Sneak is my middle name. I was an Army Ranger once. I make my living as a security specialist and private investigator. A professional sneak.

Gumshoe, Inc. That’s me. I investigate philandering husbands and use my camera to catch disability frauds out water skiing. I may be getting fat and gray but sneaking is still my game.

I don’t know how the alien managed to surprise me.


I was in the alley between 2nd and 3rd streets, just off Franklin Avenue. You know Franklin. It’s one street into the Red Zone. In there you can get anything you want — for a price. The other end of the alley glowed from the reflected lights of ordinary businesses on Jefferson Avenue. I was standing at the dark end, watching a rundown apartment building across the street.

Fleet Morgan was in an apartment with a woman not his wife. Apparently, he couldn’t divorce his old lady without sacrificing the majority of his considerable wealth. I’d met the chain smoking, skinny harridan he was married to and I sympathized with him even though she was my client. I’d told her about the apartment rendezvous and was on the scene to get the kind of pictorial evidence divorce lawyers slobber over.

It was cool, a good night for surveillance. I was just another shadow in the dark alley. I was comfortable. Maybe that’s how the Krell got so close.

Yeah, I was surprised by one of those — the aliens who showed up a few years ago and announced that they wanted to trade with Earth. Their ships come and go at regular intervals, bringing trade goods and technology. Sadly, they also arrive with tourists.

“Will there be rain?”

My heart must be made of stern stuff, because I didn’t die of fright when this dark figure eased up beside me and asked about the weather. I was still trying to unlock my jaw when he moved around me and looked up and down the street. “Is this a stakeout?”

My heart decided to keep working. “Who the hell are you?”

The intruder stepped back and planted his back against the wall, right next to mine. He extended a three-fingered hand with the thumb in the wrong place, freezing my guts a second time. I’d only seen Krell on TV.

A subdued crackling started up. “Durst is my name.” His voice emanated from the left breast pocket of his black overcoat. He had a translator box. Lucky me.

Anger overrode my surprise and fright. “I don’t care about your name! Get the hell out of here.”

The alien ignored me. “Who are you tailing? Is it a chippy? A gunsel?” He rotated a pair of eyestalks skyward, nearly knocking his fedora off in the process. “Why isn’t it raining? Noir scenes should be dark and rainy.”

Some of the words made sense. Most didn’t. “What are you jabbering about?”

“Don’t try to con me, man. I paid twenty large for the whole noir experience. You’re the shamus, ain’t you?”

I began to get the drift. He was a tourist. “How did you get here? I’m a private detective on a case, not an actor playing a part.”

“Oh, man. Realism.” Claws scraped as he stepped back a pace. “I gotcha. You gotta stay in character.” He hesitated for a moment. “Will there be rain later? What about a blonde bimbo? Can I expect gunplay?”

Before I could work out what he was talking about, I heard a door open across the street. “Shut up.” I pitched my voice low. “Stay outta my way.”

“You got it, man.” The translator output fell to a whisper. “Is this the bruno?”

Fleet Morgan stood in the doorway of a second floor apartment with a blonde honey snuggled up against him. I raised my camera and started taking pictures.

“A bimbo,” whispered my companion.

I paid no attention. This was exactly what Mrs. Morgan wanted. Ammunition that would assure her an even larger share of the pie, when and if they split. I felt like a real jerk.

Angry at the Krell and trying to keep the camera steady, I didn’t see the van until gunfire erupted. There were two shooters, one in the passenger seat, one firing out the side door. I saw Fleet shove the woman back into the apartment. Bullets ripped bricks, blasting fragments and dust into the air.

“Torpedoes with choppers!” cried the alien.

It was the brick dust that saved Fleet. The gunmen lost sight of him as he dropped behind a wrought iron railing and opened fire. He wasn’t using any woman’s gun either. A slug hit the engine block with a resounding clang. I didn’t see where the other bullets went, except for the one that took out Durst.

The van plowed into a parked car. Nobody got out. The engine thrashed and banged for a few seconds, then lurched to a stop. Fleet disappeared back into the apartment. A minute or so later he escorted the blonde down to her car. She got in and drove away.

Durst must have been wearing a locating device, because his handlers arrived before the cops. They hustled the alien into a black van. One listened to my story and shrugged off my concern. “He’ll be fine. Krell are tough. Tomorrow he’ll be bragging about the gunfight he was in.” The guy glanced upward. “Too bad there wasn’t any rain.”


I told the cops what I’d seen, leaving out the Krell. One shooter lay in the street, dead. The other gunsel was slumped in the passenger seat. His brains and blood decorated the interior. EMTs had the driver on a gurney. The bullet in his side made him real talkative. He named Mrs. Morgan as his employer. The bitch used me to find Fleet, then put a hit on him. I erased the pictures in my camera.

It’s time to get out of the business. My sneak is busted.

JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.

This story is sponsored by
Clarion West — Apply now and prepare for your professional writing career with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.

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