Falling when you know you are more than ten meters above the ground is simply devastating. You have enough time to realize you’re most probably going to die but it’s not enough to say goodbye and accept your possible end. It happens for about a second—just a blink of an eye—but it’s the hardest second of your life!
My falling seemed to me a bit longer, however, because all the while, I wondered if Marty would appear in the window frame and shoot me while I was still in the air, thus not letting me die by accident. It was a ridiculous idea but somehow it had planted itself in my mind and it wouldn’t let go. When I realized Marty was not going to appear, it was too late to celebrate—I was already dead on the ground.
Incidentally, I might have died a little earlier than that—in the middle of my flight—because I never actually felt the impact. Instead, I began my journey to afterlife while I was still falling, and despite the short time I had available, I sensed every part of it fragmented and in slow motion: at first, my speed slowed down, then I hung in the air for a fraction of a second and at last, I started ascending—toward heaven, I hoped. It was frightening because it was a new experience for me. Then, all of a sudden, the tremendous pain came, which confused a lot me because I didn’t know I was supposed to feel any pain in heaven.
Disappointed and still dizzy, I opened my eyes suspecting they were redirecting me toward hell but what I saw around me didn’t fit my expectations of hell. I lay in a cradle of too many twigs, and leaves, and thorns. If it was really hell, it must have been an alternative one—one I hadn’t heard of! It took me almost a minute to realize it was no hell at all but just the shrub at the base of the wooden trellis. I lay there on my back and I had completely forgotten about it!
As soon as I knew I was alive, my previous obsession hit me right away and I reached into my pocket to pull out my gun and point it up at the window. It was a stupid gesture for three reasons: there was no one in the window frame; I had no bullets in my weapon; and it was quite an effort. However, at least I realized I could still move.
I slowly put my hand down and pushed the gun back into my pocket, after which I tried to turn around. I instantly grasped the reason for my terrible pain: the thorns—they were too long and cut deeply into my flesh. Unfortunately, there was no other way out of this—not an easy one at least. I clenched my teeth and rolled over but I had to stop immediately because the sting became excruciating. New thorns pushed into me as the old ones withdrew and it was just unbearable. I felt like some Jesus, being crucified in a fucking shrub!
I wearily closed my eyes and remained still for a moment or two in order to allow my body to adapt to the pain. It relieved me a bit but I knew I couldn’t wait for long—the clock was wildly ticking. The sound of gunfire was echoing not far away from me, and since it was getting scarcer, I expected to see the survivors coming to my side of the building very soon. I really had to hurry! I clenched my teeth again and forced myself to keep rolling over. Almost in agony, I did it three times and at last, I reached solid ground. By that time, rivers of Babylon were rolling down my cheeks.
I rose to my feet, shaking. The two black Comatsus were ditched nearby with their doors open. I hesitated on the idea of stealing one of them, but I soon gave it up. I didn’t want to learn how to steal a Comatsu right now! As quickly as I could, I limped to my Ford instead—some thirty meters down the road—and all the while, I was cursing myself for being so precautious. Had I stopped the car a bit closer to the building, I wouldn’t have had to do this exercise in such a terrible condition. Eventually, I managed the distance but when I got into the vehicle, I realized the hard part was yet to come—I had too many foreign objects in my butt to drive!
Under different circumstances, the situation would’ve been quite comical, in fact. Unfortunately, I had no strength to laugh right now. I started the engine, carefully turned the car and, experiencing extreme pain, I drove down the road in a position that I would have previously thought was impossible. I had the backside of my thighs barely touching the seat, my butt in the air, and my chest resting on the steering wheel. In this pose, I swayed left or right with the wheel every time I turned the car. Since the Ford was not automatic, I had to forget about the clutch completely. I changed gears only as a last resort because I needed my left foot to keep my balance, while switching the right one between the gas and the brake.
