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The Cryo Killer
The Cryo Killer
Copyright: Jason Keith Werbeloff
Published: 26 March 2015
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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The Cryo Killer
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In post-apocalyptic Shangri, happiness is compulsory, strictly monitored by a hedometer implanted in your brain. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.
The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, Hedon is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.
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The Cryo Killer
Other fiction by Jason Werbeloff
The Cryo Killer
Sales in the mornings. Killings in the afternoons. We’re a small business, so I have to do it all. I don’t like sales much. Most of the time I’m selling our front – life insurance. But not today.
The couple who walks in is young. Younger than my usual. They don’t look a day over thirty. Her face is bright. She scans the small office like it’s a chocolate shop. Whole universes reflect in those eyes.
“I’m here for the New Year Special,” she says. Ten years ago I would’ve found that syrupy voice irresistible. She takes the chair before I can offer it.
The man on her arm is gray. Also young, but he hobbles after her geriatric-like. Perches on the edge of his seat and glares at us. Anxious.
She’s used the pass phrase. The ‘New Year Special’. I unlock the top drawer of my desk and confirm with her, “Would that be the extended cover, or the starter package?”
“Welcome,” I say, shaking their hands. His is cold and rubbery. “… to Life Extensions Ltd. I’m Barker.”
She smiles at me in a way that makes the world feel a whole lot smaller. Pushes every thought I own into that warm, wet place between her lips. She looks familiar. Almost.
“Have we met?”
Her smile doesn’t falter. “I don’t think so,” she says.
I put on my kind face, as Janet calls it.
I feel Janet watching from her desk. It’s just the two of us here at Life Extensions Ltd. She’s been with me pretty much since the beginning. She does the bookings and the admin. And I … well, I do everything else.
It hadn’t taken long for Janet to work out that I don’t really sell life insurance. Or at least, that’s not the only service I offer. She hadn’t made a fuss of it, though. “I don’t judge,” is all she’d say when pressed for her opinion. But she’d clutched the cross hanging from her neck.
“Thank you,” says the girl with the smile. “Inesa, and this is my husband, Paul.”
“Inesa and Paul, good to meet you. Who referred you?”
“Mr. Camfrey’s wife.”
Paul’s hands are working. Picking at each other. At the cuticles.
“Ah yes, I was sorry to hear about his passing.”
“I think,” she lowers her voice, “that it was professionally done. Heart attack, I hear.”
I lean forward. “You’d like a similar package, ma’am?”
Paul speaks up for the first time. “Is it quick?”
If I had a penny for every time a client asked me that question. “Painless,” I say, “or your money back.”
“Excellent,” says Inesa, beaming. “You’ve been doing this a while?”
“Best in the business,” says Janet, striding over to us. She places a hand on my shoulder. “You’re safe with Barker.”
“So, you’re wanting the double package?”
Inesa squeezes her husband’s arm. Every carat on her ring finger catches the sunlight. His nod is miniscule.
“Yes,” she replies after a moment.
“Those are difficult.” I lean back in my chair, weighing the ring out of the corner of my eye. “Coroner looks closely at doubles. Need a plausible cause of death. Right now all I have in stock are gas leaks and home invasions. Invasions can get messy – brings down the property value. I suggest the gas leak. Although …” I glance at Paul. “Home invasions are on the rise.”
Paul scratches the skin over his knuckles. His lips have taken on a bluish tinge. I’ve seen all manner of manners displayed in the chairs on the other side of my desk. Clients respond to their impending deaths in all sorts of ways. Paul’s reaction isn’t unique.
“Gas leak,” says Inesa definitively.
Paul nods, a quick jerk up and down. “When’ll it happen?” He can’t meet my gaze.
“I could probably fit you in next week. Any preferences?”
“I’m writing an exam on Tuesday,” says Inesa. She looks to Paul, “And I’m sure you’d like to finalize that merger?”
“Late next week?” she asks.
“Let’s see … Janet, check my availability, please.”
“Could do Friday next.”
“Excellent,” says Inesa.
“But …” Paul is fading to a paler blue by the minute. Droplets dot his forehead. “I just can’t live with the thought of this hanging over me for the next ten days. I just …” He swallows. “I just can’t.”
I reach out a hand and touch the man’s shoulder. His golf shirt is saturated. “Not to worry, sir. A memory wipe is included. You’ll never know you were here.” I offer him my warmest smile. Janet calls it the Big Daddy. “In fact, you may’ve been here before, and you wouldn’t know.”
Paul eyeballs me. “Have we been here before?”
“I couldn’t tell you.” I wink again.
Paul’s brow furrows.
“How much for the gas leak?” Inesa asks.
“Well, it’s a double. I charge three times the single fee, with the complications and all. That’ll be …” I jab on my ancient calculator for effect. “A hundred and sixteen thousand.”
Paul bolts upright.
“But for you,” I add, “a ten percent discount.”
