It was Only on Stun! Chapter 2
Three days later, Sean Ryan heard why he’d been called to snow-bound New York in the midst of January away from his home in 86-degree sunny Southern California. When he had first arrived, the Creative Convention people had merely commandeered a classroom for the meeting, but the President of Rockycreek wandered in before the meeting started and transferred everyone to a real conference room.
The 5’6” former stuntman’s raven black hair was trimmed neat and clean; he wore a sharp gray Armani suit and conservative tie with the stripe of the British Army Surgical Corps (aka: “the Licensed Lancers”) in an effort to be professional, but felt like the effort had been wasted. His Secret Service style sunglasses tinted the flyer so that the green paper it was printed on looked even darker than the ink.
“You do realize you paid for my plane ticket regardless of whether or not I’ll work for you, right?” Ryan said absentmindedly.
The President of Rockycreek, Robert Harrington, a tall, anorexic looking fellow with deep brown eyes and no hair, smiled with all the charm of a Tammany Hall politician and said, in his rich basso voice, “Mr. Ryan, what makes you think that we’re not just interviewing you?”
Ryan laughed. “You’re joking, yes?” he started in a light stage Yiddish. “You maybe think I’m your friendly neighborhood academic? Perhaps you believe that academics are normal, average people, and thus all should be treated as such?”
Harrington smiled. “Would you prefer I treat you as someone with a GED instead of a high school diploma?”
Ryan grinned, still not looking at them. “And sure, at least you’ve looked up on me,” he said, moving into a bad brogue. He disdained to tell Harrington—and almost all of his other clients—that he had more college credits by night school courses than most high school teachers had over the course of their careers.
Sean glanced outside the door, and turned back to his would-be employers. “But still, I don’t see much of a line outside. Ya know what I mean, sir? Now, if you’re done with the pseudo-political stuff, can we get to business? If you prefer, we can keep pulling each other’s legs until someone’s comes off, and I guarantee it’ll be yours. What’s the exact nature of the problem?”
There was a moment of silence, and Ryan slid off his glasses, revealing electric blue eyes that stared down each person in turn. He noticed with interest that of the five men present, all were white—he had heard Long Island referred to as “outer Whitelandia” before, but having grown up in ethnically diverse Los Angeles, he hadn’t believed it before then.
“Now, before you folks open your mouths, is this a nuisance call? If it’s anything like that, I’ve got far better things to do back on the left coast, where every fifth actor is a client and every tenth civilian is a stalker. While I appreciate easy cash, beating up psychos and assassins is, by far, much more fun, so I’ll be annoyed if you just want me to fend off a little public humiliation. So what is it?”
One of the convention men, wearing a gray turtleneck in an attempt to be chic, cocked his head with interest. His brown beard was slightly frizzy, and his hair wasn’t much better. He removed his horn-rimmed brown glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Mr. Ryan, you are familiar with the situation in Serbia-Montenegro?”
Ryan nodded. “Greek Orthodox versus Muslims with a few papists thrown in, disliking each other since the last Islamic jihad that stormed the Gates of Vienna 500 years ago. Dictator Marshall Tito kept everything in check, and after he died, the Soviet Union kept the area in check with the threat of be nice or die. The totalitarian lid blew off after a bad breakup post-USSR. General Tito held them together from World War II onward, and before him, the Austro-Hungarian Empire doing the same thing as the Soviet Union.”
The C-Con man nodded. “It’s more complex, but you’ve got the basics.”
Ryan shrugged. “I have a Russian girlfriend; you pick up some things, Mister…?”
