Written and Read by Montgomery Thompson
The walls of the cell were black, dry, and seamless. Ilgut’s skin chaffed as he writhed against the restraints.
“Sure, keep at it. You can squirm all day. I never get tired of watching you in misery. Of course, you can just tell me who hired you for this hit and I can give you a nice, steamy cell with a bed of Nytarian moss. Sound good?”
“Chugtang, you old washed up old dahjkak. Your tactics are feeble. I’m a professional, I never divulge my sources.”
“Professional what, Ilgut? Loser? Yeah, I’ll agree with that, but hit man? I’ve never seen a poorer excuse for an assassin than you. You should really change your line of work…oh, but I think you just did. Now you’re going to be a professional icebreaker. We’ll make sure it’s on a nice, dry planet, with lots of frozen water and none of those pesky bugs you like to call dinner.
“You called me a dahjkak, let’s see, that translates to ‘dry skin’ if I’m correct? Well, you’re right. I have dry skin AND lots of fur, so cold doesn’t bother me. Does it bother you? ‘Cause I’m going to visit you all the time just to torment you for the rest of your stinking life! Now, tell me who hired you!”
Ilgut just squirmed against his bonds and said nothing.
Chugtang was at his wits end. “Get this bug sucker out of my sight.”
The guards triggered the eHarness, freezing Ilgut with a painful electrostatic shock, and hauled him out of the room.
As a senior agent, Chugtang had seen so many hardened crooks like this that he’d lost count, so Ilgut knew his threats were very real. When the UGPo (Unified Galactic Police) put someone away, they were very thorough. Chugtang admired Ilgut for not being a snitch but there had to be a thread somewhere, something that would lead to the next bad guy further up the chain.
“Sir?” One of Chugtang’s researchers came over his SynapsiCom.
“What is it, Tarker?”
“We’ve got a hit on the planetary registry.”
Though nothing changed in the room, to Chugtang’s eyes the walls filled with information, all manipulated by his thoughts.
“The planetary registry doesn’t list the claimant sir, but it was filed by a legal representative in sector one-five two-five. A licensed galactic business attorney by the name of Drom –”
“Drom Slymbal, I know him. He’s a worm. Bring him in.”
Red clouds gave way to a deepening purple sky as the stars winked in one by one. Mortimer and Aga took their dinner in the sitting room and watched the news as they did every evening of the long years they had been together. Unaware of the adoring old couple, the news anchor droned the events of the day.
“Today, the Fremian Leadership Counsel formally accused the Republic of Olred of developing weapons of mass defense in the form of a high altitude anti-aircraft system. The system is reported to use a series of manned, high altitude balloons equipped with machine guns to shoot down any planes that enter Olred airspace. In response to the allegations, Olred has in turn formally accused Fremia of making accusations in order to cover up Fremian weapons of mass defense programs that are, quote, undoubtedly going on, unquote.
“Furthermore, the leader of the Republic of Olred had this to say…”
On the TV, the Olred leader came on looking tired and slightly peeved. “The truth will always come out, and when it does, Fremia will be left holding their bags!”
“More now from Barv Tweezman, our foreign allegory interpreter…”
“Okay, Sarge, I’m back. Anything out of our trigger-happy-nut-job?”
“Nope, quiet as a tomb.”
“Where’s the Inquisitor?”
“He’s still in there.”
“What? All this time? What the heck is he doing in there?” Tember looked down the hall. He could see Halkus leaning up against the bars saying something to Debry. Suddenly the big man stood and came back up the hallway.
“Let him go.”
Bemis’ jaw fell open mid-chew on a cherry-glazed cruller
Tember was incredulous. “No way, I caught this guy red handed trying to shoot an innocent civilian.”
Halkus held up his hands. “I know, I know, by all rights he should be locked away for a long time, but Debry is a military liaison and if you guys have been following the news, then you know that things are a bit tense right now.”
“No, no, no!” Bemis wiped his red face and stomped towards the Inquisitor. “We caught him and he’s not leaving that cell.”
