The Beginning of a Plan
Basha led Ralph through a door set in one wall of the lounge where they had sat when she had cut his
bonds. Ralph cast his eyes around the room, taking in all the details. It was a small room but furnished with a desk set beneath
a window with an executives chair in front. Filing cabinets with combination locks almost completely lined two walls. In one
corner a long-range communicator set on a deep shelf-like bench. Before it, facing away from the communicator, another executive
chair. No wonder there was nothing in the study, thought Ralph.
“You only have two hours at the most before my father comes home,” said Basha looking at
her watch anxiously. “Will that be enough?”
Ralph nodded, walked toward the communicator and peered at the dials, switches and knobs. He switched
on the power and a small screen lit up displaying the frequency it was set at. He made careful note of the frequency before
turning to Basha.
“That should be plenty of time,” he replied. “I just hope I can get in touch with
a roader or two.”
Ralph turned the knob to change the frequency to the roaders’ chat channel and, sitting down,
picked up the microphone and spoke into it.
“Hey you road bugs. I hope you ain’t kipping.” A faint static issued from the speakers.
Ralph adjusted a knob and watched the reception dial until it reached maximum.
“Any road bug out there with his right hand free?” There as a brief burst of static then
a voice replied.
“We ain’t all like you, road bug! I got both hands free.”
Ralph gave Basha a grin and did a little jig in the seat.
“You ain’t anywhere near Liberty City,
are ya, road bug?”
“Hey! I know that voice!” came the reply. “I heard that voice in The Half a Mo a
few days ago.”
Ralph’s jaw dropped as he realized whom he was talking to. He never expected to reach anyone
“Ernie? Is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me. That you, Connor?”
“None other, roader. Where are ya?”
“Going in and almost at the east road. I heard some bad news about Mick Hewitt. I wanna check
“Mick’s dead, Ernie. Got himself hijacked and killed.”
“That’s what I heard from a Scottish roader who buried him.”
Ralph smiled. Jimmy had buried Mick and passed on the message to Ernie.
Ernie’s voice came back. “Heard that Arnie got ‘jacked too,” he said grimly.
Ralph frowned. Arnie was the roader playing the gambling machine in The Half a Mo. Ralph remembered
him saying he was running heavy going in. Had he bragged to the wrong person somewhere? He wondered.
“Is he dead too?” he asked.
“Nope. But he was beaten up bad. They broke three of his fingers, too. A passing roader found
him and gave him a ride to The Half a Mo.”
Ralph didn’t reply but his face was grim. Another hijacking so soon after Mick’s!
“Connor, roading’s getting too dangerous,” said Ernie.
“I know who’s behind it, Ernie.”
“What? Ya know? Then tell the police, dammit, Connor!”
“The police know! They’ve been bought,” replied Ralph.
There was a long silence before Ernie spoke again. “Then there’s nothin’ we can do.
We gotta let the Mafia take our loads.”
The Martian Mafia! Of course. Dawson and The Disciples were the
heads of the Martian Mafia.
“We can hit back, Ernie. Come into Liberty
and we’ll talk.”
There was another burst of static, then a voice. “…bugs?...Endurance…jacking…”
“Hold on Ernie. Some road bug’s trying to talk.” Ralph twiddled a knob a little to
try to get a better reception.
“Hey, road bug! Can ya hear me?” he said into the microphone.
“Ralphy! It’s me, Jimmy!” The broad Scottish accent was unmistakable.
“Hey! Jimmy! I just heard you buried Mick Hewitt.”
“Aye. I put the lad to rest as best I could.”
“How far are ya from Liberty,
“Two day’s, Ralph. I gotta date with a certain wee waitress in The Devil’s Bowl that
I don’t wanna miss!”
Ralph grinned as he remembered Linda the waitress. Jimmy must have really enjoyed the time he spent
with her to go out of his way for another date.
“What were ya saying about Endurance?”
