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MARTIAN CAFE

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MARTIAN CAFE

Chapter Five.

 

 

Dawson

 

 

 

Ralph remained in the Two Pins with his newfound friends until he finished his drink then excused himself.

 

“It’s been nice meeting you all but I do have things to do,” he said as he rose from the table.

 

“If there’s anything we can do, just let us know,” replied Adrian and handing Ralph a card, added, “that’s where you can find us.”

 

Ralph glanced at the card before slipping it into his pocket. “I’ll do that, roader,” he answered with a grin. “Ya just never know when I might need a little help.”

 

“I got a feeling you’re up to something,” said Adrian, knowingly. “Happy roading.”

 

Adrian touched his chin with the upper part of his flattened hand then drew it down to his stomach. In turn, Ralph clenched his fists and placed them together then touched his forehead with his right fingertips. The signs, exchanged in a second or two, went unnoticed by anyone.

 

With a final wave, Ralph turned and left the tavern just as the band returned to the platform to play.

 

Ralph found his car in the tavern parking lot and sat in it for a while thinking. Adrian believed Dawson was responsible for the three hijackings that drove him to quit roading. As far as Ralph was concerned, it was just another piece of information that convinced him Dawson was a high-powered crook.

 

He thought about the sign Adrian had made in The Two Pins. Translated, it was a simple but determined statement. “If there’s a battle, I want in!” Ralph had replied, “I’ll see what I can find out.”

 

That was easier to say than to do. How he should proceed to find out if Dawson was involved in the murder of Mick and hijackings eluded Ralph. Although he was gathering information about Dawson, none of it was hard evidence of his involvement. I’m gonna need real evidence, he thought, not theories or suspicions.

 

He started the car, drove out of the parking lot onto the high street, and headed back to the boarding house. As he approached a crossroad, he saw a sign that said, “Turn left for Red Sand Lake”. He was already past the sign when the name registered in his mind and he braked hard. That’s where Dawson has a house, he thought. Let’s take a look.

 

The suburb of Red Sand Lake was on the outskirts of Liberty City and consisted of twelve houses, each one built with architectural features rarely seen on other dwellings on Mars. Ornamental pillars supported portals. Wide picture windows with heavy drapes looked out over front areas with artificial lawns and plants. Wrought iron gates and railings surrounded each house. The elaborate buildings, the smallest being at least four times the size of the average dwelling on Mars, gave evidence of the occupiers’ wealth.

 

Ralph rubbed his chin as he peered at each house in turn. “Hmmm. Twelve houses...twelve disciples…,” he muttered. “I wonder if each owner is a member of the consortium.”

 

Beyond the houses, a huge flat area of red sand stretched away into the distance ahead. It didn’t take any imagination to understand why they called it a lake.

 

Having seen the style in which Dawson lived, he prepared to leave. His finger almost on the starter button when a silvery-gray sedan swept past him and went through the iron gates that automatically opened at its approach. The gates closed behind the vehicle as it went along the drive toward the portal.

 

Ralph pressed the starter, moved forward, and stopped by the house. Peering through the rails, Ralph saw the sedan had stopped just beyond the elaborately carved double doors.  He was just in time to see a young woman emerge from the sedan. She wore a light tan coat that reached to her knees and belted tightly at her waist. Knee-high black boots glistened in the late evening sunlight. Her long, wavy, jet-black hair contrasting against the light-colored coat, bobbed as she walked to the door with quick, graceful strides.

 

Basha! Thought Ralph. So that’s the house where the Dawson’s live.

 

He waited until Basha had entered the house before returning to the boarding house where he spent the rest of the evening reading the information he had gathered and fruitlessly attempting to make some plan to gather evidence that would prove Dawson’s involvement in the murder of Mick Hewitt.

 

In frustration, he hurled the sheets of printed-paper on the floor and lay back on his bed. The information proved nothing except that Dawson was extremely rich for a Martian inhabitant and that he was a highly respected citizen in all six major cities of Mars. He gave generously to charities and community programs and supported the Martian governmental authorities. It almost seemed he was trying to make up for his father’s errors.

