The Mississippi Company
by Mark Kertzman
Jon was hung over, and he didn’t like it one bit.
His head hurt, and he couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for anything. Certainly not for sitting at his desk, or getting any work done. He leaned way back in his chair, staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling for long moments.
The ping of the phone signal interrupted his reverie. It was low, but insistent. After a few seconds, he straightened up and hit a key on the keyboard in front of him.
A display window opened up in one corner of the flat-panel screen that perched on one corner of his desk. He took one look at the little face staring back at him, then groaned and leaned back again.
“Morning, Jon. How’re you doing?” The voice came through clipped and tinny on the speakers.
Jon stayed with his head back, looking vacantly at the ceiling.
“Hey, Jon. You O.K.?”
Jon pitched himself forward, head coming up to land in his hands. He put his elbows on the desk, face down and forehead propped up in his hands.
“What’s wrong?” the voice asked again.
“Nothing. Headache.” Jon’s answer came out muffled.
“You sure you’re O.K.?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s just a hangover.”
The little face in the screen expanded, becoming distorted by the optics of the camera lens.
“Hung over? You, Jon?” He then burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny.”
“Sorry,” he replied. His laughter still echoed from the little speakers.
Jon looked at the screen. “What do you want, Doug?”
The laughter finally tittered away. “Got something for you.”
Jon paused a moment, emotions playing themselves out on his face. “What is it?” he finally replied, a note of resignation in his voice.
“Something out of Mumbai. Somebody filed a complaint on a company.”
“Don’t waste my time, Doug. I got three open cases already,” Jon growled. “Not our jurisdiction. The local police can handle it.”
“Not if it’s a Belt company.”
Jon’s hand froze in mid-air, stopping in its motion to punch the disconnect key. “Keep talking.”
“It’s some asteroid mining venture, selling trust units to raise capital.” Doug looked down off-camera for a moment, read aloud, “Called OHMEC.”
“What? Home Ec.?”
“No. OHMEC. Orbital Heavy Metals Extraction Company.”
“Never heard of them.”
“Me neither, but you know what a zoo asteroid mining has become. Most of these companies won’t last a year.”
“Yeah, Yeah. Alright. Go back. They got a complaint of theft on them?”
“What did the complainant say was stolen?” Jon asked dryly.
Jon stopped and thought for a moment, looking blankly at the screen. Finally, he focused in again on the thin face in front of him. “How did we get it?”
“Locals took it, and bounced it up to their HQ. They took one look, and called Dubai Spaceport, who passed it on to us.”
Jon shook his head ruefully, “I can’t do this virtual. Give it to somebody else, maybe Martin. I’ve got too much to do.”
“Can’t do that.”
“Chan already told me to give it to you.”
“Come on, Doug. That means I’ve got to go to India.”
“Relax,” Doug cut him off gently. “Chan cleared the trip, expenses plus. You are good to go.”
Jon looked at his friend. If Chan had signed off on this fishing expedition, he must think there was something behind it. “Alright. I’m on it. I guess Mary has my travel arrangements?”
“Yeah, probably. Go take some aspirin or something.” Doug laughed again at his friend’s expense.
“Get lost. I’ll call you from Mumbai.” The screen closed with a ping as Jon hit the disconnect.
“Great.” He muttered under his breath, “First a hangover, and now I get sent to India. I hope this day doesn’t get any worse.”
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Kertzman