I am a bounty hunter. I had never been and never wanted to be anything different, until now.
I have chased Sally “Twinkle Toes” Barnett for over six months. She took me to Ganymede, Titan, and finally Moon Shadow, where I caught up with and arrested her.
Sally got her nickname when she a little girl growing up on Earth. Her friends started calling her “Twinkle Toes” because she liked each toenail painted a different color. When she ran through the grass barefoot, her toenails seemed to twinkle.
She is five foot two, of slender build, with dark-red hair that’s almost auburn, and has blue, almond-shaped eyes. She has a scar on the back of her left hand just above the thumb joint.
This is the description on the wanted poster. It doesn’t do her justice though. I know, I’ve seen her up close and personal, and I’ve fallen under her spell.
“Hey Jake, wake up!” yelled Sam Hitchcock, my best friend and partner, through the door.
“Yeah, what do ya want Sam,” I replied, still gazing out the window as the stars slid by.
“You daydreaming about that female again? There’s plenty more where she came from.” Sam paused, then went on: “After all, we had her and you–.”
“That’s enough, Sam,” I broke in. I turned to face him. “I’m not in the mood to listen to any of your damn speeches on how we need the money, or how much we have spent chasing her. So just drop it, OK.”
We had had her in custody, and I let her slip through my fingers while I was sleeping off a night of ecstasy. I lost not only my share of those 100,000 credits but also Sam’s. God, he acts like he knows I let her go. I wonder if he does?
“OK, Jake, but I have never known you to put a piece of tail before making money or finishing a job.”
I stood up — I was slightly taller than Sam, although he was more muscular and outweighed me by 30 pounds — but referring to her as a piece of tail infuriated me. My black eyes bored straight into Sam’s hazel eyes. “She is not a piece of tail, Sam.” I continued, “She has a name. If you have something to say, I sure as hell would like to hear it.”
“When the shoe fits, Jake, wear it.” With that he turned and left for the helm of the little Planet Hopper.
I sat down in the easy chair, the one with the leather arms, and I ran my fingers through my short blond hair and thought about what I’d done.
I had made a mistake, a big mistake. I couldn’t believe, and I still didn’t believe, that Sally had anything to do with that robbery. But what I thought didn’t make any difference, and it certainly didn’t make what I had done right. I was going to have to bring her in; this would be the hardest thing I had ever done.
She said she was going to Charon, Pluto’s one and only moon. I wasn’t sure she would actually go there, after telling me that was where she was heading. But Charon was just as good as anywhere else to start; after all, we have to start somewhere.
I walked up to the bridge. Sam was at the helm, and I took the seat next to him.
“Sorry Sam,” I said, “you’re right. I just hate to admit I screwed up.”
“Yeah, I know. Did you forget how well I know you? It’s just that we have spent almost all of the credits the bounty pays; if we captured her right now, we might break even.”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied. “I’ll take the helm for a while, ol’ buddy, you take a break.”
I watched Sam leave. I was aggravated with myself. Sam was the best friend I ever had. Hell, we had played together as kids and went to school on Moon Shadow. I can’t believe I allowed Sally to come between us. Shit, why am I calling her Sally? She is nothing but a criminal and a paycheck; I hadn’t let a woman use me like this since I was in school.
I put the coordinates in for Charon, and hit the button for hyperspace.
When we emerged I had that old familiar nausea that everyone experiences from hyperspace. I could see the planet Pluto and the moon Charon straight ahead, the twin orbs, one only slightly smaller than the other and circling Pluto; we were one hour from Charon.
“How ya doing, dude?” It was Sam.
“Has the shift passed already?”
“Time flies when you’re having fun, pal.”
I sat there beside Sam at the helm of the ship, trying to decide if I should tell him I purposely let Twinkle Toes escape, or if I should puke.
If I told him about Twinkle Toes he’d be mad as hell, but the air between us needed to be cleared.
“Sam, I, uh, need to tell you something,” I said nervously.
“Relax ol’ buddy, I know.”
“What do you know, smart ass?”
“Oh, not a lot.” He paused and went on: “Only that you made love with Twinkle Toes and pretended you were asleep so she could escape,” he said with a smirk.
“That was really stupid of me, Sam.”
“Stupid is not the word, but that’s over; now we have to look ahead and find her again.”
After all these years Sam still amazed me: When he has a reason to get mad he seems to let it go; other times he has no reason to get mad and he gets mad as hell. Well at least when he gets mad he gets over it just as quick. I’ve always liked that about Sam.