“Did ya no’ get that? A roader was robbed two days ago in Endurance, is what I heard.”
“Jimmy. Come into Liberty as
soon as ya can. You too, Ernie!” He gave them his number to contact him as soon as they could when they arrived. “We’ve
gotta do something or it could be our turn next!”
Now that he thought about it, it could have been him lying dead in a trailer with a hole in his head.
If he had left The Half a Mo before Mick had, he’d have been the first roader going down the east road. That thought
made him all the more determined to avenge Mick’s death the best he could.
Both men agreed to spend a little time in Liberty before taking the
road back to Mars City.
Ralph tuned the communicator back to how it was and switched off. He faced Basha and scrutinized her.
“Is your dad the head of the Martian Mafia?” he asked solemnly.
“My father’s just a businessman as far as I know. He’s unscrupulous, maybe, a murderer,
yes, but just a businessman.”
Ralph studied her face as she steadily returned his gaze. He couldn’t see any sign that she might
not be telling the truth. “I hope you’re not lying,” he responded. “We’re gonna find out in
“Ralph! If he is, I didn’t know. I know nothing of his businesses. He never allowed me
to get involved.” She looked at her watch. “You had better leave before he gets home.”
Ralph nodded. “Yeah. I’d better.” He turned to leave the room but Basha stopped him.
“The seat. Turn the seat around again and put the microphone where it was!”
“Shit!” he exclaimed. He turned the seat to face away from the communicator and picked
up the microphone. “Where was this?” he asked.
Basha came over, took the microphone out of his hand and placed it on top of the communicator.
Ralph spread his hands and shrugged. “Well…you said I was an amateur,” he grinned.
Basha pushed him toward the door. “Go!” she said. She walked with him to the gates where
his car was parked and watched him get in.
“See ya in The Two Pins at eight,” he said as he pressed the starter.
Basha ducked her head to peer at him. “What?” she asked with a puzzled frown. Ralph gave
her a wave and drove away without answering, leaving Basha staring at his receding car.
“Liver, bacon and onion’s for dinner tonight, Mr. Connor.” Mrs. Edison came to greet
Ralph as he entered the door, her face beaming and wiping her hand down her pinafore. “With creamed potatoes and peas.”
Ralph grinned at her. He wondered if she took as much delight in pleasing her other guests as much
as pleasing him.
“Mrs. Edison, you are a darling,” he responded. “I’m sure it’ll be the
best I have ever tasted.”
“Well I wanted to give you something special as it’s the last time you’ll be having
dinner here before you are on your way tomorrow.”
“Ah! Mrs. Edison. I wanted to talk to you and Mr.
Edison about that. I’d like to stay for a few more days, if that is all right.”
Mrs. Edison’s eyes lit up and her smile broadened. “Oh! Lovely! You can stay as long as
you like Mr. Connor. It’s a pleasure having you.”
Ralph grinned at her. “I have a couple of friends coming to Liberty
that may want somewhere to stay. Can you accept them as well?”
“Yes! Yes! We have three empty guest rooms although we’ve never had more than two stay
at the same time. My husband says we were a bit too ambitious when we started out.” She chuckled as she turned to leave
the room. “I must go and tell him!”
Ralph went to his room and called Adrian.
He informed him that he’d be staying longer and told him about Jimmy and Ernie coming into Liberty and the bad news about Arnie and the roader in Endurance.
“There might not be much we can do but at least we can talk about it. Maybe we can use your place
to get together?”
“That’s fine, Ralph. I’m glad you’ve decided to give it more time. I’ve
been stewing over this ever since I retired and now things are getting worse.”
Ralph promised to keep Adrian informed
and hung up just as Mrs. Edison knocked to tell him dinner was ready.
Ralph made sure he arrived at The Two Pins thirty minutes early. He was unsure if Basha would meet
him but he hoped she would. He had deliberately not answered her when he drove off after leaving her home and now he was hoping
her curiosity would be aroused enough to meet him.