“Waldemar Janowitz…just call me Walter. Mira Gajic is a Croatian, one of the Catholics. Problem is, she managed to get everyone a little annoyed at her when she left that area. Her husband’s a director, here, now, in the US, and she’s become a success starring on a major television show. Anyone who wants to try again for a power play in the Balkans and wished to start with a public display—”
“—would hit her,” Ryan finished. “Preferably with something so simple and effortless to make it look like they can kill anyone by thinking about them. Which leads to the obvious question: do you record the convention? Answer: you play it on Long Island TV for good publicity—I do my research too. Anyone out to get her will have as big an audience as you can afford; they could record it off the air and then broadcast it across the Balkans, or simply post it on the Internet. Hell, given the way things are bought and sold in New York, one of the volunteers could walk off with the tape that captures her murder, sell it on eBay, where the assassins would most certainly win the bidding, and they get the entire performance, from start to cleanup.”
Janowitz agreed. “If you don’t think you can handle the job yourself, we could always just ask you to refer us to someone who can.”
Ryan smiled. “You’re going to have to hear my conditions first. My minimum price is expenses. By the way, I don’t itemize—counting bullets is a waste of my time.”
Harrington gulped. Janowitz said, “Agreed.”
“Second, I am campus and conference security, and shall train the volunteer convention security to know what they’re doing. This includes background checks on every man, woman, mutant teenager, Role-Playing vampire, Alien Queen and Borg technician who volunteers to work for this convention.”
It was Janowitz’s turn to be shocked as his eyes bulged. “You can’t do that! Our volunteers run this organization! If we tell them we’re performing background checks, who knows how many will choose not to volunteer. Not even free admission, food and t-shirts will be enough to draw them in.”
Ryan shrugged. “So you have more people paying to get in, so what? We can’t explain the situation to the volunteers until the first attempt, so make sure to remember; whoever’s coming to get her might volunteer to work in convention setup in order to do reconnaissance, so as long as they don’t realize we’re prepared for them, we’ll be fine.”
The man on Janowitz’s far right looked at him strangely, unmoved by his glare. He was a little portly, not much taller than Ryan himself, totally bald on top with graying hair on the side and in his full beard. Gray eyes were hidden by thick glasses that were too thin to be considered coke bottle glasses, but they were close.
“And what exactly makes you think they won’t be part of security?” he asked in a fast, clipped, slightly high-pitched voice that sounded on the edge of bursting into laughter. “Good manners?”
Sean smiled. “No sir; given the amount of time I’m going to have people train together, all members of security will know each other by sight. I’ll be assigning all of the stations personally, so anyone who’s out of place will stand out like he has a light saber on his head. They won’t bother being in security, especially not with the bright orange t-shirts they wear.”
Janowitz cocked his head. “How do you know the color scheme?”
Ryan smiled. “I was going to make them so. If they’re smart, anyone who’s out to get her won’t go into security, and if they’re dumb, I’ll end them. By the way, you sir, what’s your name?”
The portly gentleman smiled. “David Peters, guest author, and I’m paying a chunk of your salary.” He patted the man next to him on the back. “My morose friend here has bet me two hundred bucks he could remain silent through this entire meeting.”
Ryan smiled, remembering two novels of Peters—one about a person bitten by a were-puppy, and the other about King Arthur going to College. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Peters, I enjoyed Barking Mad and Knight Courses. You’re one sick puppy.”
He laughed. “You read much science fiction?”
Sean nodded. “Although the last time I made contact with an Elf, I held him off the edge of a New Jersey garbage scow. He was an ELF—of the Earth Liberation Front.”
David doubled over with laughter. “Have you read any of my friend’s material?”
Ryan paused and looked the final man in the face. It was an unpleasant, heavily lined face, with features so sharp they looked like they’d been lathed into the edge of an axe. His hair was a light blonde, and the lines around his mouth indicated that he was always talking, and the muscles showed how hard he was trying not to talk at all.
Ryan leapt back, realizing who it was. “Oh, him! Eielson! I’m surprised you didn’t gag him.”
The author in question nearly leapt out of his chair, but Peters held onto the shorter, older man by grabbing his shoulder and one lapel. “We’ve come close.”