Sam called in to the tower, and they told him to make a horizontal landing on runway 17 and park on Delta Taxiway, pad 3. Sam landed, and as we taxied to Delta 3 I wondered where to start looking for Twinkle Toes.
We secured the Planet Hopper and went to the local watering hole, “The Travelers Nest”.
It was a typical tavern, not much different from the others; they all seemed to follow a pattern out here in the Colonies.
It had a once-beautiful carved wooden bar that ran the whole length of the building, and a grubby mirror behind the bar that was just as long.
I had trouble believing this seedy little joint could afford to have a real wooden bar to be brought in from Earth. But you never know; this is the type of place that deals with the criminal element on a daily basis.
Sam and I walked up to the end of the dirty bar. I ran my fingernail down the side it — just as I thought, synthesized wood.
At the other end of the building I could see a door with two signs above it: Aliens and Alienettes. I couldn’t know for sure, but I would bet Sally’s bounty there was a back door there.
Sam showed his I.D. and license to the bartender; then he showed him a picture of Sally.
“Day all luk da same to me,” he said, and walked away.
Sam walked down the bar and got in front of the bartender. Sam was talking softly; he wanted to make a point, and I couldn’t hear what Sam was saying, but when Sam leans on the bar and talks softly, it gets their attention.
Sam was speaking quietly as he picked lint off the bartender’s shoulder.
I could hear the bartender real good and I could tell by his voice that he was nervous or scared, or maybe both.
“OK, I till ya, she here last night dance on da bar, everybody notice her,” he said.
“Do you know where she is now?” Sam asked.
“No. Hones’ misser, I not know.”
Sam and I decided we would start in the morning. We knew she was here, and we were tired. We found a comfortable little hotel with cheap rates and got us a room for the night.
“Tomorrow is a big day. We’ll start making the rounds of the hotels and hostels on Charon, and by this time tomorrow Sally “Twinkle Toes” Barnett will be back in custody.” Sam was ecstatic.
* * *
We awoke to bright, amplified sunlight coming in our window and went downstairs, refreshed and ready for a hard day of interviews and questions.
“Good morning,” Sam said to the desk clerk. He pulled out Sally’s picture. “Have you seen this woman? We are trying to find her.”
“Oh, yes, Sally Johnson. Sweet young thing, pretty too, stayed night before last. Left a letter for her husband, Jake Johnson. That wouldn’t be one of you, would it?”
Sam and I looked at each other. “Yeah, that’s me,” I said.
I opened the envelope.
I see you believed me.
I told you I’d be here.
Sorry I missed ya; see you at Moon Shadow.
I handed the note to Sam, and thought for a moment.
“Well, what now. You know her better than I do, Jake,” Sam said as we left the hotel.
“I’m sure she’ll go to Moon Shadow,” I said thoughtfully.
I filed the flight plan while Sam finished the preflight. In an hour we were on our way to Moon Shadow.
Sam was at the controls; I was laying on my bunk with my hands folded behind my head, thinking about Sally. She was having fun, playing these little games with us. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was having fun also — too bad fuel was so expensive.
I dozed off, thinking about Sally. I felt the little Planet Hopper hit hyperspace; when I woke up we would be on Moon Shadow.
“Wake up, ol’ buddy, we’re home,” Sam said, shaking my arm.
I sat up on the edge of the bed, and ran my fingers through my short hair. I always felt bad when I slept during the day, and exiting hyper didn’t help. “Let’s start at the hotels first this time.”
“Good idea,” Sam said. “Maybe we can gain a little here if we find the note first.”
We checked five hotels, all with no luck; we had two left on Moon Shadow. Sam was getting restless: “I think we have been had, ol’ buddy.”
I was starting to worry myself but I couldn’t let Sam know. “Well, we’ve two left, let’s not cry in our beer yet.”
We walked in and I said to the desk clerk, “I’m Jake Johnson. Did my wife, Sally Johnson, leave a note for me?”
“Yes, Mr. Johnson, she did,” replied the desk clerk, as he reached for the note and handed it to me.
“When did she leave?” Sam asked, looking at the clerk.
“Oh, I’d say about three hours ago.”
Well, if you are reading this, you are still hot on my trail.
See you on Ganymede.
I handed the note to Sam. “Thank you,” I said to the desk clerk. “Do you have a room for the night?”
“Jake, we should really go on to Ganymede,” Sam said, looking worried. “We can catch up now, our planet Hopper is faster than her old bus.”
“We’re not going to Ganymede, old pal.”
I handed the clerk my plastic, and he handed me our room key.
