Captain Jean-Luc Picard enjoys playing the part of Dixon Hill, a hard-boiled private detective, during his holographic excursions into 1940s San Francisco, but when the Enterprise loses power, taking it into a perilous zone of warped space and time, he discovers that his alter ego holds the key to survival as he journeys back in time and into a confrontation with a cold-blooded killer. Original.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Dean Wesley Smith is the author of over 30 Star Trek novels either solo or written jointly with Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He is editor of the Star Trek STRANGE NEW WORLDS short story anthologies and author of the film novelisation FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: A Hardboiled Life in the City
Section One: On the Hunt
It was raining in the city by the bay. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the slime out of the streets.
Dixon Hill thought back over the words of his friend, Mr. Data, as the radiator behind him cracked and popped. It fought the valiant battle to keep the cold and damp out of his office. It usually lost.
Beyond the single pane window the deep sounds of a far-off ship's horn echoed through the fog and rain, crying out like a lost animal in the night.
He listened. Many days he had just sat, feet up on his desk, and listened to that deep, mournful sound. Now it faded, replaced by the honking of cars and swishing of tires on the wet pavement of the street below. He loved the city, every rotten, lustful, dark thing about it.
But right now he wished he could make the whole stinking place just go away.
Dixon Hill sighed and listened as the ship's horn again moaned its plaintive cry. So far he had been lucky in this world. He doubted his luck was going to hold.
He nestled his gray fedora tight on his head, straightened his tie, and pulled the collar of his tan raincoat up around his neck. Then he touched the scarred top of the single wood desk that commanded the room. The empty, wooden chair behind the desk sat with its back to the city, seeming to say that nothing out there meant anything.
But that wasn't true.
The city demanded attention, taking what it could like a hungry beast always searching for food. He had still not finished one case, had not managed to put the creep who had killed Marci Andrews behind bars where he belonged. She had been a great actress, and was gunned down at her stage door, and Dixon Hill had wanted to find her killer.
He had not done so, and that bothered him.
But now he had to get to work on something far more important. He had to find the Heart of the Adjuster. The Adjuster itself was a device not much bigger than a loaf of bread. The Heart of the Adjuster was what made it important. The Heart, a small, golden ball that rattled around inside the Adjuster, was what made the thing work. Without it, like a human without a heart pumping blood, the Adjuster was worthless.
Now the Heart of the Adjuster had been snatched without anyone leaving so much as a clue. But Dixon Hill knew that with any crime, there were always clues. You just had to know where to look.
And Dixon Hill was a master of turning over every rock and finding those clues.
He moved so that his nose was close to the cold glass of the wet window. Out there somewhere, hidden in the large city, was the Heart of the Adjuster. But where?
Hill's breath fogged the window, reminding him that he was still alive, for the moment. The stakes of this heist were even higher than a simple murder case. This time the lives of hundreds rested with his ability to dig out what had happened to the Heart of the Adjuster, shovelful by shovelful, until he had moved enough dirt to expose the worms that lived in the dirt and grime of this city. Only then would he find who had taken the Heart, where it was hidden, and end all this.
No one stood below, on the sidewalk, in the rain, waiting for him.
Good. It was time to go.
He made sure his notebook was in his pocket, then turned and headed for the door.
Granted, he had his doubts about his ability, more so this time than any case ever before. He hoped he was as good as everyone said he was. Because if he wasn't, the price was going to be high. Failure this time meant the wet streets of San Francisco would swallow him like so much garbage, taking the hundreds of others who depended on him down as well. For without the Heart, nothing would last long.
Once before this world had endangered everything, in his very first venture here, when he was working a case he called, "The Big Good-bye." But this time it wasn't just some alliance that was at stake. It was lives.
His and everyone else's.
He had to be Dixon Hill, the best P.I. in the city by the bay, to solve this case. He would do that.
And be that.
He had no choice.
He closed the door to his inner office hard, like a period on a short sentence, closing off the doubts. Then he headed through his outer office toward the stairs, squaring his shoulders to meet the city, pushing the last shreds of questions to the bottom of his mind as if trying to drown them in a shallow pool. He would have to hold those doubts under, kill them without remorse. Weakness was never an option on the streets of this city.
A cat streaked down the hall and out of sight around the corner, silent and alone in its dealings. He felt that way as well. Alone, stalking his prey through this man-made jungle.
