Star Trek The Next Generation #65: Hard Rain

Star Trek The Next Generation #65: Hard Rain

by Dean Wesley Smith

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Overview

Captain Jean-Luc Picard has long enjoyed playing the part of Dixon Hill, a hard-boiled private eye straight out of American pulpfiction. His holographic excursions into 1940s San Francisco, a colorful world of gunplay and gangsters, provide a welcome diversion from his hefty responsibilities as a Starfleet captain.
But not this time.
The Starship Enterprise™ has lost power and control, its own momentum carrying it ever deeper into a dangerous zone of warped space and time. And the only way out is hidden somewhere in the mean streets and back alleys of old Frisco. But so is a cold-blooded murderer....
Now Dixon Hill, alias Jean-Luc Picard, must get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that threatens the lives of everyone aboard the Enterprise !

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743419277
Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
Publication date: 03/12/2002
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation Series , #65
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Considered one of the most prolific writers working in modern fiction, USA TODAY bestselling writer, Dean Wesley Smith published far over a hundred novels in forty years, and hundreds of short stories across many genres. He currently produces novels in four major series, including the time travel Thunder Mountain novels set in the old west, the galaxy-spanning Seeders Universe series, the urban fantasy Ghost of a Chance series, and the superhero series staring Poker Boy. During his career he also wrote a couple dozen Star Trek novels, the only two original Men in Black novels, Spider-Man and X-Men novels, plus novels set in gaming and television worlds.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One: A Hardboiled Life in the City

Section One: On the Hunt

It was raining in the city by the bay. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the slime out of the streets.

Dixon Hill thought back over the words of his friend, Mr. Data, as the radiator behind him cracked and popped. It fought the valiant battle to keep the cold and damp out of his office. It usually lost.

Beyond the single pane window the deep sounds of a far-off ship's horn echoed through the fog and rain, crying out like a lost animal in the night.

He listened. Many days he had just sat, feet up on his desk, and listened to that deep, mournful sound. Now it faded, replaced by the honking of cars and swishing of tires on the wet pavement of the street below. He loved the city, every rotten, lustful, dark thing about it.

But right now he wished he could make the whole stinking place just go away.

Dixon Hill sighed and listened as the ship's horn again moaned its plaintive cry. So far he had been lucky in this world. He doubted his luck was going to hold.

He nestled his gray fedora tight on his head, straightened his tie, and pulled the collar of his tan raincoat up around his neck. Then he touched the scarred top of the single wood desk that commanded the room. The empty, wooden chair behind the desk sat with its back to the city, seeming to say that nothing out there meant anything.

But that wasn't true.

The city demanded attention, taking what it could like a hungry beast always searching for food. He had still not finished one case, had not managed to put the creep who had killed Marci Andrews behind bars where he belonged. She had been a great actress, and was gunned down at her stage door, and Dixon Hill had wanted to find her killer.

He had not done so, and that bothered him.

But now he had to get to work on something far more important. He had to find the Heart of the Adjuster. The Adjuster itself was a device not much bigger than a loaf of bread. The Heart of the Adjuster was what made it important. The Heart, a small, golden ball that rattled around inside the Adjuster, was what made the thing work. Without it, like a human without a heart pumping blood, the Adjuster was worthless.

Now the Heart of the Adjuster had been snatched without anyone leaving so much as a clue. But Dixon Hill knew that with any crime, there were always clues. You just had to know where to look.

And Dixon Hill was a master of turning over every rock and finding those clues.

He moved so that his nose was close to the cold glass of the wet window. Out there somewhere, hidden in the large city, was the Heart of the Adjuster. But where?

Hill's breath fogged the window, reminding him that he was still alive, for the moment. The stakes of this heist were even higher than a simple murder case. This time the lives of hundreds rested with his ability to dig out what had happened to the Heart of the Adjuster, shovelful by shovelful, until he had moved enough dirt to expose the worms that lived in the dirt and grime of this city. Only then would he find who had taken the Heart, where it was hidden, and end all this.

No one stood below, on the sidewalk, in the rain, waiting for him.

