Prose Header


by Michael D. Brooks

part 1 of 2

The news feeds about the war for Martian independence scrolled across the bottom of my computer screen. The Martian Colonial Defense Units, a.k.a. Martian Minutemen, were holding their own against the Earth’s Planetary Guard. It was beginning to look like those Marsies were going to get their independence from Earth. Maybe this damned war would be over by Christmas. I couldn’t be faulted for wishful thinking.

The news of a Martian victory had Earth’s Imperial Senate talking compromise. Those blowhard bureaucrats were trying to save face and come out of the war looking like they had decided Mars wasn’t worth more Terran lives. They were eating crow and everyone knew it. At least the news reports momentarily took my mind off the excessive heat. Global warming sucked. Instead of four seasons, we now had one: hot. All year round.

The steamy air was like an oven and thick with humidity. It was the kind you could slice with a knife. But it wasn’t thick enough to drown out the sounds of the concrete jungle that drifted in through my office window from the mean streets below. The city was a much different place at night.

For me, tonight wasn’t like most nights. The atmospheric environmental scrubbers were on the fritz again. The building’s management promised a week ago that they’d get the AES fixed, but here I was sweltering in record heat. My office wasn’t located in one of those fancy new high-rises with atmospheric sniffers.

Now those babies were sweet. Their solar collecting processing units were built into the structure’s exterior walls and constantly tested the air and adjusted the internal temperature based on nanosecond readings. No matter how much the sun beat down, the apartments and offices stayed at whatever temperature they were set. But not my building.

If it wasn’t for back luck, I’d have no luck. I had the misfortune of working in a business complex of century-old buildings that were retrofitted with an environmental system whose state-of-the-art technology was now twenty years out of date. So I sat at my desk with the window open taking in the smells and sounds. Even the acoustical dampeners weren’t working; the slightest noise somehow found its way through my window.

I could hear every sound and smell every putrid odor known to man. The pungent aroma of urine from hobos drifted up from the corners of the alley below and accosted my nasal passages like some gangster drive-by shooting.

The distant wail of police sirens and the souped-up whirling whoosh of hover engines shifting into overdrive echoed off the sides of buildings. It sounded like the uniforms were in hot pursuit of a suspect trying to evade the long arm of the law. My money was on the cops. In this town, crooks didn’t stand much of a chance of being on the lam long because the flatfoots always got them.

The poor slob had probably left genetic evidence all over the crime scene. And if he was trying to get away driving a hover without a fusion engine with some horsepower, he was as good as caught. I recognized the distinctive hum of the police cruisers. They were C-38 Chaser Interceptors. The sleekest, meanest hovers in use. Those babies were built for road, off-road, and aquatic pursuits. They could stop on a dime and pick it up. Nothing was too good for the City’s Finest.

The fading sirens were replaced by the heated shouts of a dame and her guy arguing. About what, I couldn’t make out. But her old man was catching an earful and their kid was crying up a storm.

Many of the buildings in the area were on the same AI server and owned by the same management company. So I wasn’t surprised that the argument came in loud and clear.

A neighbor yelled at them to shut the hell up. The broad stopped arguing long enough to shout back some words that would have made a sailor blush before I heard a window slam closed. The crash of a broken bottle signaled that another wino had just passed out somewhere in the darkness below. Yeah, it was just a typical night in the big city.

I was tired and it was late. Very late. A quick look at the timer on my computer monitor reminded me that midnight had long since passed. The building was empty except for me. Even the building’s sanitation engineer had gone home.

I was alone in the building. Why? Paperwork. I had a ton of it — if you could call a screenful of spreadsheet data paperwork. Most of it was bills. I was broke and going broker fast. If I didn’t find a client with some money, I’d be out of business by the end of the month. I’d already gotten kicked out of my apartment.

I reached into my left breast pocket and found my crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes. I shook one of the cigarettes out, put the pack back in my pocket and lit the stick. I tossed the spent match into the ashtray on my desk, leaned back in my chair, propped my feet up on a corner of it, and allowed myself the pleasure of a long drag.

I inhaled deeply letting the smoke fill my lungs before slowly expelling it through my nose. It helped take the edge off. Cigarettes had come a long way from the days when people filled their lungs with poisonous nicotine. Now they were made with environmentally friendly materials and FDA-approved chemicals that were classified as healthy and medicinal.

But those old cancer sticks didn’t completely disappear. When the tobacco lobbyists failed to block the ban on the sale and purchase of cigarettes, the industry went rogue. Rettes, as they’re called on the street, replaced crack, marijuana, and opium as the drug of choice. I was halfway through puffing when I heard a sound that didn’t come through my window.