Above his head the air filters of the tavern whirred as they coped with the remnants of a dust storm
that had blown up earlier that evening. In the past decade dust storms had decreased significantly due to the thickening of
the atmosphere. As the pressure rose it confined the dust closer to where the storms originate. Planet-wide dust storms that
lasted for days were now less frequent.
More and more patrons arrived to enter the tavern and Ralph began to think chances of getting a table
were fast disappearing. He stamped his feet to improve circulation and ward off the numbness that was slowly creeping from
his toes upward and checked his watch. Basha was already ten minutes late but he had made up his mind to allow her thirty
Each time the entrance doors opened, Ralph could hear the band playing cheerful, lively music and feel
the warmth of the air within. He was beginning to wish he had got confirmation from Basha that she would be here when someone
bumped into him from behind. Ralph spun around.
“It isn’t pleasant waiting in the cold, is it?” Basha was grinning at him.
“No, it isn’t,” he replied. “So now we’re even. My nipples are sticking
out and I haven’t any feeling in my toes.”
“You’re lucky I came at all! I had to cancel a dinner invitation to keep this date!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Would you like to go somewhere we can eat?” Ralph hadn’t thought
of the possibility she might have had other arrangements for the evening. He would only have had himself to blame if she hadn’t
turned up. At the same time, he was pleased that she had chosen to meet him rather than keep her appointment.
“No. I cooked up something for myself. Daddy went alone.”
“Let’s go in and see if we can get a table,” replied Ralph opening the door and allowing
her to enter.
Basha spotted a vacant table in a corner at the far end of the tavern. “Over there,” she
said, making her way toward the table. Ralph followed keeping an eye open for anyone that might be hurrying to get there first.
No one was and Basha had already sat down before Ralph got there. He beckoned an idle waiter as he sat down opposite her.
The waiter responded immediately and Ralph ordered.
“We’ll have one Martian and a Heavenly Delight, please.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” The waiter frowned and bent down to hear the order again.
“A Symmetric Delight and a beer,” answered Basha before Ralph could speak.
“Martian beer,” corrected Ralph frowning at Basha. She’s
getting back at me, he thought. Good for her.
While they waited for their drinks, Ralph looked around the tavern wondering if Adrian and Sarah were
there. He didn’t see them but he noticed a roader drinking alone several tables away. It wasn’t anyone he recognized
but then, he only personally knew a few. He tried catching the roader’s eye but it was only when the waiter brought
their drinks that the man looked in his direction. Ralph pointed at him and struck his shoulder, smiling. The man smiled back,
tossed his head and raised a hand acknowledging him. Ralph’s smile disappeared and his eyes narrowed.
Basha glanced over her shoulder and back again. “Who were you pointing at?” she asked.
“I thought I saw a trucker,” responded Ralph. “I made a mistake.”
Basha turned her head again and took more time looking around, stretching her neck to see as many people
as she could.
“There’s a trucker over there. Five tables behind you and one row to your right.”
“He’s wearing trucker’s clothes but he ain’t a trucker,” replied Ralph.
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
Basha went to look at the man again but Ralph stopped her. “Don’t stare. It’s impolite.
Let’s talk about you.”
“What about me?” asked Basha suspiciously.
“How come a girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend?”
Basha laughed and sat back in her seat. “What do you mean by ‘A girl like me’?”
Ralph studied her for a moment before replying. “You’re young and very attractive. I know
for a fact that you attract men’s attention. You must have a string of admirers.”
The smile almost left Basha’s face as she leaned forward again and took a sip of her drink. “Boys…
men that get to know me are afraid of me. They don’t stay around for long.” She took another sip of her Symmetric
Delight and licked her lips. “Just like you were afraid of me. Maybe you still are.”
Ralph nodded. He had been afraid to look her in the eyes when he learned what she could do with them,
before he found out why and when she used her strange power. “I’m not afraid now,” he said quietly.