Good. It was time to go.

He made sure his notebook was in his pocket, then turned and headed for the door.

Granted, he had his doubts about his ability, more so this time than any case ever before. He hoped he was as good as everyone said he was. Because if he wasn't, the price was going to be high. Failure this time meant the wet streets of San Francisco would swallow him like so much garbage, taking the hundreds of others who depended on him down as well. For without the Heart, nothing would last long.

Once before this world had endangered everything, in his very first venture here, when he was working a case he called, "The Big Good-bye." But this time it wasn't just some alliance that was at stake. It was lives.

His and everyone else's.

He had to be Dixon Hill, the best P.I. in the city by the bay, to solve this case. He would do that.

And be that.

He had no choice.

He closed the door to his inner office hard, like a period on a short sentence, closing off the doubts. Then he headed through his outer office toward the stairs, squaring his shoulders to meet the city, pushing the last shreds of questions to the bottom of his mind as if trying to drown them in a shallow pool. He would have to hold those doubts under, kill them without remorse. Weakness was never an option on the streets of this city.

A cat streaked down the hall and out of sight around the corner, silent and alone in its dealings. He felt that way as well. Alone, stalking his prey through this man-made jungle.

He closed the outer door, rattling the glass with his name etched on it.

Then, without a glance back, he went down the stairs.

Dixon Hill was on the case.

Thirty-one hours before the Heart of the Adjuster is stolen

Captain's Log. Personal.

My hope is that with more than eight hours remaining before the Enterprise reaches the area nicknamed the Blackness, I will have the time to solve the fascinating Dixon Hill case I have nicknamed "Murder at the Stage Door." If I succeed, it will be the tenth Dixon Hill case I will have solved since my first visit to this strange holographic world. And I am proud to say that each case has been progressively harder than the one before it. Dr. Crusher tells me the challenge and the change of scenery improve my mood and efficiency and I am in no position to argue with her. After all, she is the ship's doctor.

Nevertheless, the challenge is engrossing. And the change of reality, from my shipboard duties to being a private detective in old San Francisco, is attractive to me. Being able to change reality so simply is a luxury I have not taken for granted.

I, as Dixon Hill, have only two real suspects in the death of actress Marci Andrews. The first, her husband, producer Arnie Andrews, seems the most likely candidate. The second, her spurned lover, Brad Barringer, seems far more upset than he should, considering the circumstances.

On the surface, the case seems so simple: jealous husband, tossed-aside boyfriend. Yet my instincts tell me that Cyrus Redblock, crime boss of the city, is involved. I just haven't made the connection yet. But in the next eight hours I hope to do just that.

Section Two: A Friendly Greeting

Dixon Hill listened to his own footsteps echoing between the dark buildings.

Click. Click. Click.

The hard heels of his dress shoes made the wet pavement ring like a drummer keeping perfect time. He made no effort to silence the beat. For the moment the rain had stopped, leaving the city black and shiny under the streetlights, yet at the same time pitch dark and forbidding between each island of light.

In perfect time he moved from darkness to light, then back to darkness, never slowing.

A swirling fog drifted just overhead, threatening to lower a blanket of gray onto the street at any moment. The air smelled of dampness and fish from the docks. Again he pulled his collar up against his neck, trying to get it tighter to hold out the air's thick, heavy feel. It felt like a force that he had to push through.

Click. Click. Click.

The cadence of his shoes echoed so loud in the narrow, building-lined street that he knew no one was following him. He would be able to hear them like a drum corps marching in a parade.

He reached a major street corner and turned onto a bright active area, lit like a stage by the yellow lights in the windows and signs flashing with garish colors. He paused for a moment before stepping onto that stage, then pushed the doubts away and moved into the light.

Cars sped past, the sounds of their engines filling the background of the place like thunder from a distant storm. No one paid him any attention, as he hoped would be the case. His own steps were lost in the music of the night and the performances going on around him.

Late theater patrons, mostly couples arm in arm, hurried past him, heading for their cars, the streetcars, or maybe a nearby after-show dinner.

