A gun is an interesting weapon; it can be hired, of
and naturally doesn't care who hires it. Something
the same can be said of the gunman, too....
GUN FOR HIRE
oe Prantera called
softly, "Al." The pleasurable,
warm feeling began
spreading over him, the
way it always did.
The older man stopped and
squinted, but not suspiciously, even
The evening was dark, it was unlikely
that the other even saw the
circle of steel that was the mouth of
the shotgun barrel, now resting on
the car's window ledge.
"Who's it?" he growled.
Joe Prantera said softly, "Big Louis
sent me, Al."
And he pressed the trigger.
And at that moment, the universe
caved inward upon Joseph Marie
There was nausea and nausea upon
There was a falling through all
space and through all time. There was
doubling and twisting and twitching
of every muscle and nerve.
There was pain, horror and tumultuous
And he came out of it as quickly
and completely as he'd gone in.
He was in, he thought, a hospital
and his first reaction was to think,
This here California. Everything different.
Then his second thought was
Something went wrong. Big Louis, he
ain't going to like this.
He brought his thinking to the
present. So far as he could remember,
he hadn't completely pulled the trigger.
That at least meant that whatever
the rap was it wouldn't be too
tough. With luck, the syndicate would
get him off with a couple of years at
A door slid open in the wall in a
way that Joe had never seen a door
operate before. This here California.
The clothes on the newcomer were
wrong, too. For the first time, Joe
Prantera began to sense an alienness—a
something that was awfully
The other spoke precisely and
slowly, the way a highly educated man
speaks a language which he reads
and writes fluently but has little occasion
to practice vocally. "You have recovered?"
Joe Prantera looked at the other
expressionlessly. Maybe the old duck
was one of these foreign doctors, like.
The newcomer said, "You have undoubtedly
been through a most harrowing
experience. If you have any
untoward symptoms, possibly I could
be of assistance."
Joe couldn't figure out how he
stood. For one thing, there should
have been some kind of police guard.
The other said, "Perhaps a bit of
Joe said flatly, "I wanta lawyer."
The newcomer frowned at him. "A
"I'm not sayin' nothin'. Not until I
get a mouthpiece."
The newcomer started off on another
tack. "My name is Lawrence
Reston-Farrell. If I am not mistaken,
you are Joseph Salviati-Prantera."
Salviati happened to be Joe's mother's
maiden name. But it was unlikely
this character could have known that.
Joe had been born in Naples and his
mother had died in childbirth. His
father hadn't brought him to the
States until the age of five and by that
time he had a stepmother.
"I wanta mouthpiece," Joe said
flatly, "or let me outta here."
Lawrence Reston-Farrell said, "You
are not being constrained. There are
clothes for you in the closet there."
Joe gingerly tried swinging his
feet to the floor and sitting up, while
the other stood watching him, strangely.
He came to his feet. With the exception
of a faint nausea, which
brought back memories of that extreme
condition he'd suffered during
... during what? He hadn't the
vaguest idea of what had happened.
He was dressed in a hospital-type
nightgown. He looked down at it and
snorted and made his way over to the
closet. It opened on his approach, the
door sliding back into the wall in
much the same manner as the room's
door had opened for Reston-Farrell.
Joe Prantera scowled and said,
"These ain't my clothes."
"No, I am afraid not."
"You think I'd be seen dead wearing
this stuff? What is this, some religious
Reston-Farrell said, "I am afraid,
Mr. Salviati-Prantera, that these are
the only garments available. I suggest
you look out the window there."
Joe gave him a long, chill look
and then stepped to the window. He
couldn't figure the other. Unless he
was a fruitcake. Maybe he was in
some kind of pressure cooker and
this was one of the fruitcakes.
He looked out, however, not on the
lawns and walks of a sanitarium but
upon a wide boulevard of what was
obviously a populous city.
And for a moment again, Joe Prantera
felt the depths of nausea.
This was not his world.
He stared for a long, long moment.
The cars didn't even have wheels, he
noted dully. He turned slowly and
faced the older man.
Reston-Farrell said compassionately,
"Try this, it's excellent cognac."
Joe Prantera stared at him, said finally,
flatly, "What's it all about?"
The other put down the unaccepted
glass. "We were afraid first
realization would be a shock to you,"
he said. "My colleague is in the adjoining
room. We will be glad to explain
to you if you will join us there."