 

“What if it wasn’t Dawson?” He asked the ceiling above his head. “What if it was one of The Disciples?” Sitting up, he considered the possibility. “Could there be a Judas among the twelve?”

 

His suspicion of Dawson and Basha’s involvement, based on the purple lip-paint on Mick’s lips and the trucks in the parking lot of The Devil’s Bowl café that Dawson owned, didn’t really add up to much.

 

 There were also the tire marks of at least one sedan at the scene of the murder. Any or all of the consortium members could own sedans. Any woman could wear purple lip-paint and possibly deliberately planted it to cast suspicion on Basha. It was possible the trucks were used for legitimate business.

 

“Shit!” cursed Ralph, swinging his legs off the bed. Putting his elbows on his knees, he ran his fingers through his hair. “Anything’s possible!”

 

He saw the scattered sheets of paper on the floor and began gathering then up when there was a knock on the door.

 

“Come in!” he called. The door opened and Mrs. Edison entered.

 

“Will you be wanting a meal this evening, sir?”

 

“Have you cooked anything?” Ralph asked.

 

“My husband and I are having shepherd’s pie. There’s plenty if you’d like some.”

 

“Shepherd’s pie? I can’t remember when I last had that!” Such old-fashioned meals were rarely cooked on Mars. The art of cooking died a long time ago. “Mrs. Edison. That would be wonderful!”

 

Mrs. Edison’s face beamed. “I’ll bring some up for you.” Turning, she hurried out.

 

Ralph completed gathering the papers, placed them on the table, and stared at them. I’m gonna have to prove ‘em innocent or prove ‘em guilty, he thought. Either way, I’m gonna have to break the law. He smiled cynically to himself. There was very little law enforced on Mars.

 

 

 

 

Ralph rose early the following day. He intended to slip out without having breakfast but Mrs. Edison, already up and busying herself in the kitchen, heard him.

 

“Is that you, Mr. Connor?” she called.

 

“Yeah, Mrs. Edison. It’s me,” replied Ralph. “I thought I’d get out early.”

 

“You must have something to eat! It’s not good to start the day on an empty stomach!”

 

Ralph heard the sound of crockery being moved and a minute later Mrs. Edison appeared with a mug of steaming coffee.

 

“Here you are, dear. Have this while I fix some breakfast for you.” She handed him the mug before he could protest. “What would you like?”

 

“Just some cereals will be fine,” said Ralph resignedly. “I want to get away as soon as possible.”

 

“It will be ready in just a minute.”

 

A minute or two later she emerged with a bowl of cereals and placed them on the table. Ralph thanked her, then just as she turned to go away, he had a thought.

 

“Mrs. Edison. Do you know the Dawson’s?”

 

“Why, yes! Do you know Millie and David?” Her face showed surprise.

 

“No, I mean Edward Dawson and his daughter, Basha.”

 

“Oh! I’m sorry. I thought you meant friends of ours.” She laughed at her mistake.  “I’ve heard of Edward Dawson. He’s a very good man, I believe. Very well known.” She thought for a moment then added, “Some say he should be Premier of Mars but I don’t know much about that.”

 

“He doesn’t want to be a politician, Mary.” Mr. Edison came into the room. “Says he hasn’t time for all that.” He smiled at Ralph. “Bright dawn, Mr. Connor.”

 

“Bright dawn, to you, sir,” replied Ralph. “Do you know him?”

 

“I know he makes more money than any politician could.”

 

Ralph was tempted to ask if he thought it was earned legally but decided not to. He didn’t want to show too much interest in Dawson’s affairs. He finished his breakfast and stood up.

 

“I’ll see you later,” he told them, “I want to do some sightseeing.” It wasn’t really a lie. He did want to see Red Sand Lake again but also he wanted to see what he could find out about the consortium as well as Dawson. He bade them a good day and left.