He watched them, wishing for the freedom they enjoyed. He and the elegant Bev had taken in a show along with dinner one night just a month before, leaving Mr. Data to guard a warehouse while waiting for the arrival of Cyrus Redblock.

As they often did, Mr. Data and Bev had been helping him work a case he called "Murder under the Bridge." He had solved it in three days' time. Easy as pie, as Mr. Data would say. After that one night on the town, word had got around that she was his steady squeeze. He let it spread. He could do worse.

The image of the Luscious Bev that night flashed back to him. Her tight red dress, her hair long and full, her lips painted red. He had never remembered her being so beautiful. Yes, he could do worse. A whole lot worse.

Some night he planned on taking up his friend, Detective Bell, on his offer to bring the Luscious Bev over to meet his wife and kids. If he, and the rest of this world, survived this case, he would do just that. He'd been wanting to meet that wife Bell kept bragging about.

Now, the Luscious Bev, Mr. Whelan, Mr. Data, and a number of others were helping him on this case. He had a hunch they were not going to be the only ones.

Dix pushed the image away and focused on the task at hand. He knew that finding the Heart of the Adjuster was going to take all of his people, especially if they were going to find it in time to save this city. And everyone beyond the confines of this wet, dark world.

Ahead, three parked cars away, a man stood, his back against a light pole, his jacket open like he welcomed the wetness. The burning ember on the end of a cigarette hung like a beacon, orange against the black shadows.

Dix studied him like an art collector studying an interesting painting. The guy had been waiting long enough to burn through five cigs, the butts pressed into the wet pavement around him.

The man pretended to pay no attention to anything, as if he were only waiting for time to pass.

Dix almost laughed. He knew the guy had seen him by the slight jerk of his head, and by the way he did everything in his power not to look in Dix's direction.

It was Dix he had been waiting for.

But for what reason? That was going to be the big money question. Maybe right now, right here, Dix was going to get his first clue as to who took the Heart.

Dix didn't recognize the guy's mug, but the way the city and the world around Dixon Hill had changed over the last number of hours, that didn't mean anything. The guy was good-sized, with bulges in all the wrong places under the brown raincoat. It was easy to see the guy's guns by how he leaned against the pole, pulling his coat tight against them.

The guy was stupid. Dumber than the streetlight he was leaning against. Or maybe that saying was nowhere near as bright? Dix sometimes confused the sayings of the day. Mr. Data and the Luscious Bev were always correcting him.

Dix didn't vary his pace.

As he got within a step of passing the man's position, the guy reached into his coat to pull his gun from the holster bulging under his arm.

Real slow and real stupid.

The guy didn't get the piece clear of his armpit.

Dix spun, stepped toward the guy, and put his fist squarely against the side of the guy's jaw, swinging through as if trying to hit a spot just out of reach beyond the weak chin.

The big lug became as loose as a rag doll, spinning around the pole and landing facedown on the hood of a blue Dodge with a loud thump, denting the metal. The guy's big gun clattered on the sidewalk and ended up in the water in the gutter.

Dix flipped the bag of flesh over, then grabbed him by the front of his shirt and coat and hauled him up close. The guy's gray eyes read dumb, and his legs were playing at good imitations of wet noodles.

But stupid boy wasn't done being stupid yet. Stunned, he still had enough left to try to struggle.

Real bad thinking.

Dix pounded him hard in the stomach, his fist sinking into the soft flesh just above his belt.

The guy doubled over with a choking sound, like a cat trying to cough up a fur ball. Dix stepped sideways to make sure nothing from the guy's dinner ended up on his shoes.

It took a moment, then the guy caught his breath as if coming up from trying to swim a lap of the YMCA pool under water.

A couple moved to the inside of the sidewalk to avoid the scene, keeping their heads down and walking past quickly. Smart folks, keeping their noses clean.

Dix grabbed the guy's lapel again and hauled him back to a standing position. For a second time Dix brought him up close, staring into the gray eyes.

