The Mansfield home looked like any other house in the upper middleclass suburban neighborhood. It was a split level ranch surrounded by spacious lawns with a small flower garden in front of the large bay window. On one side of the house stood a tall evergreen. The siding was earth tone brown vinyl with a false brick façade in the front section. It had a small covered porch two steps up from the paved driveway. A two-car garage was attached by a breezeway. Glass doors off the living room led to a covered patio. An in-ground swimming pool surrounded on three sides by a six foot fence adjacent to the patio. Hedges and trees divided the property from the neighbor's houses on two sides. Beyond the rear boundary was a small copse. The house was located in the middle of a cul-de-sac so that the property was wedge shaped, narrower in the front than the back.
To the casual observer the Mansfields themselves seemed ordinary, although many in the neighborhood thought them rather secretive since they had little commerce with the neighbors. Although they politely greeted people when confronted, they never stopped to gossip or otherwise converse. They were seldom seen outdoors. Hired men came to mow the lawn and trim the hedges. When they were seen leaving the house, it was not at any scheduled time such as employed people would have. Yet, they appeared much too young to be retired. Paula never joined any of the coffee klatches that the other women in the neighborhood enjoyed. The gossips of the neighborhood thought also said that they were a bit peculiar in dress and habits. The other neighbors hardly gave them a thought.
One moonless evening rather late, Paula and Mark were conversing in low tones in their living room. Mark fiddled with a device that seemed to be part TV remote and part pistol. In shape it resembled an automatic, only smaller. The top was flat with buttons on it.
Paula nervously peered through the partially open drapes of the glass doors that led to the patio and the in-ground swimming pool. Beyond the pool was utter darkness except for the night sky which sparkled with a myriad stars. Their nearest neighbor's home was hidden by trees.
"I don't like this whole business," she remarked. "The people who are buying the lasgun are criminals. How do you know we can trust them? Why can't we simply sell them to a government agency or a legitimate private company?"
Mark gave her an exasperated look. "Government people and legitimate businessmen would ask too many questions that we could not give them an answer to. The first would be, where did we obtain such a thing? The second would be, where did we come from? Now tell me, Paula, how would you reply to such questions?"
"All right. I see your point. But must you fiddle with that thing. It makes me nervous. It could go off accidentally. You could wind up killing yourself or blasting a hole in the wall." She yanked the drapes shut and glared at Mark. "Please put it away."
Mark glanced at his watch. "Take it easy, Paula. The safety's on. The buyers should be arriving soon. I'll need to demonstrate it for them."
"I hope we get this business over quickly. Those people whose machine we used to get here may come after us."
"I don't see how that's possible. How can know where we are?"
"That's what you say, but who knows what capabilities those people have? If they have the sort of machine we used, they could also have ways of tracing where we went."
"Why are you so nervous? This is not like you, Paula. Before we got involved in this business, you were always the adventurous one. Now I find that you're all talk."
"Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do. Besides, I have a bad feeling about tonight, a premonition that something terrible is going to happen."
Mark chuckled. "You and your premonitions." To Paula's disgust, he kept fooling with the lasgun.
Suddenly behind her came a horrendous splintering crash. Splinters of glass hit her in the back and fell at her feet. When she turned, a man whose face was scarred and burned terribly stood among the broken glass of their French doors. He knocked Paula to one side, grabbed the lasgun out of Mark's hand and pointed the weapon at him.
"Who are you?" Mark cried. "What do you want?"
The intruder did not reply. Without a word, he simply sneered and pointed the lasgun at Mark. A beam of bright blue light from the weapon reduced Mark to ash in seconds.
As acrid smoke of burning flesh reached Paula's nostrils, she threw up her arms in front of her face and screeched, "Mark! You killed him." Faint with horror, she sank down on the sofa and shivered with fright. Was she going to be the next victim of this madman? It was unbelievable, one moment she was speaking to Mark, the next he was gone forever. She burst into tears. She looked up at his assailant. "Please don't hurt me. Why did you kill my husband?"
"Shut up, Paula. Don't you know who the hell I am? I suppose not, my face must be a fucking mess. I guess the sight of it must nauseate you. But it's your own fucking damn fault. When you and Mark didn't return to your apartment, I realized what you were up to, that you took the lasgun and used Josen's machine to come here. Perhaps it was my fault for telling you all about it." He pointed to his scarred face. "That Josen crowd does not fool around. One of them did this to me."
She got up from the sofa and slowly approached the marred man. She peered closely at his face and his tall athletic body. After a moment's reflection, she knew who he was. How could she forget his deep baritone voice. "Is it really you? How you must've suffered." Tears formed in her eyes. "I still don't understand why you killed Mark? We would've shared with you."
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