Driving slowly without changing gears had a plus side, as it turned out: one had plenty of time to think. I thought about Sharon. It was probably a stupid idea—in fact, it was stupid for sure—but I just couldn’t drive the fucking bitch out of my mind. Perhaps the adrenaline in my bloodstream had its say, but I was obsessed by the thought of finding her before she scrammed. I wanted her to see I was not dead and that her plan hadn’t worked. In a way, I also wanted to correct the result of my unsuccessful death because it didn’t feel right to still be alive after falling from the third floor! I just needed a second chance! And the more I thought about Sharon, the surer I was about where she had gone. There was only one place on the entire planet for her now.
While thinking of her and counting the thorns in my butt at every bump on the road, I suddenly remembered I had a flask of whiskey in the glovebox. Hoping to relieve my pain, I reached inside to get it and clumsily gripped the cap between my teeth to unscrew it. Then I spat it out and put the bottle to my mouth. The spirit slipped down my throat and its pleasant warmness made me forget about at least a few of the thorns. It also yielded another result, which was rather funny—a police car ran out from behind the next road curve and headed to me while I was still drinking.
I wriggled uneasily behind the wheel, surprised, but it was too late to hide the flask. Maybe that’s why I didn’t even try. I just drove by the cops who stared at me dumbfounded, and because of the curve, I even swayed to the left with the steering wheel like some drunkard who was just about to fall asleep in his car. And then I drove in that way past four police cars one after another!
None of the cruisers stopped. Weirdly enough, although the officers inside seemed shocked, they did nothing about it. Since the lamps on the car roofs were flashing, I assumed they were hurrying toward the racket in Failolo. I anxiously looked for Peularia inside the vehicles but I didn’t see her in any of them. She and her Indian assistant were probably going to come later in their shiny red Ferrari.
After about forty minutes—I had already finished the flask without anyone disturbing my drinking party—I slowly pulled up at the curb near the yacht port. Sengupta’s boat was being prepared for leaving in the distance. Due to the combined effect of my injuries and the alcohol in my bloodstream, I stepped out of the car more cautious than a sapper in a minefield, and hobbled toward the vessel like an old man who had just shat his pants. It took me almost a year to reach the boat and when I set my foot on the gangway at last, a huge Indian guy suddenly appeared at the upper end. He was the same one whom I had given a bump on the head the last time I was here.
I stopped and looked at him gloomily. He looked at me too. Since he clearly remembered me, I cherished no hope he would be so careless now to let me pull the same trick again. Fortunately, we didn’t get that far and he didn’t have the chance to get even with me. After a short glare, his cellphone unexpectedly rang. He picked it up and listened to someone for a while, after which he hung up and withdrew, looking away. I painfully started up the gangway.
The moment I stepped on the deck, the guy sharply turned around and silently led me through the lower level, which in fact, I knew very well. Then we passed through the little gate that led to the upper deck, which I also knew, and when we climbed up there, he stopped again and turned to me, waiting. I slowly reached into my pocket and handed him my useless gun. He took it and then tapped under my armpits and behind my back to make sure I had no more weapons. Then he stepped away.
I looked around. The deck was almost empty except for a pair of lounge chairs and a small wooden table at the end of the stern. There was a pack of cigarettes, an ashtray, and two cocktail glasses on it, and in one of the chairs, a naked woman was sunbathing. It was Sharon. I limped toward her.
There was no wind and the boat was still but I walked awkwardly as if we were in open sea. The yacht port was unusually peaceful for this time of day and the crewmembers worked feverishly down on the wharf. Sengupta’s limousine was nowhere in sight but I was sure the guy was here. I really doubted his boat was leaving without him!
“You look terrible!” Sharon gave me her usual welcome when I reached her. She briefly nodded toward the vacant chair but because of my injuries, I ignored it and leaned my back against the pushpit instead. “You care for a drink?”
I looked at her. She wore a pair of sunglasses and her skin glistened under the bright sunlight because she had some lotion on. Her fingers and toenails were painted fluorescent orange and except for the shades, she wore nothing else. I saw no swimsuit on the other chair or the floor, which meant she felt comfortable enough to walk around naked here.
“You did a real good job of making me look awful!” I said sourly and went closer to take the drink. Then I stepped back and leaned against the pushpit again. “You shouldn’t be surprised, now!”
“What happened to Marty?” she asked without any emotion. Her voice was passionless as always and I wondered whether she was even capable of any feelings. I had never seen her acting as a real human being; she had always behaved like a machine—following a strict, programing code!
