POLICE YOUR PLANET
By ERIC VAN LHIN
SCIENCE FICTION AVALON BOOKS 22 EAST 60TH STREET NEW YORK
Copyright, 1956, by Eric van Lhin
[Transcriber's note: This is a rule 6 clearance. A copyright renewal could not be found.]
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 56-13313
PUBLISHED SIMULTANEOUSLY IN THE DOMINION OF CANADA BY THE RYERSON PRESS, TORONTO
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE COLONIAL PRESS INC., CLINTON, MASSACHUSETTS
I One Way Ticket
II Honest Izzy
III The Graft Is Green
IV Captain Murdoch
VI Sealed Letter
VIII Vote Early and Often
X Marriage of Convenience
XI The Sky's the Limit
XII Wife or Prisoner?
XIII Arrest Mayor Wayne!
XIV Full Circle
XV Murdoch's Mantle
XVI Get the Dome!
XVII Security Payoff
POLICE YOUR PLANET
ONE WAY TICKET
There were ten passengers in the little pressurized cabin of the electric bus that shuttled between the rocket field and Marsport. Ten men, the driver—and Bruce Gordon.
He sat apart from the others, as he had kept to himself on the ten-day trip between Earth and Mars, with the yellow stub of his ticket still stuck defiantly in the band of his hat, proclaiming that Earth had paid his passage without his permission being asked. His big, lean body was slumped slightly in the seat. There was no expression on his face.
He listened to the driver explaining to a couple of firsters that they were actually on what appeared to be one of the mysterious canals when viewed from Earth. Every book on Mars gave the fact that the canals were either an illusion or something which could not be detected on the surface of the planet.
He glanced back toward the rocket that still pointed skyward back on the field, and then forward toward the city of Marsport, sprawling out in a mess of slums beyond the edges of the dome that had been built to hold air over the central part. And at last he stirred and reached for the yellow stub.
He grimaced at the ONE WAY stamped on it, then tore it into bits and let the pieces scatter over the floor. He counted them as they fell; thirty pieces, one for each year of his life. Little ones for the two years he'd wasted as a cop. Shreds for the four years as a kid in the ring before that—he'd never made the top. Bigger bits for two years also wasted in trying his hand at professional gambling; and the six final pieces that spelled his rise from a special reporter helping out with a police shake-up coverage, through a regular leg-man turning up rackets, and on up like a meteor until.... He'd made his big scoop, all right. He'd dug up enough about the Mercury scandals to double circulation.
And the government had explained what a fool he'd been for printing half of a story that was never supposed to be printed until all could be revealed. They'd given Bruce Gordon his final assignment.
He shrugged. He'd bought a suit of airtight coveralls and a helmet at the field; he had some cash, and a set of reader cards in his pocket. The supply house, Earthside, had assured him that this pattern had never been exported to Mars. With them and the knife he'd selected, he might get by.
The Solar Security office had given him the knife practice, to make sure he could use it, just as they'd made sure he hadn't taken extra money with him beyond the regulation amount.
"You're a traitor, and we'd like nothing better than seeing your guts spilled," the Security man had told him. "That paper you swiped was marked top secret. But we don't get many men with your background—cop, tinhorn, fighter—who have brains enough for our work. So you're bound for Mars, rather than the Mercury mines. If..."
It was a big if, and a vague one. They needed men on Mars who could act as links in their information bureau, and be ready to work on their side when the expected trouble came. They wanted men who could serve them loyally, even without orders. If he did them enough service, they might let him back to Earth. If he caused trouble enough, they could still ship him to Mercury.
"And suppose nothing happens?" he asked.
"Then who cares? You're just lucky enough to be alive."
"And what makes you think I'm going to be a spy for Security?"
The other had shrugged. "Why not, Gordon? You've been a spy for a yellow scandal sheet. Why not for us?"
Gordon had been smart enough to realize that perhaps Security was right.
They were in the slums around the city now. Marsport had been settled faster than it was ready to receive. Temporary buildings had been thrown up, and then had remained, decaying into deathtraps. It wasn't a pretty view that visitors got as they first reached Mars. But nobody except the romantic fools had ever thought frontiers were pretty.
The drummer who had watched Gordon tear up his yellow stub moved forward now. "First time?" he asked.
Gordon nodded, mentally cataloguing the drummer as the cockroach type, midway between the small-businessman slug and the petty-crook spider types that weren't worth bothering with. But the other took it as interest.
"Been here dozens of times, myself. Risking your life just to go into Marsport. Why Congress doesn't clean it up, I'll never know!"
Gordon's mind switched to the readers in his bag. The cards were plastic, and should be good for a week or so of use before they showed wear. During that time, by playing it carefully, he should have his stake. Then, if the gaming tables here were as crudely run as an oldtimer he'd known on Earth had said, he could try a coup.
"... be at Mother Corey's soon," the fat little drummer babbled on. "Notorious—worst place on Mars. Take it from me, brother, that's something! Even the cops are afraid to go in there. See it? There, to your left!"
The name was vaguely familiar as one of the sore spots of Marsport. Bruce Gordon looked, and spotted the ragged building, half a mile outside the dome. It had been a rocket-maintenance hangar once, then had been turned into temporary dwelling for the first deportees, when Earth began flooding Mars. Now, seeming to stand by habit alone, it radiated desolation and decay.
He stood up, grabbing for his bag, and spinning the drummer aside. He jerked forward, and caught the driver's shoulder. "Getting off!"
The driver shrugged his hand away. "Don't be crazy, mister! They—" He turned, saw it was Gordon, and his face turned blank. "It's your life, buster," he said, and reached for the brake. "I'll give you five minutes to get into coveralls and helmet and out through the airlock."