“Listen, I understand, believe me. Look, I’ll let you in on a little information. We’re about a gnats breath away from war with Olred right now, and a big part of it has very much to do with this little town of yours. Legly is about to become the military epicenter of the Fremian continent. So, like it or not, you have to stand down.”
Debry emerged from the hallway.
Bemis looked at him in shock. “How did you…?”
“I let him out.” Halkus held up a large ring full of keys. “Inquisitor privilege. They’re all master keys.” He followed Debry to the door where he stopped and looked back. “One more thing. You gentlemen might want to look into getting new digs. There are a lot more changes on the way.”
Tember watched in disbelief as Halkus and Debry left. “How do ya like that? Just waltzes in and takes our prisoner.”
Bemis sat down and reached for another donut, changed his mind, and threw the box in the trash. Tember tried to fit together the pieces of the puzzle that he had so far. Mim, Maksey, Chalo, Debry, Halkus, and in the middle was Mortimer Townes and whatever heavenly forces were protecting him. There were still a lot of pieces missing.
“Things are getting weird around here and I have the feeling that it’s only the beginning. I think we should take the Inquisitor’s advice. If the military moves in they could commandeer our weapons, vehicles, records—everything.”
Bemis looked at him with a grim face. “It appears our Inquisitor was trying to do us a favor, let’s not let it go to waste.”
Outside the station Halkus threw Debry his car keys. “Here ya go, you’re free as a bird. Just make sure you don’t fly off the handle.”
“Shikhead,” Debry muttered, and drove off, checking in the mirrors to make sure Halkus wasn’t tailing him. He muttered all the way to his motel.
Up in his room he poured himself a drink, picked up the phone, and dialed a long series of numbers.
“Debry. Password: Bags. It works. Yeah, it stopped all the rocks. I don’t know how strong it really is. Yeah, I suppose we could ramp it up. What are you thinking? DynoBlast? Okay, it’s gonna draw attention though. What’s that? Stump removal? I like it.”
Special Inquisitor Halkus Moore parked his long, black cruiser next to the phone booth across the road from Debry’s motel. His eyes never left the motel as he got out of the car and entered the booth. He dialed quickly, only four digits.
“Agency clearance required,” a woman’s voice intoned.
“Moore, one nine seven four. You got my report?”
“Yes, sir, wait one…” There was a click, a pause, and then…
“Moore? Chief here. This Townes guy is too clean. Seems he’s never done anything but work his farm and go to church.”
“I’ve been on him a couple of days now. It appears he is completely unaware of the attacks. I think he’s legit. People like that actually do exist you know.”
“Okay, Halkus, I trust your judgment. Could it be that the military is testing something on him, you know, using him like some kind of winnie-pig?”
“That’s really sick, but it’s exactly their style and Debry is just the stooge to do it. I need more evidence though.”
“Get it then, and put this thing to bed.”
Halkus hung up the phone just in time to see Debry’s boxy, olive green staff car pull out of the motel parking lot.
It was difficult for Tember to shake off the feeling that the shik was about to hit the fan, but he was determined to put aside his concerns and just enjoy the evening with Mim and her children. Checking his hair one last time, he pulled his police cruiser into the driveway and tried to calm his heartbeat. It had been a long time since he’d been on a date. Mim was at the door to greet him in a light summer dress that clung to her in all the right places.
“Who are you and what have you done to Constable Tember?” Her smile lit up the evening.
“That’s right, you’ve never seen me out of uniform. Well, I sent the constable home for the evening. I’m Pal, his charming sidekick, and the brains behind the dashing duo. These are for you.” He handed a bouquet of flowers to her and they went inside.
During dinner, the children had all kinds of questions about being a policeman, so much so that Mim had to tell them to leave him alone and let him eat.
“When I grow up I’m gonna be a police man,” Maksey said, picking at her plate.
“I think you would make a better police woman,” Tember teased. “But seriously, Maksey, if you really want that, I think you have the makings of a fine police officer.”
“Oh, definitely. You have a passion for the truth and a wonderful sense of adventure. I quite admire you for it.”
“But what if you tell the truth and nobody believes you?” She looked at him earnestly.