Ryan nodded. “Anyway, back to business; I’m going to need to talk with the protectee, and maybe even the other guests who will socialize with her. I’ll need to make everything clear—especially the point I never leave her side…we’re only assuming they want her dead on camera, but I’d rather not leave that to chance.”
“I’ll be sure to explain that to my clients beforehand, so you do not scare them all too badly,” a calm voice with a light but distinguishable hint of a Russian accent.
At the doorway was a woman of Ryan’s height with light brown hair, light olive complexion, and hazel eyes that changed between brown and green depending on the weather. She was dressed in a blouse, brown suit pants, and a light brown coat with fake fur on the rim, providing a touch more elegance to her ever-ready supply. She had a small, pleasant, heart-shaped face, perfectly sloped Slavic cheekbones, and a nose that gently curved down her face to a soft curving tip, perfectly placed to be kissed at random without too much eye-lip coordination. Her body was petite and firm, usually because she spent hours of free time at the gym.
Inna Petraro smiled. “Who do you think suggested you? I represent most of the guests, and I’d like them to stay alive so I can continue to collect fifteen percent of their salaries.”
Harrington chuckled, assuming that his trump card had been played, and wanted a follow up. “In addition to your lovely woman over there, one of the reasons we’re hiring you is Rockycreek alumni in California: stories get back to me that don’t quite make it to the news. These are 2 a.m. stories after fundraisers that start ‘you didn’t hear this from me,’ like the Rabbi who tried to hurt a certain Jewish singer after she came out for Palestinians, or the gay boyfriend who tried to give a producer a vasectomy with hedge clipper.”
Sean raised a finger. “You’re forgetting the army of Live Action Role-Playing vampires who tried to eat John Carpenter.”
Harrington smiled uncomfortable, shifting in his seat. “We’re a nice, quiet campus, Mr. Ryan. We meet Clark Kerrs’ 1960s definition of a perfect University—we provide sports for the alumni, parking for the faculty, and sex for the students—so all constituents are happy. An assassination wouldn’t go over well with a board of trustees accustomed only to character assassination by the faculty council. You’re a dangerous man who doesn’t look it. You’re perfect.”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed, and he smiled evilly. “Yes, and I won’t tell anyone about your girlfriend, either…how’s your wife, by the way?”
Inna Petraro never believed her life could be so interesting. Her stepfather had been a low level Hollywood agent who had spent his life in entertainment law, and she had been an ever-present accomplice, aiding and abetting him so much that she also went into the field, expecting a relatively dull existence.
However, when she was eighteen years old and at her stepfather’s side on set, she encountered a young man who was her height, but appeared to be taller because of how he held himself. His hair had been mildly singed from a recent stunt, makeup people were touching up a fake bloody gash across his temple, and his face was covered in real mud. One eye was brown, and the other was a brilliant blue she could make out from a city block away.
As one of the makeup women tried to put a brown colored contact into his eye, she deliberately held onto him to “steady” herself, feeling him up as she did so. He was either too oblivious or too polite to notice.
The newcomer briefly excused herself and headed straight for Sean, knowing he was the stuntman—it was obvious…he was in the same “condition” as the romantic lead, and definitely wasn’t the star. Ryan bent down for a moment, collecting two handguns that looked big enough to take down an airliner, and rose again, finding her only feet away and on approach. He smiled and nodded, politely acknowledging her.
“Hi. I’m Inna Petraro.”
He cocked his head slightly, grinned uncontrollably, and casually stacked one gun on top of the other as he offered his hand. “Sean Ryan.” He paused, checked his hand. “Don’t worry, it’s the only part of me still clean.”
She smiled and took his hand. “What stunt have you been up to?”
He shrugged. “I’m supposed to empty both of these”—he raised the guns—“into the bad guy as I leap from an exploding armored train, roll to my feet and run through a mine field. Might I ask why someone as pretty as you are found her way onto a stage like this during a school night?”
She smiled. “It is Friday.”
He blinked. “Really? Wow, they’ve really been pushing me on this one. You’ve got the time?”