Gordon needed less than that; he'd practiced all the way from Earth. The transparent plastic of the coveralls went on easily enough, and his hands found the seals quickly. He slipped his few possessions into a bag at his belt, slid the knife into a spring holster above his wrist, and picked up the bowl-shaped helmet. It seated on a plastic seal, and the little air compressor at his back began to hum, ready to turn the thin wisp of Mars' atmosphere into a barely breathable pressure. He tested the Marspeaker—an amplifier and speaker in another pouch, designed to raise the volume of his voice to a level where it would carry through even the air of Mars.
The driver swore at the lash of sound, and grabbed for the airlock switch.
* * * * *
Gordon moved down unpaved streets that zig-zagged along, thick with the filth of garbage and poverty—the part of Mars never seen in the newsreels, outside the shock movies. Thin kids with big eyes and sullen mouths crowded the streets in their airsuits, yelling profanity. The street was filled with people watching with a numbed hunger for any kind of excitement.
It was late afternoon, obviously. Men were coming from the few bus routes, lugging tools and lunch baskets, slumped and beaten from labor in the atomic plants, the Martian conversion farms, and the industries that had come inevitably where inefficiency was better than the high prices of imports. The saloons were doing well enough, apparently, from the number that streamed in through their airlock entrances. But Gordon saw one of the bartenders paying money to a thickset person with an arrogant sneer; he knew then that the few profits from the cheap beer were never going home with the man. Storekeepers in the cheap little shops had the same lines on their faces as they saw on those of their customers.
Poverty and misery were the keynotes here, rather than the evil half-world the drummer had babbled about. But to Gordon's trained eyes, there was plenty of outright rottenness, too.
He grimaced, grateful that the supercharger on his airsuit filtered out some of the smell which the thin air carried. He'd thought he was familiar with human misery from his own Earth slum background. But there was no attempt to disguise it here.
Ahead, Mother Corey's reared up—a huge, ugly half-cylinder of pitted metal and native bricks, showing the patchwork of decades, before repairs had been abandoned. There were no windows, though once there had been; and the front was covered with a big sign that spelled out Condemned. The airseal was filthy, and there was no bell.
Gordon kicked against the side, waited, and kicked again. A slit opened and closed. He waited, then drew his knife and began prying at the worn cement around the airseal, looking for the lock that had been there.
The seal suddenly quivered, indicating that metal inside had been withdrawn. Gordon grinned tautly, stepped through, and pushed the blade against the inner plastic.
"All right, all right," a voice whined out of the darkness. "You don't have to puncture my seal. You're in."
"Then call them off!"
A wheezing chuckle answered him, and a phosphor bulb glowed weakly, shedding some light on a filthy hall. "Okay, boys," the voice said, "come on down. He's alone, anyhow. What's pushing, stranger?"
"A yellow ticket," Gordon told him, "and a government allotment that'll last me two weeks in the dome. I figure on making it last six here, and don't let my being a firster give you hot palms. My brother was Lanny Gordon!"
It happened to be true, though Bruce Gordon hadn't seen his brother from the time the man had left the family, as a young punk, to the day they finally convicted him on his twenty-first murder. But here, if it was like places he'd known on Earth, even second-hand contact with "muscle" was useful.
It seemed to work. A huge man oozed out of the shadows, his gray face contorting its doughy fat into a yellow-toothed grin, and a filthy hand waved back the others. There were a few wisps of long, gray hair on the head and face, and they quivered as he moved forward.
"Looking for a room?" he whined.
"I'm looking for Mother Corey."
"Then you're looking at him, cobber. Sleep on the floor, want a bunk, squat with four, or room and duchess to yourself?"
There was a period of haggling, followed by a wait as Mother Corey kicked four grumbling men out of a four-by-seven hole on the second floor. Gordon's money had carried more weight than his brother's reputation; for that, Corey humored his guest's wish for privacy. "All yours, cobber, while your crackle's blue."
It was a filthy, dark place. In one corner was an unsheeted bed. There was a rusty bucket for water, a hole kicked through the floor for waste water. Plumbing, and such luxuries, apparently hadn't existed for years—except for the small cistern and worn water-recovery plant in the basement, beside the tired-looking weeds in the hydroponic tanks that tried unsuccessfully to keep the air breathable.
"What about a lock on the door?" Gordon asked.
"What good would it do you? Got a different way here, we have. One credit a week, and you get Mother Corey's word nobody busts in. And it sticks, cobber—one way or the other."
Gordon paid, and tossed his pouch on the filthy bed. With a little work, the place could be cleaned enough.
He pulled the cards out of his pouch, trying to be casual. Mother Corey stood staring at the pack while Bruce Gordon changed out of his airsuit, gagging faintly as the full effluvium of the place hit him. "Where does a man eat around here?"
Mother Corey pried his eyes off the cards and ran a thick tongue over heavy lips. "Eh? Oh. Eat. There's a place about ten blocks back. Cobber, stop teasing me! With elections coming up, and the boys loaded with vote money back in town—with a deck of cheaters like that—you want to eat?"
He picked the deck up fondly, while a faraway look came into his clouded eyes. "Same ones—same identical ones I wore out nigh twenty years ago. Smuggled two decks up here. Set to clean up—and I did, for a while." He shook his head sadly, and handed the deck back to Gordon. "Come on down. For the sight of these, I'll give you the lay for your pitch. And when your luck's made or broken, remember Mother Corey was your friend first, and your old Mother can get longer use from them than you can."
He waddled off, telling of his plans to take Mars for a cleaning, once long ago. Gordon followed him, staring at the surrounding filth.
His thoughts were churning so busily that he didn't see the blonde girl until she had forced her way past them on the stairs. Then he turned back, but she had vanished into one of the rooms.
