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Tale of the High-Priced Hooker

“So let me get this straight; you woke up, your safe had been broken into, your jewelry was gone, a very large sum of credits went missing, and you have no idea of how any of this happened?” Warden Reinhardt was keen on detecting bullshit when he smelt it, but, it is always imperative to get a verbal response for the record, should the need for formal charges of a spurious nature be brought before a magistrate.

“That’s correct, sir. Here, I brought a copy of the constable’s report.” Lawrence Kirby, the destitute, pointed to the Warden’s assistant.

Marcus Cato slid a data cache across the table to his left and towards the Warden, he had been handed the report right before the hearing and neither him, nor the Warden, had an opportunity to review it, perhaps it could shed some light on some of the questions the Warden still had. Reinhardt grabbed the report and began perusing through it.

Marcus sat to the Warden’s right side of an elongated T-shaped table, just inside one of the notches where the body met the top. The table sat in the center of the room aligned in a perpendicular manner with a wall which held suspended an elaborate wood-carved crest of the Corporate Oversight Commission. A grand double-headed eagle surrounded by laurels and holding a sword with a scroll draped which read “Speravi In Misericordia” (I put my trust in mercy.) Marcus’ main task, as Reinhardt’s assistant, was to record the hearing’s notes, information that wouldn’t otherwise be picked up by the recording devices in the tribunal forum. Mr. Kirby sat directly in front of Marcus on the left side of the table, inside of the other notch. This was Mr. Kirby’s opportunity to prove himself worthy of relief from his debentures.

Marcus had been clerking as the Warden’s assistant for a couple of years, and together they had seen some outlandish cases before, but this one was certainly the most interesting thus far. Marcus thought to himself, how does a high profile banker like Kirby get robbed so blindly, or for that matter, so easily?

While browsing through the very large report prepared by the presiding constable at the time of the robbery (easily filling 50 or 60 rectos in length), Reinhardt made a mental note of all of the details. He proceeded with his unassuming questions, scribbling unintelligible notes into the copy of the report he had just been given; “hmm… So you gamble at Freddie’s on a regular basis?”

“I travel to Fairwind quite a bit, that’s just where I happened to be gambling that night.”

It was the last hearing of the afternoon, the Warden and Marcus had already run through several dozen other cases. The tribunal forum itself was of modest build, largest enough to fit 80–100 individuals — though, not all occupants would be able to fit comfortably when the room was at capacity, comfort is not a luxury intended for those who voluntarily claim destituteness. Though, at this time the forum was practically empty except for the three gentlemen and Mr. Kirby’s girlfriend, who was patiently waiting in the back of the room.

All Jovian citizens are beholden or indebted to one or another of the corporate bodies which form the Council of Coordinated Commerce (the “CCC”); a type of political machinery to ensure fluid economics and business as well as provide governing authority for the Jovian Oligarchy. To file a voluntary petition of destituteness is the ultimate humiliation in Jovian society, but it is often times a necessary formality for ordinary, or lesser, citizens. This is especially the case when the Cannonade is conducted, and the Jovan markets are readjusted back to zero, or an equilibrium (roughly every seven-to-ten years). Regardless, those in the upper echelons of financial superiority enjoy taking advantage of the possibility that they might have their debentures forgiven, and will go to many lengths to ensure they skate through the system, without fear of full liquidation. It’s a means by which certain assets and financial endeavors are protected under the law, maintaining individual and family wealth where at all possible.

“I’m reading this, but I don’t believe it.” The Warden was displeased, his own livelihood (as well as that of his assistant) was dependent on finding unprotected assets and monetary sources to be siphoned. The majority of the credits recovered by the Warden would be delegated toward whichever corporate entity Kirby owed the most to, but a small portion based on the total recovered would go towards the funding of the Warden’s position in the tribunal system. With such an airtight alibi and grandiose story to back up Kirby’s loss, it would be difficult to recover the jewelry and credits which were claimed to have gone missing. “You’re going to have to tell me, in your own words, what happened that night?”

