Well, I was really dying to sleep but, as it turned out, sleeping was a long way ahead on the road. First, I had to make a few rounds of Pago Pago because I was afraid I might have a tail, and then I had to drive for half an hour to Fagatele on the north shore, before finally checking into a motel there. Sometime around seven, after grabbing a few bites in a disgusting roadside restaurant and an extremely quick shower in my stinking motel room—I barely got my skin wet—I dropped dead in my miserable bed. I woke up late afternoon on the next day and only because my cellphone was ringing persistently.
Still sleepy, I got up and went to the rickety little table near the window. The display read “Unknown caller ID” and there was no video stream available. Through the window, the weather looked gloomy with heavy, leaden clouds in the sky and very little light. It felt like the end of the world. Feeling dopey, I picked up and said just a brief “hello” into the receiver.
“Hello, Mellrow!” an unpleasantly familiar voice answered at the other end. The moment I recognized it, I woke up entirely with cold shivers going down my spine. “It’s Sharon.”
“Sharon who?” I asked icily. I just couldn’t believe she had the guts to call me. Moreover, she was doing it right after Bobby’s call! If it wasn’t teamwork, then these two women had a natural talent of pissing me off like that. “Is it Sharon Vorderbruggen, or Sharon Alebruggen, or some other damn Sharon?”
“Does it really matter?” she asked without bothering to answer.
“Well, it matters to me. I’m stupid and old-fashioned and I’d wanna know who’s fucking me up!”
She said nothing for a while. I just heard her steady breathing.
“Situation’s different now, you know!” she said afterwards. “With the war coming and everything else, our history’s not relevant anymore. Don’t you think so?”
“What do you mean ‘the war is coming’? What war?” I growled, irritated because I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Don’t you ever read at least the news headlines—just so you know what’s going on?” she asked me instead of explaining. It was her way of humiliating me.
“No. I don’t read Hindi!” I snapped. “I don’t read anything other than English and sometimes I don’t read English either. Most of the time I live in an imaginary world without any news!”
“Mars has established a military union with the Couloongs,” she informed me triumphantly.
I remained silent for a few moments because it seemed like a joke to me. Since I didn’t want to give her the pleasure of asking for details, I just asked instead, “What the fuck do you want, Sharon? You need me to save some other endangered species now?”
This time it was her turn to cope with biting remarks and she did it by just skipping her reaction to it. I really doubted that there was anything on Earth…or Mars capable of throwing her off balance; she was cold as a chunk of ice. I had never actually seen her lose her temper!
“I need to meet you,” I heard her voice again after the short pause. “I have something to tell you before going home. Maybe I also want to smooth things out between us, you know.”
“Oh, don’t worry about smoothing things, baby!” I hissed. “Things between us are so rough that we’ll carry them to the grave the way they are!”
“Anyway, I still need to see you. I have a proposal for you.”
“Well, I don’t care about your proposals but you can meet me anytime you want, can’t you? You probably know where I’ve checked in, so go ahead! Grab your little idiot and come here! However, you should warn him I have a gun now. As a matter of fact, it’s his fucking gun!”
“You shouldn’t take things so personally!” she tried to reproach me. “It’s not professional of you. And after all, you’ve got all the money you were promised, right?”
“In fact, just half of it; you never appeared to pay the rest!”
She smiled. At least, I imagined she smiled.
“I can take care of it but things are rather different now; you shouldn’t expect our previous deal to be alive!” Here she hesitated for a moment. “Where have you checked in, by the way? I might really come to you!”
“Well, somewhere on Earth!” I laughed. “If you really wanna know, why don’t you turn the video stream on?”
She didn’t answer again. I could hear some birds singing through the receiver and a distant roaring—like from the ocean—but it wasn’t enough to pinpoint the location. She could hear nothing in my room.
“So what is it, Sharon?” I went on. “Spill the beans! You can tell me on the phone because I’m not going anywhere. We both know your gunner will be ready for me with a positron piece in his hand. You just can’t pull the same trick twice!”
“It’s not something to discuss on the phone. I have a serious proposal for you, I told you!”
“And why not discuss it on the phone? I don’t see the reason!”
“It’s a sensitive subject and I can’t take the risk in this war situation.”
“Oh, come on! What’s with the fucking situation? Why do you keep saying that?” Her repeating that it was all different now really annoyed me and I wanted to hurt her. “You really must have suffered from lack of oxygen on the red planet as they say! Nobody cares about your wars down here, you funny little people!”
Another short pause followed and some birds singing.
