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MARTIAN CAFE
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MARTIAN CAFE

Chapter Seven

 

 

A Date with Basha.

 

 

 

Ralph stayed in The Two Pins for one more beer. His thoughts mulled over all that Basha had told him but it only added to his confusion. Her denial of any involvement in Mick’s murder sounded convincing and she seemed quite willing to talk about her “gift”. He’d got more out of her than she had from him. So why’d she come looking for me?

 

He finished his beer, paid for his drinks and left. He tightened his coat as the cold air outside the tavern hit him. Martian beer heated the blood more than any other beer he knew and the contrasting temperatures inside and outside the tavern were immediately noticeable.

 

Standing outside, looking up and down the road, he pondered on what to do. The stores in the high street were still open and doing trade. Making up his mind, he began strolling down the street, looking into windows seeing what the latest trends were. A long time had passed since he last did a little window-shopping. Being on the road for weeks at a time and searching for work left him little opportunity for such leisure.

 

Most of the shops were small businesses selling various products that would interest the casual shopper. There were seven department stores in the high street which sold more expensive and varied items from kitchen ware to high class clothing and luxury furniture. Beneath the bright laser signs that displayed the name of the store, each had a sign that said, “Partners of the Dawson Group of Retailers.”

 

Dawson sure has a good hold on the retailing business here, thought Ralph. He estimated the population of Liberty to be between one and two million. Of the six major cities on Mars, Ralph’s home town, Mars City, was the largest with a population of around five million. He had no doubt Dawson had made his mark in all six as well as the thousands of smaller towns. No wonder he is the richest man on Mars.

 

Ralph decided he had seen enough. Not only that, he was hungry and knew Mrs. Edison would probably keep a meal hot for him. He smiled as he thought of her. She was a motherly and caring woman. She was much like he remembered his own mother when she was alive. The thought of home-cooked food aggravated his hunger and he made his way back to his car, wondering what old-fashioned culinary delight Mrs. Edison may have concocted.

 

**

 

Phobos and Deimos, the tiny moons of Mars, were already climbing into the night sky when Ralph pulled into the driveway of the boarding house. As he entered the door the smell of cooking titillated his nostrils. Mrs. Edison, as sharp-eared as ever, came out of the kitchen to greet him.

 

“Oh, Mr. Connor,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron. She wore a slightly concerned look on her face. “I hope you like steak and kidney pie.”

 

Steak and kidney pie! I’d forgotten that ever existed!  Ralph thought.

 

“Mrs. Edison, I’d love to taste that again!” he exclaimed. “You are a marvel! An angel!”

 

Mrs. Edison beamed. “I’m so glad you do, Mr. Connor. Some people can’t stand offal and I was hoping you weren’t one of them.” She turned back to continue whatever she had been doing. “I meant to ask you before you left this morning,” she added as she disappeared into the kitchen.

 

Returning to his room, Ralph stripped and showered. He took some time debating whether to wear a shirt or a sweater for the evening then, deciding he wasn’t going anywhere, chose the shirt. He was fastening the last button when the wireless communicator by his bed rang. He stared at it for a moment before walking over and answering it.

 

“Connor,” he said cautiously.

 

“Mr. Connor. Can we meet tonight?” He recognized Basha’s voice.

 

“Where?” he asked.

 

“How about The Two Pins since we both know where that is?”

 

“Sure. I can make it in a couple of hours,” he replied. He thought The Two Pins was becoming a regular habitat for him.

 

“Two hours? How about in an hour? It’s not far from you.”

 

“Nope! Two hours. I’m having a special meal tonight and I don’t wanna miss it,” insisted Ralph.

 

It must have been almost thirty seconds before Basha answered. “Very well. Two hours from now.”

 

“Fine. You can always start without me. I’ll catch you up on the drinking.”

 

“I don’t think so, Mr. Connor. I don’t drink alone in taverns. If you’re not there, I’ll wait outside.”

 

Ralph smiled as he heard the click as she hung up. He was still unsure of Basha’s motive for wanting to talk to him but if she knew who killed Mick, then he wanted to know also.

 

He looked at his image in the mirror. “I guess it’s a sweater,” he muttered, undoing the shirt buttons.

 

 

**

 

 

The taste of the steak and kidney pie with its short crust pastry and succulent gravy still lingered as Ralph pulled up in The Two Pins parking lot. He glanced at his watch and noted the time. He wasn’t sure but believed he was a few minutes late. He hadn’t checked his watch when Basha said, “Two hours from now.”

 

Basha was standing to one side of the entrance to The Two Pins. The hood of her coat pulled over head and her hands pushed deep into her pockets to keep out the cold breeze that had begun to blow.

