This short story, a particular favourite of mine, originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of "Fantasy & Science Fiction."

Mark Matz's first novel, "Nocturne for a Dangerous Man", is available from the usual suspects.

Johnny <>

At Cost

by Mark Matz

"I wanna buy a gun."

I had to lean over the display case - no easy thing for an old barrigón like me - to see the client. I figured him to be about eight years old, a short eight. He was wearing a World Cup T-shirt; the way he was twitching, it looked as if the Club Santos team colors were banging the hell out of All-England's - which, come to think of it, is exactly what Santos had done to the Brits: 6 to zip.

I really didn't like the way he shook, but at least he didn't have the usual cold, blank eyes, and the door wouldn't have let him in if he weren't clean. Well, I live by the oldest equation:

"No money, no action," I said.

He fished his card out of a hip pocket, thumbed it active, and handed it over.

Geotronics. He worked for a good company. Honest wages, half hour of Basic Ed. on company time, and one of the fairest corporate Waiver of Responsibility contracts around town. From the thickness of his wrists, and the little flecks of white scar tissue on his forearms, the kid probably was a node scraper. I shuddered slightly at the thought - I've always had a touch of claustrophobia. Sighing, I turned back to the system and put LIFEBOAT on background.

"OK, hold on while I check it."

I ran the card through the ACC. It was only a few seconds before I got the obnoxious Gao Kim Bank logo and

William J Breeden

-- So he's nine. --
CB: 43 troy oz AU

I had forgotten that Geotronics was a hard-currency company. I grunted unhappily - I'm a "Cross of Gold" man myself. But business is business. All right, so what was the London fix? F$1,191.2, down 10.72 from yesterday's Bangkok close. Damn, I thought. The Mare Crisium gold fields must be coming on-line faster than expected. If that keeps up, the Transvaalers and Novy Kronstadt are going to get tactical with each other. Hmm, I wonder what the book would be on that action… Later. OK, William J Breeden had enough money to buy anything short of an HK-91, and somehow I didn't think he was planning on getting into a firefight with GTI's militia.

I switched back to LIFEBOAT and, using the cheater routine Buddy Donovan sold me, saved the goddamn game. Screw real time - I wasn't going to give it up now. I've never before reached the final four at the Donner level.

"OK, Citizen Breeden - or can I call you Billy?"

I gave him my best confidence-building smile. Maybe he'd stop twitching. He jerked his head, and I broadened my grin.

"First I'm going to have to get a Statement of Intent from you before you can start shopping. I'm sorry, but the god-damn government still requires it for sales to twelve and unders. You'd think that after the Great Repeal, they would have gotten rid of that bullshit too, but no…"

He shrugged his shoulders real fast, so I cut the politics. I didn't want him to get cold feet - my own account could use a boost, even if it was with gold.

"Anyway, I've got to ask your purpose for buying a weapon."

While I was talking to him, I called up the standard form and started typing in the usual bullshit.

There was a long pause before I heard him say, just barely above a whisper,

"I gotta kill my dad."
"Hijo de la chingada!" I rattled off.

One glance at the expression on his face, and I quickly backspaced - hitting keys so hard my nails hurt - over "Defense & Entertainment" and replaced it with "Personal Justice." The screen flashed yellow, and the detail window popped up.

I took a deep breath and asked, "Why?"
The kid's lips were trembling badly. "He won't stop touching Sally."
"Your sister?" I guessed.
"I see. Bad touching?"
I didn't bother to ask him if he was sure. "How old's Sally?"
"Six - next month."
It was my turn for a long pause. "Why doesn't your mother or your family take care of the problem?"
He shrugged his thin shoulders again. "All we've got is Uncle Ted, and he took off a couple of years ago. I don't know where he is."

He didn't say anything more.

"Your mother dead?"
"No." He was staring at the floor with his chin tucked so far in that I had to ask him to repeat what he had said.
It came out of him hard: "She doesn't wanna listen."

La vale madre puta! No, worse than a useless whore. Like an old grandmother with her beads, I rubbed the clica tattoo on the web between my thumb and forefinger. Poor bastard: no help, not enough to hire a private judge, and the charity - 'scuse me, the Government - courts have a three-year waiting list. Shit, you think what with the mortality rate of freaks nowadays, this kind of crap wouldn't come up. But they're like goddamn roaches - no matter how much you blast away, they keep coming back. Craftier and nastier.