A lot could be done in ten days, when a man knew what he was after. It was exactly ten days later. Bruce Gordon stood in the motley crowd inside the barnlike room where Fats ran a bar along one wall, and filled the rest of the space with assorted tables—all worn. Gordon was sweating slightly as he stood at the roulette table, where both zero and double-zero were reserved for the house.
The croupier was a little wizened man wanted on Earth. His eyes darted down to the point of the knife that showed under Gordon's sleeve, and he licked his lips, showing snaggled teeth. The wheel hesitated and came to a halt, with the ball trembling in a pocket.
"Twenty-one wins again." He pushed chips toward Gordon, as if every one of them came out of his own pay. "Place your bets."
Two others around the table watched narrowly as Gordon left his chips where they were; they then exchanged looks and shook their heads. In a Martian roulette game, numbers with that much riding just didn't turn up. The croupier shifted his weight, then caught the wheel and spun it savagely.
Gordon's leg ached from his strained position, but he shifted his weight onto it more heavily, and sweat popped out on the croupier's face. His eyes darted down, to where the full weight of Gordon seemed to rest on the heel that was grinding into his instep. He tried to pull his foot off the button that was concealed in the floor.
The heel ground harder, bringing a groan from him. And the ball hovered over Twenty-one and came to rest there once more.
Slowly, painfully, the little man counted stacks of chips and moved them across the table toward Gordon, his hands trembling.
Gordon straightened from his awkward position, drawing his foot back, and reached out for the pile of chips. Then he scooped it up and nodded. "Okay. I'm not greedy."
The strain of watching the games until he could spot the fix, and then holding the croupier down, had left him momentarily weak, but Gordon could still feel the tensing of the crowd. Now he let his eyes run over them—the night citizens of Marsport, lower-dome section. Spacemen who'd missed their ships; men who'd come here with dreams, and stayed without them—the shopkeepers who couldn't meet their graft and were here to try to win it on a last chance; street women and petty grifters. The air was thick with their unwashed bodies—all Mars smelled, since water was still too rare for frequent bathing—and their cheap perfume, and clouded with cheap Marsweed cigarettes.
Gordon swung where their eyes pointed, until he saw Fats Eller sidling through the groups, then let the knife slip into the palm of his hand as the crowd seemed to hold its breath. Fats plucked a sheaf of Martian bank notes from his pocket and tossed them to the croupier.
"Cash in his chips." Then his pouchy eyes turned to Gordon. "Get your money, punk, and get out! And stay out!"
For a moment, as he began pocketing the bills, Gordon thought he was going to get away that easily. Fats watched him dourly, then swung on his heel, just as a shrill, strangled cry went up from someone in the crowd.
The deportee let his glance jerk to it, then froze. His eyes caught the sight of a hand pointing behind him, and he knew it was too crude a trick to bother with. But he paused, shocked to see the girl he'd seen on Mother Corey's stairs gazing at him in well-feigned warning. In spite of his better judgment, she caught his eyes and drew them down over curves and swells that would always be right for arousing a man's passion.
He glanced back at Fats, who had started to turn again. Gordon took a step backwards, preparing to duck. Again the girl's finger motioned behind him; he disregarded it—and then realized it was a mistake.
It was the faintest swish in the air that caught his ear; he brought his shoulders up and his head down. Fast as his reaction was, it was almost too late. The weapon crunched against his shoulder and slammed over the back of his neck, almost knocking him out.
His heel lashed back and caught the shin of the man behind him. Gordon's other leg spun him around, still crouching; the knife in his hand started coming up, sharp edge leading, and aimed for the belly of the bruiser who confronted him. The pug saw the blade and tried to check his lunge.
Gordon felt the blade strike; but he was already pulling his swing, and it only gashed a long streak. The thug shrieked hoarsely and fell over. That left the way clear to the door; Bruce Gordon was through it and into the night in two soaring leaps. After only a few days on Mars, his legs were still hardened to Earth gravity, and he had more than a double advantage over the others.
Outside, it was the usual Martian night in the poorer section of the dome, which meant near-darkness. Most of the street lights had never been installed—graft had eaten up the appropriations, instead—and the nearest one was around the corner, leaving the side of Fats' Place in the shadow. Gordon checked his speed, threw himself flat, and rolled back against the building, just beyond the steps that led to the street.
Feet pounded out of the door above as Fats and the bouncer broke through. Gordon's hand had already knotted a couple of coins into his kerchief; he waited until the two turned uncertainly up the street and tossed it. It struck the wall near the corner, sailed on, and struck again at the edge of the unpaved street with a muffled sound.
Fats and the other swung, just in time to see a bit of dust where it had hit. "Around the corner!" Fats yelled. "After him, and shoot!"
In the shadows, Gordon jerked sharply. It was rare enough to have a gun here; but to use one inside the dome was unthinkable. His eyes shot up, to where the few dim lights were reflected off the great plastic sheet that was held up by air pressure and reinforced with heavy webbing. It was the biggest dome ever built—large enough to cover all of Marsport before the slums sprawled out beyond it; it still covered half the city, and made breathing possible here without a helmet. But the dome wasn't designed to stand stray bullets; and having firearms inside it—except for a few chosen men—was a crime punishable by death.
Fats had swung back, and was now herding the crowd inside his place. He might have been only a small gambling-house owner, but within his own circle his words carried weight.
Gordon got to his hands and knees and began crawling away from the corner. He came to a dark alley, smelling of decay where garbage had piled up without being carted away. Beyond lay a lighted street, and a sign that announced Mooney's Amusement Palace—Drinks Free to Patrons! He looked up and down the street, then walked briskly toward the somewhat plusher gambling hall there. Fats couldn't touch him in a competitor's place.