“Mason Monroe…” Kirby fell into a contemplative silence after uttering her name, as if he could smell her perfume.

The Warden quickly snapped Kirby back to the moment at hand, “that’s the woman mentioned in this report?”

“Yes.”

“A known prostitute?”

Kirby stammered a bit with his response, “well… far be it for me to judge a person based on their profession.”

“Things may be different on Mars, here on Ganymede though… Well, I hope your attitude has changed a bit since then.” The Warden’s unassuming tone took a very morally righteous inclination, he rose his chin, signaling to Kirby’s girlfriend in the back of the room. Kirby seemed to ignore the fact that he had brought his significant other to the hearing with him.

“You’ve never had a good luck charm, or a woman blow into your hands as you rolled the dice?” he tried to curry favor, hoping that the Warden had similar vices, but he was disappointed by the stoic nature of the Warden’s face.

Further pressing the issue, Reinhardt continued, “no, I don’t suppose I have. Says here you were out all night, what time did you get home after you were done gambling?”

“It must have been around five in the morning, I had lost earlier in the night, and I kept playing to try and make up the difference.”

“She sure sounds like one hell of a good luck charm.”

Lawrence Kirby began regaling Warden Reinhardt and Marcus Cato of what he remembered from the night of the robbery, “well, I suppose I arrived at the casino around ten or eleven that evening…”

***

On the streets of Fairwind there’s a difference in temperature from face to feet. The morning that the robbery took place was right in the middle of Mars’ Perihelion (“summer” for Earthers.) It was extremely warm to the lower extremities, with a slight breeze and cooler temperature up the nostrils and across the eyes. A common custom on Mars is to wear sandals during Perihelion (even as part of business attire), though most off-worlders and tourists simply seclude themselves inside the casinos and public houses of notoriety, letting house proprietors control the climate, taking comfort in the dominions of hedonism.

Freddie’s isn’t actually the name of the casino, rather Freddie’s is formally known as The Sovereign, a casino owned by Frederick Domino. Certainly, however, Mr. Domino goes by Freddie to his favored patrons, high rollers, friends and family. Surprisingly, for as well established and successful as Freddie is, The Sovereign often times has the best odds on the whole of Mars, and he isn’t stingy when it comes to accommodations or complimentary affairs. This fact attracts many of the wealthy Jovians (knowing a good deal when they saw one.)

Lawrence Kirby walked into The Sovereign as he did many times before, ordering a drink from the center bar, and scoping out the tables. No serious gambler walks right up to the machine expecting to win big without at least expelling some of their inhibition before hand. Scouting the various tables allowed Kirby to read the reactions on the other patron’s faces, as well as gauge how the dealers were feeling. After a quick look around, Kirby turned his attention to the steward tending bar:

“So what are you drinking tonight?” the steward asked.

“Lambic Sour, I prefer a local Fairwind variety.”

The steward took a slight offense; “is there really any other kind of lambic? You don’t seem like a working man, got a taste for the lessor things in life?”

“No, I just prefer an honest drink.”

The steward looked back to the row of taps lined up behind him. He sighted a new brand, an upstart brewery that came into the business strong with a variety the locals had taken quite passionately to in recent months.

“Pebble Lembeek. Should be right up your path.” The steward poured the lambic, yet eying Kirby with a bit of disdain as he did so, false bohemian trash he thought to himself. Lambics were reserved for the working man, local Martians, not a closed-toed fool looking to strike it big with a penny ante. Lambics were cheap and meant for voluminous consumption, a night of heavy drinking after a long hard day of dealing with tourists and putting on a fake smile.

Kirby grasped the frosty mug as the steward placed it down, the foam ran along the outside of the glass and down through the grate at the back of the bistre bar top. Kirby laid down the credits for his drink and then proceeded to slip the steward a generous tip. It was enough that the steward withdrew his initially shallow assessment of Kirby, if only for the prospect of making a few extra creds he might not have otherwise.