 

“Sorry I’m a couple of minutes late,” said Ralph, sauntering up to her.

 

“You’re fifteen minutes late at least and I’m frozen,” retorted Basha.

 

“That late? I could have sworn…”

 

“Let’s get out of the cold, Mr. Connor. Please!”

 

“Ya know, ya really should have gone in and waited,” said Ralph, opening the door for her and ushering her inside the tavern. He found an empty table, held the seat for her to sit down and sat down himself.

 

“What do you want to drink?” he asked her.

 

“A Symmetric Delight, please.”

 

“Pardon? What the hell kinda drink is that?”

 

“It’s what I drink. You should try it instead of that smelly brew you swill down.”

 

Ralph called one of the female servers over.

 

“We’d like a Martian beer and…a…Symmetric Delight?” he said, expecting the server to say she’d never heard of it. The girl just nodded and entered the order on her hand-held computer and went away.

 

“They serve them here,” said Ralph with surprise.

 

“You’re lucky I didn’t ask for a Heavenly Dream,” replied Basha sarcastically. “They only serve those in Night Spots.”

 

“Why? What’s so special about …?”

 

“You wouldn’t want to know, Mr. Connor,” interrupted Basha in a way that made Ralph think he would be the better judge of that.

 

Basha removed her hood, shook her hair loose and opened her coat. Ralph noticed she had changed her sweater for a green Cosmoslene top.

 

“I don’t frequent taverns, Mr. Connor, but I think had I known you were going to be so late, I just might have come in alone.”

 

“Look, call me Ralph. I’m not used to all this Mr. stuff.”

 

“All right, Ralph. You may call me Basha, though I haven’t heard you call me anything, yet.”

 

“Good, Basha, it is.” Ralph smiled. He wasn’t going to tell her he had called her a creamer once or twice to other roaders. To roaders, a creamer meant “an instant orgasm creator”. It wasn’t actually derogatory but still not exactly “nice”. For roaders to call a woman a creamer was really complimenting her for her attractiveness and desirability but you wouldn’t call her that to her face.

 

The drinks arrived and Ralph signed for them with his thumbprint. One glass contained a cream colored fluid with swirls of red and green on top. Symmetric Delight, thought Ralph.

 

“So. Basha. You said you think you know who killed Mike.” Ralph folded his arms and leaned them on the table. “Who was it?”

 

“No. I said I think I know who the lip paint belongs to.”

 

“And who do you think it belongs to?”

 

Basha sipped her drink and went through one of her pauses before replying.

 

“My…father’s…mistress.” She said slowly.

 

Ralph stared at her then frowned. Didn’t she realize she was implicating her father’s probable involvement in the crime?

 

“Your father’s mistress? Why would she give Mick a kiss?” Ralph asked her.

 

“Maybe because my father ordered her to!” The disgust in Basha’s voice stunned Ralph. He ran a hand through his hair then held his chin while frowning at her. He wasn’t sure whether he understood correctly.

 

“Do you realize what you’re saying?” he asked. “You’re saying your father was there at the scene and maybe ordered his mistress to kiss Mike before he killed him!”

 

“I know what I’m saying. I don’t know who killed the trucker! That could have been anyone!”

 

“Including your father,” insisted Ralph.

 

Basha looked Ralph in the eyes before replying. “Yes! I know. Including my father!”

 

Ralph looked bewildered and his mind raced. Was Basha admitting that her own father could be a murderer? Or was she trying to throw him off the scent, perhaps knowing her father had a perfect alibi and couldn’t be convicted? Maybe she hated her father’s mistress so much that she wanted to implicate her. Ralph had no clues. All he had were suspicions and they weren’t helping much at all.

 

“So you think it’s possible that your father is a murderer?”

 

“I know it’s possible he killed the trucker. He…murdered my mother!”

 

Basha’s calm statement shocked Ralph. The reports he had read said Dawson’s wife had been murdered by a person or persons unknown, yet his own daughter was coolly claiming her father killed her mother. He studied her face for some sign that she was kidding but her expression was serious.

 

“Hold on a minute.” Ralph pushed his beer to one side and leaned forward. “This is your dad we’re talking about. Why are you telling me this?”

 

Basha’s reply was drowned out as the band began to play a lively tune. Ralph looked at the platform with annoyance. Until now, he and Basha had been conversing in quiet tones. The subject wasn’t the kind to be conducted shouting above loud music.

 

He grabbed his glass and swallowed its contents in one go.

 

“Drink up and let’s get out of here,” he said. Basha took a last sip of her drink and stood up.