He closed the outer door, rattling the glass with his name etched on it.
Then, without a glance back, he went down the stairs.
Dixon Hill was on the case.
Thirty-one hours before the Heart of the Adjuster is stolen
Captain's Log. Personal.
My hope is that with more than eight hours remaining before the Enterprise reaches the area nicknamed the Blackness, I will have the time to solve the fascinating Dixon Hill case I have nicknamed "Murder at the Stage Door." If I succeed, it will be the tenth Dixon Hill case I will have solved since my first visit to this strange holographic world. And I am proud to say that each case has been progressively harder than the one before it. Dr. Crusher tells me the challenge and the change of scenery improve my mood and efficiency and I am in no position to argue with her. After all, she is the ship's doctor.
Nevertheless, the challenge is engrossing. And the change of reality, from my shipboard duties to being a private detective in old San Francisco, is attractive to me. Being able to change reality so simply is a luxury I have not taken for granted.
I, as Dixon Hill, have only two real suspects in the death of actress Marci Andrews. The first, her husband, producer Arnie Andrews, seems the most likely candidate. The second, her spurned lover, Brad Barringer, seems far more upset than he should, considering the circumstances.
On the surface, the case seems so simple: jealous husband, tossed-aside boyfriend. Yet my instincts tell me that Cyrus Redblock, crime boss of the city, is involved. I just haven't made the connection yet. But in the next eight hours I hope to do just that.
Section Two: A Friendly Greeting
Dixon Hill listened to his own footsteps echoing between the dark buildings.
Click. Click. Click.
The hard heels of his dress shoes made the wet pavement ring like a drummer keeping perfect time. He made no effort to silence the beat. For the moment the rain had stopped, leaving the city black and shiny under the streetlights, yet at the same time pitch dark and forbidding between each island of light.
In perfect time he moved from darkness to light, then back to darkness, never slowing.
A swirling fog drifted just overhead, threatening to lower a blanket of gray onto the street at any moment. The air smelled of dampness and fish from the docks. Again he pulled his collar up against his neck, trying to get it tighter to hold out the air's thick, heavy feel. It felt like a force that he had to push through.
Click. Click. Click.
The cadence of his shoes echoed so loud in the narrow, building-lined street that he knew no one was following him. He would be able to hear them like a drum corps marching in a parade.
He reached a major street corner and turned onto a bright active area, lit like a stage by the yellow lights in the windows and signs flashing with garish colors. He paused for a moment before stepping onto that stage, then pushed the doubts away and moved into the light.
Cars sped past, the sounds of their engines filling the background of the place like thunder from a distant storm. No one paid him any attention, as he hoped would be the case. His own steps were lost in the music of the night and the performances going on around him.
Late theater patrons, mostly couples arm in arm, hurried past him, heading for their cars, the streetcars, or maybe a nearby after-show dinner.
He watched them, wishing for the freedom they enjoyed. He and the elegant Bev had taken in a show along with dinner one night just a month before, leaving Mr. Data to guard a warehouse while waiting for the arrival of Cyrus Redblock.
As they often did, Mr. Data and Bev had been helping him work a case he called "Murder under the Bridge." He had solved it in three days' time. Easy as pie, as Mr. Data would say. After that one night on the town, word had got around that she was his steady squeeze. He let it spread. He could do worse.
The image of the Luscious Bev that night flashed back to him. Her tight red dress, her hair long and full, her lips painted red. He had never remembered her being so beautiful. Yes, he could do worse. A whole lot worse.
Some night he planned on taking up his friend, Detective Bell, on his offer to bring the Luscious Bev over to meet his wife and kids. If he, and the rest of this world, survived this case, he would do just that. He'd been wanting to meet that wife Bell kept bragging about.
Now, the Luscious Bev, Mr. Whelan, Mr. Data, and a number of others were helping him on this case. He had a hunch they were not going to be the only ones.
Dix pushed the image away and focused on the task at hand. He knew that finding the Heart of the Adjuster was going to take all of his people, especially if they were going to find it in time to save this city. And everyone beyond the confines of this wet, dark world.
Ahead, three parked cars away, a man stood, his back against a light pole, his jacket open like he welcomed the wetness. The burning ember on the end of a cigarette hung like a beacon, orange against the black shadows.
Dix studied him like an art collector studying an interesting painting. The guy had been waiting long enough to burn through five cigs, the butts pressed into the wet pavement around him.
