By Steven Bevell
Copyright 2017 Steven Bevell
Smash Words Edition
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Cover Art by Steven Bevell
Smash Words Edition
“You want me… at Mars?” Todd Tharp could have been knocked down with a feather.
“Look here, son… I realize this wasn’t what you’re expecting… but I need a man… a man I can trust! I need a man there Tharp! That man is you!” Henry Hartwell, Tharp’s superior and commissioner of The Interplanetary Justice Department, spoke with uncheck enthusiasm.
“Sir…” Todd Tharp staggered and searched for the right words.
“You’re single!” Hartwell grunted and leaned over.
“Motivated!” there was almost a craze in his eyes.
“All the ends meet… don’t make me ask twice Tharp…”
“I’ve never been in space sir, in fact I’ve only been on a plane once… I don’t think I could make a trip to Mars…” Todd’s flesh crawled.
Hartwell grew aggravated, “I’m not asking you… Tharp…” and he slapped a manila folder on the desk.
“Looks small…” Todd said with lack of appetite.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you size doesn’t matter?” Hartwell waited years to deliver that wise crack, but the remark only made the air uncomfortable.
Todd shook his head, “Mars… the place is a joke… a lost cause… don’t send me there sir… don’t make me leave the department…”
“Leave! And do what, stand outside selling johnnycakes!?” Hartwell cried as Todd moved towards the office door.
“I’d sell lemonade before I’d travel hundreds of millions of miles through space to a dead planet!”
“Tough tits!” and with a fist to his desk, Hartwell had Todd holding his breath.
“Sir…” the young man was nauseated.
“Sit down, Tharp…”
Defeated and with no other options, Todd Tharp sat in the chair across Henry Hartwell’s desk.
Master of the situation, Hartwell smiled, “Tharp, listen here… it won’t be long… a few years… at most! I just need you there long enough to gather some…” Hartwell wrestled to find the right word, “intel!”
“A scout case…” Todd laughed like a ungrateful wretch. “I’m a detective…” he emphasized his words, “Detective, Henry…”
“Commissioner Hartwell! Don’t forget where you are…” Hartwell snapped. “I know what you are… and I know what you aren’t… you’re a good man Todd… you have served well… selflessly! Never taken a bribe… never mucked up… never in trouble. That’s the kind of man we need up there…”
“We…?” Todd inquired.
Hartwell sighed, “The U.N. wants to withhold funding… The world isn’t interested in Mars Tharp… People don’t like space Tharp…”
“I don’t blame them…”
“The colonies on Mars are just struggling… Corruption… Crime… it’s the Wild West out there. Our own guys are some of the worst… You know how much New York supported this project… We can’t have the United States Interplanetary Justice Department look like the goddamn problem! The last thing we need is the goddamn U.N. leaving us in the dust again… America was the leader on Mars and this city made an investment. The Mayor wants to see a return. We need to get rid of the sticky handed wise guys out there. But the courts need proof…”
“That’s my job…” Todd said.
“That’s your job. All the details are there.” Hartwell looked at the manila folder on his desk.
“When will I leave?” Tharp asked.
“The next Moon Shuttle will depart Tuesday. By Friday you’ll be on a train to Mars.”
“Assuming I don’t die in some space accident…”
“It’s the safest way to travel, Tharp…” Hartwell smiled.
Todd took up the folder with a small change in attitude, “Alright… I’ll send a postcard…”
Hartwell took a well chewed cigar and sucked on it as Todd walked out.
Mahalia Jones awoke to the whispers of her television set. Her daughter, Magpie, had the volume so low the chaos was half-heard.
“Turn it off, sugar…” Mahalia scolded Magpie.
Magpie jumped at her mother’s voice, “But ma!” she pled.
“No buts… you know I don’t like it when you watch that nonsense…” Mahalia pulled herself up from the small bed she’d grown so use to.
Magpie sat still in front of the television across the room. She absorbed everything the reporters said.
“Magpie!” her mother scolded with less patience, “Off… now…”
Magpie turned off the television set, reluctantly. She remained on the floor, silent and pulled at the carpeting. Mahalia walked across the room and into the kitchen.
“Are you hungry?” she asked her daughter.
“Would you like a drink?”
“What time is it?” Mahalia squinted at the wrist watch fastened to her arm. She never took it off. “When did you get home?”
“Did you stay for your make up exam?” Mahalia pulled out foodstuff from the refrigerator.
Magpie was silent.
“The teacher wasn’t even there today…”
Mahalia closed the fridge door harder than she wanted to. The slam made her catch her breath. She only sighed and began to prepare a meal.
