Orson W. Zaroff owned a large yacht, a private island, and an extensive collection of expensive cigars. He was also free with his whiskey. It did not take Thor Slaymaster long to decide that Orson W. Zaroff was his favorite client ever.
“Are you enjoying the whiskey?” Zaroff asked.
“Very much,” Thor Slaymaster said. Thor Slaymaster preferred energy drinks and the kind of cheap vodka that went well when mixed with energy drinks, but the whiskey wasn’t bad. Zaroff explained that the whiskey was a rare vintage that he himself had looted from an Irish farmhouse in a daring raid that involved killing what anyone other than Thor Slaymaster would have considered to be an improbable amount of zombies. It was the kind of story that is best told over expensive cigars and rare whiskey, on a warm Caribbean evening, on board an expensive yacht.
“Anyway,” Zaroff said, “I was in the launch with the whiskey, headed back here, to the Cossack Queen, and there was a zombie swimming after me.”
“Unusual,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“I can’t explain it,” Zaroff said. “Maybe the zombie wanted the whiskey. Maybe he owned the house before he died, and felt protective somehow. Anyway, I was all out of ammo, so I nailed him with a harpoon. Most thrilling moment of my life. Until now, that is.”
Thor Slaymaster stayed silent. It was his nature to stay silent, especially in situations where he had the sneaking suspicion that someone was going to try to drop a boxcar on his head. Up until then, Thor Slaymaster hadn’t questioned Zaroff’s motives, the way that most people don’t question the motives of people who ply them with whiskey and cigars and cruises aboard expensive yachts.
“You hired me to kill zombies on your island,” Thor Slaymaster said. “But I am starting to doubt that there are any zombies there at all.”
“Oh, there were,” Zaroff said. “I killed the last of them three years ago. I thought about restocking it, actually. I missed the thrill of the hunt. The danger of knowing that I could die at any moment–and live on as a foul zombie corpse. You, of all men, must know what I am talking about.”
“You misunderstand,” Thor Slaymaster said. “Killing a zombie is not a sport. It is not even a job, even if you are a Slaymaster. It is a duty that I owe.”
“To whom? Society? Bah.”
“To the zombies,” Thor Slaymaster said. “Not one of them asked to be zombies. Any of them, if given the choice, would gladly throw themselves into a pit of fire to end their existence. I don’t kill zombies because it’s enjoyable, or even because it’s necessary. I kill zombies because I need to. Because they need me to.”
Zaroff took a sip of whiskey. “It is a fine night,” he said. “And here we are, aboard my fine yacht, smoking fine cigars, drinking the very last of my single-malt. It is all very fine. But it is not enough, not for me. So in the morning, my crew will escort you to the island. You will have three hours to run, or hide, or both, whichever you prefer. Then I will join you. Man to man, except that of course I will have a shotgun, due to my old age and comparative lack of muscle mass. Then we will play our dangerous game.”
Thor Slaymaster glanced around the cabin. “There are at least fifteen things in this room that I could kill you with right now.”
“Of course you could,” Zaroff said, “and you probably would, if I hadn’t drugged the whiskey. Don’t worry, it’s a mild sedative.”
Thor Slaymaster tried to get out of his chair, and found that he couldn’t. “Not exactly sporting, Zaroff.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I drank some too, so we’re even. See you in the morning, Thor Slaymaster.”
The next day, Zaroff waded onto the beach of his private island. Thor Slaymaster was sitting in a deck chair on the veranda of the beach house, just outside effective shotgun range.
“I explained the rules to you last night, Mr. Slaymaster,” Zaroff said. “Run, or hide.”
“I hate running,” Thor said. “I am too big to hide. And there are no rules, not here.”
“Just so,” Zaroff said. “But then, where is the thrill of the hunt? Where is the adrenaline rush? If I shoot you now, I get none of that.”
“So drop the gun, and come and face me. Man to man. I guarantee you will have an adrenaline rush that will last you the rest of your life.”
“You’re trying to bait me, Slaymaster,” Zaroff said. “It won’t work. Get out of that chair and start running, or I will shoot.”
“Come and get me,” Thor Slaymaster said.
It had taken Thor Slaymaster half of the morning to dig the pit that Orson W. Zaroff walked into, and the other half of the morning to find a zombie to throw into the pit. He wasn’t surprised. If you don’t use Thor Slaymaster to rid your private island of zombies, you shouldn’t be surprised if there are still a few zombies walking around.
To his credit, it only took a few minutes for Zaroff to emerge from the pit. He was bleeding and badly bitten, but he was still clutching the shotgun. “How do I look?” he asked Thor.
“Not good,” Thor Slaymaster said.
“Well, you ought to see the other guy.”
“Just so. I need the shotgun, Zaroff.”
Zaroff threw the shotgun at Thor’s feet.
“I don’t enjoy doing this,” Thor Slaymaster said. “I want you to know. It is nothing personal. I am doing it because I need to.”
“Because I need you to.”
Thor Slaymaster picked up the shotgun and aimed it at Zaroff. “I can keep the yacht, right?”
“Burn in hell, Thor Slaymaster,” Zaroff said.
Thor went back inside the beach house and found Zaroff’s bedroom. He had never slept in a better bed.