The man pretended to pay no attention to anything, as if he were only waiting for time to pass.
Dix almost laughed. He knew the guy had seen him by the slight jerk of his head, and by the way he did everything in his power not to look in Dix's direction.
It was Dix he had been waiting for.
But for what reason? That was going to be the big money question. Maybe right now, right here, Dix was going to get his first clue as to who took the Heart.
Dix didn't recognize the guy's mug, but the way the city and the world around Dixon Hill had changed over the last number of hours, that didn't mean anything. The guy was good-sized, with bulges in all the wrong places under the brown raincoat. It was easy to see the guy's guns by how he leaned against the pole, pulling his coat tight against them.
The guy was stupid. Dumber than the streetlight he was leaning against. Or maybe that saying was nowhere near as bright? Dix sometimes confused the sayings of the day. Mr. Data and the Luscious Bev were always correcting him.
Dix didn't vary his pace.
As he got within a step of passing the man's position, the guy reached into his coat to pull his gun from the holster bulging under his arm.
Real slow and real stupid.
The guy didn't get the piece clear of his armpit.
Dix spun, stepped toward the guy, and put his fist squarely against the side of the guy's jaw, swinging through as if trying to hit a spot just out of reach beyond the weak chin.
The big lug became as loose as a rag doll, spinning around the pole and landing facedown on the hood of a blue Dodge with a loud thump, denting the metal. The guy's big gun clattered on the sidewalk and ended up in the water in the gutter.
Dix flipped the bag of flesh over, then grabbed him by the front of his shirt and coat and hauled him up close. The guy's gray eyes read dumb, and his legs were playing at good imitations of wet noodles.
But stupid boy wasn't done being stupid yet. Stunned, he still had enough left to try to struggle.
Real bad thinking.
Dix pounded him hard in the stomach, his fist sinking into the soft flesh just above his belt.
The guy doubled over with a choking sound, like a cat trying to cough up a fur ball. Dix stepped sideways to make sure nothing from the guy's dinner ended up on his shoes.
It took a moment, then the guy caught his breath as if coming up from trying to swim a lap of the YMCA pool under water.
A couple moved to the inside of the sidewalk to avoid the scene, keeping their heads down and walking past quickly. Smart folks, keeping their noses clean.
Dix grabbed the guy's lapel again and hauled him back to a standing position. For a second time Dix brought him up close, staring into the gray eyes.
"You want to tell me why you were about to pull a gun on me?" Dix asked, his voice as low and as cold as he could make it, his nose just inches from the other man's nose. "Spill it."
Dix could tell the guy was going to have a sore jaw for a week. He moved it before speaking and the smell of garlic filled Dix's face like the air blowing from an Italian restaurant exhaust fan. Dix held his grip and his ground and kept staring into the man's dull eyes.
"Orders," the guy said, finally, wincing at the pain as he spoke. "I'm supposed ta put ya on ice and bring ya ta my boss."
Even through the Italian-rot breath, Dix knew the guy was telling the truth. The eyes didn't move, the body didn't jerk.
"And who is your boss?" Dix demanded, not allowing himself to blink.
The guy's eyes shifted right, then left, making sure no one was listening. "Benny da Banger," the guy said, the garlic adding intensity to the words.
Dix shoved the guy hard against the hood of the car, denting it again. He was clearly too stupid to be lying. He really did work for someone named Benny the Banger.
Dix had never heard of anyone with that name.
"So what does this Benny want with me?"
"Benny wanted ta make sure ya stayed out'a his way when he takes over the city," the guy said, leaning against the Dodge while rubbing his jaw with the back of his hand.
Dix laughed. "I think Cyrus Redblock might have a problem with that idea."
The guy snorted. "Ya been on vacation or somethin'? Redblock's out of the picture. Someone snatched him. City's up for grabs and my boss wants a part of it."
Dix kept his face calm and straight, not letting it show the surprise he felt. If Redblock was gone, that meant finding the Heart of the Adjuster was going to be that much harder. And that much more dangerous.
"I'm cuttin' ya loose," Dix said. "Tell your boss I won't get in his way if he doesn't get in mine."
Still rubbing his jaw, the guy nodded.
Dix turned and headed down the dark, wet street toward where he was to meet the Luscious Bev and Mr. Data on their stakeout.
Behind him he...
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