"You want to tell me why you were about to pull a gun on me?" Dix asked, his voice as low and as cold as he could make it, his nose just inches from the other man's nose. "Spill it."

Dix could tell the guy was going to have a sore jaw for a week. He moved it before speaking and the smell of garlic filled Dix's face like the air blowing from an Italian restaurant exhaust fan. Dix held his grip and his ground and kept staring into the man's dull eyes.

"Orders," the guy said, finally, wincing at the pain as he spoke. "I'm supposed ta put ya on ice and bring ya ta my boss."

Even through the Italian-rot breath, Dix knew the guy was telling the truth. The eyes didn't move, the body didn't jerk.

"And who is your boss?" Dix demanded, not allowing himself to blink.

The guy's eyes shifted right, then left, making sure no one was listening. "Benny da Banger," the guy said, the garlic adding intensity to the words.

Dix shoved the guy hard against the hood of the car, denting it again. He was clearly too stupid to be lying. He really did work for someone named Benny the Banger.

Dix had never heard of anyone with that name.

"So what does this Benny want with me?"

"Benny wanted ta make sure ya stayed out'a his way when he takes over the city," the guy said, leaning against the Dodge while rubbing his jaw with the back of his hand.

Dix laughed. "I think Cyrus Redblock might have a problem with that idea."

The guy snorted. "Ya been on vacation or somethin'? Redblock's out of the picture. Someone snatched him. City's up for grabs and my boss wants a part of it."

Dix kept his face calm and straight, not letting it show the surprise he felt. If Redblock was gone, that meant finding the Heart of the Adjuster was going to be that much harder. And that much more dangerous.

"I'm cuttin' ya loose," Dix said. "Tell your boss I won't get in his way if he doesn't get in mine."

Still rubbing his jaw, the guy nodded.

Dix turned and headed down the dark, wet street toward where he was to meet the Luscious Bev and Mr. Data on their stakeout.

Behind him he could hear a soft cussing sound as Benny's goon picked his gun from the dirty water and held it up like a day old fish. Swimmin' in the gutter couldn't be good on a piece.

Twenty-seven hours before the Heart of the Adjuster is heisted

Captain's Log. Personal.

The Enterprise is still four hours from the Blackness and none of the crew seems to have any more information about what it is than they did four hours ago. It seems we have a major mystery facing us.

As Dr. Crusher has ordered for my mental health, I spent the hours relaxing on the holodeck as Dixon Hill. I have just returned from a very interesting chat with Cyrus Redblock, the crime boss of the city. He had paced in his plush office on the second floor of a warehouse, his coat off, his hat on the hat rack, his face red from the movement of his solid frame back and forth. He had told me, in no uncertain terms, that he had nothing to do with the murder of the actress Marci Andrews. And he didn't know who did.

Period. End of story, is exactly what he said.

But he let slip one important detail. Just as I had enjoyed Mrs. Andrew's shows, so had he. I have the gut feeling, from his comments, that he had cared for her more than as just a member of her audience.

But if that is the case, I have even less reason to suspect that he was involved with her death.

The case of "Murder at the Stage Door" is turning out to be a fascinating case that may take until after our exploration of the Blackness to solve.

One mystery at a time.

Section Three: War Ain't Pretty

The fog rolled in like an unwanted visitor demanding to be noticed. Dixon Hill turned off the brighter main thoroughfare onto a dark and narrow side street. The gray mist closed in around him, making the nearest building seem impossibly distant. It was as if he'd stepped into another world.

He felt alone.

The swirling fog blocked even the traffic sounds behind him. One streetlight fought against the black shadows and lost.

He kept moving, not letting his pace change. His steps now sounded like they were coming from someone else a long distance away. His face was wet from the mist, and the smell of the fish houses on the docks clogged his nose.

He couldn't see it, but he knew that ahead on his right was a warehouse that up until a few minutes ago he thought had housed Cyrus Redblock's gang. Dix had been in the plush office on the second floor of that warehouse a number of times, the most recent while working on the murder of the actress.

