I walked into Winkler's office with a smile and a nod. Then I shot him in the knee. He shrieked and fell over sideways, clutching his leg. From the floor he glared up at me. "What did you do that for?"
"To convince you I mean business." I patted him down, took his gun. "Are you Professor Harvey Winkler?"
"Author of A Polite Society: the Case for the Mandatory Arming of the American Citizenry?"
"How did you get in here?"
"I'm not a criminal. I'm a good Republican, a lifetime member of the NRA, a Boy Scout leader, and an elder in Fort Myers Baptist Church. And, of course, as required by Federal law, I'm packing heat. So who was going to stop me? You haven't answered my question."
"Something had to be done. The crime rate was—"
He shut up when I put the gun to his head. "Yes or no."
I paused. "I'm afraid I have to ask you for identification."
With some difficulty, Winkler produced his driver's license. The picture checked out. I returned it to him. "Thanks. Now I'm going to kill you."
"No! Wait! You can't kill me without even explaining why!"
"Hmm. That would be rude, wouldn't it? Very well, Professor Winkler. It's because your book is responsible for a constitutional amendment which sent the murder rate in this country sky-high."
"It's not murder to shoot a criminal in self-defense."
"Let's not get bogged down in abstractions, professor. Let's focus on United flight 1658 last month. That's the one some poor loony tried to hijack with a paper dagger with the word 'knife' printed across it in block letters. You may have seen the black-box film footage of the incident on TV."
"That was unfortunate, but—"
"Half the armed citizenry on the plane pulled out guns and started blazing away. The cabin decompressed and the plane disintegrated in mid-air. So much for your notion that an armed society is a polite society."
"All right, I've heard you out. Now do me the courtesy of listening to my side of the argument."
"I've read your book. There was a woman aboard that plane. Loving wife. Mother of three. Her death outweighs anything you could possibly say."
Professor Winkler's face was contorted with pain. But he wasn't about to give up. He was a game old bird, I had to give him that. "Our society is more polite!" he insisted. "And against that overall gain, even the tragic death of your wife …"
"Oh, she wasn't my wife," I said. Professor Winkler stared at me uncomprehendingly. "I'm just doing this as a favor for a friend."
Then I shot him and, with a polite tip of the hat, left his office.
© 2003 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.