“Mars’s not red anymore, you wiseass!” Sharon pointed out a few seconds later, seemingly offended. Her tone was still composed, however. “We have a light atmosphere now but it’s not because of you, earthmen—it’s in spite of you!”
“Cut this political bullshit, baby!” I growled. “I don’t give a damn about your Martian feelings! You may have oceans of wine and meadows of caviar—it’s all the same to me. As far as I’m concerned, you set me up twice and now you’re trying to do it again. Well, it won’t happen! You can go back to your lousy ammonia business and leave me alone!”
This time there was a longer period of silence down the receiver. The birds singing disappeared but the distant thundering was amplified. I assumed she was walking while talking on the phone. Then I heard her voice again.
“I’ll let you take your time to reconsider. I’m sure you will eventually!”
“Oh, fuck you, Sharon!” I roared pissed off. “I don’t need you to let me take my time! You’d better watch yours because the clock’s ticking! When Greenspace finds out about the fake stuff, you may not have enough to save your fucking ass!”
I sensed her freeze—surprised. It was an irrational feeling but sometimes you just know these things. The line was completely silent for a good ten seconds.
“Okay, I’ll be in touch! You just stay there and wait!” she said briefly and then hung up.
I remained with the phone pressed against my ear for a few moments before slowly putting it down on the table. I wondered what she had meant and I looked out the window. The street was empty and I was sure nobody had followed me when I was coming here. And yet, why had she said, “stay there”? Maybe she was just shocked to realize I knew about the fake stuff and she didn’t know what to say, I thought. Maybe it was a mistake that I let her know! This story was unfolding to its end, however, and I just didn’t care anymore.
Still feeling heavy after so much sleep, I turned around and waddled to the TV set in the corner of the room. The motel was a crappy place and that went for the furniture too—for almost five minutes, I couldn’t figure out how to turn the damn device on! I wanted to hear the news on a normal news channel because the rss-service on my cellphone was feeding me Indian bullshit twenty-four-seven. Eventually, after exhausting my entire arsenal of curses, I found a well-hidden red button on the back of the TV set—who knows why it was placed there—and when I pushed it, I managed to update myself on what I had slept through.
Sharon hadn’t fooled me this time as it turned out. Mars had really established a military union with the Couloongs, and the Martians were obviously very excited about it. I watched the statement of their military commander—some General Prohasky guy who was explaining that no earthman was welcome to visit Mars anymore. He also said they were suspending all trade links and communication with our planet and his appearance on the TV officially stripped us of having a space colony, if we didn’t count the rocky, desert moon we had!
The general’s statement didn’t mean much in fact. We’d virtually had no colony for about ten years, following the last chain of recessions that hit us. We had abandoned our ambitions and the situation now was only making it official. Nevertheless, the guy kept dramatizing it as if a true star war with zipping laser beams and fleets of starships colliding in space would start. In reality, it only meant that none of our spacecrafts would be allowed to descend on Mars from now on. That was all!
Incidentally, everybody here on Earth seemed to be caught completely by surprise. Nobody had expected the union and some people were ridiculing the Martians for their decision as they had been doing for almost a decade. They were saying that the jerks had suffered from low oxygen level in their breathing air for too long, which impaired their thinking. Otherwise, they would have known it wasn’t something to brag about but just a spectacular suicide! Other people were arguing that Martians relied on aliens for supplies and technologies now and the union might present a threat for us if the situation came to a real war. A third group was just pointing out that this entire thing was effectively pushing us a decade back in our space exploration history. Now we had to start from scratch and Mars was no longer an insurance for our planet in case it met a dangerous meteorite. We had to establish a new colony and this was going to cost more than just supporting what we had already built.
As for me personally, I didn’t care about any of these things. I didn’t even know they had developed military institutions and an army up there. I had thought they were a bunch of technocrats who lived happily in their modern, organic cottages, crammed with domestic robots and weird gadgets. I hadn’t even had any idea they had an atmosphere before Sharon had told me. I had believed they were going for their romantic walks in “nature”, wearing space suits and holding gloves instead of hands!
Fifteen minutes later, while absentmindedly going through the channels, I accidentally hit a different kind of news, which also caught my attention. I learned that the Chinese conglomerate, which had bought Britain, was in huge debt to a Couloong commercial firm. The latter, whose existence nobody had known anything about, suddenly expressed their willingness to acquire the conglomerate and now every Brit was in shock about the possibility that their country might be acquired too. The situation was delicate and beyond anyone’s experience so far, so it wasn’t clear at all what was going to happen. Still, the news was quite startling and the European Confederation was extremely nervous that it might end up with a Couloong advanced post in its backyard. That’s what you get when you play with fire however—you usually get burned!
