RED PLANET SHAMUS
(© 1951 Avon Paperbacks, reprinted with permission)
The red mists of dawn hugged the sands while the Sun slowly illuminated the expanse of the Aeolis Palus plain. Port Gale shimmered as the iridescent lights of the city dissolved and morning arrived on Mars. And though we’re fourth from the Sun and one hundred and forty million miles away, the light is as bright and unforgiving as it is on Earth. Except hangovers on Mars are worse.
I felt like three sides of a bad penny. I was on my fourth cup of coffee and fifth aspirin when she showed up at my office, knocking timidly. Vessela, my secretary, was on vacation, visiting her parents back on Earth. So I took a long, hard swig of Dutch Courage from my desk drawer, went into the front room and opened the door.
She stood there in the doorway, an angel in repose: a celestial being in a tight red dress and black boots. She was tall, even without the boots, with legs for sols* and lilac eyes to die for. She had a beautiful face, even more bewitching than most Martian women; and long black hair that cascaded to her shoulders. Her emerald skin cloaked a body that could launch a thousand spaceships.
“Mr. Farrow?” she asked.
“Eddie.” I answered as she extended her left hand. As was custom on Mars when meeting women, I kissed her hand then motioned for her to come in.
She was wearing a long black cape, which she unfastened and folded over her arms as we moved into my office.
I pointed to the chair in front of my desk, “Have a seat.”
She folded the cape on the back of the chair and fished in her clutch for cigarettes. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“How could I?” I reached for one of my coffin nails and lit hers, then mine. “So, how can I help you, Miss…”
She exhaled, “DeVree. D’Viana DeVree. I need your help, Mr. Farrow. I’m being blackmailed. I don’t know who’s behind it but I know they could ruin me.”
I was intrigued, and not just by her stems. “You’ll have to give me more details, Ms. DeVree.”
She sighed, apprehensive about answering. “My husband was killed last month. He ran the ruby mine at Elysium Mons, just northeast of here - he owned it. They said it was an accident, but I suspect foul play.” She leaned in, glancing over her shoulder and then almost whispering. “I think it was the Kepler Corp. You know who I’m talking about?”
I nodded. She means The Mars-Kepler Corporation, or the Mars Syndicate to gypsy ops like me. A Martian-Terran collaborative involved in every aspect of development on Mars since we first made contact thirty-six years ago. The MKC made “Progress without Bureaucracy” its commitment. Run by the mullish Martian native N’Garo de na Nnadi and his flunkies, cities and spaceports on Mars were going up faster than Detroit made aircars. For over two hundred years, this planet has been ruled by a socialist Martian collective; but with MKC thriving, there is a populist call for turning the entire planet into a Unitary state with de na Nnadi at the helm; and as with everything the Mars Syndicate does, it’s get in line or get out of the way. Often permanently.
“What makes you think MKC is involved?”
“Because my husband made money and was planning to challenge the MKC initiative. He preferred the Martian collective. And he was an Earth man.”
“So how are you being blackmailed, exactly?”
She paused and took a long drag of her cigarette; her lilac eyes glimmering in the smoke as she respired. “I had an affair. It was just one time – it was foolish – I was with the pilot of a transport to Earth – but someone set me up. They have pictures. It wouldn’t be so bad, really; but it happened two weeks before my husband died. If it comes out now, it could implicate me in his death. They could open an investigation into how he died – and if he was murdered, as I suspect – they could lay the blame at my feet,” she sniffled. “They want me to sell the Ruby mine - they never said to whom, but if I sell it at open market, MKC will outbid everyone from here to Phobos. My father discovered that mine and with my late husband, they built it up from nothing. As a Martian, I cannot dishonor my father’s legacy. Or my late husband’s.”
She began to cry, sobbing quietly, her eyes watering and tears slowly flowing down her cheeks. Martian tears are rare to behold, and mesmerizing: they sparkle like diamonds and drop slowly and softly, like an early morning Spring rain on Earth. It’s uncanny, but nothing these Martian women do is unattractive.
I handed her my pocket square and she dabbed her eyes. She looked up and smiled at me. It was already too late: I was a goner. “Will you help me, Mr. Farrow?”
I returned her smile with a smirk. “Only if you call me Eddie.”
Still smiling but squinting her eyes a little, as if she was thinking as many bad things as I was. “Eddie.”
Maybe it was the hangover, or maybe I’m just a sucker for the jade dames of Mars, but I wanted to help her. I had other intentions as well, but wasn’t going to rush anything.
“I’ll help you, Ms. DeVree – D’Viana – but first we have to discuss business. I’m gonna need some oday.”
She crushed out her cigarette. “Oday?”
“Dough. Money. Cashola… a retainer, for expenses. My fee is fifty dollars a day – all in – and I get paid in good old fashioned Earthbucks – U.S. dollars. Rubies are nice but I am firm believer in the Gold Standard.”
“So be it, Mister Farrow – Eddie.” And with that she opened her clutch and pulled out a roll that would choke an Irish bookie - all American currency - with more than a few portraits of Madison. She took out seven C-notes and handed them to me.
“That will take care of you for the next two weeks.” She then reached for a pen from my desk and started writing on my notepad. “This is my private number. You can call me anytime if you have any more questions.”
I took the paper from her. “I’ll get started right away.” By which I meant tomorrow.
She stood up and pulled her cape off the chair, and with a flourish, wrapped it around her shoulders. “Stay in touch, please. You have my life in your hands.”
She was so grave; breathtaking, but grave. “I will.”
I followed her out as she walked to the door. Turning, she asked, “Tell me, Eddie Farrow. Do you speak Martian?”
Indigenous Martian is similar to Khoisan, or the African clicking languages back on Earth. Not easy to master. “Some,” I lied.
“In your investigation, you might find it useful. In fact, where you’re going, you’re going to need it.”
“I’ll do my best.”
She smiled, with that smirk again. “I look forward to your best.”
And then she left and closed the door.
* A sol is a solar day on Mars; slightly longer than an Earth day, approximately 24 hours, 39 minutes.
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