 

Ralph escorted her out of the tavern.

Chapter Eight

 

 

The Shooting Star

 

 

 

The cold evening air bit hard as Basha and Ralph left The Two Pins tavern. Ralph hadn’t given Basha time to do up her coat as he ushered her out of the tavern. The Cosmoslene top she wore beneath her coat offered her no protection from the biting wind.

 

“My God, Ralph!” she exclaimed. “Give me time to do up my coat!”

 

Ralph glanced down at her and just caught a glimpse of her Cosmoslene covered breasts before she wrapped her coat securely around her. He grinned as he noticed how they showed evidence of being cold.

 

“Now we’re out here, what are we going to do?” asked Basha pulling up her hood and tucking in her long, black tresses.

 

“Let’s go somewhere quieter. Any suggestions?” replied Ralph glancing up and down the High Street. “You know these parts better than I do.”

 

Basha moved around him so his body shielded her from the icy breeze then looked up at him.

 

“Hmmm. There’s The Shooting Star we could go to,” she said. “It’s a few streets away from here.”

 

“Let’s go. Which way?” answered Ralph, taking her arm.

 

“I’m NOT walking,” Basha retorted indignantly and pulling her arm free from his grip.

 

“Fine. We’ll drive. My car’s in the parking lot just here.”

 

“I’ve seen your car.” Basha’s expression showed her disapproval. “We’ll take mine. It’s also here.”

 

Ralph shrugged and taking her arm again led to the parking lot. He hadn’t been in a Martian made sedan before and he was keen to see what it was like. Ralph allowed Basha to set the pace when he found she had difficulty keeping up with him.

 

The interior of the sedan oozed luxury. Continuous air-conditioning had kept it warm while it was parked. The seats were like armchairs with soft upholstery that molded around him as he sank into the passenger seat. Popular music began to fill the car when Basha pressed the button that started the power unit. Ralph expected the familiar hum as the power kicked in but it was silent.

 

“Martian oasis!” murmured Ralph. “You sure live it up, don’t you?”

 

Basha turned the music off and the headlights on. “Enjoy the privilege while you can,” she smiled. “You’re the only passenger I’ve ever had in this.”

 

**

 

The Shooting Star turned out to be a Night Spot just five minutes drive from The Two Pins. Ralph hesitated at the entrance when he saw how high-class it looked.

 

“Are we suitably dressed for a place like this?” he asked.

 

“I am. But don’t worry. You’re with me.” Basha smiled at the doorman as he opened the glass door for her and greeted her by name. He gave Ralph a quick look up and down but said nothing.

 

The inside of The Shooting Star was even classier than the outside. Thick, plum-colored carpeting covered the floor. Wall and ceiling lights glowed, giving the interior a warm intimate appearance while colored spots of light, from some hidden source, drifted lazily over the walls and tables. Hidden speakers provided soft, romantic music. The men were dressed in their best outfits and women in the latest designer clothing. He noticed several young females dressed in Cosmoslene cat suits or tops while some of the older women wore evening gowns. Ralph felt very conspicuous in his roaders working clothes.

 

A beaming male receptionist approached them. “Good evening, Miss Dawson. Your usual table?” he asked with a sickliness that made Ralph’s stomach turn. “For…two this evening?” Ralph sensed the man deliberately avoided looking at him.

 

“Somewhere quiet,” answered Ralph with a forced smile before Basha could speak.

 

Basha nodded as the receptionist glanced briefly at Ralph then turned to her for confirmation.

 

“Of course, sir. This way, please.” They followed the receptionist to a table in a corner by a wall and sat down. The receptionist beckoned a girl server with a finger, bowed slightly and went back to his position at the desk while Ralph scowled after him.

 

The girl server came to their table. “Can I take your order?” she asked, holding her computerized order machine at the ready.

 

“Yeah, I’d like a Martian and…” began Ralph.

 

“I’m sorry sir, we don’t serve beer,” said the girl apologetically.

 

“In that case, I’ll have a large breddi. Murdock breddi and a Heavenly Dream for Miss…”

 

“Noooo!” interrupted Basha. She looked at the girl wide-eyed. “A Symmetric Delight, please. Put these on my account.”

 

“So you’ve got a slate here,” remarked Ralph when the girl had gone.

 

“A slate? What do you mean?” Basha frowned at him with puzzlement.

 

“An account.”

 

“Oh! Yes. My father owns this place.”

 

Why ain’t I surprised? Thought Ralph. The mention of Basha’s father brought back to his mind why they had left The Two Pins and come to The Shooting Star.