After informing myself on the latest news about my home planet, I turned off the TV set and got back to my business—I looked around the room for a plastic cup. There was no liquid printer here so I had to use the complementary packs, which I found in the drawer beneath the sink to make myself something that only vaguely resembled coffee. I mixed the contents of one of them with some hot water, using a disgusting looking teaspoon, and I tried the drink. It looked awful, it smelled awful, and it tasted awful! Then I quickly hopped into a pair of pants, put on a new shirt, which had on it a stamp of a she-devil who wore a shirt with a stamp of a she-devil, and so on and so forth like that; I grabbed my gun and the cup of “coffee” and I was ready to go out.
When I stepped outside, I felt weird at first, but I didn’t realize what was wrong. I looked around worried because I was afraid thugs might be waiting for me, and I saw none. Nevertheless, I kept feeling weird and it took half a minute before my dull senses grasped the reason. The weather was cold and it was drizzling but I was not up in Greenland. I was down here—in hell—and it wasn’t supposed to be like this! I looked up at the sky, surprised and expecting to see a fleet of Martian ships invading our planet and stripping it of atmosphere, but the sky was peaceful too. I only saw heavy clouds there. I also felt streams of fresh, southern air brushing my cheeks, which suddenly made me feel nostalgic about my homeland. I missed that gloomy, humid place at the other end of the Earth and I wanted to go home. I’ve never been overly patriotic but I strongly longed for it now.
I opened my lungs to the cold air, went back to the bungalow to grab a jacket, moved my gun into one of its pockets, and returned to the Ford with the cup of coffee still in my hand. Then I hopped inside and started the engine, slowly driving down the road and looking into the mirror every now and then. No one followed me. The street remained empty both ahead and behind. Soon, the wiper blades turned on automatically, which truly surprised me. I thought they were utterly ornamental. Everything in this car seemed ornamental; I was even amazed it was moving!
Some half an hour later, my relic successfully drove my ass to the beach of Leone Bay. I pulled up at the curb right behind a vehicle that looked like a very close cousin of my car, and I kind of blocked it, almost kissing its back bumper, but I was not in the mood to worry about that. I was not going to stay here for too long so instead of searching for another parking place, I just stopped the engine. Then I thought.
I had a really, really bad feeling about the whole thing. Before Sharon had called me, I felt okay about it but after the call, I couldn’t stop thinking it was a trap. The bitch had definitely tried to work out my location and besides, she had made Bjornson help her in the past. It could be just the same situation now! On the other hand, I didn’t want to give up because I had to figure out a way to get myself out of this mess—it wouldn’t happen if I stayed in my motel room, hiding. As I thought of Bobby, I wondered if she would want to have sex before getting down to business, as she used to do back home. If she did, I just didn’t know how I’d react!
A minute later, I cautiously opened the door and stepped outside. Meanwhile, the rain had intensified and a gray blanket of cloud covered the entire sky. It was almost as dark as dusk. I briskly ran along the sidewalk and then moved down the concrete stairs, which led to the beach. There were lines of trees on both sides, which shielded me from the rain. When I stepped on the beach however, there was nothing but sand and I got wet in no time, which made me wonder whether positron technology was waterproof or not. I had never possessed such a piece before and I hadn’t checked.
Hoping that the answer was “yes”, I took out the gun and cautiously sneaked along the line of bungalows, which followed the curve of the beach’s inner end. The place was empty, and low-growing sea shrubs divided it from the rest of the seaside. Soon I found 27B—it was almost in the middle of the line—and quietly approached it to press my ear to the door.
I heard no sounds inside but I couldn’t be sure it was empty because the raindrops were tapping on the bungalow roofs, creating a rhythm, which made it hard to distinguish other sounds. The blinds were down and there was no light along the window edges, which wasn’t a positive indication either. The only thing I could be positive about was that there was no party going on in there. In fact, I couldn’t be sure even about that, because it might be a surprise party intended for me! I quietly drew up beside the doorframe, took a deep breath, and reached my left hand to give two short knocks on the wooden door, ready to plunge down in a second.
Nothing happened—no sound, no reaction came from the inside. I was getting used to such things lately but it was still irritating. I waited for thirty seconds and knocked again with the bad feeling in my guts intensifying. After another thirty seconds, I tried the lock, slowly pushing the door open. It swiveled and revealed a small room with a divan on the left, a plastic table with three chairs, and a miniature sink in the opposite corner. The place seemed to be empty of people.