“How do we know,” Paul says, watching me sideways, “that we haven’t paid for this before? If you wiped our memories, you could be double charging us.” He raises his voice. “Hell, we may have been here multiple times.”
I sigh internally. “The memory wiper only works once, sir. If I try to wipe your memory of this meeting, and you’ve met with me before, it won’t work.”
Inesa nods. Satisfied. Paul slumps back into his chair. She grips his arm. “It’s a small price to pay, darling. Just think … when they thaw us in twenty years, imagine what your savings will be worth.”
That seems to sway him. “You sure it won’t hurt?”
I chuckle. “You’ll be dead before you know it.”
Inesa’s cheeks bunch into a perfectly dimpled smile. “Oh Paul, isn’t this exciting!”
An hour later, Paul’s cash locked away in the top drawer, I walk the couple to the door. “Now remember to have an early night. You’ll wake up in the morning with a hangover, but you’ll recall nothing of this meeting. It’s important you tell nobody about this before the memory wipe takes effect. The Cryo Bureau have ears everywhere. If they get wind
“Of course,” says Inesa, “we won’t say a thing. Will we darling?”
“Good. And thank you for using Life Extensions Ltd.”
I close the door behind them with a tinkle.
“Tough sell,” says Janet, not looking up from her screen. “I thought the husband was gonna pull out.”
“You doubted me?”
She finds my gaze. “I don’t know how you do it. How you convince them to … you know.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it.” It’s not the first time I’ve said this. “Even if it’s illegal.”
“Yes, but …”
I give her a stern look.
“Alright.” Her tone returns to business, as she hands me my moleskin folder. “You’ve got a stroke at two-thirty – Mr. Oglevy. Dr. Hanfan called to say the butter’s ready.”
I swipe my coat and hat from the dumb waiter. But I turn back to her before I leave. “One day, you’ll want a New Year’s special too, Janet.”
Janet’s hand shoots to the chain around her neck.
I thumb the moleskin as I step to the car. Strokes are tricky, and Mr. Oglevy had requested one specially. “My dad had one,” he’d said. “And his father.”
The man’s right. Genetic predispositions are a good strategy for avoiding the coroner’s gaze. The Cryo Bureau hardly investigates them. No, what their systems flag are unusual deaths. Untimely demises.
I open the door to the old Buick, and flop into the worn leather. The door closes with a comforting clang. They don’t make car doors like they used to. Nowadays they shut with the thwunk of cheap rubber and plastic. But not my Buick. The engine roars into life.
I place the open folder on the passenger seat. Tod Oglevy’s myopic eyes regard me from behind thick-rimmed glasses. Programmer. Thirty-six last month. Takes lunch every day at the Delhi on Catherine Square. Predictable type of guy. They’re the easiest clients.
I’d agreed with him that a stroke makes sense. But it’s a risky business. Current medical tech is able to reverse most non-fatal strokes, and Cryo Killers will tell you that strokes will be entirely reversible in the near future. But still. You don’t want to damage the memory center of the brain. No-sir. You do that, and your client might wake up in twenty years with no idea who he is, or why he’s there. Of course, if that were to happen, I’d get away with it scot-free. But I have a reputation to uphold. If word got out that I damaged his brain in the killing … well then other clients wouldn’t look my way. No, I’m an ethical killer. I do what I promise. And only what I promise.
The Buick’s engine rises to a dull roar as it surges along the highway, toward Chinatown. Toward Dr. Hanfan. Barring the rare unforeseeable complication, Dr. Hanfan has always been spot on the money. He provides everything I need for clients who require a medical solution.
“Barker!” Dr. Hanfan slaps me across the shoulder. “I got package ready.”
He passes me a Styrofoam box. I lift the lid and peer inside. “Dr. you’re a life saver.”
The needle-like projectile is thin as a human hair, and about half an inch long. But this is no ordinary needle. Dr. Hanfan calls it a butter bullet. Don’t ask me what a butter bullet is made of. He calls it butter because whatever its composition, the bullet dissolves on contact with a warm body, delivers its medicinal contents, and that’s the end of it. Unless they look for it, the Cryo Bureau would never know the client had been shot.
“This one difficult,” says Dr. Hanfan. “Special preparation.”
I hand him a bundle of cash. “I appreciate your effort.”
“You good man, Barker. Good man.”
I shut the Styrofoam container, and Dr. Hanfan seals it with packing tape.
“Medicine work best if you hit him in the neck.” He cocks his head, and points to his carotid artery with an arthritic finger.
“That won’t be a problem,” I say.
The traffic is easy, and soon I’m sitting at the deli in Catherine Square. It’s one of those afternoons that makes me want to live forever. I get that pastel-blue feeling. When all the pieces of a killing fall into place. When all that’s left is to pull the trigger. I watch Purple Martins flit this way and that through the ancient oak tree towering above us. Sunlight dapples the bricked pavement. The scent of freshly baked ciabatta layers the air between the laughter of children at a nearby table. The table behind Mr. Oglevy’s.
