I've been a little absent recently due to trying to get my life in order. I'm currentlly going through what I like to call 'The Purge' in which I am clearing out everything useless of a material, emotional and metaphysical nature from my life. The result has left me with little writing time. That and my obsession with Kendo and heavy work schedule mean I;ve been spending rather a lot of time in the real world.
But, just to give as much back as I can, I bring you:
The Curse Of The Crimson Koala (From the case files of Max Solstice, Space P.I.)
This one is more family friendly.
And the Theme tune: https://soundcloud.com/theramist/searching
I only intend this to be a short 3 parter (hopefully) so when I finish, I'll make an epub out of it.
Apologies for the formatting and typos.
A solitary tear dripped from her eye, making a small damp patch on the expensive material covering her thigh. She shook her head with the impression that this wasn’t the first time she’d seen pictures like this and this wasn’t the first dimly lit office she’d sat in to experience these emotions. Picking up the pictures she shoved most of them in her handbag and then shredded a couple in a rage, gritting her teeth and clenching her hands into fists when she had finished. Her stare blazed across at me with a look that could have melted a hole through my head, rage burning into my eyes, but I knew it was just her trying not to shoot the messenger. Finally she tore her eyes away from me, her expression changing to match her feelings of inevitability.
“I don’t want to thank you for this, but you did the job and got me exactly what I ask for, if not what I wanted.” The tears rolled freely down her face now and she leaned forward and pressed a thumb to the scanner, authenticating her payment, leaving a small puddle of tears on her side of the desk.
“I understand,” I said coldly, trying not to convey any emotion. She would need her own strength now, not some pointless sympathies and besides, she was a rich, good-looking woman. Taking advantage of her would have been too easy.
Her expression changed to one of loathing, directed at me this time and she decided that our meeting was over.
“Your work has been exemplary,” she said getting to her feet and heading for the door. She paused just before opening it and looked over her shoulder. “Don’t take this the wrong way Mr Solstice, but I hope I never see you again.”
I said nothing, simply nodded, watching her silhouette through the frosted glass of the door after it had slid shut and then swung my chair around to face the window and watch the planet slowly spinning. A police ship shot out of the docking port beneath me, lights blazing it’s engines pushed to maximum. Someone was about to be on the receiving end of a little cold justice.
Just as the glow of the ships engines was becoming lost on the sea of stars, the sound of the intercom snapped my consciousness out of the daydream and I sat upright in my chair.
“Mr Solstice, there’s a gentleman who has just arrived and insisting on speaking to you.” Marcie’s voice over the intercom was precise and well spoken, distinctly different from her usual method of speaking. We had an agreement, that depending on the client, she described them differently and in a different voice. I could tell already that the man standing outside my door was rich and well dressed, probably very rich, given that Marcie had actually called me mister. She never did that.
Looking round my office I quickly tidied away any files to leave just two important looking ones on the desk, a small note pad and my crystal decanter on the edge next to the lamp.
“Please ask him to come inside,” I replied and stood up to greet him politely, smoothing out any wrinkles in my suit quickly just before the door opened and revealed the beginning of my next case.
A devilishly handsome man stood in the doorway, dressed in an immaculate suit which was clearly made from some of the most expensive cloths available. The extremely subtle pinstripe, glowed slightly, catching the light was he moved. His no nonsense eyes gave away the character of a man rich from his own endeavours but the overall annoyance and boredom made it clear that he wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, but there was something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Standing up straight, I extended my hand to shake his and introduced myself.
“Max Solstice,” I said plainly.
He took my hand without pause and shook it briefly. He was definitely a business man. His extremely soft hands and flawlessly manicured nails betrayed his extravagantly rich upbringing, but a distinct scar still lingered round the base of his thumb. Obviously an accident in his younger years that could have been removed with surgery that he could easily have afforded, but for some reason remained. A reminder perhaps, or maybe even a trophy.
“James Crawford,” he said briefly, with a condescending tone. I recognised the name and it took me a moment to place it, but hiding my surprise, I offered him a chair to the side of my office. This guy was the head of the largest drinks organisation in the galaxy. Why he was here, in my office I could not fathom, but whatever he wanted from me it was obviously very much off the record as he would have had two hundred guys like me working for him. Whatever he was going to ask me to do was almost certainly dangerous, controversial, illegal or a combination of all three. I vowed to hear him out, take the case and then politely turn up nothing at the very beginning of the case.
As he sat down in the well-worn leather chair, I motioned to the drinks decanters. He raised is hand in negative response and shook his head.
“Mr Solstice,” he said politely, “My time is limited so I will be brief.” He fished into his pocket and tossed a printed picture onto the small table between us. “I want you to find this.”
Leaning forward I retrieved the picture and brought it in to close scrutiny range. The picture was of a red cuddly toy, a koala if I was not mistaken. I shot Crawford a quizzical look.
“A child’s toy?”
He shifted uncomfortably in the seat, embarrassed.
“It belongs to my step son.” The last two words were filled with distain. “Selfish little brat, but my wife insisted.”
“Insisted on what?”