I briefly looked around and stepped inside, letting my gun go first. After the first step, I sharply pulled the door and shoved the weapon into the air behind it, ready to shoot if I needed. There was no one there either. I stepped back and thrust my head outside again, and glanced up and down the line of bungalows but nothing had changed. Then I drew inside and finally closed the door behind my back.
The room sank into darkness. My fingers groped for the light switch on the wall and I turned it on. The bulb hanging from the ceiling was so weak that it barely made any difference. I saw a handbag on one of the chairs, the contents of which was spread out on one of the other chairs; there were also a few dresses on the divan and a suitcase sticking out from under the divan. Near the suitcase, a pair of shoes lay kicked off. All the stuff looked chaotically spread around the place.
I took a few steps toward the handbag to check it out but it turned out to be empty, just as it looked. The same applied to the suitcase and none of the things on the divan or the chair looked strange—they were the trivial things that any woman carries around with her. I knelt down tensely to look under the divan but fortunately, no dead body was waiting for me there. Just then, a car engine roared outside the bungalow and startled me. It wasn’t something unusual, but because of the peacefulness of the area, it made me alarmed. I feverishly walked to the window, pressed my back beside it, and pulled the blinds up a little.
The alley was empty, at least, as far as I could see. I waited for about two minutes but nothing moved there and the sound gradually died out. Then I carefully opened the door to stick my head outside. The area was clear but meanwhile, the weather had got worse. It was raining violently now, and across the shrubs and the beach, I could see huge waves rising up and down. They seemed threatening. “This bungalow may not be the safest place on Earth quite soon!” I thought. “You probably have to leave it; maybe even Bobby left it for that same reason!”
I pulled my head back and closed the door, dropping the gun into my pocket. I turned around to take a final look at the room and just then, I noticed a door on my right, which probably led to a bathroom. I hadn’t seen it at first because it was in the corner and I was too busy to look at the other side—behind the main door. Then I had examined the noise outside but now, I was finally seeing it. I cautiously moved closer to push it open. It creaked awfully and just a second later, I realized why Bobby wasn’t here in the room. She was in the tiny bathroom behind the door and she was dead!
I shivered and nervously took out my weapon with a nasty feeling gripping my soul. I was going through the same nightmare again and again: Bobby lay on the floor beneath the shower, naked, and in the light from the tiny window on the ceiling, I could see a burn hole from a positron gun under her left breast. Her face was empty of emotions and her mouth had drooled before she had died. My little mantis had no heart anymore—just an empty hole in the place where it had been!
I carefully bent over the body. I didn’t want to touch it but Bobby seemed to have been dead for at least two hours because the floor was perfectly dry. Two hours meant roughly the time when Sharon had called me. The timeline fitted! Maybe with her call, she had wanted to make sure I wasn’t anywhere in the area and Bobby was alone here in the bungalow—Bjornson hadn’t expected the murderer; he had surprised her. Then I suddenly recalled the scene from Menelaus’ house and the idea that this all might be a trap for me flashed across my mind again. If it was, then there was a pretty good chance that Marty was still in the area, waiting for me!
I slowly raised my head in horror. Then I raised my gun. The bastard surely wanted to kill me; he had missed his chances a couple of times and it was a matter of self-esteem for him. And this isolated place here was perfect! So why wouldn’t he try again? Maybe he had even made Bobby call me yesterday, just as he had done back in Greenland. In this case, with her call, Sharon had actually wanted to make sure I was going to fall into their trap!
In a near trance-like state, I started running through the possibilities. My mind galloped in a wild loop, and for probably thirty seconds, I had been listening to a car engine roaring outside the bungalow without really hearing it or reacting to it. It was coming from the road above the beach but the noise from the rain and the ocean was making it sound indistinct. By the time I had fully realized the menace, another thirty seconds had passed and I had lost too much time.
Everything that followed next was lightning-fast. The car engine was still roaring when I heard heavy steps outside, quickly getting closer. Then before I knew it, the bungalow door started opening without anyone knocking on it, and right after that, the trembling beam of a flashlight nervously mixed with the light coming from the bulb on the ceiling.
I dizzily looked at the door and pointed my gun there. In a second, a huge shadow crept through the doorway but it stopped right before the man had stepped into the room. Across the wall, in the tiny bathroom, I knelt down near the body and my hand was nervously holding my weapon with my palm sweating. There, in the darkness, I was thinking history had started to very unpleasantly repeat itself in my life lately and I was almost on the verge of shooting. I just waited to see the damn silhouette after the shadow!
©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!