Sam was unusually silent on the way to the room. I wasn’t sure if he was mad, or just didn’t trust me.
I opened the door to the room; Sam followed me in and closed the door. “All right, what gives, Jake? Are you trying to let her get away again?”
“Of course not, Sam. You’re supposed to be my friend — do you really think I would do that again?”
“You let her go once.”
“OK. I’ll admit it, I really like her, Sam, but I don’t think she did it. I think she’s been framed.”
“You know they all say that, Jake.”
“Yeah, I know, Sam, but this doesn’t feel right. Think about it: She worked for the guy for five years, and all of a sudden she robs him? That doesn’t make sense to me, and there is something different about Sally. I can’t explain it. Call it a gut feeling, intuition, or those innocent blue eyes. I don’t know, anyway, I messed up. I made myself Judge and Jury and I let her go.”
“Why are you so intent on catching her, if you don’t think she’s guilty?”
“She needs to clear her name before the real bad guys get away. If they get away it will ruin her life, and it would be my fault, Sam, because I let her go.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense, at least in your warped little mind. All I want is the money.” Sam looked at me and smiled. “So, why are we not going to Ganymede?”
“I think she is going to Titan, and that is where we will catch up to her.”
“What makes you so sure she is going to Titan and not Ganymede?”
“Well, ol’ buddy,” I said, putting my arm on his shoulder. “Think about it. Each destination has been only one hyperspace jump. Ganymede is two jumps. Titan and Charon are the only ports within one hyper jump, and she just left Charon.”
“I’m going to have to start calling you Sherlock Johnson.”
“Well, let’s wait and see if I’m right first,” I said, turning off the light.
* * *
“I’ll file the flight-plan, Jake, if you want to do the pre-flight.”
“Sure,” I replied. Sam was wearing his old black-felt cowboy hat he had bought when we first decided to follow in Nick’s footsteps. Although Nick had been a bounty hunter and our hero when we were kids, I hadn’t thought of him in years. He always wore a black-felt cowboy hat. I wonder what happened to him?
An hour later we were bound for Titan, Sam sitting beside me at the helm, his black cowboy hat pulled down low over his eyes. “Ya know, Jake, if the Intergalactic Space Council could ever get a hold on these corrupted Colonies, they could enforce the laws on interstellar space travel. Then everyone would have to file a flight plan, and our lives would be a lot easier.”
“Yeah, then things would be boring, Sam. It would be too easy,” I replied. “Hang on, Sam, here comes hyper.”
We came out of hyper an hour from Titan, right on schedule.
I got on the radio and was told to land vertically on Echo 11. I was letting the little Planet Hopper settle down slowly with the gravitational pull of Titan when I saw Sally’s ship off the starboard side, around Foxtrot 7. “Sam, look over there. Does that look familiar to you?”
“I’ll be damned, you hit the nail right on the head this time, Sherlock,” Sam said, shaking his head.
I waited in the Planet Hopper while Sam went to see if he could get into Foxtrot taxiway. We were hoping to plant a bug on board.
When Sam returned he told me he couldn’t get into Foxtrot. “If she gives us the slip, she’s gone.”
We walked downtown. We had her now, it was only a matter of time. We checked the first three bars of the 11 on Titan, with no luck.
We went into the fourth bar. Sam showed the bartender a picture and asked if he remembered her. “Yeah, I remember her, she sat at the far end of the bar last night, real quiet, like she was trying not to draw attention to herself.”
We decided to come back later that night. Since we had a couple of hours to kill, we figured we’d check a few of the hotels.
The first hotel yielded no results; they had not seen her. At the second hotel, however, we struck pay dirt.
Not only was she registered there, she was in her room. Sam and I went to her room, and I knocked on the door while Sam waited down the hall. If she somehow got by me, he would still be able to stop her.
Sally answered the door. “Hi, Jake. Well it took you long enough,” she said. She turned and walked over to the vanity, where she sat and continued to put on her eye shadow. “I’ve been waiting for you for two days.”
“You knew I’d catch up with you?”
“Of course. You’re not stupid, Jake. I knew sooner or later you’d be here; all I had to do was wait.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“Why did you let me?” she replied, smiling in the mirror at him. “You looked so cute lying there, trying to look like you were sleeping.”
“Sally, we need to go back and clear your name.”
“Yeah, I know, I was just waiting for you.” She stood up and walked toward me. “I’m scared, alone.”
She placed her arms around my neck and I placed my arms around her waist, and we kissed once again. I knew I had found what I was looking for; the bounty hunter had found his soul mate.
