BY HARRY HARRISON
Illustrated by van Dongen
Some planet in the galaxy must – by definition – be the toughest,
meanest, nastiest of all. If Pyrrus wasn’t it… it was an awfully
Jason dinAlt sprawled in soft luxury on the couch, a large frosty stein
held limply in one hand. His other hand rested casually on a pillow. The
gun behind the pillow was within easy reach of his fingers. In his line
of work he never took chances.
It was all highly suspicious. Jason didn’t know a soul on this planet.
Yet the card sent by service tube from the hotel desk had read: Kerk
Pyrrus would like to see Jason dinAlt. Blunt and to the point. He
signaled the desk to send the man up, then lowered his fingers a bit
until they brushed the gun butt. The door slid open and his visitor
A retired wrestler. That was Jason’s first thought. Kerk Pyrrus was a
gray-haired rock of a man. His body seemingly chiseled out of flat slabs
of muscle. Then Jason saw the gun strapped to the inside of the other
man’s forearm, and he let his fingers drop casually behind the pillow.
“I’d appreciate it,” Jason said, “if you’d take off your gun while
you’re in here.” The other man stopped and scowled down at the gun as if
he was seeing it for the first time.
“No, I never take it off.” He seemed mildly annoyed by the suggestion.
Jason had his fingers on his own gun when he said, “I’m afraid I’ll have
to insist. I always feel a little uncomfortable around people who wear
guns.” He kept talking to distract attention while he pulled out his
gun. Fast and smooth.
He could have been moving in slow motion for all the difference it made.
Kerk Pyrrus stood rock still while the
gun came out, while it swung in
his direction. Not until the very last instant did he act. When he did,
the motion wasn’t visible. First his gun was in the arm holster – then it
was aimed between Jason’s eyes. It was an ugly, heavy weapon with a
pitted front orifice that showed plenty of use.
And Jason knew if he swung his own weapon up a fraction of an inch more
he would be dead. He dropped his arm carefully and Kerk flipped his own
gun back in the holster with the same ease he had drawn it.
“Now,” the stranger said, “if we’re through playing, let’s get down to
business. I have a proposition for you.”
Jason downed a large mouthful from the mug and bridled his temper. He
was fast with a gun – his life had depended on it more than once – and
this was the first time he had been outdrawn. It was the offhand,
unimportant manner it had been done that irritated him.
“I’m not prepared to do business,” he said acidly. “I’ve come to
Cassylia for a vacation, get away from work.”
“Let’s not fool each other, dinAlt,” Kerk said impatiently. “You’ve
never worked at an honest job in your entire life. You’re a professional
gambler and that’s why I’m here to see you.”
Jason forced down his anger and threw the gun to the other end of the
couch so he wouldn’t be tempted to commit suicide. He had hoped no
one knew him on Cassylia and was looking forward to a big kill at the
Casino. He would worry about that later. This weight-lifter type seemed
to know all the answers. Let him plot the course for a while and see
where it led.
“All right, what do you want?”
* * * * *
Kerk dropped into a chair that creaked ominously under his weight, and
dug an envelope out of one pocket.