Inside Mooney's, he headed quickly for the dice table. He lost steadily on small bets for half an hour, admiring the skilled palming of the "odds" cubes. The loss was only a tiny dent in his new pile, but Gordon bemoaned it properly—as if he were broke—and moved over to the bar. This one had seats. The bartender had a consolation boilermaker waiting; he gulped half of it before he realized it had been needled with ether.
Beside him, a cop was drinking the same slowly, watching another policeman at a Canfield game. He was obviously winning, and now he got up and came over to cash in his chips.
"You'd think they'd lose count once in a while," he complained to his companion. "But nope—fifty even a night, no more ... Well, come on, Pete. We'd better get back to Fats and tell him the swindler got away."
Gordon followed them out and turned south, down the street toward the edge of the dome and the entrance where he'd parked his airsuit and helmet. He kept glancing back, whenever he was in the thicker shadows, but there seemed to be no one following him.
At the gate of the dome, he looked back again, then ducked into the locker building. He threaded through the maze of the lockers with his knife ready in his hand, trying not to attract suspicion. At this hour, though, most of the place was empty. The crowds of foremen and deliverymen who'd be going in and out through the day were lacking.
He found his suit and helmet and clamped them on quickly, transferring the knife to its spring sheath outside the suit. He checked the tiny batteries that were recharged by generators in the soles of the boots with every step. Then he paid his toll for the opening of the private slit and went through, into the darkness outside the dome.
Lights bobbed about—police in pairs, patrolling in the better streets, walking as far from the houses as they could; a few groups, depending on numbers for safety; some of the very poor, stumbling about and hoping for a drink somehow; and probably hoods from the gangs that ruled the nights here.
Gordon left his torch unlighted, and moved along; there was a little illumination from the phosphorescent markers at some of the corners, and from the stars. He could just make his way without marking himself with a light.
Damn it, he should have hired a few of the younger bums from Mother Corey's. Here he couldn't hear footsteps. He located a pair of patrolling cops, and followed them down one street, until they swung off. Then he was on his own again.
"Gov'nor!" The word barely reached him, and Bruce Gordon spun around, the knife twitching into his hand. It was a thin kid of perhaps eighteen behind him, carrying a torch that was filtered to bare visibility. It swung up, and he saw a pock-marked face that was twisted in a smile meant to be ingratiating.
"You've got a pad on your tail," the kid said, again as low as his amplifier would permit. "Need a convoy?"
Gordon studied him briefly, and grinned. Then his grin wiped out as the kid's arm flashed to his shoulder and back, a series of quick jerks that seemed almost a blur. Four knives stood buried in the ground at Gordon's feet, forming a square—and a fifth was in the kid's hand.
"How much?" he asked, as the kid scooped up the blades and shoved them expertly back into shoulder sheaths. The kid's hand shaped a C quickly, and Gordon slipped his arm through a self-sealing slit in the airsuit and brought out two of them.
"Thanks, gov'nor," the kid said, stowing them away. "You won't regret it." Gordon started to turn. Then the kid's voice rose sharply to a yell. "Okay, honey, he's the Joe!"
Out of the darkness, ten to a dozen figures loomed up. The kid had jumped aside with a lithe leap, and now stood between Gordon and the group moving in for the kill. Gordon swung to run, and found himself surrounded. His eyes flickered around, trying to spot something in the darkness that would give him shelter.
A bludgeon was suddenly hurtling toward him, and he ducked it, his blood thick in his throat and his ears ringing with the same pressure of fear he'd always known just before he was kayoed in the ring. Then he selected what he hoped was the thinnest section of the attackers and leaped forward. With luck, he might jump over them, using his Earth strength.
There was a flicker of dawnlight in the sky, now, however; and he made out others behind, ready for just such a move. He changed his lunge in mid-stride, and brought his arm back with the knife. It met a small round shield on the arm of the man he had chosen, and was deflected at once.
"Give 'em hell, gov'nor," the kid's voice yelled, and the little figure was beside him, a shower of blades seeming to leap from his hand in the glare of his bare torch. Shields caught them frantically, and then the kid was in with a heavy club he'd torn from someone's hand.
Gordon had no time to consider his sudden traitor-ally. He bent to the ground, seizing the first rocks he could find, and threw them. One of the hoods dropped his club in ducking; Gordon caught it up and swung in a single motion that stretched the other out.
Then it was a melee. The kid's open torch, stuck on his helmet, gave them light enough, until Gordon could switch on his own. Then the kid dropped behind him, fighting back-to-back. Here, in close quarters, the attackers were no longer using knives. One might be turned on its owner, and a slit suit meant death by asphyxiation.
Gordon saw the blonde girl on the outskirts, her face taut and glowing. He tried to reach her with a thrown club wrested from another man, but she leaped nimbly aside, shouting commands.
Two burly goons were suddenly working together. Gordon swung at one, ducked a blow from the other, and then saw the first swinging again. He tried to bring his club up—but knew it was too late. A dull weight hit the side of his head, and he felt himself falling.
* * * * *
It took only minutes for dawn to become day on Mars, and the sun was lighting up the messy section of back street when Bruce Gordon's eyes opened and the pain of sight struck his aching head. He groaned, then looked frantically for the puff of escaping air. But his suit was still sealed. Ahead of him, the kid lay sprawled out, blood trickling from an ugly bruise along his jaw.
Then Gordon felt something on his suit, and his eyes darted to hands just finishing an emergency patch. His eyes darted up and met those of the blonde vixen!
Amazement kept him motionless for a second. There were tears in the eyes of the girl, and a sniffling sound reached him through her Marspeaker. Apparently, she hadn't noticed that he had revived, though her eyes were on him. She finished the patch, and ran perma-sealer over it. Then she began putting her supplies away, tucking them into a bag that held notes that could only have been stolen from his pockets—her share of the loot, apparently.