"I wanta get out of here," Joe said.
"Where would you go?"
The fear of police, of Al Rossi's
vengeance, of the measures that
might be taken by Big Louis on his
failure, were now far away.
Reston-Farrell had approached the
door by which he had entered and it
reopened for him. He went through
it without looking back.
There was nothing else to do. Joe
dressed, then followed him.
In the adjoining room was a circular
table that would have accommodated
a dozen persons. Two were
seated there now, papers, books and
soiled coffee cups before them. There
had evidently been a long wait.
Reston-Farrell, the one Joe had already
met, was tall and drawn of face
and with a chainsmoker's nervousness.
The other was heavier and more
at ease. They were both, Joe estimated,
somewhere in their middle fifties.
They both looked like docs. He
wondered, all over again, if this was
some kind of pressure cooker.
But that didn't explain the view
from the window.
Reston-Farrell said, "May I present
my colleague, Citizen Warren Brett-James?
Warren, this is our guest from
... from yesteryear, Mr. Joseph Salviati-Prantera."
Brett-James nodded to him, friendly,
so far as Joe could see. He said
gently, "I think it would be Mr. Joseph
Prantera, wouldn't it? The maternal
linage was almost universally
ignored." His voice too gave the impression
he was speaking a language
not usually on his tongue.
Joe took an empty chair, hardly
bothering to note its alien qualities.
His body seemed to fit into the piece
of furniture, as though it had been
molded to his order.
Joe said, "I think maybe I'll take
that there drink, Doc."
Reston-Farrell said, "Of course,"
and then something else Joe didn't
get. Whatever the something else
was, a slot opened in the middle of
the table and a glass, so clear of texture
as to be all but invisible, was
elevated. It contained possibly three
ounces of golden fluid.
Joe didn't allow himself to think
of its means of delivery. He took up
the drink and bolted it. He put the
glass down and said carefully,
"What's it all about, huh?"
Warren Brett-James said soothingly,
"Prepare yourself for somewhat
of a shock, Mr. Prantera. You are no
longer in Los Angeles—"
"Ya think I'm stupid? I can see
"I was about to say, Los Angeles of
1960. Mr. Prantera, we welcome you
to Nuevo Los Angeles."
"To Nuevo Los Angeles and to
the year—" Brett-James looked at his
companion. "What is the date, Old
"2133," Reston-Farrell said. "2133
A.D. they would say."
Joe Prantera looked from one of
them to the other, scowling. "What
are you guys talking about?"
Warren Brett-James said softly,
"Mr. Prantera, you are no longer in
the year 1960, you are now in the
He said, uncomprehendingly, "You
mean I been, like, unconscious for—"
He let the sentence fall away as he
realized the impossibility.
Brett-James said gently, "Hardly
for one hundred and seventy years,
Reston-Farrell said, "I am afraid we
are confusing you. Briefly, we have
transported you, I suppose one might
say, from your own era to ours."
Joe Prantera had never been exposed
to the concept of time travel.
He had simply never associated with
anyone who had ever even remotely
considered such an idea. Now he said,
"You mean, like, I been asleep all
"Not exactly," Brett-James said,
Reston-Farrell said, "Suffice to say,
you are now one hundred and seventy-three
years after the last memory you
Joe Prantera's mind suddenly reverted
to those last memories and his
eyes narrowed dangerously. He felt
suddenly at bay. He said, "Maybe
you guys better let me in on what's
this all about."
Reston-Farrell said, "Mr. Prantera,
we have brought you from your era
to perform a task for us."
Joe stared at him, and then at the
other. He couldn't believe he was getting
through to them. Or, at least,
that they were to him.
Finally he said, "If I get this, you
want me to do a job for you."
"That is correct."
Joe said, "You guys know the kind
of jobs I do?"
"That is correct."
"Like hell you do. You think I'm
stupid? I never even seen you before."
Joe Prantera came abruptly to
his feet. "I'm gettin' outta here."
For the second time, Reston-Farrell
said, "Where would you go, Mr.
Joe glared at him. Then sat down
again, as abruptly as he'd arisen.
"Let's start all over again. I got this
straight, you brought me, some
screwy way, all the way ... here.