 

“You said your father murdered your mother,” he said. “Why tell me this? The police would be interested in knowing that.”

 

“You don’t know the power my father has on Mars. The police know he did it,” replied Basha.

 

“Then what’s the point of telling me? If he’s paying the police to keep quiet, there’s nothing I can do.” Ralph shrugged and spread his hands. “But then, you know that, don’t you?” he added as an after thought.

 

“I told you because no one has ever dared inquire into my father’s affairs as you have,” replied Basha. “I said you were different.”

 

The girl’s arrival with their drinks offered Ralph a chance to think. Basha removed her coat and handed it to the girl who took it away without a word. Ralph took his off and slipped it over the back of his seat.

 

Ralph took a sip of his breddi and let his eyes roam over Basha. The green top left nothing to the imagination. He noticed, with a little disappointment, that her nipples weren’t protruding as much as they were. It’s warm in here, he thought.

 

“All I’m interested in is finding out who killed Mick. If I can’t get him arrested, then at least I can beat the hell out of him.” Ralph clenched his fist to emphasize his meaning. “Even if it’s your dad.”

 

Basha raised her drink to her lips and peered at Ralph over the top of the glass before taking a sip and replacing it on the table.

 

“I want to help you bring him down,” she said quietly.

 

Ralph stared at her with astonishment. “You wanna help me? He’s your dad! Why would you want to help me?” His eyes narrowed as he had a thought. “I get it. You want his wealth and power, right?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous! I can have anything I want now.” Basha’s face displayed her indignation. “I want him to pay for murdering my mother and for what he did to me.”

 

Ralph’s eyes held hers for several seconds as he thought over what she had said then he spoke.

 

“Why did he kill your mother?”

 

“Because she objected to him abusing me.”

 

Ralph closed his eyes and lowered his head, a frown creasing his brow. When he opened his eyes again he stared into his drink as he swirled it around. Finally he spoke again.

 

“I thought you could protect yourself from that kind of thing.”

 

“I was only three, Ralph. I thought that was what daddies did.” She searched his face for some expression of understanding. “By the time I was old enough to know better, he had a hold on me. I was dependent on him and he was…is…my father.”

 

“Your mother was murdered when you were three. How do you know it was your dad that killed her?”

 

“The only other relative I had was my grandmother. My mother’s mother. My father used to tell me that she was wicked and forbade me to have anything to do with her. She died mysteriously when I was twelve.” Basha’s eyes took on a distant look as she thought back into the past.

 

“I was curious about her and thought that now she was dead, it would be all right to go see where she lived. The house had been left untouched. As I looked into drawers and things I found a diary that she had kept. All the details were in it.”

 

Basha went on to tell him how she had read about the violent quarrels her mother had with Dawson over the abuse. The final decision her mother made to leave him and take Basha to Earth and out of his reach. The discovery of her mother’s body, brutally murdered, a day later and the cover up of her death.

 

“From that day on, I never allowed my father to touch me again,” she finished. “I still have that diary hidden away.”

 

Ralph had listened without commenting. His gaze alternately shifting from his drink to Basha’s face and back while she had explained.

 

“Why do you still live with him?” he asked. “Surely you’d be better away from him completely. Get a place of your own.”

 

“I can’t! I can have anything I want. Buy anything I want but it’s all paid for by my father. He won’t allow me to have money for myself.” Basha’s expression was one of frustration. “I am trying to save by doing some work without my father knowing. That’s why I was working in The Half a Mo.

 

So that explains her working there in her fancy clothes, thought Ralph. Bits of the puzzle were falling into place but there were a lot more pieces to find. Where was Mick’s load? How was it distributed? Why was Mick killed after the trailers had been emptied?

 

“Maybe he’s scared you might buy a ticket to Earth and disappear,” answered Ralph.

 

“He has to approve anything over a certain amount. He always does approve but I don’t think he’d approve the price of a ticket to Earth!”

 

Ralph thought for a few minutes. “Can you get a copy of his accounts?”

 

Basha shook her head. “No. I’m not allowed access to anything like that.”

 

Ralph put his elbow on the table and held his chin. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help, Basha. If you give me a number I can call, I’ll let you know if I need it, though.” He reached behind him and took out a scriber and a notebook from his coat. Basha took them from him and scribbled a number.

 

“Please, Ralph. If I can help, let me know.”

 

Ralph read it before replacing the notebook in his coat pocket. He had one day left before his truck was serviced. He knew it wasn’t enough and he would be going back to Mars City with axles floating.  Ralph felt he had wasted two days instead of searching for a load.

 

They had two more drinks then Basha took him to his car at The Two Pins tavern.