After the Heart of the Adjuster had been taken, Dix had ordered Mr. Data, Mr. Whelan, and two others to go to a location across from this warehouse to watch and wait. Bev had joined them with even more help a short time later.

But if Redblock had been snatched, as the goon working for Benny the Banger had claimed, it was going to throw a monkey wrench into all of Dix's plans. And they didn't have much time for too many delays.

A shape appeared out of the fog just in front of Dix, drifting through the mist as if his feet didn't touch the ground. The man's white hat and pale skin seemed to glow in the faint light as he moved silently forward.

"Sir," Mr. Data said, "No one has left or entered the building."

"Thank you," Dix said. "And Mr. Data, address me as Dix, or Dixon Hill while we are in here. No sirs. Understand? No point in causing any confusion."

"Yes, s -- , uhh, Dix."

"Get the others," Dix said. "We're going in."

Without a sound Mr. Data turned and vanished into the fog like a ghost moving through a wall.

Dix walked on down the street toward the side door of the warehouse, his heels doing a distant drum roll on the pavement, muffled, without an echo.

Normally one of Redblock's men would be outside the door, leaning against the wall, smoking one cig after another. But as the door appeared through the fog, Dix could tell something was very wrong. There was no guard, and the door stood open, a black, yawning hole no doubt leading to more problems.

Dix paused and waited until Data and the others appeared out of the swirling mist, moving across the street toward him. Data and the Luscious Bev led the way, followed by Whelan, Carter, Stanley, and Douglas.

A small gang for the moment. Others were getting ready to join them. Dix hoped he wasn't going to need the help.

He had no doubt he was.

"I've been told that Redblock's been snatched," Dix said. "But let's not take any chances. Go in slow and easy."

"Snatched by who?" Bev asked, her voice low and sultry as she moved to stand beside him. She was as beautiful as ever, even with the moisture pushing her hair against her head under the wide brim of her hat.

"We find that out," Dix whispered, "I suspect we find what we are looking for."

"Ready, s -- , uh, boss," Data said.

Dix nodded. "Mr. Data, go to the right, Mr. Stanley and Mr. Carter, you go left. Mr. Douglas and Mr. Whelan, you remain out here on guard. I don't want to be surprised in there."

Everyone nodded.

"Find some lights and get them on," Dix said. "And let's be careful. These bullets can kill us just as fast, and just as completely, as any weapon we've ever seen."

"Gotcha, boss," Data said. Then he hitched up his pants and stood in his gangster posture. "As Mack Bolen once said, 'I can only die one death at a time.'"

Dixon Hill just stared at his friend until finally Mr. Data nodded and stepped silently through the door, followed at once by Stanley and Carter, their guns drawn.

The mist swirled between Dix and Bev as they waited, mixing the sound of his own breathing with the silence of the narrow street. The fog so dampened the sound that it seemed impossible that they were standing in the middle of a major city.

Suddenly the yellow of a faint light framed the doorway, casting a square of light into the street.

Dix nodded to Whelan, then stepped through into the high-ceilinged warehouse.

And into a bloodbath.

The space was stacked with wooden crates, all sealed. A half dozen cars were scattered around, all pointed at the closed main door of the warehouse, as if poised for a quick getaway that clearly hadn't happened.

Dix recognized the cream and white of Redblock's car. The man never went anywhere in the city without that car. Yet there it sat.

Dix took his time as he studied the large room. Bodies were everywhere, scattered around like dolls thrown by an angry child. From the looks of them, all had been Redblock's men, gunned down in what appeared to be a very intense fight.

Bullets had torn up everything, including the side of Redblock's car. The place smelled of gunpowder and blood.

Too much blood.

Dix studied the scene, noting the details and where some of the men must have made a stand against a large force coming in from the back of the building. This hadn't happened that long ago. Maybe two to four hours at most.

Maybe right after someone had taken the Heart of the Adjuster.

Mr. Data stood in the doorway leading to a flight of stairs. Stanley had taken up a position to the right of the door behind a crate. Dix motioned that Stanley stay in position. "Carter, check out the back area."

