I kept looking at him, waiting for a sign of breathing, but there was none. He had a flattened out nose that’d fractured his face long before I ever landed an overhand right, but now, with his neck twisted at an impossible angle, blood and mucous flowed from the mashed nostrils. Barroom mix-ups are guaranteed to keep hangers-on satisfied, and this one proved true to form. The gathered crowd was mostly humanoid, but there were a few freaks and geeks masquerading as intelligent life. I’d been here before; it was a basement gin-mill off the Grand Concourse, but things had changed and the time factor was all wrong. Whether it was reverse or fast-forward worried my mind.
I surveyed the room, and though I did not know when I was, I knew exactly what planet I was on, and it was clear I had no friends amongst the gawkers.
The trouble had started because of a woman. Isn’t that the norm? Look at most fights or jackpots and one soon discovers a woman right in the thick of it all.
This one was still standing near the bar, acting as if none of the brouhaha had anything to do with her as she sipped a drink with one of those stupid umbrellas in it.
She was black-eyed and all circles; circles that curved so perfectly that males of any species had difficulty focusing on anything except her top or bottom, depending on whether she was coming or going.
I could feel her eyes zeroed in on me as I sucked in a lungful and tried to surmise my next move.
“What’s this all about?” a snaggle-toothed Pandorian asked, bulling through the crowd.
Pandorians have their own look and charm; this one could have been the poster-boy for the regime’s eugenics movement. Tall and rail-thin, he had a crane-like neck topped off by a huge head covered with clumpy vines of hair that climbed up and all around bulgy reptilian eyes.
There was a bit of bad luck news for me in his appearance; he was a Pandora Patroller, wearing the weaponry and regalia that signified a high rank. I wanted to jump, but did not control that function, so there would be no escaping this without some bureaucratic crappola.
There’d been no illegal activities lately, but the possibility of something from the past tracking me down was an ever-present reality.
“That one,” the bartender jabbed a stubby finger at me, “punched the ugly guy on the floor and kilt him dead.”
Nice guy; like he couldn’t have sugarcoated it a little.
The Patroller eyeballed me: “Is that right?”
“Who’s asking, pal?” I queried, somewhat snidely. My innocuous question was punctuated by an audible gasp from the onlookers.
The snaggle-toothed Pandorian’s shallow chest swelled to its full volume of authority. “Constable Cade,” he growled, hands resting on the butts of the tied-down guns holstered on his hips. “You got ID papers?”
“None that’d be helpful at this time,” I replied, giving him a shrug.
His head tilted and the bushy thatch of hair above his eyes crept into a quizzical expression. “What happened here?”
“The joker on the floor was hassling the lady,” I said, jerking a thumb at the classy broad. “I simply came to her defense.”
It was then that Cade noticed her. His attention riveted on that sweet spot between the top circles, lingering long enough to be obvious, and then he recovered and his eyes leveled on her face. “Is that right?”
“If he says so,” she answered in a voice all soft and husky.
Cade turned to me. “You got a name?”
“Officer, I’m just passing through on my way to someplace else.”
He stepped closer, towering over me. “You got a name, mister?”
There was no sense dodging the inevitable, so hoping against hope, I hitched in air and released it with a hiss. “Jodat. Jedediah Jodat.”
A murmur buzzed through the room as whispers turned into little gasps of gossipy recognition. Tension cranked up in the joint when all of a sudden Constable Cade had one of his SW Lasers aimed at my belly.
Now a reputation is a helluva thing; it can get distorted and have little resemblance to the facts of one’s character. I’m one of the good guys; I happen to have a propensity for intervening in situations that are none of my business, and that flaw often results in misunderstandings.
“You are under arrest, Mr. Jodat,” Constable Cade declared loudly.
“On what charge?” asked the dame with the pretty circles.
I nodded. “That’s a fair question. All I did was help the lady.”
“There’s Intergalactic Fliers on you up to ying yang,” Cade replied, keeping the pistol pointed at my gut. “I could select a charge out of the blue and make it stick, so let’s move along before anyone else gets hurt.”
“Hang on a minute,” I said, wanting to jawbone. “There was that incident on Delancey Street awhile back, but I’m completely innocent.”
“Incident on Delancey Street? Is that what you call murder?”
“Murder is such a nasty word, Constable Cade.”
“Truth sometimes has that quality.”
“Any charges from the Delancey Street incident are bogus,” I said flatly. “All I was doing was helping a lady out of jam.”
“You do have your own particular pattern, don’tcha?”
I shrugged and resigned myself to the present circumstances. It’d all be history soon; there was no rhyme or rhythm to it, but sure enough, I’d jump someplace else.
Constable Cade escorted me out, and quick as quick can be, I’d been processed, and was sitting inside a concrete walled box on Pandora.
It’s a funny thing. No matter when or where one is misunderstood, the interiors of jail cells are always the same.