“No, Ralph. I don’t believe you are but then…” she gave him a big grin, “you
“So you keep telling me!” Ralph grinned back at her.
“Now, how come a guy like you doesn’t have a wife and kids?”
Ralph was about to answer when he saw a smartly dressed man with a briefcase go to the table where
the guy in trucker’s clothes sat. They exchanged a few words then the man sat down with the case on his lap.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Mr. Farrell,” murmured Ralph.
“Mr. Farrell?” This time Basha did turn to stare. “He works for my father. He’s
one of my neighbors.”
“I know he works for your father but what’s he doing here talking to a guy dressed as a
As Ralph watched, Farrell opened his briefcase and took out a large envelope and handed it to the man
with him who folded it and put it in his pocket. They continued having a conversation with Farrell doing most of the talking.
After ten minutes, Farrell got up and left the tavern. Minutes later Farrell returned accompanied by an attractive young teenage
“Hello! Remember me? I’m your date!” Basha rapped the table with her knuckles to
get his attention.
“Looks like Farrell’s brought his daughter along,” observed Ralph.
“He doesn’t have a daughter. He’s got two sons, Basha informed him. “Hey! Maybe
he’s having an affair!” She turned to see who Farrell was with, moving her head to get a good look at the girl.
“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed when she saw who it was. “It’s Jessica!”
She placed a hand to shield her face from view of anyone that my glance from the direction of Farrell and his companions.
“Jessica?” Ralph was curious.
“My father’s mistress!” snarled Basha.
Ralph looked back at the girl and studied her for a minute. Was this the girl that kissed Mick just
before he was murdered? She appeared to be too young to be involved in his killing. Farrell put his arm around her shoulders
and smiled at her.
“But she’s just a kid,” said Ralph.
Basha gave him an up-and-under look while still keeping her face shielded. “That’s how
my daddy likes his women,” she said with disgust. “She’s sixteen. She was fourteen when he first slept with
“Martian oasis!” exclaimed Ralph. When Basha had told him her father had a mistress, he
had assumed it was a mature woman. Now he could see that all her father had done was to transfer his sick attentions from
his daughter to another young child.
“So what’s she doing here with Farrell?” asked Ralph.
“How do I know? Maybe she’s getting too old for daddy and he’s passed her on to him!”
She spat out the words although she was obviously fighting to control herself. “How can we get out of here without them
seeing me? I feel sick.”
Ralph reached out impulsively and placed his hand on hers to comfort her. He felt her hand trembling
beneath his and he expected her to pull it away. She didn’t.
“I could start a fight and you could slip out during the commotion,” he suggested.
Basha raised her eyes and looked into his. She saw the hint of amusement in them and smiled half-heartedly.
She knew he was trying to cheer her up.
“That’s a bit drastic. I might have to come and rescue you,” she replied. “I
should have brought the cricket bat.”
The mention of the cricket bat brought a grin to Ralph’s face. He reached up and fingered his
forehead. The lump had receded but it still felt bruised. Basha eased her hand from under his and touched where the bruise
“I’m sorry about that.” Her expression was one of genuine regret. “Does it still hurt?”
Ralph nodded in mock seriousness. “I’m in constant pain. Never stops throbbing. I’ll
never be able to forget how we first met.” He held her hand and rubbed her fingers on the spot. “You doing this
soothes it a little.”
“How about this?” Basha closed her fingers and gave the bruise a tap with her knuckles.
Ralph jerked his head back. “Ouch! That hurt!”
“Good. You’re supposed to be thinking how to get out of here without being noticed.”
“We just walk out. I’ll keep myself between you and them. You can hide behind me.”
Basha considered the option and then nodded. His body would shield her from Farrell’s and Jessica’s
eyes as they walked past their table. “You get up first.”
Ralph stood and planted himself between Basha and the three people, opening his coat a little to conceal
her and they left the tavern.