“Am I really human?” Magpie asked.
Mahalia stood still, “Of course, sweetie…”
Mahalia spoke urgently, “Some people on Earth just don’t understand… that’s all… they will say anything… remember what I told you about talk…”
“Talk is cheap…” Magpie labored to recite the words.
Mahalia smiled at her daughter.
“They say we can’t come to Earth… They say we’re dangerous…”
“Who says?” Mahalia asked as she depressurized broth stock.
“The people on the television…”
Mahalia stood still again, “What did I say about the news?”
“It’s not news… only prop… propa…” she struggled with the word then finally gave up, “You say it’s bullshit…”
“That’s right,” Mahalia smiled.
Magpie’s spirit was lifted and she skipped over to the kitchen counter, “Are we having soup again? I’m so tired of soup… I want strawberry shortcake from The Golden U.S.A.!”
Mahalia thought for a moment, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll work double shifts and maybe…”
“I’ll save up… so we can get berries and cream… I’ll make you your own cake!” Mahalia bubbled over herself, “It’d be just like when my mother made me cakes…”
“It has to be from… The Golden U.S.A.!” her daughter dramatized.
“You sound like a commercial, lay off the television. You can stay with Sara when I work doubles. I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Loman wouldn’t mind.”
“But they smell funny, ma!” Magpie wrinkled her face.
“Don’t say things like that! We all smell the same…” Mahalia handed her daughter a juice box.
“Well… they don’t…” Magpie doubled down as she sipped her drink.
The door buzzer buzzed.
“Stay here, sweetie…” Mahalia told her daughter and headed across the room. She peaked through the peep hole. “I’ll be right back… watch cartoons or something… but no news!”
Mahalia stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind her. Arthur Ramanikoff stood in the hallway.
“What?” Mahalia asked.
“You were short… again.” Arthur droned, as if tired from his frequent trips to Ms. Jones’ apartment.
Mahalia looked up and down the hallway and rebuked in a shrill whisper, “That was all I could spare.”
“Look Ma… you know it don’t work that way…” Arthur shook his head and avoided Mahalia’s sharp eyes.
“What do you want? More… now?” her sharp eyes cut deep.
Arthur only made brief glances at her, as if he was ashamed of himself.
“I have nothing now…” she continued, “Next week I’ll have it…”
“Next week is too long…” Arthur started.
“Too long for Mr. Kirilych…? He has to wait, he has no choice!”
“Don’t give me reason…”
Mahalia’s tone changed, “Please…”
“I spotted you… a few times… only because…” he shook his head, “Look, I can’t help you anymore. Find a way to pay… I’m giving you a heads up here.”
Arthur turned and walked down the hall.
“Thanks! For nothing!” Mahalia cried.
She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths and went back inside, to her daughter.
Todd read the reports while in the taxi. Once home, he tossed the file on his table and without a second thought, headed for the bar outside his building.
The bar was a familiar place, he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Most nights a few strangers came in and kept the place spicy. Todd took a stool next to Groucho Marsh.
“Todd!” Groucho stammered.
Todd gave him a weak smile as the bartender poured his drink.
“Todd!” Groucho stammered again, “Off work for the night? So early, isn’t it?” Groucho was drunk.
“Caught a break…” Todd said after he swallowed his oily ounce of alcohol and gestured for another.
“Ha!” Groucho buoyed on his stool and looked at the bar tender. “You hear that!? He gets a break! When you going to give me a break… beautiful?” and he offered a crooked smile for the bartender.
She gave Groucho a dirty look.
“It’s not a break, Groucho.” Todd told him.
The bartender cracked a smile from this.
“What?” Groucho asked. “You’re fired!?” he shouted out.
Todd ignored him and sipped his drink. He looked at the doorm then at his wrist watch. It was early and few people were in the bar. A few pool players at a table and two dart throwers in a corner.
Groucho grumbled to himself. There was a soft rain that started to tap against the windows. A beautiful young woman ran in as if attacked by the rain. Todd smiled once he saw her.
She saw him, “Todd!” she cried with a long face.
“Victoria!” he smiled and finished his drink then walked over to embrace her. “I’m so glad you made it…” he said to her.
“Of course…” she kissed him on his cheek. “I’m terribly sorry… I’m not sure what to think…”
“Me too…” he agreed with her and looked over at the bar. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“Sure…” she smiled with rosy cheeks.
Groucho interrupted, “Raining out there is it?”
No one answered his ridiculous question. He even seemed to forget he asked it.