O.K., I'll buy that. I seen what it looks
like out that window—" The real
comprehension was seeping through
to him even as he talked. "Everybody
I know, Jessie, Tony, the Kid, Big
Louis, everybody, they're dead. Even
"Yes," Brett-James said, his voice
soft. "They are all dead, Mr. Prantera.
Their children are all dead, and their
The two men of the future said
nothing more for long minutes while
Joe Prantera's mind whirled its confusion.
Finally he said, "What's this bit
about you wanting me to give it to
"That is why we brought you here,
Mr. Prantera. You were ... you
are, a professional assassin."
"Hey, wait a minute, now."
Reston-Farrell went on, ignoring
the interruption. "There is small
point in denying your calling. Pray
remember that at the point when we
... transported you, you were about
to dispose of a contemporary named
Alphonso Annunziata-Rossi. A citizen,
I might say, whose demise would
probably have caused small dismay to
They had him pegged all right. Joe
said, "But why me? Why don't you
get some heavy from now? Somebody
knows the ropes these days."
Brett-James said, "Mr. Prantera,
there are no professional assassins in
this age, nor have there been for over
a century and a half."
"Well, then do it yourself." Joe
Prantera's irritation over this whole
complicated mess was growing. And
already he was beginning to long for
the things he knew—for Jessie and
Tony and the others, for his favorite
bar, for the lasagne down at Papa
Giovanni's. Right now he could have
welcomed a calling down at the hands
of Big Louis.
Reston-Farrell had come to his feet
and walked to one of the large room's
windows. He looked out, as though
unseeing. Then, his back turned, he
said, "We have tried, but it is simply
not in us, Mr. Prantera."
"You mean you're yella?"
"No, if by that you mean afraid. It
is simply not within us to take the
life of a fellow creature—not to speak
of a fellow man."
Joe snapped: "Everything you guys
say sounds crazy. Let's start all over
Brett-James said, "Let me do it,
Lawrence." He turned his eyes to Joe.
"Mr. Prantera, in your own era, did
you ever consider the future?"
Joe looked at him blankly.
"In your day you were confronted
with national and international, problems.
Just as we are today and just as
nations were a century or a millennium
"Sure, O.K., so we had problems. I
know whatcha mean—like wars, and
depressions and dictators and like
"Yes, like that," Brett-James
The heavy-set man paused a moment.
"Yes, like that," he repeated.
"That we confront you now indicates
that the problems of your day were
solved. Hadn't they been, the world
most surely would have destroyed itself.
Wars? Our pedagogues are hard
put to convince their students that
such ever existed. More than a century
and a half ago our society eliminated
the reasons for international
conflict. For that matter," he added
musingly, "we eliminated most international
Shortly after your own period, man
awoke to the fact that he had achieved
to the point where it was possible to
produce an abundance for all with a
minimum of toil. Overnight, for all
practical purposes, the whole world
was industrialized, automated. The
second industrial revolution was accompanied
by revolutionary changes
in almost every field, certainly in every
science. Dictators? Your ancestors
found, Mr. Prantera, that it is
difficult for a man to be free so long
as others are still enslaved. Today the
democratic ethic has reached a pinnacle
never dreamed of in your own
"O.K., O.K.," Joe Prantera growled.
"So everybody's got it made. What I
wanta know is what's all this about
me giving it ta somebody? If everything's
so great, how come you want
me to knock this guy off?"
Reston-Farrell bent forward and
thumped his right index finger twice
on the table. "The bacterium of hate—a
new strain—has found the human
race unprotected from its disease.
We had thought our vaccines
"What's that suppose to mean?"
Brett-James took up the ball again.
"Mr. Prantera, have you ever heard of
Ghengis Khan, of Tamerlane, Alexander,
Joe Prantera scowled at him emptily.
"Or, more likely, of Napoleon, Hitler,
"Sure I heard of Hitler and Stalin,"
Joe growled. "I ain't stupid."
The other nodded. "Such men are
unique. They have a drive ... a
drive to power which exceeds by far
the ambitions of the average man.
They are genii in their way, Mr. Prantera,
genii of evil. Such a genius of
evil has appeared on the current
"Now we're getting somewheres,"
Joe snorted. "So you got a guy what's
a little ambitious, like, eh? And you
guys ain't got the guts to give it to
him. O.K. What's in it for me?"