“I’m not quite sure,” I shrugged. “I left him arguing with the thugs you sent after us. The guy never knows when to give up, you know!”
“The poor bastard!” She smiled indifferently.
I slowly brought the drink to my lips. It contained gin and something else, which I couldn’t identify. The glass was one of those Martian gadgets with pressurized freezing agent trapped between the glass walls. It had the ability to keep anything inside cool even in the hottest summer and under direct sunlight. The cocktail was good and refreshing though.
“I thought you didn’t like open sun on Mars,” I said after a while. The drink soothed my pain a bit and I started to feel better. “Is your skin capable of producing melanin or is it just the effect of some fancy pill?”
She turned her head to me but didn’t take her glasses off. I could only guess what her expression was—if she had any.
“Our skin produces everything your skin does, Mellrow. We’re people, not monsters!”
“Are you?” I asked derisively. “You never acted as one!”
She ignored the insult and turned her head back to get on with her sunbathing.
“You’re a damn stubborn cop, you know!” She said. “I never thought you’d last this long!”
“Me neither, but I’m not a cop. I never have been.”
“Whatever! You are to me! I just want you to know nothing I have done to you was personal. It has all been politics and you just happened to be there. So I say no bad blood between us!”
I looked at her surprised. I didn’t know why she bothered to mention that. Maybe she felt some form of guilt, although I really doubted. On the other hand, she was right to a point. It was only business. It was what I did for my living, so I was supposed to know how to handle the risk. It was not her fault, it was mine!
“So everything’s fine now?” I stirred uneasily, and switched legs because my hip still hurt. “The hub’s destroyed and you’re leaving?”
“Yeah, I’m leaving.”
“You’re going to live in India I guess?”
She smiled—barely noticeable—without moving. She didn’t look at me at all. “Why would you say that? No. I’m going home!”
I took sip of my drink and silently looked aside. The sea was perfectly still and the sky was clear but it seemed blurred and hidden behind a fine mist. The atmosphere was somehow tense and threateningly quiet as if a storm was coming. Yet it was hot—very hot. And wet! I had the feeling I was breathing pure water.
“You know what? Tell me something, Sharon!” I sharply turned my eyes back to her after a few moments, “Now that it’s over, you could be honest with me, at least for once! Was Bobby so bad for you? Was it really necessary to kill her?”
Sharon didn’t answer right away. She remained silent for a while with her bare breasts monotonously going up and down with every breath she took.
Then she opened her mouth. “Why would you think I wanted her to die?” she asked. “I didn’t care!”
I said nothing.
“I know you liked Bobby,” she went on. “I’m not quite sure you knew her very well though. She was a double-crosser. A good one! When I first came down here, I reached out to her behind Menelaus’ back because I needed to figure out his plans—Marty was just a stupid chauffeur, you know, and he knew nothing! She agreed to betray DuPont without any hesitation even though she was sleeping with him at that time. I think she realized her boss was broken and she saw her opportunity to make some money!”
She stopped to give me the chance to reply.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said.
“Yes, I already answered your question—I didn’t want her to die! Now I’m answering the first part of it—was she really so bad for me. The truth is Bobby made a mistake when she stole that camera; it made Marty freak out. He though she’d slip the film to the police in order to screw us over. I tried to tell him she wouldn’t take the risk but he wouldn’t listen. He went to kill her and I couldn’t stop him.”
I shook my head, irritated. “Don’t tell me you gave me that call because you wanted to save her!”
“But I did!” She sharply turned her head to me. She looked perfectly calm.
“And that’s why you sent the cops in the bungalow after the call? You tried to save me from him after I saved her?”
“I didn’t know if you were going there or not, Mellrow! You refused to talk to me.” She replied and rubbed her forearms to spread some sun oil on them. “It was just a fallback.”
I watched her until she finished and lay back in her chair. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe a single word she said and the thought that she might really be a machine flashed across my mind again. For what it’s worth, they probably had cyborgs on Mars now and their pattern of behavior would closely match hers, I believed—fulfill your mission at all costs!