“It’s four o’clock. Don’t you have a watch?”
Shook his head. “Not allowed; our hero is supposed to have smashed his watch after using it as makeshift brass knuckles against the sidekick’s face—the villain’s sidekick, anyway.” He sighed. “Wow, I could use a good, stiff water.” There was a click in his ear from the earpiece. “Sorry, gotta go. I’ll see you later, Ms. Petraro.”
She knew it would have been the start of at least a nice friendship, but she had no idea that he would develop into the once and future boyfriend. Her first romantic relationship had survived a lot—his career, long nights as he helped her with mandatory credits in physics and chemistry, the odd art course (the history of musical soundtrack in film), and even his time in the new career of body guarding, her law school, a nonexistent sex life—and it was still going.
Despite his odd sense of humor…
“Are you sure you just didn’t use this as an excuse to get me over to New York for a few months?” Ryan asked as Inna walked with him out of the sports center and across the main lawn, , his arm respectfully on the small of her back. The buildings were all very modern, gray or white stone with sharp angles and circles thrown in for good measure, looking like government construction.
“It had crossed my mind,” she said in her normal, measured speech that was amazingly endearing, each word carefully considered. Her first language wasn’t English, but Russian, and her second was Italian, so both were reflected in her speech only insofar as she thought before she spoke so she was sure the meaning was accurate.
If only I did that every once in awhile.
“I am also concerned about Mira,” Inna continued. “She does not think she is important enough to waste bullets on.”
Ryan sighed. “I’ve never heard of someone so modest she’s going to die from it.”
They walked in silence for a while, walking past the grass, through the walkway connecting the two science buildings, and back outside again, pondering the thought.
Sean smiled suddenly, wrapped his arm around Inna’s waist and drew her to him, kissing her on the temple. “So, how’ve you been?”
“Aside from someone wanting to murder a client?” she replied. “I’ve been good. I like New York better than LA—it’s quieter. No riots, lower crime rate, and, sometimes, people even smile and say thank you.”
Ryan laughed. “Sounds like the way I left it.”
Inna smiled. “And who were you here with then?”
“Sarah Ann Miller.”
Petraro thought for a moment, trying to remember when her boyfriend was in New York with the star of Fluffy, the Demon Slayer. “That was last year, wasn’t it? When you stopped by in July?”
He chuckled. “I was waiting until I could tell the story with a straight face. You see, she takes tae kwon do as a hobby, and she also grew up in New York. So, when the bad guys came after her, well, she sort of cleaned the floor with all of them herself.”
They had a good laugh all the way to the parking lot. Sean reluctantly let go so she could walk to the other side of her SUV. “I’m glad I don’t have to call a taxi.”
Petraro unlocked the door and gave him a look through the tinted glass of the large, lumbering vehicle. “Why didn’t you just call me instead?”
“I wanted to be a surprise.”
“A taxi from Long Island to Staten Island is an expensive surprise.”
They both loaded themselves into the vehicle and he gave her a mischievous grin. “Well, if I caught you in the act of cheating on me, it would be worth it. After all, if you wanted to break up with me, I want to know as soon as possible so I can move on to less fallow pastures.”
Inna hit him on the arm, then started the engine. “Be careful, mister, or else you’re going to be riding home tied across the hood. What do you plan to do now?”
“Two or three days checking out the landscape, then back to LA to meet with Mitch.”
Inna raised her brows and pulled out of the lot. “Mitchell’s still alive?” she said in mock surprise. “I’m not sure what is going to kill him first: your job or his age.”
Ryan waved it away. “Nonsense, he’s only been working in special effects since World War Two,” he joked.
