The Mystery of the Vanished Ray Gun
by Jeff Baker
The December 2021 Flash Fiction Draw Challenge story’s prompts were a Mystery set in a highway toll both involving a ray gun. A perfect case for my 23rd Century Detective Captain of the Air Police, Captain Aimes. Here he’s faced with a ground-based mystery.
It had been a while since I’d officially been called down to Traffic Row. At least, not since I was promoted to the Homicide Division of the Air Police. I’d spent some of my early years on the Force “ground-based,” checking cargo and wheels, not bodies and weapons.
But here, we had a body and no weapon.
I’d finished scanning the area and entering the data into my saver. The flat, paved highway was long and had three traffic lanes. The area on either side of the pavement stretched out into green prairie which I had scanned, no trace of metal weapons or otherwise.
Captain Aimes, my boss, was staring into the toll both. The attendant was sprawled backward in his chair, a nasty burned hole in his chest. What I could see. As usual a fatal wound was a bloody mess. Tell-tale signs of a blast from an old-fashioned ray-gun. An antique that would be largely untraceable, which made it fashionable with modern criminals.
“We have a time established yet Lieutenant Ciervo?” Captain Aimes asked me.
“About 1300 hours,” I said. That’s when his saver went offline,” I said, fingering my saver in my front shirt pocket.
“You talk to the guy who found him?” Captain Aimes said.
“Yes,” I said. “He’s still in his truck.”
The long vehicle with the huge tank behind it was something a lot of people hadn’t seen, but I was familiar with ground-based vehicles from my earlier work. The driver had pulled up to the booth to put in his toll and saw the attendant dead in the booth. He’d called the Air Police. That had been about two hours after his saver stopped transmitting. The log transmitted from the truck showed that the driver hadn’t been near the toll booth anywhere near the time of the attendant’s death.
In other words, we had nothing.
“Not even a scratch on the windows of the booth. It hasn’t been tampered with,” Captain Aimes said. “But the hard money and credits chip are gone.”
There was a small metal box on the outside of the booth where someone could insert hard money or a credit chip. The money was gone. And that was the puzzling thing. Someone would have needed to break into the box and it wasn’t damaged. Even more puzzling, a scan of the receiver showed that the credits had been transferred a little more than two hours ago.
“That’s the way we know he had customers,” Captain Aimes said.
I nodded. I was remembering another case where someone had slipped a hard money coin into the slot of a deposit machine and the coin had exploded.
A pre-timed laserblaster. The size and shape of a hard money coin.
I sighed. Captain Aimes was staring at the dead attendant. He waved the technical crew over.
“Open the dome,” he said. “But be very careful. It’s possible there might still be an explosive in there.”
The technical crew quickly transmitted the opening codes and had the dome open. No explosion. No weapons. Captain Aimes picked up the remains of the attendant’s saver from the floor, looking like a small lump of twisted metal. He stared for a minute, then he quickly pulled out his saver and barked a series of orders into it.
“I know where the killer is, if not who,” he said. “And I know what happened here. This wasn’t a robbery gone wrong, this was a planned murder.”
The technical crew and I listened.
“It was supposed to look like an armed robbery but it was an inside job. The attendant’s accomplice arrived and the attendant turned over the hard money, several hundred thousand dollars, at least a pocketful of coins. And the credits, doubtless transferred with the help of the attendant. The attendant had at least one of the laserblaster discs on him, possibly in his jacket front pocket with his saver. He didn’t realize his accomplice wanted it all and sent a hypersonic which set off the laserblast in his pocket, destroying his saver and a chunk of his chest. And we had a laser wound and a vanished ray gun with no hole in the dome.”
“How will we find this killer or the credits?” I asked.
Captain Aimes smiled grimly. “His accomplice won’t want to attract attention. There have been no sensed reports of flights from this area, so he is ground-based. The highway runs East-West, so he won’t want to attract attention. At the speed limit, the next station to turn off the highway is just over three hours from here. He doubtless arrived here from the highway entry ramp two miles East. Turning around in the middle of a one-way highway would attract attention, and besides he may want to pull a genuine robbery at the toll both nearly three-hundred miles from here.”
“Greed,” he added, as if that explained everything.
Captain Aimes’ saver buzzed, and he answered, listened and nodded his head with a smile.
It had explained everything.
AUTHOR’S NOTE WITH A SPOILER: This is the second mystery I’ve written for Captain Aimes (whose first case appears HEREhttps://authorjeffbaker.com/2018/05/14/murder-above-the-clouds-may-flash-fiction-draw-story-by-jeff-baker/ ) This is the second of these draw challenge stories I think I’ve done where the prescribed object turns out not to exist! My sincere thanks to Jeff Ricker for hosting these draws over the past year! ——jeff baker, 12/12/21. 4:35 a.m.