He was still thinking clumsily as she got to her feet and turned to leave. She cast a glance back, hesitated, and then began to move off.
He got his feet under him slowly, but he was reviving enough to stand the pain in his head. He came to his feet, and leaped after her. In the thin air, his lunge was silent, and he was grabbing her before she knew he was up.
She swung with a single gasp, and her hand darted down for her knife, sweeping it up and toward him; he barely caught the wrist coming toward him. Then he had her firmly, bringing her arm back and up, until the knife fell from her fingers.
She screamed and began writhing, twisting her hard young body like a boa constrictor in his hands. But he was stronger. He bent her back over his knee, until a mangled moan was coming from her speaker; then his foot kicked out, knocking her feet out from under her. He let her hit the ground, caught both her wrists in his, and brought his knee down on her throat, applying more pressure until she lay still. Then he reached for the pouch.
"Damn you!" Her cry was more in anguish then it had been when he was threatening to break her back. "You damned firster, I'll kill you if it's the last thing I do. And after I saved your miserable life...."
"Thanks for that," he grunted. "Next time don't be a fool. When you kill a man for his money, he doesn't feel very grateful for your reviving him."
He started to count the money. About a tenth of what he had won—not even enough to open a cheap poker den, let alone bribe his way back to Earth.
The girl was out from under his knee at the first relaxation of pressure. Her hand scooped up the knife, and she came charging toward him, her mouth a taut slit across half-bared teeth. Gordon rolled out of her swing, and brought his foot up. It caught her squarely under the chin, and she went down and out.
He picked up the scattered money and her knife, then made sure she was still breathing. He ran his hands over her, looking for a hiding place for more money; there was none.
"Good work, gov'nor," the kid's thin voice approved, and Gordon swung to see the other getting up painfully. The kid grinned, rubbing his bruise. "No hard feelings, gov'nor, now! They paid me to stall you, so I did. You bonused me to protect you, and I bloody well tried. Honest Izzy, that's me. Gonna buy me a job as a cop. That's why I needed the scratch. Okay, gov'nor?"
Gordon hauled back his hand to knock the other from his feet, and then dropped it. A grin writhed onto his face, and broke into sudden grudging laughter.
"Okay, Izzy," he admitted. "For this stinking planet, I guess you're something of a saint. Come along, and we'll both apply for that job—after I get my stuff."
He might as well join the law. Security had wanted him to police their damned planet for them—and he might as well do it officially.
He tossed the girl's knife down beside her, motioned to Izzy, and began heading for Mother Corey's.
THE GRAFT IS GREEN
Izzy seemed surprised when he found that Gordon was turning in to the quasi-secret entrance to Mother Corey's. "Coming here myself," he explained. "Mother got ahold of a load of snow, and sent me out to contact a big pusher. Coming back, the goons picked me up and gave me the job on you. Hey, Mother!"
Bruce Gordon didn't ask how Mother Corey had acquired the dope. When Earth had deported all addicts two decades before, it had practically begged for dope smuggling.
The gross hulk of Mother Corey appeared almost at once. "Izzy and Bruce. Didn't know you'd met, cobbers. Contact, Izzy?"
"Ninety per cent for uncut," Izzy answered.
They went up to Gordon's hole-in-the-wall, with Mother Corey wheezing behind, while the rotten wood of the stairs groaned under his grotesque bulk. At his questions, Gordon told the story tersely.
Mother Corey nodded. "Same old angles, eh? Get enough to do the job, they mug you. Stop halfway, and the halls are closed to you. Pretty soon, they'll be trick-proof, anyhow; they're changing over to electric eyes. Eh, you haven't forgotten me, cobber?"
Gordon hadn't. The old wreck had demanded five per cent of his winnings for tipping him off. Mother Corey had too many cheap hoods among his friends to be fooled with. Gordon counted out the money reluctantly, while Izzy explained that they were going to be cops.
The old man shook his head, estimating what was left to Gordon. "Enough to buy a corporal's job, pay for your suit, and maybe get by," he decided. "Don't do it, cobber. You're the wrong kind. You take what you're doing serious. When you set out to tinhorn a living, you're a crook. Get you in a cop's outfit, and you'll turn honest. No place here for an honest cop—not with elections coming up, cobber. Well, I guess you gotta find out for yourself. Want a good room?"
Gordon's lips twitched. "Thanks, Mother, but I'll be staying inside the dome, I guess."
"So'll I," the old man gloated. "Setting in a chair all day, being an honest citizen. Cobber, I already own a joint there—a nice one, they tell me. Lights. Two water closets. Big rooms, six-by-ten—fifty of them, big enough for whole families. And strictly on the level, cobber. It's no hide-out, like this."
He rolled the money in his greasy fingers. "Now, with what I get from the pusher, I can buy off that hot spot on the police blotter. I can go in the dome and walk around, just like you." His eyes watered, and a tear went dripping down his nose. "I'm getting old. They'll be calling me 'Grandmother' pretty soon. So I'm turning my Chicken House over to my granddaughter and I'm going honest. Want a room?"
Gordon grinned, and nodded. Mother Corey knew the ropes, and could be trusted. "Didn't know you had a granddaughter."
Izzy snorted, and Mother Corey grinned wolfishly. "You met her, cobber. The blonde you shook down! Came up from Earth eight years ago, looking for me. I sold her to the head of the East Point gang. Since she killed him, she's been doing pretty well on her own. Mostly. Except when she makes a fool of herself, like she did with you. But she'll come around to where I'm proud of her, yet.... If you two want to carry in the snow, collect, and turn it over to Commissioner Arliss for me—I can't pass the dome till he gets it—I'll give you both rooms for six months free. Except for the lights and water, of course."