However, he wasn’t certain it was a joke—Mitchell Scholl might have been in silent films for all Ryan knew. Since Mitch had been laid off, he’d worked for Ryan as a technical advisor, supplier, and mechanic, walking off with whatever film prop he could get his hands on. When Hollywood stopped using real guns on movie sets in place of a variety of cap gun, Mitch had twisted every arm he could to get as many various old, real guns as possible. Since then, Scholl had come to know the entire LA branch office of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms by first name—if only because his son, the head of the local ATF, invited him over—and has constantly brought coffee to the ATF agents on permanent stakeout outside of his home.
“Maybe you should ask if he knew Jasper Maskelyne,” Inna said with a straight face as she pulled out of the parking lot and onto the main ring road into the woods that hid Rockycreek from the outside world.
Sean sighed. She enjoyed teasing him with the miscellaneous information from her history minor; he could never come up with the same type of teasing with his knowledge of chemicals, explosives and weaponry—none of which made for very pleasant dinner conversation or pillow talk. Surprisingly, the only real times pillows were involved were with pillow fights, sleep, or her putting antiseptic on the hard to reach spots after he’d been beaten within an inch of his life. They’d mutually sworn off sex after the third time Murphy’s Law for Mating interrupted them, once with a beeper, a phone, and a bullet, in that order.
“And who is Jasper Maskelyne?” he asked, humoring her.
“He is the magician the army hired to perform tricks like on MissionImpossible: he hid the Suez Canal from bombers behind a curtain of light, disguised tanks as trucks so the Nazis could be outflanked in the desert, and so on.”
Ryan nodded. “Ah, someone Mitch can relate to, the sneaky bastard.” He gazed out into the woods of Rockycreek and wondered how anyone found their way around without disappearing into the woods, never to be seen again. He’d bet there were entire class years of students lying out there, among the trees, turning into fertilizer like some Suffolk County body farm waiting to be discovered by Pat Cornwell.
“I am going to LA to meet with Mira,” she grinned as she made the next turn in the maze of the barren wood. “We can at least be sure you won’t scare her. as long as I’m around. She might have heard about that one time you…how shall we say…held a most unwilling informant over the edge of a building for a half an hour.”
“Just a matter of cajoling him.”
Inna made yet another turn, otherwise she would have spared him a sarcastic glance. “The time you blew up your client’s house so you could get him away?”
“I merely set it on fire.”
“What about ‘accidentally’ shooting the one who hired you so the guys after him thought he was dead?”
“Now that was for his own good, in the long run….Besides, his kidney was already a mess from all of that alcohol; he only would’ve gotten a few more weeks out of it anyway. Overall, I’ve been rather light on the death toll and the property damage.”
“I do not think there’s been one assignment in which you have not hurt someone.”
He waved it away. “Bad guys don’t count. They asked for it.”
“That attitude alone might scare her. Sean, realize that she came from a place where that attitude is far too common. Tone it down when you meet her, okay?”
He sighed and leaned back in his seat with his eyes closed. “I hope you’re not equating me with the Balkan monsters.”
“No, but it could be all too easy for her to.”
“Then I’ll just have to explain it clearly enough to make even the densest of peoples understand.”
Inna raised an eyebrow as she made yet another turn around even more barren trees. “Before or after she sees the amount of weaponry you’ve had Mitchell put in place?”
“Come on, Inna, you know I only bring that stuff out when the detail goes beyond hand-to-hand. You make it sound as though I enjoy gutting people in my spare time. Do I detect disdain for my work?”
“No, it is just that she’s from the same part of Europe as Momma.”
Sean groaned. “That woman has to be put through paranoia treatment.”
“Just remember Eastern Europe hasn’t had a pleasant history.” Inna smiled. “She’s almost definitely heard how colorful you are.”
He smiled. “Isn’t that a pleasant way of saying I’m an off-the-wall-whacko?”
“But who else would you send against people who spawned Milosovic? Captain Kirk?”
Sean thought a moment. “Does that make me Spock or McCoy?”
Without a blink, she said, “Worf.”
“I didn’t know I looked like the dog-faced boy.”
“I would not want you thinking that I liked you for your looks.”