A Date with
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!
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,”
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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.