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Chapter Six

With a final tack, Mooney pulled the last wrinkle out of the black velvet. It was eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning. On the patio table next to the stretched black velvet, he had arranged a few pencil sketches and the brimming little pots of iridescent paint. He wanted to paint a space dogfight today.

Two royal palms shaded his patio, and no sounds came out of his house. Full of peace, Mooney took a sip of iced-tea and dipped his brush in the metallic paint. At the left he would put a ship like BEX, the big bopper ship. And coming down on it from the right there would be a standard freight-hull space-shuttle outfitted as a battleship. He painted with small quick strokes, not a thought in his head.

Time passed, and the wedge-shaped bopper ship took shape. Sparingly, Mooney touched up the exhaust ports with self-luminous red. Nothing but his hands moved. From a distance, the faint breeze brought the sound of the surf.

The phone began to ring. Mooney continued painting for a minute, hoping his wife Bea was back from her night at the sex-club. The phone kept on ringing. With a sigh, Mooney wiped off his brush and went in. The barrel-chested old man on the floor groaned and shifted. Mooney stepped around him and picked up the phone.

"Yeah?"

"Is that you, Mooney?"

He recognized Action Jackson's calm, jellied voice. Why did Daytona Beach have to call him on a Saturday morning?

"Yeah it's me. What's on your mind?" "We've got your boy here. Just saved him from being guest of honor at a Monkey Brain Feast, Southern-style. Someone heard him and phoned a tip in." "Oh God. Is he all right?"

"He's got a cut over his eye. And maybe a touch of that drug psychosis. I might could remand him to your custody."

The old man on the floor was groaning and beginning to sit up. Trying to speak louder, Mooney slipped into an excited shout.

"Yes, please do! Send him down in a patrol car to make sure he comes here! And thanks, Action! Thanks a lot!"

Mooney felt trembly all over. He could only see the horrible image of his son's eyes watching the Little Kidders chew up his last thoughts. Mooney's tongue twitched, trying to flick away the imagined taste of the brain tissue, tingly with firing neurons, tart with transmitter chemicals. Suddenly he had to have a cigarette. He had stopped buying them three months ago, but he remembered that the old man smoked. "Give me a cigarette, Anderson." "What day is it?" Cobb answered. He was sitting on the floor, propped up against the couch. He stretched his tongue out, trying to clear away the salt and mucus.

"It's Saturday." Mooney leaned forward and took a cigarette out of the old man's shirt pocket. He felt like talking. "I took you and your girlfriend to the Gray Area last night, remember?" "She's not my girlfriend."

"Maybe not. Hell, she left with another guy while you were in the John. I saw them go. He looked like your twin brother."

"I don't have a ..." Cobb broke off in mid-sentence, remembering a lot of things at once. His eyes darted around the room. Under... he'd put it under something. Sliding his hand under the couch behind him he felt the reassuring touch of a bottle.

"That's right," Cobb said, picking up the thread. "I remember now. She took him back to my house just to put me uptight. And I don't even know the guy." His voice was firm.

Mooney exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke. He'd been too tired last night to check out Anderson's look-alike. But maybe that was the one who'd broken into the warehouse? The guy was probably still in Anderson's bed. Maybe he should...

Suddenly the image of his son's dying eyes came crashing back in on him. He walked to the window and looked at his watch. How soon would the patrol car get here?

Stealthily Cobb slid the dark-brown glass bottle out from under the couch. He shook it near his ear and heard a rich rustle. It had been a good idea to get Mooney to bring him here.

"Don't drink any more of that," Mooney said, turning back from the window.

"Don't worry," Cobb answered. "I drained it right after I dug it up last night." He slid the bottle back under the couch.

Mooney shook his head. "I don't know why I let you stop off for it. I must have felt sorry for you for not having a place to sleep. But I can't drive you back home. My son's coming home in a half hour."

Cobb had gathered from Mooney's end of the phone conversation that the son was in some kind of trouble with the police. As far as the ride back home went, he didn't care. Because he wasn't going back home. He was going to the Moon if he could get on the weekly flight out this afternoon. But it wouldn't do to tell Stan Mooney about it. The guy still had some residue of suspicion about Cobb, even though the bartender had borne out his alibi a hundred percent.

His thoughts were interrupted by someone coming in the front door. A brassy blonde with symmetrical features made a bit coarse by a forward-slung jaw. Mooney's wife. She wore a white linen dress that buttoned up the front. Lots of buttons were open. Cobb caught a glimpse of firm, tanned thighs.

"Hello, stranger," Bea called musically to her husband. She sized Cobb up with a glance, and shot a hip in his direction. "Who's the old-timer? One of your father's drinking buddies?" She flashed a smile at them. Everything was fine with her. She'd had a great night.