“Ah, well thank you sir, anything I can get you, just let me know!”

Kirby knew the drill, he was more than aware of his status — the closed-toed nature of his off-worlder shoes — he loved every minute of it, being a tourist. He even loved the moment when he saw the steward’s face and attitude change, it was Kirby’s opportunity to gain some tactical information for the night of gambling he had planned.

“What do you reckon is paying out this time of night?”

It was still early by The Sovereign’s standards, the steward was just a second-shift worker, he wouldn’t have been there for the true cardsharps, but he took a stab in the dark and recommended one of the dealers he had befriended the week prior; “there… over there. James, he’ll take good care of you.”

“The gangly-looking guy with wiry hair?” Kirby’s voice almost cracked with a pubescent-like startle.

The steward held back his laughter as Kirby tried not to choke on his suds, “yeah, he’s new, but he’s good. We had an employee game of Nancy the other day, me and a couple other guys, he dealt. I did better than I’ve ever done before. Should be your lucky night!”

Kirby nodded with a slight frown in approval, lifted his drink above his forehead, then took a swig as he sauntered off in the direction of the table where James was dealing.

Even though it wasn’t prime hour, hundreds of patrons and gamblers on the casino floor cheered and yelled and clapped to the sounds of buzzing and beeping. The beeping was the most pleasant; it meant someone had hit, won at least one hand in a dozen or so. Kirby focused on the beeping in particular, hoping to channel its energy as he looked James over with a squint of future satisfaction.

“Place your bets!”

James’ exuberance boded well with his lack of seniority, he hadn’t yet been disillusioned by a flood of losers, and the realization that his position in the grandiose palace of Mr. Domino wasn’t based on the charity of others, rather his job was very dependant on making sure that the house won.

Slipping into one of the empty chairs was Kirby, carefully maneuvering his beer mug around the back of a woman who was busy talking to one of the other gamblers. He didn’t notice much but the crease in her back which disappeared into the circular cut of her red dress, and the peculiar upside down heart her ass made as the curve of her butt cheeks swooped up into her thighs and met her waist. He wanted to accidentally bump her shoulder with his mug, but resisted the urge, not quite intoxicated enough to interrupt the phony conversation she was having with the rather rotund, red-faced man to her front side.

Noticing the newcomer, James spoke up in Kirby’s direction, “just a fiver to start good sir!” James’ smile wasn’t as plastic as the other dealers at the tables which surrounded his, and Kirby was pleased with the sincerity.

“Ah, James, I’ve heard good things.”

From behind, Kirby felt the brush of a cocktail waitress, and he turned his attention briefly:

“What’ll it be?” The cocktail waitress lifted a pad to take Kirby’s order.

“I , uh, well…” He looked to his glass as if to say that he already had a drink, which was still more than half full.

“Ah! Pebble Lembeek, I’ll be right back with another one!”

For the first time since he was seventeen, fit with a pocket of his father’s money, Kirby oddly felt like an amatuer, still flush from the woman beside him, he smiled to the cocktail waitress as she darted off into the crowd and off to the bar.

“How many ticks? Place your bets!!”

Caught off guard, Kirby spontaneously went for the obvious bet, “five ticks,” not even realizing that he had been pared with the rotund man who was still preoccupied with the woman in the provocative dress. She was busy nibbling on his ear — meanwhile, two other teams spread out across the table to Kirby’s left.

“Ten ticks!” Shouted a rather thin man partnered with a stately woman smoking rolled tobacco from an extended filter, “ten ticks indeed!” She followed in her suitors footsteps, the gloss of intoxication washed over her face as she bellowed a small plume of smoke.