Todd and Victoria sat at the bar and ordered drinks and smoked cigarettes.
“I never knew you smoked!” Victoria was playful.
Todd smiled, “Hey… what does it matter now, right?” and as the smoke cleared he saw Victoria’s blue looks. “Cheer up… you’re here to make it all better… right?” he asked her.
She smiled, “Anything for my baby…” and she kissed him. “Years!” she cried.
“Everything’s okay… toots, you have to be strong for me… look at me…” he lifted her head and dried her tears before they smeared anything. “Be strong for me… for me, can you?”
“Of course… I’ll just miss you… so much… What am I supposed to do? Why didn’t you refuse?”
“Something inside me just can’t let me say no. My country needs me. They need me to throw out the trash. Bust the phony’s over there. Make sure they’re put away, where they deserve.” He grew serious and spilled a few crocodile tears. “Write me…” he choked.
Victoria looked at him with bedroom eyes, “Let’s leave…”
They struggled to catch their breath in bed. Lipstick was smeared. Hair was pulled. Sweat trickled along the curves of their bare bodies.
“Oh God, I’ve missed you…” Victoria moaned.
They lied shoulder to shoulder.
“I need to be alone…” Todd said and sat up.
“Now…?” Victoria was perplexed.
“Victoria… I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have brought you up here…”
“It’s ok… Todd…” she reached out and touched him.
“I just need to be alone…”
“I think it’d be better if I stay… you need me here, to soothe you, remember?” she kissed his back. “It’s not even midnight…” and she spread a steamy smile for him.
“Please…” he wasn’t moved.
“Okay…” she agreed with a sunken heart. “I’ll be waiting for your call… and I’ll be here right after… any time… if you change your mind…”
She left in heartache.
After Todd watched her taxi drive away, he sat down and opened a pocket book. The page held a list of names. He put a line through Victoria’s name and number then picked up his phone. He dialed a number and waited.
“Hey, Dorothy…?” he said. He smiled into the receiver. “Sorry to bother you so late… Oh…? You’re not busy…? I know I’m sorry… I have terrible news…. I’m being sent to Mars… Yeah, Mars, on duty… I feel so lost… I don’t know who else to call… I’d love to…”
Magpie sat at her desk and listened to her teacher.
“Now, what is the square root of four?” Mrs. Web asked the class.
No one spoke.
“Does anyone know?” Mrs. Web inquired.
No one spoke.
After several moments of silence Mrs. Web spoke up, “Margaret Jones, maybe you can help the class, what’s the square root of four?”
“Two…” Magpie answered without look up from her notepad. With a pencil in hand she sketched in the notepad with such a focus, it slightly concerned Mrs. Web.
“Very good!” her teacher cried and turned to write the answer on the chalk board.
The class murmured. Magpie looked outside the window and stretched her eyes. Mrs. Web asked the class another question. Magpie continued on with her sketch.
“What’s that, Margaret? What are you drawing? Pay attention.” Mrs. Web asked and started towards Magpie.
Mrs. Web studied the sketch, “Who’s that?” she asked.
Magpie looked at her sketch of the man and looked outside the window, “Him…” she pointed.
Mrs. Web looked out the window. She saw the man outside, in the distance. He minded his own business.
“Margaret, what’s the meaning of this? Is this a joke of yours?” Mrs. Web was confused.
“He has been there all day…” Magpie answered.
Mrs. Web didn’t know what to say, “All day now?” she asked.
“Yes…” Magpie assured her. “All day… I noticed him when I came to school. He looked at me… from the corner of his eye! I think he is watching me…”
“Ha! Nonsense child, no more of this foolish talk…” Mrs. Web closed the blinds. “There, no more distractions.”
“Three dollars and fifty cents!” Jose cried, the place was busy with people grazing over their plates.
Todd handed the Jose the money and waited.
The kitchen seared and sizzled behind the counter.
“Here you go, Todd. See you tomorrow?” Jose asked.
“Not likely… I’m going to Mars…” Todd explained.
“Mars!? What in the hell for…?”
“They probably don’t have your cooking on Mars…” Todd wore an earnest frown.
“Mars man…” Jose said with awe.
Todd said good bye and left the eating house. He walked down the street where an escort awaited him and entered a squad car.
“Thanks… really…” Todd told the driver.
The driver kept his tongue between his teeth.
“Do you want a taco? They’re chicken…” Todd offered.
The driver didn’t have a word to say and started the car. They pulled out into the busy streets of the city and the driver started for the Lincoln Lunar Station.
