Greetings, Loyal Reader!
“So, then, who wants to kill me today?” I shouted.
A clamor arose from the gathered killers. They volleyed as much vituperation at each other as at me. The only thing uniting this motley crew was a desire to see me dead. There was much pushing and shoving. Mothers were insulted. Parentage was questioned. Vile epithets were hurled. Punches were thrown.
“Pipe down!” I said. “You’ll each get your turn!”
“Turns?” bellowed Kyril the Red. “Now it’s turns?” He stepped off line and raised his ax. “Enough waiting! Jason Cosmo, prepare to——arrgh!”
Two beams of red light flashed across the dueling ground and punched a pair of holes through the big fighter’s chest. Kyril the Red took two tottering steps and toppled to the ground as Kyril the Dead. Smoke rose from his corpse.
The killers froze and fell silent.
“Merc!” I shouted. “What did I tell you?”
Mercury, eyes now hidden behind the mirrored lenses of his sunshades, shrugged. “He cut in line. You told me to manage the list, I’m managing the list.”
“What is this?” accused one of the killers. “A setup?”
“No, no!” I said. “It is all on the level! But you must wait your turn. Otherwise, the whole thing breaks down and you end up fighting each other instead of me. Wait until your name is called. If you fear another will kill me first, just remember: if you can’t be The Man Who Killed Jason Cosmo, you can always become The Man Who Killed the Man Who Killed Jason Cosmo!”
My little joke got a laugh and diffused the tension.
“One more thing before we start. If you are hoping to collect the ten million carat bounty, you’re too late. It was already paid out.”
“What?” cried a masked and mustachioed fellow clad in mauve. He wore a bandolier of throwing knives across his chest and pair of hatchets at his belt. He was the Mauve Marauder, a rising young bounty hunter. “Paid to whom?”
“To me,” I said. “I collected the bounty on myself.”
“My idea,” said Merc.
“Now see here!” said the Mauve Marauder. “That is hardly proper, collecting your own bounty! Bad form!”
“Most unfair!” said a dour gentleman done up in a black hood, skeleton mask and black leather chaps. He idly twirled a lariat. “I’m the Grim Roper! I rode six weeks from Ganopolis to nab you. You’re telling me it was all for naught?”
“Jeekers!” His rope went limp. He spat in disgust and stalked off through the park. The Mauve Marauder followed, along with several other disappointed bounty hunters.
To Merc I said, “I hate to waste their time.”
“You are too kind,” said Merc. He marked the list. “That brings us to Malik of the Seven Blades! You’re up!”