“During a general clear out of stuff, one of my staff took the toy and sold it on one of the popular auction rings.” He shook his head as if trying to get the rest of the story out. “She hit the roof saying that it was one of his most valued childhood toys, given to him by his long dead great-grandfather.”
“Can you not simply contact the purchaser? I’m sure a man of your position has the resources to find anything he wishes.”
“I don’t need your flattery Mr Solstice. It is simply that I wish none of this to be known to my staff. Also I have my own reasons to keep this under wraps and I imagine the press would have a field day if I was publicly looking for this item.” A bored expression crossed his face. “Whomever has the… bear now would try and claim a huge amount of money for it’s safe return. I may have a huge sum of money at my disposal but I see no reason to just give it to someone.”
I nodded my understanding. This seemed like an easy assignment and I was fairly sure that a man like James Crawford would pay handsomely. Despite my better judgement telling me that there was something wrong, I was already planning how to solve the case.
“The thing is, Sunset didn’t even care about the bear that much.”
“My step-son. His mother and father were a bit hippyish back when we first made contact.”
That was a funny way of putting it and there was more to that story that he obviously was not going to tell me.
“My standard fee is…” I began, but he interrupted me with a raised hand.
“I will pay you five thousand a day plus any expenses you may need can be purchased with this.” He fished into another pocket and tossed a credits card onto the table, the likes of which I had never seen before. “I would tell you not to go mad, but you probably will anyway and I could threaten you with death if you spend too much of my money, but there’s very little chance of that.” He leant in close. “Just don’t go buying yourself a new ship unless absolutely necessary. If you are successful, you will get a five hundred, thousand credit bonus at the end.” Leaning back in his chair he studied me a little more. “You are a business man to, so I expect you to take your time with the investigation to earn as much as possible out of me, but that does not matter. I care not how you do your work, I merely care about the result.”
Alarm bells were ringing throughout my mind, telling me that this was an extremely bad idea and that something terrible was afoot but the amount of money he was talking about was just too tempting.
I picked up the card and placed it nonchalantly into my jacked pocket and then Crawford pulled out a small comms device. I resembled the majority of the comms devices available but it was somewhat smaller and sleeker looking. I picked it up.
“If you have anything to report, use this and this only. If you try and contact me through the company I will deny knowing who you are.” I inspected the comm with an impressed smile.
“It’s a prototype device that will be available in about a year. Feel free to keep it at the end of assignment. All information about the case is stored within it and I think you’ll find it a very useful tool.”
I nodded, an impressed nod, hiding my matter of fact thoughts. I always made sure to have the latest comm. A man in my line of work needed decent tools. As I woke up the screen and scanned through the menus and icons it displayed, I realised that this was a very advanced device. It scrolled quickly and effortlessly and the interface seemed almost to know exactly where to stop before I even realised I wanted it to stop there. Finding the case file, I scanned down the details, the auction number and all possible information on the purchaser. It was extensive, but the location was on the other side of the galaxy, right near a few particularly nasty little backwaters.
“I will have to upgrade my ship to go there,” I said.
“Whatever it takes, Mr Solstice.” He stood from the chair. “Now if you will excuse me, I’m a very busy man.” He shook my hand briefly and headed out the door. Just as it slid shut I heard him talking in an annoyed tone.
“Come on Sunset. I don’t have all day.”
“Up yours.” The voice was of a petulant teenager, obviously dragged along for the ride. The fact that he had not brought him into my office was evident that he didn’t care much for the teenager in question and would rather not be in the same presence as him if he could help it.
A mere three hours later after tying up some loose ends, I was striding across the walkway to my ship parked in the massive hanger surrounded by hundreds of other ships. I was almost inside when a voice called me back.
“Max. Wait!” Marcie came bounding across the walkway and halfway across she suddenly slowed and looked over the edge nervously. She hated heights and rarely came out to the ship unless she really had to. She smoothed her immaculate 1950’s styled hair to steady herself. Regaining composure she strode confidently towards me. Her nervousness about the dock was completely unfounded. The artificial gravity only had an influence on things on the walk way and as such of you jumped over the edge you would simply float there, but that instinct to be afraid of heights was ingrained pretty deep.
“What is it sugar?” I said, smiling a big friendly smile at her.
Her composure slipped again and she nervously tottered towards me holding out and small, ankle holstered pistol.
“You’d better take this,” she said nervously. “I think you’re gonna need it.” Her old world, New York twang slipped in as her voice lost its usual professionalism. I had never worked out whether it was genuine as a result of nervousness or she put it on to go with her image.
“I don’t think this one should be too dangerous. Besides I’ve always got Wynona on me.” I tapped the concealed weapon under my jacket.
“I know, I know.” She looked nervous and shuffled her feet. “But I just feel like this is going to go badly. There’s something not right about that man.”
“Agreed,” I said nodding, “But I’m going to meet someone who purchased a teddy off the bay and based on his previous purchases, is not a genius dangerous guy.”
“I know, but I’m still worried.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, laying a hand on her shoulder and I felt her sink a little, trembling slightly. Then she stiffened and drew herself up to full height, which was just above my chin and fixed me with a hard stare.