As soon as Mahalia came into her home, she knew something was wrong. The television was off. Everything was exactly how she left it.
“Maggie? Sweetie?” she called out.
No one answered. She noticed someone in the darkness, across the room.
“Where is she?” Mahalia asked, ready to fly into a rage.
“I warned you…” Arthur said.
“Where is my daughter!?” Mahalia barked.
“Pay what you owe them. We will bring her back…” Arthur tried to explain.
“Don’t you dare!” Mahalia burst in anger. “Answer me!”
“Lower your voice. Causing a scene won’t do you any good.”
A fire burned in her eyes.
“She’s safe. Kirilych sees her as a… investment opportunity… The quicker you pay him, the better.”
Tears swelled in Mahalia’s eyes and she gnashed her teeth.
“You can’t do this…” she cried.
“It’s not my work.” Arthur told her.
“And whose work is it exactly!? Please! Tell me!” she exploded.
Arthur shook his head, “The man who loaned you your money…”
“It’s hard enough to live on this God forsaken planet!”
“We both know you didn’t spend all that money on… sustenance…” Arthur looked around, “Where did it all go? It just… vanished?”
Mahalia swallowed a rock and gave Arthur no answer.
“You planned on leaving… Didn’t you?” he asked.
She kept silent.
“That’s it… you were going to take you little girl and go back to Earth… He would’ve found you there… you know?”
“If he knew you’re borrowing to skip town… How’d you think he’d react?”
For a moment, Mahalia was at a loss for words, “Go ahead…” she finally said, “Go! Go tell him! Let’s find out!”
Arthur stood in the dark and smothered his thoughts, “Just get the money,” he said and walked out.
Mahalia trembled in defeat for the rest of her sleepless night.
As the rocket cruiser docked at the Plato Lunar Station, Todd Tharp turned green.
“We have arrived at Plato City. Have a wonderful stay and again, I would like to thank you for traveling with U.S. Spaceways,” the pilot addressed the passengers over the intercom.
Todd walked through terminals with strangers from all corners of the world. His head spun from all the flapping jaws. Once free from the cramped terminal, Todd found the closest cocktail lounge and ordered a drink.
“Dry martini, please, very dry…” he told the bartender behind the counter.
She nodded and started Todd’s drink. All the tables in the lounge were full. People smoked, drank and ate. They shot each other’s faces off until they were blue in the cheeks. Everyone was talking and Todd was the only person listening. Todd swam in the conversations about love, religion and new news all around him.
“One dry martini…” the bartender placed the glass on the table, “That’s a five chip and two…”
Todd handed him the cash. “Keep it,” he told the bartender and sipped his drink.
“Here long?” the bartender asked him.
Todd shook his head.
“Where you headed?” the bartender asked.
“There ain’t nothin worthwhile out there on Mars… you know that. Don’t you?”
Todd looked around the lounge then checked the time on his watch.
“Don’t you know that?” the bartender barked.
Todd was bewildered and considered the bartender.
“Don’t you?” this time, the bartender snarled.
Todd gave a quick nod and sipped his drink.
“One of those freaks, a Martian, indoctrinated my son. The boy started to sing a different tune. He wouldn’t listen to me,” the bartender’s words were frosty. “He’s been there… God.” he thought a moment. “Over ten years now…”
Todd was half-dead with the conversation.
The bartender turned to him. “Don’t you dare bring any of those monsters back… let ‘em waste out there… Let them kill themselves.”
Todd finished his drink in silence.
The sky was blood orange as Arthur Ramanikoff walked through the streets of west central Helium. Helium was one of the oldest cities on Mars. The evening was warmer than usual and scents of the long spring flowed through the air. Arthur Ramanikoff came across a particular home. The front yard was overgrown with rich vegetation. Shrubs reached through the chain linked fence. Flowers reached for the sky from their cozy beds. Peach trees, heavy with ripe fruit, hung over the sidewalk. Arthur Ramanikoff admired the plump fruit, so much so he stopped to gaze.
“Don’t you do it!” an old rickety voice cracked at him.
Through all the vegetation Arthur Ramanikoff could see an old man with his latter and bucket, fumbling in the drive way.
“Don’t you do it!” the old man croaked, as if Arthur didn’t hear him.
Arthur reached up and grabbed a peach. The fresh fruit brust in his cheeks as he chewed.
“You ass! I’m calling the cops! You theif!” the old man cried.
But his cried grew silent when he saw the pistol hanging under Arthur’s jacket.
“Call them… I’ll make sure you never taste a peach again.
A simple beginning to an adventure, enjoy!