Izzy nodded, and Gordon shrugged. On Mars, it didn't seem odd to begin applying for a police job by carrying in narcotics. He wondered how they'd go about contacting the commissioner.
But that turned out to be simple enough. After collecting, Izzy led the way into a section marked "Special Taxes" and whispered a few casual words. The man at the desk went into an office marked private, and came back a few minutes later.
"Your friend has no record with us," he said in a routine voice. "I've checked through his tax forms, and they're all in order. We'll confirm officially, of course."
* * * * *
In the Applications section of the big Municipal Building, at the center of the dome, there was a long form to fill out at the desk; but the captain there had already had answers typed in.
"Save time, boys," he said genially. "And time's valuable, ain't it? Ah, yes." He took the sums they had ready—there was a standard price—and stamped their forms. "And you'll want suits. Isaacs? Good, here's your receipt. And you, Corporal Gordon. Right. Get your suits one floor down, end of the hall. And report in eight tomorrow morning!"
It was as simple as that. Bruce Gordon was lucky enough to get a fair fit in his suit. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be in uniform.
Izzy was more businesslike. "Hope they don't give us too bad territory, gov'nor," he remarked. "Pickings are always a little lean on the first few beats, but you can work some fairly well."
Gordon's chest fell; this was Mars!
The room at the new Mother Corey's—an unkempt old building near the edge of the dome—proved to be livable, though it was a shock to see Mother Corey himself in a decent suit, and using perfume.
The beat was in a shabby section where clerks and skilled laborers worked. It wasn't poor enough to offer the universal desperation that gave the gang hoodlums protective coloring, nor rich enough to have major rackets of its own.
Izzy was disgusted. "Cripes! Hope they've got a few cheap pushers around that don't pay protection direct to the captain. You take that store; I'll go in this one!"
The proprietor was a druggist who ran his own fountain where the synthetics that replaced honest Earth foods were compounded into sweet and sticky messes for the neighborhood kids. He looked up as Gordon came in; then his face fell. "New cop, eh? No wonder Gable collected yesterday, ahead of time. All right, you can look at my books. I've been paying fifty, but you'll have to wait until Friday."
Gordon nodded and swung on his heel, surprised to find that his stomach was turning. The man obviously couldn't afford fifty credits a week. But it was the same all along the street. Even Izzy admitted finally that they'd have to wait.
"That damned cop before us! He really tapped them! And we can't take less, so I guess we gotta wait until Friday."
* * * * *
The next day, Bruce Gordon made his first arrest. It was near the end of his shift, just as darkness was falling and the few lights were going on. He turned a corner and came to a short, heavy hoodlum backing out of a small liquor store with a knife in throwing position. The crook grunted as he started to turn and stumbled onto Gordon. His knife flashed up.
Without the need to worry about an airsuit, Gordon moved in, his arm jerking forward. He clipped the crook on the inside of the elbow, while grabbing the wrist with his other hand. The man went sailing over Gordon's head, to crash into the side of the building. He let out a yell.
Gordon rifled the hood's pockets, and located a roll of bills stuffed in. He dragged them out, before snapping cuffs on the man. Then he pulled the crook inside the store.
A woman stood there, moaning over a pale man on the floor; blood oozed from a welt on the back of his head. There was both gratitude and resentment as she looked up at Gordon.
"You'd better call the hospital," he told her sharply. "He may have a concussion. I've got the man who held you up."
"Hospital?" Her voice broke into another wail. "And who can afford hospitals? All week we work, all hours. He's old, he can't handle the cases. I do that. Me! And then you come, and you get your money. And he comes for his protection. Papa is sick. Sick, do you hear? He sees a doctor, he buys medicine. Then Gable comes. This man comes. We can't pay him! So what do we get—we get knifes in the faces, saps on the head—a concussion, you tell me! And all the money—the money we had to pay to get stocks to sell to pay off from the profits we don't make—all of it, he wants! Hospitals! You think they give away at the hospitals free?"
She fell to her knees, crying over the injured man.
Gordon tossed the roll of bills onto the floor beside her; the injury seemed only a scalp wound, and the old man was already beginning to groan. He opened his eyes and saw the bills in front of him, at which the woman was staring unbelievingly. His hand darted out, clutching it. "God!" he moaned softly, and his eyes turned up slowly to Gordon.
"In there!" It was a shout from outside. Gordon had just time to straighten up before the doorway was filled with two knife-men and a heavier one behind them.
His hands dropped to the handcuffed man on the floor, and he caught him up with a jerk, slapping his body back against the counter. He took a step forward, jerking his hands up and putting his Earth-adapted shoulders behind it. The hood sailed up and struck the two knife-men squarely.
There was a scream as their automatic attempts to save themselves buried both knives in the body of their friend. Then they went crashing down, and Gordon was over them.
* * * * *
The desk captain at the precinct house groaned as they came in, then shook his head. "Damn it," he said. "I suppose it can't be helped, though; you're new, Gordon. Hennessy, get the corpse to the morgue, and mark it down as a robbery attempt. I'm going to have to book you and your men, Mr. Jurgens!"
The heavy leader of the two angry knife-men grinned. "Okay, Captain. But it's going to slow down the work I'm doing on the Mayor's campaign for re-election! Damn that Maxie—I told him to be discreet. Hey, you know what you've got, though—a real considerate man! He gave the old guy his money back!"
They took Bruce Gordon's testimony, and sent him home.
Jurgens was waiting for him when he came on the beat. From his look of having slept well, he must have been out almost as soon as he was booked. Two other men stood behind Gordon, while Jurgens explained that he didn't like being interrupted on business calls "about the Mayor's campaign, or anything else," and that next time there'd be real hard feelings. Gordon was surprised when he wasn't beaten, but not when the racketeer suggested that any money found at a crime was evidence and should go to the police. The captain had told him the same.