“Well, you have to stick to your guns. The truth is the truth and that’s that. It will always win out.”
“But I saw the snake-man flying into the sky and nobody believes me.” Her face scrunched up. “Did you ever know something that was important but no one would believe you?”
Tember set down his fork and looked at Maksey somberly. “No, Maksey, quite the opposite; I wanted to believe somebody and they let me down.”
Maksey looked sad for him, but a sudden knock at the door broke the uncomfortable silence.
“I’ll get it.” Maksey was gone like a shot, trotting off to the front door.
“No, Maksey, I’ll get it.” Mim was right behind her, but when the door swung open she was surprised to see a stocky man in a black suit holding up government ID.
“Agent Debry, ma’am, Fremian Military Liaison. I’m here to interview the children about what they saw out at the Townes’ farm.”
“See, Mom! I told you I was telling the truth!” Maksey jumped for joy.
“Maksey, not now. Go back to the table.” She pushed Maksey behind her. “I’m sorry, Mister…”
“Debry, ma’am, Agent Debry,” he said sternly.
“Yes, Agent Debry. I’m sorry but we’re eating dinner right now and my children have already told the local police everything they know.”
“Yes, I have talked to local law enforcement.” He turned and eyed the cruiser. “They have no jurisdiction in this case. I’m sorry if the time is inconvenient, but this is an important matter of Fremian military security and I’m going to have to insist.” He stuck his foot into the door and began pushing it open.
“Hey! You can’t come into my house!” Mim pushed back but the little man was strong. Mim was losing ground. Then Tember was there, wedging himself between Mim and the door.
“Back off, Debry, or do I have to add breaking and entering to the charges against you?”
“Constable Tember, I should have known.” Debry took a step back outside and glared at Tember, towering over him. “Well, isn’t this cozy, the local cop in bed with a top suspect.”
“We were not in bed!” Mim spat under Pal’s arm. “And just you watch your language around my children!”
“Unless you have all the right paperwork and a child consultation specialist, you’re not talking to anybody, Debry.” Tember came out the door and began bearing down on him. “Now I’m only telling you this once more, back off.”
Debry’s face turned beet red and his hand twitched for his gun, but he turned and stomped back to the car. “I’ll be back, you can count on it!” The tires of the boxy little car gave a little squeak and the engine sputtered, then whined as he sped up the street.
“You okay?” Tember turned to Mim who flew out the door and wrapped her arms around him.
“Yes, thanks to you we are.”
Maksey came out and joined in the hug, while Shaley and Spence stood in the doorway.
“You scared the shik out of that guy.” Spence nodded his approval.
“You watch your language, young man.” Mim shot him a cool warning glare.
They all returned to the table and Mim dished out extra big slices of pie to celebrate their victory, but Tember was less enthusiastic.
“He wasn’t kidding, Mim. Debry will be back, and with everything he needs to interview the kids. You should prepare yourself.”
“Oh, Pal, what can he do really? Some trumped up little army clown isn’t going to scare me.”
“Mim, you don’t understand, he’s not just a soldier, he’s a liaison. That means he reports directly to the Fremian Counsel. This guy is top brass. I don’t know what’s going on but it’s serious. There’s not much more I can do to protect you and your family when he comes back, and he will.”
The next morning, Maksey woke her sister up early and headed down to the clubhouse. It was time to go and talk to Mortimer face to face. Shaley complained at first but then Maksey reminded her that Chalo was going to be there. Suddenly Shaley was a flurry of activity, eager to get going.
When they arrived at the clubhouse, Chalo was alone and waiting for them. He issued them each a canteen and a candy bar, then reviewed the route on the model map. Shaley thought he was like some kind of brave rebel leader or secret agent.
“We already know how to get there. Let’s go.” Maksey’s patience was wearing thin from all the bravado.
Chalo produced a third bike. “Here, Shaley, I got this for you.”
“Yeah, it’s Inder’s but he won’t mind if you use it this once.”
“Thanks.” Shaley blushed and they all pedaled off into the cool morning.
© 2015 Copyright Montgomery Thompson
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