 

 

 

Thirty minutes later, he parked his car close to Dawson’s house in Red Sand Lake where he could see the gates and the door as well as several other houses. From that position, he could see the windows of some of the dwellings and occasionally indication of movements within. As he sat observing the properties, he thought over a plan that he had in mind. Somehow, I’ve gotta get inside Dawson’s house, he thought. Maybe I can find something that’ll incriminate him.

 

A further twenty minutes passed during which time sedans drove out from several houses and headed toward Liberty City. Ralph assumed the drivers were going to their places of work. Then he saw Dawson’s front door open and a man and woman emerged. He recognized the woman as Basha. That must be Dawson with her, thought Ralph. He had expected Dawson to be a tall and well-built man but he was short, around five-six. He had a paunch that made him look older than his forty-nine years. He wore an expensive looking brown coat and a fur hat on his head. Basha wore the same outfit she had the evening before. I wonder if she’s got a cat suit on under that coat, Ralph thought.

 

The double doors of the garage rolled up revealing two sedans. Ralph watched as Dawson gave Basha a kiss and then got into one of the sedans. As he drove out of the garage, Basha got into the other sedan. A minute later Dawson drove out of the gates and past Ralph. Basha followed him after stopping to ensure the garage doors had closed.

 

Ralph waited another thirty minutes to see if any other vehicles left the houses. He had counted fourteen that had left all within thirty minutes of each other. Now, the road was quiet and he couldn’t see any activity in the houses.

 

He got out of the car and glancing up and down the street, walked over to Dawson’s house. He tried the gates but, as he suspected, they were securely locked. He could have easily scaled them but decided that if anyone were watching from one of the houses, he would be seen. Let’s take a look at the back, he thought, making his way to the rear of the property.

 

The back of the house overlooked the expanse of sand they called Red Sand Lake. Ralph noticed with satisfaction that it was concealed from view from the other properties. A minute or two later, he had climbed the railings and was standing in the back yard. He tried the solitary door that led from the house to the yard but it was locked, as he knew it would be. The only other door led to the adjoining garage. He tried the handle and felt it turn. With a grin, he opened the door and entered the garage.

 

Apart from a bench with a few dust-covered boxes, a torch and some overalls on it and a stepladder against a wall, the garage was empty.

 

“Nothin’ here,” he muttered, grimacing.  He had hoped there would be a door leading into the house but there was none. He turned to leave then noticed an attic door in the ceiling. What have we here? He thought.

 

“Thanks for leaving this, Dawson,” he said as he positioned the stepladder beneath the attic door and climbed it. Pushing the door open, he peered into the dark interior. From what he could see, the attic spread across the entire area of the building but he’d need a light to see if he climbed in it. Ralph remembered torch on the bench and moments later was picking his way across the attic searching for another door.

 

He found what he was looking for at the far end of the attic and eased it open. On his knees, he stuck his head through the opening and saw a short passage below him. Elated he had found a way in; he swung himself down through the door and dropped to the floor.

 

There were four doors in the passage. Ralph tried the nearest. It was a bathroom. The next was a laundry with the latest state of the art washing machine, dryer and clothes presser.

 

The third was a bedroom that didn’t appear to be in use. On the bed and on the floor were various cases and paraphernalia. Ralph made a cursory search of the room but found nothing of interest to him.

 

The last room was a study. Ralph smiled grimly. This should be interesting, he thought. He flicked through a stack of papers on the desk. There were speeches for various meetings, proposals for different projects and some invoices but nothing Ralph could see that might tie Dawson to the hijacking or Mick’s murder. In the drawers of the desk were ledgers showing accounts and sales figures from Dawson’s various businesses.

 

Ralph felt disappointed that he could find nothing that would incriminate Dawson. I guess he wouldn’t leave anything like that around, he thought. Might as well get out of here.

 

He turned and went out the room. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye and then lights flashed before his eyes then everything went black.

Chapter Six

 

 

A Revelation

 

 

 

Ralph opened his eyes slowly as he became aware of someone dabbing his forehead with something moist and cool. He winced and tried to lift his hand as a sensitive and painful spot was touched but found something was restricting the movement of his arms.