The two of them frowned, exchanged
glances. Reston-Farrell said,
"You know, that is one aspect we had
Brett-James said to Joe Prantera,
"Had we not, ah, taken you at the
time we did, do you realize what
would have happened?"
"Sure," Joe grunted. "I woulda let
old Al Rossi have it right in the guts,
five times. Then I woulda took the
plane back to Chi."
Brett-James was shaking his head.
"No. You see, by coincidence, a police
squad car was coming down the
street just at that moment to arrest
Mr. Rossi. You would have been apprehended.
As I understand Californian
law of the period, your life
would have been forfeit, Mr. Prantera."
Joe winced. It didn't occur to him
to doubt their word.
Reston-Farrell said, "As to reward,
Mr. Prantera, we have already told
you there is ultra-abundance in this
age. Once this task has been performed,
we will sponsor your entry
into present day society. Competent
psychiatric therapy will soon remove
"Waita minute, now. You figure on
gettin' me candled by some head
shrinker, eh? No thanks, Buster. I'm
going back to my own—"
Brett-James was shaking his head
again. "I am afraid there is no return,
Mr. Prantera. Time travel works but
in one direction, with the flow of the
time stream. There can be no return
to your own era."
Joe Prantera had been rocking
with the mental blows he had been
assimilating, but this was the final
haymaker. He was stuck in this
squaresville of a world.
Joe Prantera on a job was thorough.
Careful, painstaking, competent.
He spent the first three days of his
life in the year 2133 getting the feel
of things. Brett-James and Reston-Farrell
had been appointed to work
with him. Joe didn't meet any of the
others who belonged to the group
which had taken the measures to
bring him from the past. He didn't
want to meet them. The fewer persons
involved, the better.
He stayed in the apartment of
Reston-Farrell. Joe had been right,
Reston-Farrell was a medical doctor.
Brett-James evidently had something
to do with the process that had enabled
them to bring Joe from the
past. Joe didn't know how they'd
done it, and he didn't care. Joe was a
realist. He was here. The thing was
There didn't seem to be any hurry.
Once the deal was made, they left it
up to him to make the decisions.
They drove him around the town,
when he wished to check the traffic
arteries. They flew him about the
whole vicinity. From the air, Southern
California looked much the same
as it had in his own time. Oceans,
mountains, and to a lesser extent, deserts,
are fairly permanent even
against man's corroding efforts.
It was while he was flying with
Brett-James on the second day that
Joe said, "How about Mexico? Could
I make the get to Mexico?"
The physicist looked at him questioningly.
"Get?" he said.
Joe Prantera said impatiently, "The
getaway. After I give it to this Howard
Temple-Tracy guy, I gotta go on
the run, don't I?"
"I see." Brett-James cleared his
throat. "Mexico is no longer a separate
nation, Mr. Prantera. All North
America has been united into one
unit. Today, there are only eight nations
in the world."
"Where's the nearest?"
"That's a helluva long way to go on
"We hadn't thought of the matter
being handled in that manner."
Joe eyed him in scorn. "Oh, you
didn't, huh? What happens after I
give it to this guy? I just sit around
and wait for the cops to put the arm
Brett-James grimaced in amusement.
"Mr. Prantera, this will probably
be difficult for you to comprehend,
but there are no police in this
Joe gaped at him. "No police!
What happens if you gotta throw
some guy in stir?"
"If I understand your idiom correctly,
you mean prison. There are
no prisons in this era, Mr. Prantera."
Joe stared. "No cops, no jails. What
stops anybody? What stops anybody
from just going into some bank, like,
and collecting up all the bread?"
Brett-James cleared his throat.
"Mr. Prantera, there are no banks."
"No banks! You gotta have banks!"
"And no money to put in them.
We found it a rather antiquated
method of distribution well over a
Joe had given up. Now he merely
Brett-James said reasonably, "We
found we were devoting as much
time to financial matters in all their
bank robberies—as we were to productive
efforts. So we turned to more
efficient methods of distribution."
On the fourth day, Joe said, "O.K.,
let's get down to facts. Summa the
things you guys say don't stick together
so good. Now, first place,
where's this guy Temple-Tracy you
want knocked off?"