By Friday, he had learned. He made his collections early. Gable had sold him the list of what was expected, and he used it, though he cut down the figures in a few cases. There was no sense in killing the geese that laid the eggs.
The couple at the liquor store had their payment waiting, and they handed it over, looking embarrassed. It wasn't until he was gone that he found a small bottle of fairly good whiskey tucked into his pouch. He started to throw it away, and then lifted it to his lips. Maybe they'd known how he felt better than he had. Mother Corey's words about his change of attitude came back. Damn it, he had to dig up enough money to get back to Earth.
He collected, down to the last account. It was a nice haul; at that rate, he'd have to stand it only for a few months. Then Gordon's lips twisted, as he realized it wasn't all gravy. There were angles, or the price of a corporalcy would have been higher.
One of the older men answered his questions. "Fifty per cent of the take to the Orphan's and Widow's fund. Better make it more than Gable turned in, if you want to get a better beat."
The envelopes were lying on a table marked "Voluntary Donations"; Gordon filled his out, with a figure a bit higher than half of Gable's take, and dropped it in the box. The captain, who had been watching him carefully, settled back and smiled.
"Widows and Orphans sure appreciate a good man," he said. "I was kind of worried about you, Gordon, but you got a nice touch. One of my new boys—Isaacs, you know him—was out checking up after you, and the dopes seem to like you."
Gordon had wondered why Izzy had been pulled off the beat. As he turned to leave, the captain held up a hand. "Special meeting tomorrow. We gotta see about getting out a good vote. Election only three weeks away."
Gordon went home. He'd learned by now that the native Martians—those who'd been here for at least thirty years, or had been born here—were backing a reform candidate and new ticket. But Mayor Wayne had all of the rest of the town in his hand. He'd been in twice, and had lifted the graft take by a truly remarkable figure. From where Gordon stood, it looked like a clear victory for the reformer, Nolan.
He went into the meeting willing to agree to anything. He applauded all the speeches about how much Mayor Wayne had done for them, and signed the pledge expressing his confidence, along with the implied duty he had to make his beat vote right. Then he stopped, as the captain stood up.
"We gotta be neutral, boys," he boomed. "But it don't mean we can't show how well we like the Mayor. Just remember, he got us our jobs! Now I figure we can all kick in a little to help his campaign. I'm going to start it off with five thousand credits, two thousand of them right now."
They fell in line, though there was no cheering. The price might have been fixed in advance. A thousand for a plain cop, fifteen hundred for a corporal, and so on, each contributing a third of it now. Gordon grimaced; he had six hundred left. This would take nearly all of it.
A man named Fell shook his head, fearfully. "Can't do a thing now. My wife had a baby and an operation, and——"
"Okay, Fell," the captain said, without a sign of disapproval. "Freitag, what about you? Fine, fine!"
Gordon's name came, and he shook his head. "I'm new—and I'm strapped now. I'd like——"
"Quite all right, Gordon," the captain boomed. "Harwick!"
He finished the roll, and settled back, smiling. "I guess that's all, boys. Thanks from the Mayor. And go on home.... Oh, Fell, Gordon, Lativsky—stick around. I've got some overtime for you, since you need extra money. The boys out in Ward Three are shorthanded. Afraid I'll have to order you out there!"
* * * * *
Ward Three was the hangout of a cheap gang of hoodlums, numbering some four hundred, who went in for small crimes mostly. But they had recently declared war on the cops.
After eight hours of overtime, Gordon reported in with every bone sore from small missiles, and his suit filthy from assorted muck. He had a beautiful shiner where a stone had clipped him.
The captain smiled. "Rough, eh? But I hear robbery went down on your beat last night. Fine work, Gordon. We need men like you. Hate to do it, but I'm afraid you'll have to take the next shift at Main and Broad, directing traffic. The usual man is sick, and you're the only one I can trust with the job!"
Gordon stuck it out, somehow, but it wasn't worth it. He reported back to the precinct with the five hundred in his hand, and his pen itching for the donation agreement.
The captain took it, and nodded. "I wasn't kidding about your being a good man, Gordon. Go home and get some sleep, take the next day off. After that, we've got a new job for you!"
The new assignment was to the roughest section in all Marsport—the slum area beyond the dome, out near the rocket field. Here all the riffraff that had been unable to establish itself in better quarters had found some sort of a haven. At one time, there had been a small dome and a tiny city devoted to the rocket field. But Marsport had flourished enough to kill it off. The dome had failed from neglect, and the buildings inside had grown shabbier.
Bruce Gordon was trapped; he couldn't break his job with the police—if he did, he'd be brought back as a criminal. Some of Mars' laws dated from the time when law enforcement had been hampered by lack of men, rather than by the type of men.
The Stonewall gang numbered perhaps five hundred. They hired out members to other gangs, during the frequent wars. Between times, they picked up what they could by mugging and theft, with a reasonable amount of murder thrown in at a modest price.
Even derelicts and failures had to eat; there were stores and shops throughout the district which eked out some kind of a marginal living. They were safe from protection racketeers there—none bothered to come so far out. And police had been taken off the beats there after it grew unsafe even for men in pairs to patrol the area.
The shopkeepers, and some of the less unfortunate people there, had protested loud enough to reach clear back to Earth. Marsport had hired a man from Earth to come in and act as chief of the section. Captain Murdoch was an unknown factor, and now was asking for more men. The pressure was enough to get them for him.
Gordon reported for work with a sense of the bottom falling out, mixed with a vague relief.
