The Devil’s Bowl
The Devil’s Bowl Transport Café was situated two kilometers from the edge of a crater. The crater,
although small in comparison to the well known craters, was semi-filled with sand and dust from the frequent wind and dust
storms that regularly raged over the planet. From a high viewpoint it looked like a perfectly circular bowl that was half
filled with a reddish soup. It had been named The Devil’s Bowl because it had claimed the lives of an early exploration
team when they had ventured onto an overhanging shelf that collapsed beneath them.
The café was one of the busiest and largest being the last eastbound and the first westbound to and
one of the six major cities, almost a day’s drive away. Travelers from both directions would stop for the night.
As Ralph drove into the parking lot he noted five road trains. There were also three trucks, each with
a single trailer. Several smaller vehicles were also parked in the lot. He looked for Basha’s sedan but didn’t
To one side of the parking lot, close to the exit, was a vehicle cleaning machine. It used high pressured
jets of air to blow dust away as water was too precious to use. Water evaporated into the atmosphere and much was lost in
spite of recycling. There was plenty of ice on Mars but the cost of drilling for it beneath the surface and then extracting
and purifying it made it a very expensive but necessary commodity. Now the forests were spreading, absorbing the high carbon
dioxide content in the atmosphere and releasing oxygen, a greenhouse effect was causing global warming. The ice near the surface
was beginning to soften but it would be a long time before it melted.
Behind the café were three double garages. The doors were closed and Ralph couldn’t see if they
contained any vehicles although he assumed that at least one would hold the owner’s private transport.
Ralph parked up alongside one the road trains. The only light came from the advertising signs but it
was sufficient for him to see what he was doing. He secured his truck then checked the identification numbers of the five
road trains. Three were from Mars City,
one from Liberty and the other from the city of Endurance
in the Meridiani Planum. He jotted down the information not knowing if it would help find Mick’s killers or not.
Ralph entered the café and went straight to the counter where he ordered a meal and booked a room.
He thumbed the screen to verify the card belonged to him. While he waited for his credit card to be cleared, he glanced around
the room. He counted a dozen customers sitting at tables. Most were drinking but two or three were still eating meals. Three
roaders acknowledged him and he returned the sign. He smiled as he recognized another roader sitting alone on the far side
of the room facing away from him. The man’s mop of flaming red hair was unmistakable. That’s Jimmy Adler, thought Ralph. One of the Mars City trucks would be his.
“Your card’s okay, Mr. Connor, if you’d like to take a table your meal will be ready
in five.” The man behind the counter handed Ralph’s card back to him with a cheery smile. “Room twenty-four
has been booked for you.”
Ralph pointed toward Jimmy’s table. “I’ll be over there,” he informed the man
then sauntered over to Jimmy.
“Hello, Jimmy,” said Ralph, sitting down at the table and grinning at the red-haired roader.
“Hey! Ralph!” Jimmy grinned back at Ralph and spread his hands. “Must be six months!”
Ralph loved the broad Scottish accent that Jimmy spoke in.
“More like seven,” replied Ralph. “Going in or out?”
“Out north and then in.”
Ralph nodded. It wasn’t unusual for a roader to deliver to two or more areas on a run. Obviously
Liberty had been one of his stops.
“Ever heard of a roader by the name of Mick Hewitt?”
Jimmy frowned as he thought for a moment trying to recall the name.
“Fair hair, mouth full of white teeth…?”
“Yeah. I met him once. Had a Martian or two with him.”
“You’ll be passing him on the way out,” said Ralph. “He was hijacked and got
The smile faded from Jimmy’s face. To a roader any news of a hijacking was bad news. Being hijacked
was their greatest fear on Mars and to have it happen to someone you’ve met and had a drink with made it hit home harder.
“When did this happen?”
“Today. Had breakfast with him this morning.”
Ralph leaned back as a blonde waitress brought his meal. When she had finished laying it out in front
of him he ordered two Martian beers.
“Know a classy creamer called Basha?” he asked Jimmy when the waitress went away.
This time Jimmy shook his head. “Nope. Why?”
Ralph chewed a mouthful of steak pie and swallowed before answering.
“Just a feeling she might know something about the hijacking and Mick’s murder.”
He told Jimmy of the events the night before in The Half a Mo and the way Basha was in such a hurry that morning.
“She was out of place, Jimmy. Too classy to be a waitress in a café.”
“So, she was in a hurry. How does that tie her in with the hijacking?” asked Jimmy.
The Martian beers arrived and Ralph waited for the waitress to leave again before telling Jimmy about
the tire tracks and the purple lip paint on Mick’s lips.
“Okay. It could have been any woman wearing purple lip paint,” he admitted, “but
it is a big coincidence.”
“Have ya told the police?”
“They didn’t wanna know. Didn’t ask no questions and the bastards wouldn’t
allow me to bury Mick in case I messed up evidence.”
“I’d have buried him anyway,” said Jimmy with disgust. The roaders were like a brotherhood.
