friday: $42,750 North American Dollars, payable to the widow. To put that into perspective, the base assessment — the amount of money it costs to take a life, before extenuating or aggravating factors are taken into account — for a man his age is $75,000 NAD.
I had the money, of course: I'd gotten a sizable bump at work that spring, on top of the Christmas bonus last year, and my portfolio had been performing beyond even my expectations. I wrote an e-check for $43k — they throw on an extra $250 for simple trespassing — and had my phone in my hand when the Assessor rang my doorbell eight hours later. I 'swiped' my phone over his pad, they both 'dinged', and went I back to powerstreaming "Top Whore".
Now, I wasn't afraid of retribution: my assessment is in the millions. Newkirk's friends were all under-educated low-income people, hourly types, Casual druggies and not-so-casual drinkers. Most of them probably had a lower assessment than Jeremy did; I know from neighborhood gossip that at least one of them was so lowly-assessed that after his accounts in arrears were deducted, he was under bounty. I didn't hear about it until after the bounty was collected, unfortunately, which is a shame. It would have been an easy five grand.
In other words, nobody was going to pay good money to avenge Jeremy Newkirk. So when the doorbell ran again, about half an hour later, I answered it without a thought.
Melanie Newkirk, with a pistol, stood on the porch; she apparently hadn't thought it through.
I'd laid the service pistol on the coffee table and forgotten to pick it up when I went to answer the door. A bit silly of me, I admit. Gramps had carried it on him until the day he died: he hadn't approved of the privatized justice system. He'd called it ''the goddamn wild west all over again'. Old folks always have the hardest time with change. Anyway, I probably should have kept the handgun stuck in my belt, but that makes me nervous. I also probably should have looked through the peephole. In my defense, it's a really nice neighborhood.
She'd listen to reason. "Listen, Melanie, I know you're upset, but you've got a nice check coming to you, and anyway, you can't afford to pay—"
She shot me in the knee.
I went down, in excruciating pain, trying to hold my shattered kneecap together with the palm of my hand.
Melanie stared down at me. She wasn't even pointing the gun anymore as I pulled myself back away from the door, towards the kitchen. She watched me without coming in. "The thing is, Rick, I talked to the Assessor for about an hour. Nice guy. He looked you up for me, in the rolls. Turns out it's part of the service."
I cried out, in an increasing panic. "It'll be millions, Melanie, don't be stupid."
"To kill you? Sure. Two and a half million, I think he said." She opened her purse, dropped her handgun in. "But to kneecap you? Only fifty grand. And because it's the day-of, that's considered an extenuating circumstance — I'm bereaved, after all — and they knock twenty percent off, so it's only forty grand. I come out three grand ahead. I figure I'll take a nice vacation."
I was having a hard time concentrating on what she was saying through the pain, but it started to sink in that she wasn't going to kill me. I remember fixating on the blood spatter on the front door and how I was probably going to have to repaint.
She turned and left.
I called it in, and the Assessor — a different one — came, along with the ambulance. Turns out she was right: I have full medical, so the assumption is my knee would get rebuilt immediately, and since I sit behind a desk all day, having temporarily limited mobility doesn't count for that much. What's left is personal pain and suffering: forty grand.
So I'm out three thousand NAD, and my knee aches when it's gonna rain, but nobody in the neighborhood runs their mower on Sunday morning, even now.
I guess I can't complain.