"Oh, my," Bev said, moving toward one of the closest bodies. She bent over the man in a black suit, then turned to Dix and shook her head. "Looks like we're in a full war. Someone shot this man a few extra times to make sure he was dead."

In all the cases Dix had worked in this city, he had never seen or heard of such carnage. Clearly the reality of this city had changed.

No one was safe.

He had known that. The blood splattered everywhere, like a mad child had gotten into red paint, just put a very clear exclamation point on the sentence.

"Stay alert," Dix said.

He and Bev stepped over one twisted body and headed toward Mr. Data. He wasn't sure what they were going to find in Redblock's office, but they had to look.

And after that? What was next?

Dixon Hill had no idea. Somehow, they needed to find the Heart of the Adjuster and find it fast. But from the looks of what had happened to Redblock's men, that task had just gotten harder.

And far, far more dangerous.

Twenty-five hours before the Heart of the Adjuster is snatched

Captain's Log. Personal.

The Enterprise is two hours from the Blackness and still none of my crew can tell me exactly what is causing it. Mr. Data believes it may be an area of space influenced by a nearby quantum singularity, but we have studied thousands of black holes and none have caused this type of dampening of all sensors and twisting of light in such a large area. No one is even sure exactly where the effects start, only that light seems to vanish at a certain point ahead of us, and no sensors can get through that point.

I have ordered the ship to approach slowly and with shields up, just to add a level of caution. But I want answers before we even think of getting much closer.

For the moment my adventures in the City by the Bay will have to wait. I felt I was close to solving the case of "Murder at the Stage Door" and finding out who killed the actress Marci Andrews. But that world can be put on hold until we discover what faces us. The real world demands to come first.

Section Four: Reality Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be

The narrow, wooden stairs leading up to Cyrus Redblock's second story office creaked under Mr. Data's weight, no matter how silently he tried to move. He kept stopping with each step, clearly bothered by the alarm sounds.

"Go on," Dix said. "If someone is up there, they know we're here. A few loose boards will make no difference."

Mr. Data nodded.

Dix doubted from what he had seen in the warehouse that they would find anyone alive upstairs. And he doubted if they would just find the Adjuster sitting on Redblock's desk, or in a drawer. But they had to look.

The smell of blood got stronger as they neared the top, pushing at them, warning them to go back. Bev covered her mouth and nose with a white-gloved hand.

Mr. Data reached the landing.

Dix nodded to him.

With his big revolver drawn, Mr. Data twisted around the corner and stepped out of sight into the dark office.

Bev took a deep breath and held it. Dix kept his gun leveled on the landing above them as the seconds seemed to stretch into an eternity.

"Clear, boss," Mr. Data said.

A light came on in the office, filling the top of the staircase with a yellow glow.

Dix had expected the worst inside the office, and that was what greeted him. Three were dead, with dried blood splattered everywhere, as if some kid had gone crazy with dark brown paint. The walls were smashed and pockmarked with bullet holes, the desk overturned, the couch ripped apart. Two streams of blood had formed a small pool on the hardwood floor.

"None of them are Cyrus Redblock," Mr. Data said.

"Well, it seems my information was correct," Dix said. "Redblock has been snatched, and his gang is wiped out."

"Why?" Bev said, moving up to stand beside Dix as they studied the carnage.

"Power and control," Dix said. "It has become a war. Whoever did this is out to take over the city, and until that is accomplished, there's going to be a lot of killing."

"The Heart?" Bev asked.

"More den likely," Mr. Data said, "snatched by da same person who did da killin' here."

Mr. Data hitched up his pants and tucked his gun back in its holster under his arm.

Dix just shook his head. Mr. Data might be right. And he might not be. They needed a lot more information before jumping to that conclusion.

"So what do we do next?" Bev asked.

"We do a quick search of the office," Dix said. "Just to make sure the Heart wasn't brought here before this happened."

Two minutes later they were convinced it wasn't in the office anywhere. Data had even opened the safe hidden behind the picture of a sunset.

"Let's get out of here," Dix said. He wasn't going to allow himself to be disappointed. That would blur his thinking too much. For the next few hours he needed to be thinking as clearly as any private detective had ever thought.