“Eight ticks…” The last team at the table was composed of two strangers, the man at the end of the table was the one to speak, quite softly as his old wrinkly bearded face protruded his bottom lip with arrogance and aversion, it was a forthright affirmation in preempting his partner’s speech, dissatisfied with the way the last couple of rounds had gone.

James proceeded to deal the cards: first was The Fool (worth zero points) which landed in front of Kirby. Next was The Emperor, IV in the series, dealt to the rotund man, Kirby’s arbitrary partner for the round. Two trumps, jesus, I’m fucked. Kirby bled a bead of sweat as he thought of the implications. The next cards went down in a clockwise manner across the table; to the thin man went a 6 of cups, and then a 5 of Wands to the stately woman. Bust! Kirby thought to himself. Next was the last team; first laid down was The Magus, I in the tumps, and then, the 7 of discs…

Eight, we might still have this round, there’s no way they can win now, we have The Fool! Kirby was fixated on the last card still to be dealt, it was to be laid in the center and shared for all.

“1 of Discs! Nancy to the gentleman with the lambic and the man with his beautiful shoulder-maid!”

Before Kirby could comprehend their win, the waitress he had forgotten about came back with a full mug of lambic.

“On the house sugah.” With a sweet tone in her voice she waited for Kirby to pony up with a decent tip, knowing he had just won the round.

“I, uh, well, thank you, I…” Kirby reached into the front pocket of his blazer to pull a ten-cred chip, fumbling with the half drink he still had left. He quickly downed the lambic he had ordered previously and set the empty mug on the waitress’ tray along with the cred chip, proceeding to grab the fresh mug with his free hand.

The woman who was previously obscured to his left quickly turned around to greet him.

“Mason Monroe.” She stretched out her hand as if to be kissed like royalty.

Kirby’s formal training and instincts hit him faster than he could think about the present situation, “a pleasure mad’am,” he knelt his face before her hand and kissed right below her center knuckles.

Kirby then looked longingly into her eyes as he took a sip of the fresh lambic that had just been procured… The casino beyond her silhouette began to blur and fade until he could only see her… His eyes fell shut and the next thing he knew, he was staring at ceiling of his quarters on board his personal transport.

***

“Hold on! You mean to tell me that you were gone for more than six hours, and all you remember is your first round of Nancy, some romantic bullshit about a hooker who made your cock swell and waking up the next morning? I don’t buy it… You’re going to have to do better than that.” Warden Reinhardt was pressing desperately for the facts that didn’t present themselves in the story, or the constable’s report.

He continued, “it says here that the authorities saw your woman in red leaving Mars Station in a Augustan transport vessel, were you still lying in bed reminiscing about the night before?”

Kirby gulped deeply, though, not noticeably enough for Marcus or Reinhardt to realize, “you’re right, but I was drugged! The rounds of Nancy that followed that drink are all a blur, but I know she was right there with me!”

“Why didn’t she move on to some other poor sap with a better winning streak?” The Warden pressed harder and more intently than he had when the hearing first commenced.

“I don’t know! I don’t… KNOW! She liked me, I guess… Could smell the money or something, fucking bitch took me for everything! What do you want me to say?!!? I was drugged, she was in cahoots with the steward and the waitress?!?! That the FUCKING dealer knew about this SHIT, they knew who I was, and how much money I had?!?! What do you want me to say?” Kirby became a bit unruly and unreasonably angry at the proposition that the Warden didn’t believe his story.

“So you made it back to your transport vessel at the spaceport, went to your quarters… The hooker was still with you?”

Kirby thought for a moment, “I believe she was. I always put away my jewelry and extra credits. I thought she was across the passageway in the galley pouring herself another drink, but she must have been watching me, or overheard the vocal authorization to open my safe.”

Marcus shot a quick glance to the back of the room, eying Kirby’s girlfriend, but it was hard to get a good look without being turgidly obvious in such an empty room.

The Warden continued to press Kirby for more answers… or possibly to frustrate the banker into a confession; “were you, or were you not, present — at least drunkenly — aware of your surroundings?”