 

The dabbing continued as the fog cleared from his eyes and focused. He was sitting on the floor of the passage with his back leaning against the wall and his feet stretched out in front. Someone was kneeling beside him. A woman’s hand held a bowl filled with a cloudy liquid in front of his face.

 

He winced again as the tender spot was touched once more and turned his head to see who was causing him the pain. When he saw it was Basha his memory flooded back. He remembered the sudden movement as he left Dawson’s study and the stars he saw as something struck his head.

 

“I was getting worried that you weren’t going to wake up,” said Basha grinning at him and placing the bowl of liquid on the floor. “You’ve got a nasty bump on your head.”

 

Ralph grunted and tried to stand up then realized his hands were tied behind him. He glanced at Basha with narrowed eyes.

 

“I had to tie your hands,” she explained with a smile. “After all, you’re a burglar.” She pushed herself up from the floor and stood waiting for Ralph to reply but he remained silent. Shrugging, she bent down and picked up the bowl and a cricket bat that was lying nearby. “Good job daddy likes a game of cricket,” she said. “This came in handy.”

 

She turned and walked down the passage. Ralph noticed she was still wearing the tan coat and black boots she wore when she left earlier. Some burglar you are, he thought to himself as she disappeared into a room at the end of the passage. He should have watched for the pattern of movements before attempting to break into the house.

 

He heard water running and the sound of something being washed. He guessed it was the bowl. Ralph wondered why Basha had bothered to bathe his head. She could have let him suffer. Another thought came to his mind. Had she called the police? Or perhaps even worse, had she called her father? If Dawson was responsible for the hijacking and Mick’s murder, he wouldn’t care about killing him. Then again, if Basha was the murderer, was she just playing with him? When she had her amusement, would she finally kiss him and put a bullet in his head? Maybe that was some kind of sick kick she got from it? A mental picture of Mick’s horrified face frozen in death flashed before him and he shuddered.

 

Basha returned a few minutes later. She had removed her coat and wore a thin sweater and tailored pants.

 

“Are you comfortable there?” she asked. Ralph glanced up into her eyes, saw the purple ring around her irises and looked away again quickly. “She’s a freak. She does things with her eyes,” Adrian’s daughter had said. He remembered the look on Mick’s face when Basha glanced at him in The Half a Mo café. He would have to make sure he didn’t make eye contact with her.

 

“The strong silent type, are you?” grinned Basha. “Here, let me help you up. You’ll be more comfortable in a chair.”

 

She bent down and slipped her arm around his and helped him to his feet. “Down here,” she said. “Just don’t try anything.” Basha led him down the passage and into a luxuriously furnished living room. She indicated an armchair. “You can sit there.”

 

Ralph sank in the simulated leather chair almost gratefully. Basha sat on a sofa and curled her feet beneath her and leaned languidly on the arm of the sofa. She seemed perfectly relaxed.

 

“So, Mr. Connor, what’s a trucker doing trying to burgle this house?” she asked. She saw the surprise on Ralph’s face as she mentioned his name.

 

“Oh yes. I recognize you from The Half a Mo,” she explained. “I didn’t when I whacked you with the cricket bat.” She grinned again.

 

“You’re an amateur, you know. I saw your car yesterday and again this morning. That made me suspicious and why I came back.”

 

Ralph fixed his eyes on her breasts thinking he might as well look at those if he was to avoid eye contact. He thought for a moment and then replied.

 

“Why did you have to kill Mick?” he asked.

 

Basha swung her legs off the sofa and put her feet on the floor and sat upright.

 

“I didn’t kill him!” She exclaimed.

 

Ralph risked a quick glance at her face. If she was acting, she was good. Her eyes were wide as she glared at him indignantly.

 

“Then it was your dad or his cronies that did,” said Ralph. “And your purple lip paint was on Mick’s lips so you were involved.”

 

“It wasn’t mine! Purple is the fashion right now!”

 

Ralph risked another glance at her. She was frowning and her eyes darting over the carpeted floor as her mind raced. Is she acting or didn’t she really know about the lip paint?

 

Basha rose from the sofa suddenly and left the room. She returned a minute later with a kitchen knife in one hand and the cricket bat in the other.