“Knock, knock,” said Sam, entering the room. “Can you convince me you’re innocent?”
“I don’t know, I couldn’t convince the cops. I didn’t even know he was robbed until I came to work Monday and was arrested.”
“You can’t prove where you were, is that why they won’t believe you?”
“That’s right, I was alone. I enjoy going out into the woods and spending the weekends camping, usually alone. I’ve done it my entire life.”
“Then why did you jump bail?”
“They had already made up their minds I was guilty. They found my prints on the safe; so right away I’m guilty of robbing my boss. The fact that I didn’t have the money, or that I had worked there for five years, didn’t make any difference.”
“How did your prints get on the safe?”
“I’m the housekeeper. I dust and clean that safe all the time.”
Sam was thorough. He asked a lot more questions than I did, and I have known Sam a long time; I could tell he was convinced.
“OK, what we need to do is to find the real bad guys.”
“That’s great, Sam,” I said, “but where do we start?”
“At the beginning Jake, just like we always do.”
* * *
We arrived back on Earth, and Sally stayed in the Planet Hopper where she wouldn’t be seen. Sam and I went to see what we could find out.
I went to the police station to see what I could find out about the case; as bounty hunters we had access to the cases we were working on. I found out there were no fingerprints on the dial of the safe at all. The only fingerprints they had on the safe were on the top of the safe, which were Sally’s. They did, however, find some unidentifiable prints on the windowsill.
“A good lawyer would rip this case apart, Sam.”
“I know, Jake, but what we need to do is make sure there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’s innocent, and the best way we can do that, Jake, is catch the real bad guy,” Sam replied.
“I appreciate that, Sam, but I can’t pay you, I don’t have any money,” Sally added.
“Did I ask for money?” Sam asked. “All I want is to be best man at the wedding.”
With that Sam smiled and left to check his contacts on the seedier side of town. Sam was cut out for that job, and I wasn’t. He seemed to be able to get information from anyone.
Sam found out from a reliable source — as reliable as crooks can be, that is — that the O’Reilly brothers came into some money about eight months earlier, about the same time Sally’s boss was robbed.
The two brothers had a history of petty theft, mostly robbery, all small-time stuff. This would have been the largest haul they ever made — instead of measuring their take in hundreds, it would be measured in thousands. The boys would be celebrating for months on their good luck.
Because they were small-time, they would not be listed in the intergalactic database for fingerprints; they only would be listed on the local database for Earth.
With that in mind, I called the cop shop and talked to Lieutenant Simmons. He did not like my idea and thought it was a waste of time. But when I asked him if he would humor me, he agreed, saying it would be a few days but he would do it — this was, however, against his better judgment.
“I think you should take me to jail and collect the reward, so we will have operating expenses; after you catch them you can come back and get me,” Sally suggested.
Sam thought a minute and replied, “No, I don’t like it. If the O’Reilly boys give us the slip, or the fingerprints don’t match, and they have the trial while we’re out here pickin’ our seats, and you get convicted and go to jail, we might never get you out.”
“But she would be proven innocent,” I added.
“Right, but it is a long process, sometimes years to get an innocent person out of jail, even if you have the person that actually committed the crime in jail and locked up. No, we are better off not turning her in until we have the crook; we still collect our bounty regardless.”
This made sense to me, but then anything to keep Sally out of jail made sense to me.
The boys liked to hang out on Charon; maybe it would be worth our time to go there and talk to them.
* * *
We arrived on Charon with me sleeping and Sally curled up in my arms and Sam in the hallway hollering and banging on the door for me to get up. Hell, I was comfortable.
We went to the local constable, which was standard procedure; the constable was also standard procedure. He didn’t know anything, didn’t want to know anything, and had never seen anyone. Which is what we expected.
Even if he knew anything, he wouldn’t tell us. He said something about not rocking the boat, but in actuality he was scared.
We decided not to ask too many questions. It doesn’t take long for word to travel in these criminal-infested colonies that a bounty hunter is looking for you, and we didn’t want to warn them.
We started in the same place we started with Sally, the local watering hole called The Travelers Nest. The place was crowded, especially with the hard cases standing at the bar. We got a table by the door where we could see everybody coming and going.
The bar hadn’t changed much — maybe the long mirror was a little grubbier — but how could you really tell?
After about 15 minutes, Sam went to the bar and grabbed a guy by the shoulder and threw him against the wall beside the back door.
“What’s Sam doing?” Sally asked.
“Gathering information,” I replied, sipping on my whiskey. “That’s Fingers McAfee, a Scottish pickpocket and cousin of the O’Reilly brothers. If you find Fingers, the brothers are not far away.”