“I knew where I was!”

Marcus turned to look at the Warden and get it his attention without being disruptive. He motioned ever so slightly with his head to the back of the room where Kirby’s girlfriend sat.

The Warden was slightly puzzled and poured over the constable’s report a bit more. He understood Marcus’ inference, but the description of the woman leaving Mars didn’t seem to bear a resemblance to the woman sitting in the back of the tribunal forum. Perhaps even if she had the same backside as was described by Kirby, it would only give away the type of woman Kirby himself was attracted to. Furthermore, it would be unfair to include an unnamed party in the proceeding.

Kirby and the Warden faced each other for a moment without any words. Kirby was nearly on the brink of tears while the Warden’s stern annoyance at the situation forced him to break eye contact first… Surely a man telling the truth wouldn’t be able to fake such emotion.

“Whatever it was that she slipped me…. I didn’t DO anything. Not that I remember. It was a harmless game of Nancy, and when I woke up, all of my possessions were gone.”

“So, you did have money after the night of gambling was all said and done? Do you remember any of the other hands, other than the first? Did you leave The Sovereign on top?” The Warden asked as if prying for low hanging fruit, maybe there were credits that Kirby had inadvertently forgotten to mention on his petition after his night of intense gambling, credits he could turn over right now at this hearing.

“No… I didn’t… It was all gone… She left with every credit that I had.” Kirby, sounding defeated, admitted this with a bit of reluctance.

The Warden let out a deep by nearly inaudible groan, “I”m calling a short recess, five minutes, please be back and seated when the timer is through.”

Marcus and Reinhardt lept from their seats and proceeded into the hallway outside of the tribunal forum.

Forcibly, the Warden asked, “what is it?”

“I’m sure it’s her.” Marcus stated with a bit of uncertainty.

“Kirby’s girlfriend?”

“YES! She has to be the same… Mason Monroe. She seems to fit the descriptions that the constable’s report gives, right?”

The Warden thought for a moment. “But she isn’t named specifically, it only states that the constable’s office knew Kirby left with a known prostitute, it doesn’t name her. And the description is quite sparse; blond, about one point seventy-five meters tall… It’s not much to go on, how many hookers on Mars match that description anyway?”

“What does that mean!?! Clearly it’s her! She’s right there! We should be calling the magistrate’s guard to come and arrest them!” Marcus pled with all he could, but his voice still hinted at at slight uncertainty, scared that if the Warden took action they might actually have the wrong person apprehended.

The Warden turned his back and marched into the tribunal forum without Marcus. Marcus could hear the recording device power up as he stood in the hallway motionless.

“It states here in the constable’s report that the prostitute you’ve identified left Mars without being seen again, presumably, in possession of your property… Is this correct?”

A brief pause held the virtually empty tribunal forum for a few moments.

“To the best of your ability and knowledge, all statements herein obtained are true, accurate, and correct?”

Kirby wiped his brow; “yes, sir.”

“So help you god?”

“Yes.”

“Then this meeting is hereby adjourned, all further contemplated hearings are terminated.”

Right at that moment, just as the recording device was deactivated, Kirby’s girlfriend stood up from her position in the back of the forum and walked to the front of the tribunal. She approached the Warden, stretched out her hand like royalty, waiting to be kissed just below the center of her knuckles… The Warden extended his hand to receive hers, “Mrs. Kirby?” he asked.

Kirby’s girlfriend gave nothing but silence.

The Warden bowed slightly and kissed Kirby’s girlfriend on the hand, just below the center knuckle, as a habitual gesture of idiosyncrasy.

She continued to remain silent, turning around and walking toward the entrance of the tribunal forum, her dress cut low in the back and just above where her spinal crease disappeared…

The Warden turned a bit white and looked to Marcus who was standing in the doorway. Marcus and the Warden exchanged glances; another one lost to the peculiarity of legislation, ordinance, and the measure of law.

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