“Rule twelve,” she said and placed the gun in my hand. I nodded and knelt down to strap it to my ankle.
“It’s better to have a gun and not need it...” I began.
“Than to need a gun and not have one,” she finished as I stood back up.
“Be careful, Max,” she smiled sweetly at me and I bent down, planting a brief kiss on her lips. She returned the favour and wrapped her arms round my neck. “And when you get back, we are having a week off. No excuses this time.”
She released me and exchanging one last smile, I turned and boarded the ship with butterflies in my stomach as the hatch closed behind me, trying as hard as I could not to care about her.
Dropping into the pilot seat, I looked out of the window and saw Marcie standing there, waiting to see me off. It was still early days and we’d known each other for years but that didn’t mean I still didn’t get that stupid adolescent flutter from a new relationship. We’d promised to go really slow and see if it worked out. She cared for me deeply and I for her but working together for so long had formed a different kind of relationship. One I was finding it hard to step out of, but there was no one else that even came close to seeming like life partner material. Marcie was incredible and the majority of other women I had met in my line of work were dishonest, damaged, dangerous, stuck-up, high-maintenance or a combination of everything. There weren’t many girls that you could trust with your life.
Pressing my thumb to the scanner, the ship powered up and I blew her a kiss. She returned it with a wave and I turned my concentration to the status screen.
Powering up Ship (The Grey Fedora).......
Logging on Max Solstice........
Checking all Systems........
All Systems Online.......
I thumbed through the galactic chart and calculated the best jump route. Minimum number of jumps was fourteen but that would take me through a pretty nasty section of space. I had no interest in getting jumped by a bunch of pirates and wanted a quiet milk run but Marcie’s concern put me on edge. I told myself to calm down and get on with the job.
Just as I was releasing the docking clamps I took one last glance out the window. Marcie was still there waiting for me to leave. I gave her a quick salute and dropped the ship down into the main exit queue. After about a ten-minute wait I was powering out of the main dock and into the big black.
Before my first jump, I decided to have a little fun. The new upgrades had kitted The Fedora out better than she’d ever been and I tried out the upgraded engines, scanners and controls. She responded to the stick better than ever before and I buzzed a few high orbit satellites before heading away from the planet for my first jump. Punching the button, the low throb of the jump engines began to build in pitch and volume till they reached a steady level. There was a small flash, a thump and the view out the window went black.
Estimated travel time. 6.2 hrs.
For a moment I starred at the viewscreen trying to see anything in the complete blackness. It was an odd sensation being in hyperspace. A complete lack of any visual feedback made it somehow more eerie than it should be. I would find myself searching the blackness for something. If I did find anything, what would I do?
I popped up out of the chair and headed for the entrance to the cargo bay. As I reached the bottom of the ladder I drew my weapon from the shoulder holster and swung it back and fourth round the bay.
“You know what they used to do to stowaways back on ancient Earth?” I shouted filling the bay with my voice. There was no response so I began to pace along the few crates that were stored there. “If you were lucky, you’d be thrown overboard into shark infested waters. If you were really lucky they’d shoot you first.”
I flicked the safety on my pistol and it powered up with a distinct whistle. Picking a useless crate, which had nothing in it and was well away from my not completely unexpected passenger, I fired reducing it to a pile of ashes.
“Okay! Okay! Don’t shoot me.” A figure jumped out from behind a bunch of boxes with hands in the air. I returned the favour by pointing my pistol at him.
“Stay exactly where you are,” I told him in my best gangster voice.
“If my dad finds out you pointed a gun at me he’ll...”
“He’ll do what?” I spat the words with pretend distain at him. “He’s hired me and from what I gather, he hates your guts anyway. Besides, he’s not really your father is he?” I saw his shoulders slump and a sad look flicker across his eye’s that was quickly replaced by anger. I re-holstered my gun.
“Hey. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna shoot you.” I wandered over to him and he turned a shoulder towards me distrustfully. “Can’t be too careful with stowaways. Usually it’s some fugitive trying to get out of a lawful system without attracting any attention. Once on the other side, they jump ship and make themselves a new life, disappearing off the legal radar forever.” He straightened up and I shot him an enquiring eyebrow. “You looking for a new life?”
“Don’t tempt me.” He shrugged.
“What the hell are you doing here anyway?”
“Hitching a ride. Wanted to see where you were going. Life can get pretty boring being a rich kid.”
He was playing a part. A part he played very well, but I could tell under the apathetic teenage rich kid mask was just an extremely nervous, scared boy, trying hard to make an impression.
“I don’t need any extra baggage. After I’ve refuelled at the next station, I’ll swing back and drop you off.” I was bluffing, just to see what kind of intelligence he really had. Doing that would put me almost a day behind schedule.
“You’re not going to do that.” He said with a smirk. “It will take to long and you know as well as I do, that my step-father couldn’t give a hoot where I am. If he did, you’d have a call already.”
He was right and definitely smarter than he looked so I said nothing and made my way back to the bridge.