We watched Sam as he talked to Fingers. I could see Sam was starting to run out of patience, and when it came to guys like Fingers, Sam didn’t have an overabundance of patience to begin with.
As Sally and I watched the interrogation, Sam dragged Fingers out the back door. Now Sam does a lot of things I don’t agree with, but he always gets the answers we need, so I just looked the other way.
Sam came in after a few a minutes with Fingers in tow. He set Fingers down at our table and said, “Fingers was nice enough to tell us the brothers are going to meet him here tonight. Thank you, Fingers.”
As I looked at Fingers, I thought what a master Sam was. You could see Fingers was plainly in pain, but there was not a mark or bruise apparent on the man anywhere.
“I t-t-told ya what ya wanted, why c-c-can’t I go? I d-d-d-don’t know anything more,” he managed to sob out.
“Do I look like a complete idiot, Fingers?” Sam replied, pouring Fingers a drink. “You would love to tell the brothers I’m here, wouldn’t ya?”
“I wouldn’t tell, let me go.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
We had been sitting there for about an hour when the brothers came in. They walked right by us and went straight to the bar.
We got up and followed them. Thomas said something to the bartender, and the bartender pointed our way.
The bothers turned and looked just as we got to them. Sally was sitting beside Fingers with her hand in her pocket; she was holding the laser Sam gave her to guard Fingers.
As Thomas turned, Sam told him he was under arrest, and in one fluid move he put a knife into Sam. As Sam went down, I clubbed Thomas over the head with the barrel of my laser and stuck it into Patrick’s face.
The bartender stuck a laser in my face and told me to drop my laser.
“No, you drop your laser.” Sally had come out of nowhere. “You are interfering with a bounty hunter in the performance of his duties, and I have no problem with the idea of shooting you.”
I pulled my license out and laid it on the bar, while continuing to hold the laser in Patrick’s face with my other hand.
The bartender dropped the laser on the bar and Sally picked it up and threw it over by our table. I noticed Fingers was gone, but we didn’t really want him anyway.
I told the bartender to call an ambulance for Sam, and I placed the handcuffs on the brothers and added leg irons.
I waited until the ambulance had Sam and Sally aboard before I threw a beer in Thomas’s face, waking him up for the long walk to the Planet Hopper.
I locked the brothers in a cell on the ship, and went to the hospital to see Sam. Luckily, Sam was not hurt badly; the knife went in just below the ribcage but had somehow missed the lungs. Sam always did lead a charmed life.
After visiting with Sam, Sally and I left for Earth. I went down below to the cell to see the brothers. I used the old adage that had been around since the 19th Century, and it still worked because it was an honest assessment.
“Ya know, boys, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way,” I told the brothers.
“What’s the easy way?” Thomas asked.
“The easy way is to confess to the robbery and go to jail for robbery.”
“What’s the hard way?” asked Patrick.
“The hard way is to plead not guilty. We already have you dead to rights on the robbery, we have fingerprints, we have most of the money, and we have you in the vicinity. You will go to prison on the robbery charge. Plus we will file charges for attempted murder of my partner, Sam. And we have enough witnesses that saw you knife Sam that you will go to prison on both counts.” I paused for effect, then continued: “You are looking at about 15 years the easy way, about 40 years the hard way. The choice is yours — what’s it gonna be?”
Sally was cleared of all charges. The brothers went to prison on Titan for ten years.
* * *
“Well, kids, Sally and I were married the following June, and Sam was best man. And that is how I met your grandmother.” I smiled.
“We settled down and raised a family, and your Uncle Sam, well, he’s still out there somewhere, chasin’ the bad guys.”
I stood up and stretched. “OK, kids, it’s late, off to bed with ya now. If your grandmother gets home and you’re still up, I’ll be in trouble with Twinkle Toes.” *
About the Author: Frederick G. Soper, known as Fred to his friends and family, is 56 years old and was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. His mother can attest to this, as she was present at the time. Fred retired from the United States Air Force after 20 years of undetected crime and is now living just outside Caribou, Maine. He is soon to return to his hometown in Hillsdale County, Michigan. Fred has always loved Science Fiction and decided after his retirement to try his hand at writing it. He is not making a lot of money, but what the hell, the whole purpose is to enjoy it, ain’t it?
(c) 2004 Frederick G. Soper firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago was once a Bounty Hunter who quit after losing Han Solo for a third time. Like the lass in the art, he also wears pink shorts and socks. They just look green to you when he wears ’em.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com/