It was the familiar hum of the elevator. Someone was coming up on it. I wondered who the hell would be using the elevator at this ungodly hour. I swung my legs from off the desk, opened its top right drawer and reached for Betsy. My trusty snub-nosed pulse pistol. In my line of work, a guy can’t be too careful. Seems like a lot of my clients’ associates don’t always appreciate the service I provide.

Yeah, what I do for living is legal, but a lot of people still frown on it. Hey, it’s good work when I can get it and it pays the bills. Anyway, I sat in the dim light patting old Betsy. She’d got me out of a lot of jams. She could deliver a sweet charge of pure plasma and ruin a guy’s day. I checked her over and gently placed her back into the drawer and left it open. All of my senses were working overtime. I forgot all about being tired and focused my attention on the electronic hum.

The ominous noise of the elevator echoed through the empty building as it creaked and strained to climb the shaft. It stopped on my floor. The doors slid open with a decided clunk. I crushed out my cigarette in the ashtray, swung around to face the door, sat quietly, and waited. I reached for Betsy and held her by my side.

The well-worn hallway carpet did nothing to muffle the distinctive sound of footsteps. The approaching footfalls halted just outside my office. The knob turned then the door slowly swung open revealing a silhouetted figure. The too-dim-to-matter hallway fluorescent lights didn’t do a thing to cast any light on the individual now staring at me. I still couldn’t make out who was standing in my doorway. Even the light from my computer monitor didn’t help.

I sat squeezing tightly onto Betsy waiting for the flash of a gun muzzle and the searing sting of an energy pulse with my name on it. But it never happened. All I heard was the melodic voice of a woman dripping with sensuality.

“You wouldn’t shoot an unarmed woman, now would you?” she purred.

The silhouetted figure took one step forward revealing a pair of gorgeous gams that went all the way up to an equally luscious hour glass figure that rested on them. I couldn’t make out the face, but I knew that voice.

“Miss me, Mac?”

Only those close to me called me Mac; but that voice. I never forgot a voice. It belonged to Dixie. A hot little number. I’d done a job for her a couple months back.

“Hey, doll face. What brings a gorgeous babe like you to this part of town so late?”

“Business, of course.”

I decided to remind her just how close she came to catching a slug from old Betsy.

“You know, you might want to warn a guy that you’re coming before sneaking up on him while he’s got a loaded weapon. You could have been hurt.”

“Oh, Mac. You really know how to make a woman feel special. I hope you don’t mind me dropping in on you unannounced like this, but I just had to see you.”

“It’s good to see you again, Dixie, but if you don’t mind my asking, how’d you get in here?”

“The janitor let me in.”

“But he’s gone.”

“He just left. Really, why the twenty questions?”

“I thought I was the only one in the building.”

“Well, you aren’t anymore.” She paused slightly before speaking again. “You going to invite me in or let me get a chill standing in this drafty doorway?”

It was a nice come-on line, considering the room temperature was over one hundred degrees.

I allowed myself the luxury of finally relaxing, holstered Betsy, stood up and gestured to the chair next to my desk. I reached for another cigarette. This time to calm my nerves.

Dixie strode over to my desk like a runway model in those three-inch black stilettos, placed her black velvet purse on my desk, sat down and expertly crossed her bare legs, but not before I got a gander of those creamy thighs. My pulse raced as I recalled the job I did for her.

There was a full moon. Between it and my monitor, there was enough light to illuminate her features. She had the face of an angel. She was a dying man’s last wish; a brunette bombshell. She looked like she’d been poured into that gray tweed suit she was wearing. The black ladies’ fedora she wore covered her baby brown eyes when she tilted her head down. Her skirt ended three inches from where her thighs met her knees. Her breasts made Mae West look like she wore A-cups. In spite of the humidity, she looked as cool as a cucumber in the fridge. I was sweating like a pig in heat.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a silver cigarette case and selected one, put the case back and leaned forward with the one she had chosen between her slender fingers and asked if I had a light. I struck a match and lit the end of her stick while she inhaled with the enthusiasm of a kid sucking down a chocolate shake.

Before she spoke, she paused and blew a ring of smoke from her pouting, ruby lips. The wisps of if drifted through the air and filled my nose with the intoxicating smell of something that had just been inside of her. A flush of excitement jolted through my body. I thought this must have been how Adam felt when God first made Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“I’ve got a job for you. Are you up for a challenge?” She stared at me with a twinkle in her baby brown eyes.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2011 by Michael D. Brooks

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