"Billy, what's your father's name and address?"
"My daddy's - his name is John Breeden. We live at 118 Poinsettia Place, 4D - D'ya need the rest?"
"Nope, I've got a directory file on-line. That about covers it." I told the legal module to rectify my notes, and pummeled the printout key. "Do you know what you want to buy?"
"A gun."
"Right… Why don't you let me pick something out for you? I believe in providing service as well as hardware." I gave him a copy of his S/I. "Can you read? Good. Go over the stuff on the back, and if you don't have questions, you can go ahead and signify on the front bottom."

While he was reading, or pretending to read, all that informed-consent junk about justifiable homicide, bystander liability, and forfeiture of profit, I leaned back on my chair and scratched myself.

I could have the system pick something out, but a man who doesn't know his own merchandise shouldn't be in business. Let's see: his puto of a father is going to sure as shit armed; all those bugs - the skinners, the pain freaks, the baby rapers - are usually jag paranoid. With reason. Probably even Kevlar polylaminate underwear, and I doubted the kid was up to a precision hit. If it happens, it'll have to be a one-shot, can't miss deal. I was going to have to find Billy about as luck-free a rig as he can afford.

Something special for an up-front, first-strike gig… I slapped my big belly. Ya chole! That beauty that Caravaggio put out back in their fall catalog. A couple of strokes, and there it was in all its sleek titanium glory. Damn, that gun was beautiful piece of work. You've got to hand it to those Torino workshops; they make the prettiest tools, bar none.

I scrolled down to the specs to refresh my memory, and drool a little.

Caravaggio "Sorpresa" S3.
Derringer-class shotgun - single round.
Length: 128mm.
Weight: 531g with shell.
Effective range: 4.5 meters with a spread of 1 meter².
Ammo: 12-gauge load of 16 pellets.
Recoil impulse about 5 foot-pounds.
-- With his wrists, no problem --
Wakizashi neurocoupled Target Designator/Sight.
Operational data: at 2 meters, pellets have a residual energy approx. 55% greater than that of a 9mm round at the same range.
Will overcome Class 1 resistance. Upon penetration, pellets shred into razor-edged filaments, thus providing maximum damage with minimal egress.
-- In other words, evisceration without gore --
Self-contouring arm holster has removable strip impregnated with 1 dose of Cool Hand™ (microinjected).

That last bit was a nice touch; Cool Hand's the best and quickest of the beta-blocker/amphetamine mixes. Make a tight fist, and in 1.5 seconds or less, you get a steady mind and a fast aim. Hell, I remember back when the old NCAA banned beta-blocker use in shooting events because it reduced performance anxiety. Cool Hand would have driven them crazy. The purists were still bitching - screw them.

I checked the list price: F$507.95 for the gun and holster, and F$2.98 per round. A nice sale. Billy's account would just barely cover it. I gave him the quote, and he agreed.

The stock number was green, so I called up the warehouse. As I waited for the item to come down the belt, I tried to give the kid some tips.

"Don't talk to him, not a fucking word. Try and get him in a doorway. Aim at him as you were pointing your finger; the auto-tracker will make sure you're accurate. Anywhere above the waist will be fine."

He didn't say anything, just kept his arms folded tight against his sides and swayed a little, but he looked like he was listening.

When the box arrived, I took it out and ran him through the mechanics. He had a little trouble adjusting the Cool Hand strip - the microinjectors felt like a cat's fur, and he was ticklish - but all in all, he caught on real fast, a bright boy.

"You're all set. Put your thumb on the sales slip. Don't worry; your copy will be the only permanent record."

I heat-stapled the slip to his S/I.

"When the Public Interrogators show up, give them that. A quick Truthtell session, and it'll be all over."

He didn't pick up the paperwork. I could tell he wasn't paying attention, so I started to repeat what I had just said, when he interrupted me.

"Can I buy another round?"

I looked into those dark eyes washed with tears, and nodded.

So I sold him the mercy shot at cost.

What can I say? I'm just a goddamn sentimental cholo.