 

“Holy shit! He thought. She’s gonna beat me to death or slit my throat! Aloud, he said, “Let’s not be hasty. Maybe I was mistaken.”

 

“Shut up and stand up!” she said brandishing the bat. Ralph jumped to his feet.

 

“Okay! Okay! Just take it easy!”

 

Still brandishing the bat, Basha walked behind him. He braced himself for a blow or a stab. Instead he felt the knife cut the cord that bound his wrists. As he turned, she jumped back holding the bat high in readiness to strike him.

 

“Get out! Go!” she yelled. “Get out and don’t come back!”

 

“I’m going!” said Ralph walking back to the passage.

 

“Not that way! The front door.”

 

“Where’s the front door?”

 

“Through there! Just get out!” she screamed.

 

Ralph found the door, opened it and hastened out. The wrought iron gates swung open as he approached them. Getting into his car, he wasted no time in driving away.

 

**

 

Ralph sat in The Two Pins Tavern sipping a glass of Martian beer cradled in both hands and deep in thought. His head still ached but the lump on his forehead didn’t bother him as much as before. Ice obtained from the bar had helped reduce the swelling and numb the pain.

 

He knew he had had a lucky escape that morning. Things could well have been much worse for him had Dawson found him trespassing in his house. With his influence in Liberty and other cities, Dawson could have had him locked up in some cell in a detention center for an undetermined length of time. Ralph doubted if Dawson would have bathed his forehead while he waited for the police to arrive.

 

Unanswered questions chased each other through his mind as he sipped his beer and stared blindly at the surface of the table. Why had Basha let him go? Why did her mood change so suddenly? What had triggered her mood change? Why hadn’t she called the police or at least her father?

 

Basha’s denial of killing Mick appeared genuine. She hadn’t just denied it. She had sat up and glared at him. She seemed shocked that he believed she had murdered Mick. Then, when he mentioned the lip paint, it seemed to set her mind thinking. That was when she made up her mind to let him go.

 

Ralph drained his glass and called over to the bar tender for another. The bar tender was holding a communicator hand piece, staring at it with a puzzled look on his face. He acknowledged Ralph’s order and a minute later brought it to him.

 

“You sure you want this?” he asked. “I think your wife or girlfriend just called.”

 

Ralph’s brow creased into a frown. “Did she ask for me or leave a name?”

 

The bar tender shook his head. “Just asked if there was a trucker here. When I said yes she described you and asked if you looked like that. I said yeah, and she hung up.” He looked at Ralph’s clothes then added, “You are a trucker, ain’t you?”

 

Ralph nodded absently. Everyone recognized a roader.  Who would want to know if I was in The Two Pins? The only women I know in these parts are Mrs. Edison and Adrian’s wife and daughter. Then there was Basha but she couldn’t see the back of me fast enough.

 

Ralph looked around the tavern. It was a quiet period and only four others were drinking. Three men and a woman. None of them were roaders.

 

“She didn’t leave a name or number?” he asked.

 

“Nope. Just hung up.”

 

“Forget it then. I’ll have the beer and probably another after.”

 

The barman took the empty glass and replaced it with the fresh beer then pointed at Ralph’s forehead. “Did she do that?” he asked with a grin.

 

“Wouldn’t ya like to know?” Ralph said. He didn’t want to explain how he got the lump on his head and the walking into a door excuse had been killed a century ago. “Cricket’s a dangerous game,” he smiled cynically.

 

He was halfway through his third beer when the tavern door opened and Basha entered. She glanced around quickly, spotted Ralph, walked straight to where he was sitting and sat down opposite him.

 

Ralph put his beer down and raised his eyebrows in surprise.

 

“How did ya know I was here?” he asked.

 

“I was lucky. Fourth tavern I called,” answered Basha. “You’re a trucker. I guessed you would be in a tavern.”

 

Ralph glanced over his shoulder. “Brought the police with ya? Your dad?”

 

“I want to know what you were looking for when you broke into our house,” she said, ignoring his question.