"Action Jackson called," Mooney said. His wife's challenging, provocative smile maddened him. Suddenly, more than anything else, he wanted to smash her composure.

"Stanny is dead. They found him in a motel room with his brain gone." He believed the words as he said them. It made sense for his son to end up like that. Good sense. Bea began screaming then, and Mooney fanned her frenzy... feeding her details, telling her it was her fault for not making a happy home, and finally beginning to shake and slap her under the pretext of trying to calm her down. Cobb watched in some confusion. It didn't make sense. But, then, hardly anything ever did.

He pulled the bottle out from under the couch and put it under his shirt, tucking it neck down into his waistband. This seemed like a good time to leave. Now Mooney and his wife were kissing frantically. They didn't even open their eyes when Cobb sidled past them and out the front door.

Outside, the sun was blasting. Noon. Last night someone had told Cobb the Moon flight went out every Saturday at four. He felt dizzy and confused. When was four? Where? He looked around blankly. The bottle-neck under his waistband was digging into him.

He took out the bottle and peered into Mooney's garage. Cool, dark. There was a tool-board mounted on the back wall. He went there, selected a hammer, and smashed open the bottle on Mooney's workbench. The wad of bills was still there all right. Maybe he should forget about the Moon and the boppers' promise of immortality. He could just stay here and use the money for a nice new tank-grown heart.

How much was there? Cobb shook the broken glass off the bills and began counting. There should either be twenty-five or a thousand of them. Or was it four? He wasn't quite...

A hand dropped on Cobb's shoulder. He gave a guttural cry and squeezed the money in both hands. A splinter of glass cut into him. He turned around to face a skinny man, silhouetted against the light from the garage door.

Cobb stuffed the money in his pocket. At least it wasn't Mooney. Maybe he could still...

"Cobb Anderson!" the dark figure exclaimed, seeming surprised. Backlit like that there was no way to make out his features. "It's an honor to meet the man who put the boppers on the moon." The voice was slow, inflectionless, possibly sarcastic.

"Thank you," Cobb said. "But who are you?"

"I'm . . ." the voice trailed off in a chuckle. "I'm sort of a relative of Mr. Mooney's. About to be a relative. I came here to meet his son, but I'm in such a rush... Do you think you could do me a favor?"

"Well, I don't know. I've got to get out to the spaceport."

"Exactly. I know that. But I have to get there first and fix things up for you. Now what I want you to do is to bring Mooney's son with you. The cops'll drop him off here any minute. Tell him to come to the Moon with you. I'm supposed to stand in for him." "Are you a robot, too?"

"Right. I'm going to get Mr. Mooney to give me a night watchman job at the warehouses. So the son has to disappear. The Little Kidders were going to handle it but... never mind. The main thing is that you take him to the Moon."

"But how ..."

"Here's more money. To cover his ticket. I've got to run." The lithe skinny figure pressed a wad of bills into Cobb's hand and stepped past him, leaving by the garage's back door. For an instant Cobb could see his face. Long lips, shifty eyes.

There was a sudden rush of noise. Cobb turned, stuffing the extra money into his pants pocket. A police cruiser was in the driveway. Cobb stood there, rooted to the spot. One cop, and some kind of prisoner in back.

"Howdy, Grandpaw," the cop called, getting out of the car. He seemed to take Cobb for a pheezer hired hand. "Is Mister Mooney here?"

Cobb realized that the shaky guy in back must be the son. Probably the kid wanted to get out of here as bad as he did. A plan hatched in his mind.

"I'm afraid Stan had to go help out at one of the neighbor's," Cobb said, walking out of the garage. An image of Mooney and his wife locked in sexual intercourse on the living-room floor flashed before his eyes. "He's installing a hose-system."

The policeman looked at the old man a little suspiciously. The chief had told him Mooney would be here for sure. The old guy looked like a bum. "Who are you, anyway? You got any ID?"

"In the house," Cobb said with a negligent laugh. "I'm Mister Mooney's Dad. He told me you were coming." He stooped and chuckled chidingly at the face in the back of the cruiser. The same face he'd just seen in the garage.

"Are you in dutch again, Stan Junior? You look out or you'll grow up like your grandfather! Now come on inside and I'll fix you some lunch. Grilled ham and cheese just the way you like it."

Before the cop could say anything, Cobb had opened the cruiser's back door. Sta-Hi got out, trying to figure where the pheezer had come from. But anything that put off' seeing his parents was fine with him.

"That sounds swell, Gramps," Sta-Hi said with a weary smile. "I could eat a whore."

"Thank the officer for driving you, Stanny."

"Thank you, officer."

The policeman gave a curt nod, got in his car and drove off. Cobb and Sta-Hi stood in the driveway while the clucking of the hydrogen engine faded away. Down at the corner, a Mister Frostee truck sped past.


Chapter Five | Software | Chapter Seven



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