Tod Oglevy is absorbed in his Parma ham wrap, masticating protractedly. As if the wrap offers him some great message. Maybe it does. I reach beneath my suede coat, and grip the pistol. I debate whether or not to let him finish his meal. But a stroke wouldn’t wait, no matter how good the ham. I stand, and toss thirty dollars on the table beside my half-eaten olive ciabatta.
My heart hardly accelerates as I stroll in the direction of Mr. Oglevy. This will be number six hundred and three. Only my ninth stroke, but nothing too unusual. He’s less than two yards away. I place my finger on the trigger.
I’m so close to Mr. Oglevy now, I can see his untrimmed nose-hairs brushing the wrap as he takes another bite. I slide my coat aside, place the barrel an inch from his neck, and pull the trigger.
The pistol is silent. The gentlest whoosh of air, and I’m ambling toward the far corner of the square. I don’t look back. Not until I’m standing behind a pillar by the second hand book shop where I bought Janet a guide to house plants last month for her birthday.
Mr. Oglevy continues munching on his wrap, but scratches at his neck. Without swallowing, he lowers his fork, and peers at the great oak tree. Even from where I stand I can see that his face is asymmetrical. One eyelid is barely open, as he considers the leaves. And then he slides to one side. Silently collapses into a heap on the floor.
I wait until someone sees him. Until I see them call for help. Paramedics arrive minutes later. When they don’t find a pulse, they scan the man’s iris. Right now, the scanner is telling them that Mr. Oglevy is registered for Cryo preservation. And there it is – the blue needle. Once they inject the Cryo serum, my work is done. He’ll be taken off to the Cryo Bank. Another happy customer. Sure, they might investigate. Unlikely, but it could happen. Chances are – chances are very good – that he’ll be frozen by sunset. So long as the coroner rules the cause of death anything but suicide or assisted suicide, Mr. Oglevy will be frozen along with the rest of my clients. Until the day they wake him. The day they can repair his stroke, and give him the anti-aging treatment that the docs in white coats say will be ready in the next decade or so. The docs don’t have much hope that they’ll be able to reverse aging, but preserve a man’s age – that they’ll be able to do. Tod Oglevy will be thirty-six forever.
I take the mag-lift down to the parking lot.
“Did you see his face just before it happened?” says a teenager in the lift. “Was like he saw God.”
“Ain’t no God anymore. Only Cryo,” says his friend.
My stomach lurches as the elevator drops too quickly. Don’t know why they couldn’t just stick with good old steel rope for elevators. Sometimes newer ain’t better.
Out of the six hundred and two cases before Mr. Oglevy’s, I’ve only had seven ruled assisted suicide. Unfortunate. The Cryo Bureau refuses to preserve them, with suicide being illegal and all. But a failure rate of just over one percent is better than most Cryo Killers can boast. The young Cryo Killers today use all sorts of overrated and overdated methods to kill their clients. Just last month I heard about a client whose head was smashed in by a bus. The Cryo Killer he’d hired dimmed his Google Glasses at the wrong moment. The bus had made short work of his brain. And his memories. Nothing left but a smudge on the pavement.
“I wonder,” says the teen, “whether you still have your soul when you wake up? If you ain’t a zombie?”
The doors open, and I stride out the elevator. I find the Buick easily enough. Gleaming crimson body. Like the Buick, I do things the old way. Proper. Only Ro
Sometimes I wish I’d had kids. A wife. There’d been Sally, of course. She’d wanted, but nothing had happened. Months. A year, we’d tried. Nothing.
I check my watch. Five minutes to four.
“Lock up for me, please,” I call in to Janet. “Any appointments tomorrow morning?”
“None, Barker. I’ve cleared your schedule for the next three days so you can focus on the double that came in this morning.”
I know I should be researching the technicalities of gassing. Survival time after the leak. How to gas them without their noticing the stench. Response time of the emergency services in the area. Paramedics will need to get to the couple within an hour of their deaths for the Cryo preservation to be effective. Which poses a problem – how to alert the authorities without tipping them off that there’s been foul play.
These are the sorts of issues I’ll need to resolve by Friday next week. This is what I should be focusing on. But all I can do is watch her. Watch Inesa.
It’s one of my standard procedures to trail clients before the killing. Learn their habits. Routines. What time they get home. Typical neighborhood behavior.
But it’s day two now, and I’ve forgotten about gassing techniques and emergency response times. I don’t know when it started exactly – my fascination with Inesa. No, actually, I do.
I followed her to the grocery store yesterday. And you’d think grocery shopping couldn’t be sexy. You’d think. But Inesa lifted the melons to her nose as though they were holy relics. She worshipped their fragrance. And the way she studied the ingredients on the pasta sauce, with a hand on her hip, and a lock of raven hair falling across one eye …