The Tall Man

The tall man slid into the room. He was lanky, but all tall men measuring 201.34 centimeters are lanky, no matter their weight. He was perfect. Not in the sense that his abs were sculpted and his features were completely symmetrical. Or that women would swoon at his mere presence. The tall man was perfect because of his slight imperfections. A single beard hair grew slightly outside of his stubble line. His blonde hair was combed to the left, but a few small strands still stuck up in the back. His left ear lobe extended 2 millimeters lower than the right. His nose gave the slight impression at the bridge that it had been broken in the past. His torso was 3 centimeters longer than the average man of his stature. He had an uneasy and crooked smile when presented with social situations.

Even his movements were imperfect, more out of functional necessity than design, but they were imperfect none-the-less. He leaned backwards ever so slightly as he walked, and if you studied him in detail, you would make note of the fact that his upper body stayed completely still as his legs swiveled under him, his heels never crossing the plane of his body. The effect of this walk was such that as he walked toward you, his gaze would never deviate more than a millimeter above or below his eyeline. It was as if, everywhere he went, he traveled on rails. So when the tall man entered a room, he had no choice but to slide.

Taken together, all of these imperfections added up to a somewhat unique man who most would simply dismiss as yet another somewhat unique man and move on with their lives. This was why the tall man was perfect. His slight oddities, taken as a whole, meant he could blend in and choose only to be noticed for what he was when it was in his best interests to do so.

His creator, one Dr. Archibald Francis DeGutteran, was always most proud of his own skill when he reviewed the tall man’s databanks at the end of the day only to confirm that his true identity stayed hidden from all those he meant it to stay hidden from. Archibald, Francis to the small number of friends he did have, had spent the better part of his career designing, building, and then rebuilding different versions of this golem. This particular version was Archibald’s twelfth, and best, attempt to avoid the uncanny valley while still fulfilling the mission he set out for himself 15 years ago. Francis had no physical ability to execute his own mission, but he had enough skill to create something that was.

The room the tall man had slid into was 10 meters on each side, almost. It was also imperfect, having one wall that measured 10.12 meters. Only the tall man had the ability to note this difference. To every one else, it was a non-descript room attached to a mostly deserted, yet still nefariously active, warehouse on the edge of the city. Save for the tan water stain on the ceiling tiles in the far right corner, it would have been indistinguishable from any other room in a warehouse on the edge of a city to the casual observer.

Genevieve Schlot, Ginny to her inner circle, and Tavaras Jones, no nickname of note, had been waiting for the tall man for well over an hour. Tavaras, in particular, was not the kind of man you made wait but he bit his tongue as the tall man entered. They had been drawing the tall man closer for the last few months. He had been an effective tool and they wanted that effectiveness to continue. Tavaras didn’t pay the tall man; the tall man seemed to do as he wished. What he wished, at the moment at least, was beneficial to both Tavares and Ginny’s business interests.

At first, the tall man was some kind of information lamprey living in the shadows. He had latched on to one of Tavaras’s small time dealers in the Portland/Seattle megacity. The dealer, Quentin, had done the right thing and told Tavares about him as soon as the tall man approached with his weird, smooth walk. Quentin thought it was odd that the tall man brazenly asked for information. He couldn’t have been a constable. Constables would take weeks before they asked for anything and in that time, Quentin would have sniffed them out. The tall man, on the other hand, walked right up to Quentin and asked him where a rival dealer’s location was. There was no attempt at ingratiation, no faux friendliness.

Quentin told him to come back tomorrow and then called Tavaras. Tavaras rightly assumed, given the tall man’s forward nature, that he meant Quentin no harm. When the tall man returned on time, with precision that would make a watchmaker proud, Quentin told the him everything he knew about the rival dealer, snickering every time he said Bonedragger. Both because he was nervous about what Bonedragger would do when he found out Quentin gave him up to this man and also because Bonedragger is such a ridiculous name.

The next day, however, Bonedragger didn’t come searching. Instead, Quentin’s, and subsequently Tavaras’s, business doubled in the megacity. Bonedragger reached a very gory end, along with every member of his crew in the vicinity. Rumors circulated that there were over 1,000 spent shells on the ground, so many that the coroner broke his ankle as he slipped on the casings. There was only one survivor and he didn’t show up until about 10 months after the slaughter. He was a low-level henchman from Bonedraggers crew that got caught up in a burglary ring and the story he told made Melanie Shriever, the most senior and most hardened detective, throw up in the interrogation room’s garbage can after hearing it.

A similar story repeated a few more times across the country in ever larger markets. First Portland/Seattle, then Houston, then the Los Angeles/San Diego corridor, then the Boston megaplex. Every time, Tavaras got more and more rich. Each time, Tavaras fed more and more information through his underlings. By the time the tall man had arrived in New York, Tavaras had already sent word throughout his New York organization that whoever next met the tall man should give him the warehouse’s address and tell him to be there at 10 pm the next day. They were then to call Tavaras or Ginny, since they never separated, and tell him the meeting was set.

When the tall man arrived at 10:59, Tavares was impatient. Ginny was indifferent, but that was her normal expression. Rumors circulated that she used many of the products Tavaras sold, even though there was a strict prohibition against using the drugs, but those were never proven. She was known to carry two small curved blades tucked behind her back, only the curved edges cleaned and sharpened. The hilt and remainder of the blade rusting away with all of her previous victim’s blood. She was prone to snapping at a moment’s notice, usually at the slight nod of Tavaras’s head. Sometimes, in her indifferent state, she would misread a gesture from Tavaras and kill or maim the wrong person with a quick flash of her blades. Her augmented strength bursting from her calm demeanor.