“Did you also try to save me this afternoon?” I asked bitterly. “Did you send Sengupta’s thugs to the motel after Cork to help me?”
“No,” she smiled, relaxed under the sun. “I simply couldn’t be sure if you were going to kill him; that’s all. If he happened to kill you, then they had to take care of him!”
“And if I killed him? They had to take care of me?”
She didn’t answer.
“You know what’s funny?” I switched legs again, astonished by the ease with which she practically admitted she had planned to kill me. “You’ve been using me from the very beginning—ever since we met. First it was Menelaus, now it’s Marty; I seem so vitally important for all your plans that I wonder how you were even supposed to kill DuPont if I rejected you in the first place!”
Sharon laughed. “Actually, you killed DuPont!” She said. “Remember when I came to you? I came with the exact same story Bobby had already sold you. Haven’t you asked yourself why? I just wanted to block Menelaus from messing with Greenspace because Greenspace were important to me at that moment. You were supposed to suspect something and give up both the cases but you were too greedy—you wanted to take all the money. So in a way, it was you who killed him!”
“Were important? Why aren’t Greenspace important to you now?” I ignored her twisted game of logic.
She shrugged. “Some things changed, you know. Things always change! I’m sure you’ll know the answer very soon. I just can’t tell you now!”
She slowly rose to take her glass and sip at her drink. As she did so, her legs spread a little so I had to turn my head to the sea. I didn’t want to look at her. I couldn’t think of her as a real woman and I was just seeing an abstract naked body in front of me, like a wax figure in a museum. When she relaxed back in the chair, I looked at her again.
“You know, at first I was sure you just wanted to take over Menelaus’ company,” I said thoughtfully. “I thought you were after his money but soon I realized that couldn’t be the reason. So I moved to the thought that you wanted to steal his business idea instead and deliver ammonia to the aliens. You surely used that to control your little moron and push him in the right direction but that wasn’t really it, was it?”
She didn’t answer.
“Then, when you came here,” I went on, “I almost believed you were trying to make Sengupta a puppet of yours because he had the ships and money and you didn’t have any. You know what I think now? Now I don’t believe any of these things anymore. Now I just believe you simply work for the Couloongs!”
Sharon sharply turned her head to me. She looked surprised. Then she slowly reached her hand to take off her sunglasses at last. Her cold green eyes fixed on mine with a hint of smile.
“I’ve always thought you were a very weird dick, Mellrow!” she uttered. “In fact, no, at first, I didn’t! At first I thought you were a loser, picking at your nose in your miserable office because you were too lazy to work. But then you somehow upgraded yourself! You’re like a dog—you never give up and that’s a really admirable quality in your profession!”
“DuPont had very close relationships with some of the aliens,” I went on, ignoring her flattering. “I guess it made him believe he could monopolize the ammonia trade with the Couloongs and maybe the trade with other chemical compounds too. He needed it to cure the financial state of his empire! Ironically, it also put him in huge debt, which sped up its decline, but that’s another subject. Anyway, I gather that some other aliens didn’t want him to succeed! I gather that they needed perfect competition to keep the prices low or maybe they were just worried they’d become dependent on one person.”
I stopped intentionally to look at her. She was listening to me very carefully without saying anything. Then I briefly glanced down at the wharf because the preparations of the boat were over now and it was going to leave soon. The crewmembers had disappeared.
“So what would be the options for these aliens?” I resumed my theory, turning my head back to her. “Hiring his ex-wife to approach him is surely a very good one and I think that’s what really happened. I don’t know, however, whether your original task was only to reason with the guy or carry out his execution! So what was it?”
Sharon’s cellphone suddenly rang and she glanced at it but didn’t bother to pick up. It stopped soon and she put her sunglasses back on and lay back in the chair. Her naked breasts started steadily going up and down again.
“You just can’t see the bigger picture,” she smiled after a while. “If you could, you would’ve known nothing of what you or I have done mattered. We’ve only served our purposes!”
“Purposes?” I asked annoyed. “Life’s not a fucking game, Sharon! Life’s not something you should win!”