At that moment something bounced on the hardwood floor near the wall.

Mr. Data spun around, his gun back in his hand faster than any quick-draw fighter in the old West.

A moment later something else dropped to the floor and bounced.

Dix stared at it, not believing what he was seeing. A spent bullet had just popped out of the wall.

Twenty-four hours before the Heart of the Adjuster is grabbed

Captain's Log.

The Enterprise is drifting in space. We have managed to maintain most internal systems and environmental controls, but warp core went unstable and Engineer La Forge managed to get it shut down before it had to be jettisoned. The magnetic constraints of the impulse drive have also become unstable, leaving us only with docking thrusters.

Many other of the ship's systems are having problems, but so far we have kept the essential ones going. It would seem, although none of my people have yet to confirm my suspicion, that the Blackness, as the area of space is being called, has a wider reach than we had expected and has caused, in some fashion, both the destabilization of the warp core and the magnetic failure of the impulse drives.

We have less than forty-eight hours until our current speed, slowed by steering thrusters, causes us to enter into the Blackness. At this point we have no idea what would happen. But it would seem imperative that we not enter that area of space without a great deal more information.

Section Five: Ghosts with Guns

Dixon Hill could not believe what he was seeing. And for a man who trusted his ability to see details where others would miss them, that rocked him.

But what was happening should not be happening. Not in this world.

Not in any world.

Bullets, fired into the wall during the snatch of Cyrus Redblock and the wiping out of his gang, were popping back out of the wall, and the holes sealing over, as if the shot had never happened.

So many of the bullets were coming out of the walls, the desks, and the bodies, and bouncing on the wood floor, that it sounded like he was inside a pan of popcorn popping.

"Let's get out of here," Dix said.

With a quick twist he turned the startled Bev around and headed her toward the office door and the staircase beyond.

They were halfway down the stairs when the shout came from below. "Dix!"

It was Mr. Carter.

"Everyone out!" Dix shouted to his people as he and Bev reached the ground floor, followed by Mr. Data.

The body closest to them was moving, the blood running along the cold, hard concrete and back into the man. It was like watching a movie in reverse.

Redblock's men were coming back to life.

"Mr. Stanley, Mr. Carter, get out!" Dix shouted as he and Bev and Mr. Data ran across the large warehouse toward the open door.

Carter did as he was told, followed a moment later by Stanley.

"Not so fast!" a voice said from behind them.

"Freeze!" another voice shouted.

They were thirty paces from the door across the open concrete.

Thirty paces of cold, hard death.

Dix yanked Bev to a stop and turned to face the man who had shouted.

Mr. Data stopped beside him.

Five of Redblock's men were on their feet, with no signs of the bullet holes that had riddled them a few moments before. All had guns leveled on them.

"Reach for the heavens," one of the goons ordered, waving his gun at the ceiling.

Another of the walking dead climbed to his feet and picked up his gun and joined his friends.

"What do we do now?" Bev whispered to Dix.

Mr. Data gave her an answer. "As Henry Gamadge said, 'Always act as if there was going to be a murder.'"

"What?" Bev asked.

Mr. Data shrugged. "These men were killed. They cannot be happy with the situation."

Dix could not have agreed more. This was not a situation normally faced by a streetwise detective.

"Just great," Bev said as yet another dead goon came back to life and joined the party.

"So," Dixon Hill said, putting his hands in the air, "we do as they say. Unlike them, if we die, we stay dead. Remember?"

The Luscious Bev had nothing else to say.

And Mr. Data had no more quotes.

She and Mr. Data raised their hands in the air and the three of them stood there like a picket fence, facing the walking dead.

Outside the open door, so close and yet so far away, it started to rain again.

Clues from Dixon Hill's notebook in "The Case of the Missing Heart"

  • Cyrus Redblock has been snatched by an unknown party.

  • Benny the Banger wants to rule the city.

  • Reality has changed and death is only temporary to those who live in the city.

Copyright © 2002 by Paramount Pictures

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