Reston-Farrell and Brett-James
were both present. The three of them
sat in the living room of the latter's
apartment, sipping a sparkling wine
which seemed to be the prevailing
beverage of the day. For Joe's taste
it was insipid stuff. Happily, rye was
available to those who wanted it.
Reston-Farrell said, "You mean,
where does he reside? Why, here in
"Well, that's handy, eh?" Joe
scratched himself thoughtfully. "You
got somebody can finger him for me?"
"Look, before I can give it to this
guy I gotta know some place where
he'll be at some time. Get it? Like Al
Rossi. My finger, he works in Rossi's
house, see? He lets me know every
Wednesday night, eight o'clock, Al
leaves the house all by hisself. O.K.,
so I can make plans, like, to give it
to him." Joe Prantera wound it up
reasonably. "You gotta have a finger."
Brett-James said, "Why not just go
to Temple-Tracy's apartment and, ah,
dispose of him?"
"Jest walk in, eh? You think I'm
stupid? How do I know how many
witnesses hangin' around? How do I
know if the guy's carryin' heat?"
"A gun, a gun. Ya think I'm stupid?
I come to give it to him and he
gives it to me instead."
Dr. Reston-Farrell said, "Howard
Temple-Tracy lives alone. He customarily
receives visitors every afternoon,
largely potential followers. He
is attempting to recruit members to
an organization he is forming. It
would be quite simple for you to
enter his establishment and dispose
of him. I assure you, he does not possess
Joe was indignant. "Just like that,
eh?" he said sarcastically. "Then what
happens? How do I get out of the
building? Where's my get car parked?
Where do I hide out? Where do I
dump the heat?"
"Dump the heat?"
"Get rid of the gun. You want I
should get caught with the gun on
me? I'd wind up in the gas chamber
"See here, Mr. Prantera," Brett-James
said softly. "We no longer have
capital punishment, you must realize."
"O.K. I still don't wanta get caught.
What is the rap these days, huh?"
Joe scowled. "You said they didn't
have no jails any more."
"This is difficult for you to understand,
I imagine," Reston-Farrell told
him, "but, you see, we no longer punish
people in this era."
That took a long, unbelieving moment
to sink in. "You mean, like, no
matter what they do? That's crazy.
Everybody'd be running around giving
it to everybody else."
"The motivation for crime has
been removed, Mr. Prantera," Reston-Farrell
attempted to explain. "A
person who commits a violence
against another is obviously in need
of medical care. And, consequently,
"You mean, like, if I steal a car or
something, they just take me to a
doctor?" Joe Prantera was unbelieving.
"Why would anybody wish to steal
a car?" Reston-Farrell said easily.
"But if I give it to somebody?"
"You will be turned over to a medical
institution. Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy
is the last man you will
ever kill, Mr. Prantera."
A chillness was in the belly of Joe
Prantera. He said very slowly, very
dangerously, "You guys figure on me
getting caught, don't you?"
"Yes," Brett-James said evenly.
"Well then, figure something else.
You think I'm stupid?"
"Mr. Prantera," Dr. Reston-Farrell
said, "there has been as much progress
in the field of psychiatry in the
past two centuries as there has in
any other. Your treatment would be
brief and painless, believe me."
Joe said coldly, "And what happens
to you guys? How do you know I
won't rat on you?"
Brett-James said gently, "The moment
after you have accomplished
your mission, we plan to turn ourselves
over to the nearest institution
to have determined whether or not
we also need therapy."
"Now I'm beginning to wonder
about you guys," Joe said. "Look, all
over again, what'd'ya wanta give it to
this guy for?"
The doctor said, "We explained
the other day, Mr. Prantera. Citizen
Howard Temple-Tracy is a dangerous,
atavistic, evil genius. We are
afraid for our institutions if his plans
are allowed to mature."
"Well if you got things so good,
everybody's got it made, like, who'd
listen to him?"
The doctor nodded at the validity
of the question. "Mr. Prantera, Homo
sapiens is a unique animal. Physically
he matures at approximately the age
of thirteen. However, mental maturity
and adjustment is often not fully
realized until thirty or even more.
Indeed, it is sometimes never
achieved. Before such maturity is
reached, our youth are susceptible to
romantic appeal. Nationalism, chauvinism,
racism, the supposed glory of
the military, all seem romantic to the
immature. They rebel at the orderliness
of present society. They seek entertainment
in excitement. Citizen
Temple-Tracy is aware of this and
finds his recruits among the young."