“Life is a game!” She exclaimed. “A game of chances! But we can’t see the entry level or the exit of it. All of us are blind pawns and just move in search for the right way—even those who make our moves! And when we meet our chance to die, we simply die. It’s as simple as that! No one is really special in this stupid world, Mellrow!”
I raised my eyes to look at her, surprised. A sudden memory emerged in my head when I heard these words. Jill had said to me exactly the same thing before I left Greenland, and although she had meant something different, it felt weird to hear the same line at the other end of the world from a Martian.
“So everything was part of this game of pawns? Even your marriage?”
“Marriage is really nothing on my home planet,” she answered and rose to take the pack and light a cigarette. “It was so long ago! I just did it out of romantic curiosity—I was young and naive and I wanted to see how it was in the old times. But of course, it didn’t work—there was just no chance for it to work because it didn’t fit with the reality on Mars.”
“So why didn’t you divorce him then?”
“It’s because it meant nothing up there! The ceremony was a farce show and besides, when we broke up, Menelaus didn’t say anything about divorce.”
“When you married him, did you know you were going to kill him someday in the future?” I asked hesitantly.
Sharon suddenly laughed quite vocally. It was probably the first time I was seeing a sincere reaction from her. She laughed for almost half a minute.
“Oh, you really have a very demonic idea about me,” she said when she finally calmed down and put the pack on the table. “I’m a normal human being, Mellrow, just like you! Our perspectives differ a bit but that’s just because we were raised differently. On Mars, we simply don’t count the same things important as you count here; that’s all!”
“Like clothes!” I nodded toward her body because couldn’t resist the temptation.
She rose a little to look at me behind her sunglasses.
“Actually, yes! Like clothes, like your primitive attitude toward sex or nudity, like your numerous religions, languages, customs, national pride…you name it! In fact, your heavily divided society makes you fairly easy to be manipulated. You should really think about that if you want to survive after aliens’ coming. The rules of the game have already changed!”
She lay back in the chair, smoking. Her cellphone rang again but this time she didn’t look at it. “Maybe you should to go now,” she said instead, and smiled ironically. “I won’t see you off because I’m naked, you know, but I’m sure you’ll know your way. And I suppose this is the last time we’ll ever meet!”
“Yeah, I suppose that too,” I mumbled and glanced down at the wharf. The area around the boat was empty and it seemed as if we were the only people on the vessel.
“Unless…of course…you want to come with me!” Sharon added unexpectedly without turning her head to me. It caught me completely by surprise.
I sharply looked back at her. At first, I thought it was her tendency to ridicule me. Her voice lacked any intonation, and since I couldn’t see her eyes behind the sunglasses, I couldn’t know if she was serious.
“Yeah?” I just asked, confused.
“Yeah!” She replied. “You can come with me to Mars. The future doesn’t look particularly bright for you here anyway!”
“Do you really think I could do such a thing after everything we’ve been through?”
She shrugged, exhaling more smoke. “I understand you don’t believe me but look at it this way: it was only a game of gains and chances as I said, and it’s over now. I never actually felt anything against you, Mellrow! In fact, I’ve always thought you were a primitive but quite charming guy. And now, when we have both served our purposes, maybe it’s time for you to take your life back!”
“You think the future will be brighter for me on Mars?” I muttered pensively, picturing myself there—free of religion and national pride, surrounded by aliens and naked chicks in lounge chairs; indulged with free love. “What would I work? I suppose there are no swallows on Mars to chase!”
Right in that moment, the huge Indian who had brought me here appeared on the deck again and discreetly stopped by the stairs, looking at me urgently. I looked at him too. Suddenly, the boat engine had started running and I felt as if it was nervously waiting for my decision.
“Well, I guess I have to say goodbye then,” Sharon said after the pause, still not turning her head to me.
I slowly peeled myself away from the pushpit and went to put my empty glass on the table near her pack of cigarettes. I didn’t look at her. “Farewell, Sharon!” I answered bluntly and left without turning back.
“Good luck with the Chinese!” After a few steps, I heard her sending her best wishes after me.
Somewhere in the distance at that moment, police sirens started anxiously howling. They seemed to be approaching but they were not close enough. They were going to be just a little bit late! It had all been perfectly calculated as always. And I wasn’t even surprised!
©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!