“I would’ve too but, like a nutter, I gave them my ID details.” Ralph finished his
meal and took a long drink of beer, draining his glass and pushing it away from him. “Your shout, ain’t it?”
Jimmy grinned and ordered two more Martians.
They spent the next hour exchanging stories and sipping their beer. Ralph was just about to order a
further two Martians when he noticed a smartly dressed man enter the café. The man, aged about sixty, had salt and pepper
hair and wore a business suit beneath an open overcoat. He carried an attaché case in one hand. Walking briskly to the bar,
he beckoned one of the men behind it with a finger and entered a door next to the counter with the other man following him.
Ralph called the blonde waitress over and ordered the beers. “Who’s the guy that just went
in that room over there?” he asked her.
“That was Mr. Farrell. He works for the owner of this café.”
Ralph frowned. “I thought the guy that went in the room with him was the owner,” he said.
“Oh no. Reggie is the resident manager. Mr. Dawson is the owner.”
“So where’s Mr. Dawson?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him,” replied the girl shaking her head and
shrugging. “He never comes in.”
“Thanks… what’s your name?”
“Linda.” The girl looked pleased that Ralph had asked her.
“Thanks, Linda. I’m Ralph and this is Jimmy.”
Jimmy stood and offered his hand with a big grin on his face. “It’s a real pleasure to
meet you, Linda,” he said using his broadest and most charming Scottish accent to the full.
Linda shook his hand. “I’ll get your beers,” she said and blushing modestly hurried
“I wonder what time she finishes tonight,” mused Jimmy. “Unless you…”
“Nope! She’s all yours if you can pull her, Jimmy,” replied Ralph raising a hand
negatively. “I’ve had a long day. After this last beer, I’m for bed.”
Ralph rose early the next morning, showered and dressed, putting on clean thermals beneath his working
uniform. Mars was a cold planet even on the equator and any time spent outside the warmth of a building required warm clothing.
He had decided to get on the road as early as possible, drop his loads then try to trace any of Mick’s relatives.
He went to the solitary window of his room and peered out into the darkness wondering where and how
he would start his search. The window overlooked the parking lot and the lights of the flashing advertising signs still partially
illuminated the parked vehicles. He could see his truck parked where he had left it then he frowned and stiffened. The road
train he had pulled alongside had gone. He scanned the scene and noticed the trucks with single trailers had also gone.
“And I thought I was up early,” he muttered to himself. Something’s not right, he thought. A roader leaving early was not all that unusual but four of them all
in the same morning made it extremely unusual.
Ralph went down to the dining room. The morning shift staff was just preparing it in readiness for
“Bright dawn,” he said cheerily. Each of the
four staff members looked up at him and replied in chorus.
“You are a little early for breakfast, sir,” said one. “We don’t serve breakfast
for another forty minutes.”
“That’s all right. I was gonna make an early start but I’ve changed my mind,”
he replied walking toward the door. “I’ll just take my bag to my truck.”
Once in the parking lot, Ralph checked the remaining road trains and discovered it was the one from
that had gone. Thoughtfully, he placed his bag in his truck and returned to the café.
“I see some roaders have already gone,” he said loudly. “Anyone know where they were
The response was negative. “No one has left while I’ve been here,” said the guy that
spoke to him before. “I’ve been here an hour.”
Ralph nodded. So they left during the night or exceptionally
early this morning, he thought. I wonder why? A thought came to him.
“Has anyone seen Basha lately?” This time the response was positive.
“Basha was here yesterday,” replied one.
“She was here for lunch yesterday,” said another. The other two nodded in confirmation.
“Know where she is now?”
“Probably in Liberty with Mr.
Dawson,” ventured one.
Dawson! So Basha was associated with the owner
of The Devil’s Bowl Cafe! Ralph thought. That’s interesting.
Ralph had almost finished eating his breakfast when Jimmy came down and sat down at his table.
“Bright dawn, Ralph,” he said with a grin.
“Bright dawn. You look happy,” replied Ralph.
“Had a good night, Ralph. Didn’t get much kip but, och, it was a very good night,”
said Jimmy grinning even more.
Ralph wondered if Linda also had such a satisfying night.
“Just watch yourself, Jimmy,” said Ralph seriously. “Watch what ya say to anybody.”
Ralph told Jimmy what he had learned that morning.
“So what are you saying?” asked Jimmy when Ralph had finished. “That Dawson and this
Basha are behind the hijacking?”
“I’m not jumping to conclusions, Jimmy, but this whole thing stinks.” Ralph looked
at Jimmy straight in the eyes. “For all we know Mick’s load was in those trucks that left during the night.”
Ralph finished his breakfast just as Jimmy’s arrived. He drank the remains of his coffee and
“I’m leaving now. You’re going north, aren’t ya? If ya bump into Ernie Bridges,
tell him about Mick.”
“I’ll do that Ralph. Safe roading.”
“You too. Enjoy ya breakfast.”
Ralph paid his bill and with a final wave to Jimmy, left the café.