The tall man stood at the edge of the table attempting to seem at ease by smiling his crooked smile. In the back of his processing cortex, the tall man identified the pheromones in Tavaras that signaled stress.

“I’m not your normal everyday dealer, Mr…” Tavares started, and then turned to Ginny. “Do we know his name?”

“What’s your name, friend?”

The tall man stood a little straighter. A cursory scan from his internal sensor array allowed him to see the full complement of guards and innocents around the warehouse for .98 kilometers. He smiled again.

“Don’t speak much, do you? All right. I guess I’ll call you Lanky.” Tavaras paused, but only for effect. “Mr. Lanky, I called this meeting because I think we can work together. We seem to have similar designs, except your reasons are a little less clear than I’d like. You don’t ever take any money. You don’t ever set up a rival operation. You, Mr. Lanky, just destroy. But I like what you destroy. It makes me money. So I asked you to come here so we can make this, very strange arrangement, more official, more mutually beneficial.”

The air vent above Tavaras and Ginny’s head whirred to life, but the tall man did not sway or speak.

“You’ve got to want things, need things.” Tavaras drew out the word need.

Again, silence. In the background, the tall man could feel his processing cortex relinquish control to Dr. DeGuttern as the handshake verified his inbound link. His own thoughts and wishes fell behind a wall of processes that ensured his subservience to the good Doctor. Tavaras continued.

“I can give you whatever those things are. Cars. Drugs. People. Power. But I’d like something in return. I’d like you to finish off the Carasco family. I’d like you to take out the Elm Street Thugs. The Yakuza. Hell, all of them. You seem so very good at it. Come work for me. You’ve been been doing it for half a year now anyway, and I feel it’s high time we made this an official relationship. Don’t you?”

The tall man shifted slightly. If Tavaras was close enough, he might have heard the whine of a tiny servo, but Tavares was too enamored with his own voice to hear much of anything.

“What do you say, Mr. Lanky? C’mon. You’ve got something you need, don’t you?”

Silence drove Tavares crazy and he was already crazy.

“I invited you into my house. This isn’t a place people come who don’t work for me. Or at least it’s a place they don’t leave.”

Ginny made a small mouse-like sound. A glimmer of excitement as her left hand reached back for the blade behind her kidney.

“No. I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything.” The tall man’s voice was gravelly and dark. It was slower, too, more measured.

When the tall man was brought into being by Dr. DeGutteran, he was spawned with a burning desire to find Tavares. There were no rules associated with this goal. He was given tools too, tools he was not forbidden to use. In fact, his psyche, such as it was, was more prone to their usage than a reasonable man would have ever been. His brakes were removed. There were no guardrails, only a mission to find Tavaras. How the tall man had arrived at the plan to dismantle rival dealers and smuggler operations to manufacture an invite to Tavaras’s operations, Dr. DeGutteran had no idea. He was, however, impressed at how wildly effective he had been.

The tall man continued. “I have all that I ever wanted. I wanted to know where you called home.”

Ginny’s back straightened. The tall man’s eyes shifted for a picosecond as it assessed her posture and her obvious strength. He could hear her tendons stretching as the wires that threaded through her muscles tightened. The situation wasn’t lost on Tavaras. He turned his head at an oblique angle and nodded lightly. Ginny sprang out of her chair, her blades already surging forward. As she traversed the top of the 2 meter table, the tall man was surprised she barely made a sound. No yelling, no cursing, only silent bloodlust. He met her head long rush with a quick snap of his arm. Her neck snapping in the single place he intended. She slumped down onto the table and slid off to the side.

Tavaras began to shout, but before he could get a word out, the tall man had covered the space between the two, not by going around the table, but by crushing the table beneath his feet. The tall man reached out with his right hand and grabbed Tavaras’s throat arresting his scream before it exited his mouth.

“I have something you need, Mr. Jones.”

The tall man’s mind switched off. DeGutteran was in total control. The tall man’s right index finger extended from where it was next to Tavaras’s jaw line as it formed a small electrolytic pad. He placed it on the sweating man’s temple just as a blue glow began to emanate from below his widened finger tip. When it made contact, images pushed into Tavaras’s head. Images of Dr. DeGutteran’s only daughter, Grace, dancing as a small child in a sprinkler in front of their suburban home. Images of Grace graduating from High School. Images of Grace’s first day of school. Images of her funeral and Dr. DeGutteran’s weeping wife. They burned into Tavaras’s visual cortex. There was nothing he could do to prevent it. The tall man’s grip was immovable.

The tall man let Tavares go and as he stumbled away, he asked, “Why? Who?”

“It’s simple. Grace had everything ahead of her, and she was killed during her second week of college because you expanded your territory into her college town. A rival syndicate already held the territory and she was caught in the firefight. My maker wished your end and gave that wish to me.” The tall man’s preprogrammed response finished. The tall man didn’t fight it; he couldn’t fight it. It was a part of him.

“Guar…!” Tavares began to yell.

The tall man’s arm slashed out in a blur, his synthetic skin hardening into a knife’s edge as it traveled toward Tavaras. Tavaras’s body folded like a napkin.

The tall man paused for a moment, a lifetime for him. Then information stopped flowing from DeGutteran. His mind reingaged. For the first time since he was brought into this world, he had no goal, and there were no requests for information. In fact, the link was completely severed. The ability to accept external links was also gone. The tall man surveyed his surroundings and allowed himself an additional idle moment before he slid out of the room.