"O.K., so this guy is dangerous.
You want him knocked off before he
screws everything up. But the way
things are, there's no way of making
a get. So you'll have to get some other
patsy. Not me."
"I am afraid you have no alternative,"
Brett-James said gently. "Without
us, what will you do? Mr. Prantera,
you do not even speak the language."
"What'd'ya mean? I don't understand
summa the big words you eggheads
use, but I get by O.K."
Brett-James said, "Amer-English is
no longer the language spoken by the
man in the street, Mr. Prantera. Only
students of such subjects any longer
speak such tongues as Amer-English,
French, Russian or the many others
that once confused the race with
their limitations as a means of communication."
"You mean there's no place in the
whole world where they talk American?"
Joe demanded, aghast.
Dr. Reston-Farrell controlled the
car. Joe Prantera sat in the seat next
to him and Warren Brett-James sat
in the back. Joe had, tucked in his
belt, a .45 caliber automatic, once displayed
in a museum. It had been
more easily procured than the ammunition
to fit it, but that problem too
had been solved.
The others were nervous, obviously
repelled by the very conception of
what they had planned.
Inwardly, Joe was amused. Now
that they had got in the clutch, the
others were on the verge of chickening
out. He knew it wouldn't have
taken much for them to cancel the
project. It wasn't any answer though.
If they allowed him to call it off today,
they'd talk themselves into it
again before the week was through.
Besides, already Joe was beginning
to feel the comfortable, pleasurable,
warm feeling that came to him on
occasions like this.
He said, "You're sure this guy talks
Warren Brett-James said, "Quite
sure. He is a student of history."
"And he won't think it's funny I
talk American to him, eh?"
"He'll undoubtedly be intrigued."
They pulled up before a large
apartment building that overlooked
the area once known as Wilmington.
Joe was coolly efficient now. He
pulled out the automatic, held it
down below his knees and threw a
shell into the barrel. He eased the
hammer down, thumbed on the
safety, stuck the weapon back in his
belt and beneath the jacketlike garment
He said, "O.K. See you guys later."
He left them and entered the building.
An elevator—he still wasn't used
to their speed in this era—whooshed
him to the penthouse duplex occupied
by Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy.
There were two persons in the reception
room but they left on Joe's
arrival, without bothering to look at
him more than glancingly.
He spotted the screen immediately
and went over and stood before it.
The screen lit and revealed a
heavy-set, dour of countenance man
seated at a desk. He looked into Joe
Prantera's face, scowled and said
Joe said, "Joseph Salviati-Prantera
to interview Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy."
The other's shaggy eyebrows rose.
"Indeed," he said. "In Amer-English?"
"Enter," the other said.
A door had slid open on the other
side of the room. Joe walked through
it and into what was obviously an office.
Citizen Temple-Tracy sat at a
desk. There was only one other chair
in the room. Joe Prantera ignored it
and remained standing.
Citizen Temple-Tracy said, "What
can I do for you?"
Joe looked at him for a long, long
moment. Then he reached down to
his belt and brought forth the .45
automatic. He moistened his lips.
Joe said softly, "You know what
this here is?"
Temple-Tracy stared at the weapon.
"It's a handgun, circa, I would
say, about 1925 Old Calendar. What
in the world are you doing with it?"
Joe said, very slowly, "Chief, in the
line you're in these days you needa
heavy around with wunna these. Otherwise,
Chief, you're gunna wind up
in some gutter with a lotta holes in
you. What I'm doin', I'm askin' for a
job. You need a good man knows how
to handle wunna these, Chief."
Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy
eyed him appraisingly. "Perhaps," he
said, "you are right at that. In the near
future, I may well need an assistant
knowledgeable in the field of violence.
Tell me more about yourself.
You surprise me considerably."
"Sure, Chief. It's kinda a long
story, though. First off, I better tell
you you got some bad enemies, Chief.
Two guys special, named Brett-James
and Doc Reston-Farrell. I think one
of the first jobs I'm gunna hafta do
for you, Chief, is to give it to those
This etext was produced from Analog December 1960. Extensive research did
not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
publication was renewed.