 

“Why?” Ralph looked up at her and seeing the purple ring immediately dropped his gaze again.

 

“I’ll put it another way. I need to know,” Basha leaned forward, “Do my eyes bother you?”

 

“No, not at all,” replied Ralph taking a sip of beer. “So why do you need to know?”

 

“Mr. Connor, please don’t play with me. You practically accused me of murdering that trucker.”

 

Ralph swirled the beer in his glass for a moment as he thought. “I was looking for evidence.”

 

“What kind of evidence? My lip paint? Look!” Her hand moved to her face but Ralph still stared at his beer. “Look at me! My lip paint doesn’t come off!”

 

Ralph glanced up at her. She rubbed her lips again and showed him her fingers. The paint on her lips wasn’t smudged and there was none on her fingertips.

 

“I don’t wear the cheap paint that comes off,” she insisted. “If there was any on that trucker, it wasn’t mine.”

 

“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Why are you trying to convince me?”

 

“Because I think I know who it might have been,” she said quietly.

 

Ralph raised his head and peered at her. Her face was serious and her eyes appealed to him to believe her. He looked into his beer again and swirled it some more.

 

“Tell the police,” he said.

 

“I can’t.”

 

“Then why tell me?” There was a pause before Basha answered.

 

“Because you are different.”

 

The simple statement forced a laugh from Ralph. “Yeah! I’m not the police. I’m just another trucker that might get hijacked. Expendable.” There was another, longer pause. He sensed her studying him.

 

“I didn’t mean that. You are different. I thought it when I first saw you in The Half a Mo. I think you’re one of the few really decent truckers.”

 

Ralph squinted at her. Her face was still serious. She means it, he thought. He felt flattered.

 

“You did something to Mick with your eyes,” Ralph told her. “What did you do?”

 

This time the pause lasted almost a minute. Ralph was beginning to think he wasn’t going to be answered.

 

“So my eyes do bother you,” said Basha. “He molested me. I don’t like being molested so I showed him a mental picture of him having his testicles ripped off and then I removed any knowledge of him touching me.” She shook her head at the memory of the incident. “Why should he retain the memory of touching me against my will?”

 

Ralph thought about what she had said. To have a power like that could do a lot of harm to people.

 

“So you’re a telepath,” he said. “You can read minds, right?”

 

“No. I pick up bad thoughts against me and can defend myself by putting thoughts in the minds of those that wish to harm me or do something I don’t like,” she said. “It’s hard to explain. I can’t read minds but I can take away some memories. It’s more like a defensive action.”

 

Ralph studied the girl before him. She was beautiful, young and vivacious, yet she had a power that made him feel uneasy. He had no way of knowing if she was telling him the whole truth about her powers. Ralph recalled that Jeanette had said Basha’s teachers were afraid of her. He wondered if they had been a threat to her.

 

“I heard your teachers and school mates were scared of you,” he ventured, trying to draw her out.

 

Basha smiled. “I was very young and didn’t have control over this ability. When I felt hostility from the girls I reacted. They reported it to the teachers and the teachers scolded me. That caused me to react against them. The teachers knew about this gift I have.”

 

“How did you get this gift?”

 

Basha’s smile disappeared and was replaced with a look of bitterness. Ralph could sense her pondering on whether to answer his question. She toyed with a drop of spilt beer on the table, drawing wet circles with her middle finger. Finally she spoke.

 

“My mother was exposed to radiation when she was pregnant with me.” She looked at the watch on her wrist. “Look, I’ve never talked like this to anyone before. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. All I wanted to know was what you were looking for in my house.” She looked at her watch again. “I have to go. Where are you staying?”

 

Ralph told her the name of the boarding house. He knew she could easily find out if she wanted.

 

“I was looking for evidence because I believe your father had something to do with the hijacking.” He expected her to deny Dawson’s involvement. She didn’t make any protest.

 

“I have to rush,” she said turning and walking away.

 

“Wait! Who do you think did it?” Ralph called after her.

 

“I’ll give you call,” she said. Then without waiting any longer, she left the tavern.