"You're going to be busy," Murdoch announced shortly in the dilapidated building that had been hastily converted to a precinct house. "Damn it, you're men, not sharks. I've got a free hand, and we're going to run this the way we would on Earth. Your job is to protect the citizens here—and that means everyone not breaking the laws—whether you feel like it or not. No graft. The first man making a shakedown will get the same treatment we're going to use on the Stonewall boys. You'll get double pay here, and you can live on it!"
He opened up a box on his desk and pulled out six heavy wooden sticks, each thirty inches long and nearly two inches in diameter. There was a shaped grip on each, with a thong of leather to hold it over the wrist.
He picked out five of the men, including Gordon "You five will come with me. I'm going to show how we operate. The rest of you can team up any way you want tonight, pick any route that's open. Okay, men, let's go."
Bruce Gordon grinned slowly as he swung the stick, and Murdoch's eyes fell on him. "Earth cop!"
"Two years," Gordon admitted.
"Then you should be ashamed to be in this mess. But whatever your reasons, you'll be useful. Take those two and give them some lessons, while I do the same with these."
For a second, Gordon cursed himself. Murdoch had fixed it so he'd be a squad leader, and that meant he'd be unable to step out of line. At double standard pay, with normal Mars expenses, he might be able to pay for passage back to Earth in three years—if Security let him. Otherwise, it would take thirty.
He began wondering about Security, then. Nobody had tried to get in touch with him. Were they waiting for him to get up on a soapbox?
There was a crude lighting system here, put up by the citizens. At the front of each building, a dim phosphor bulb glowed; when darkness fell, they would have nothing else to see by.
Murdoch bunched them together. "A good clubbing beats hanging," he told them. "But it has to be good. Go in for business, and don't stop just because the other guy quits. Give them hell!"
Moving in two groups of threes, at opposite sides of the street, they began their beat. They were covering an area of six blocks one way, and two the other.
They had traveled the six blocks and were turning down a side street when they found their first case; it was still daylight. Two of the Stonewall boys were working over a tall man in a newer airsuit. As the police swung around, one of the thugs casually ripped the airsuit open.
A thin screech like a whistle came from Murdoch's Marspeaker, and the captain went forward, with Gordon at his heels. The hoodlums tossed the man aside easily, and let out a yell. From the buildings around, an assortment of toughs came at the double, swinging knives, picks, and bludgeons.
There was no chance to save the citizen, who was dying from lack of air. Gordon felt the solid pleasure of the finely turned club in his hands. It was light enough for speed, but heavy enough to break bones where it hit. A skilled man could knock a knife, or even a heavy club, out of another's hand with a single flick of the wrist. And he'd had practice.
He saw Murdoch's club dart in and take out two of the gang, one on the forward swing, one on the recover. Gordon's eyes popped at that. The man was totally unlike a Martian captain, and a knot of homesickness for Earth ran through his stomach.
He swallowed the sentiment; his own club was moving now. Standing beside Murdoch, they were moving forward. The other four cops had come in reluctantly.
"Knock them out and kick them down!" Murdoch yelled. "And don't let them get away!"
Gordon was after a thug who was attempting to run away. He brought him to the ground with a single blow across the kidneys.
It was soon over. They rounded up the men of the gang, and one of the cops started off. Murdoch called, "Where are you going?"
"To find a phone and call the wagon."
"We're not using wagons," Murdoch told him. "Line them up."
When the hoods came to, they found themselves helpless, and facing police with clubs. If they tried to run, they were hit from behind; if they stood still, they were clubbed carefully. If they fought back, the pugnaciousness was knocked out of them at once.
Murdoch indicated one who stood with his shoulders shaking and tears running down his cheeks. The captain's face was as sick as Gordon felt. "Take him aside. Names."
Gordon found a section away from the others. "I want the name of every man in the gang you can remember," he told the man.
Horror shot over the other's bruised features. "Colonel, they'd kill me! I don't know."
His screams were almost worse than the beating but names began to come. Gordon took them down, and then returned with the man to the others.
Murdoch took his nod as evidence enough, and turned to the wretched toughs. "He squealed," he announced. "If he should turn up dead, I'll know you boys are responsible, and I'll find you. Now get out of this district, or get honest jobs! Because every time one of my men sees one of you, this will happen again. And you can pass the word along that the Stonewall gang is dead!"
He turned and moved off down the street, the others at his side. Gordon nodded. "I've heard the theory, but never saw it in practice. Suppose the whole gang jumps us at once?"
Murdoch shrugged. "Then we're taken. The old book I got the idea from didn't mention that."
* * * * *
Trouble began brewing shortly after, though. Men stood outside, studying the cops on their beat. Murdoch sent one of the men to pick up a second squad of six, and then a third. After that, the watchers began to melt away.
"We'd better shift to another territory," Murdoch decided. Gordon realized that the gang had figured that concentrating the police here meant other territories would be safe.
Two more groups were given the treatment. In the third one, Bruce Gordon spotted one of the men who'd been beaten before. He was a sick-looking spectacle.
Murdoch nodded. "Object lesson!"
The one good thing about the captain, Gordon decided, was that he believed in doing his own dirtiest work. When he was finished, he turned to two of the other captives.
"Get a stretcher, and take him wherever he belongs," he ordered. "I'm leaving you two able to walk for that. But if you get caught again, you'll get still worse."
The squad went in, tired and sore; all had taken a severe beating in the brawls. But there was little grumbling. Gordon saw grudging admiration in their eyes for Murdoch, who had taken more punishment than they had.
Gordon rode back in the official car with Murdoch and both were silent most of the way. But the captain stirred finally, sighing. "Poor devils!"
Gordon jerked up in surprise. "The gang?"
"No, the cops they're giving me. We're covered, Gordon. But the Stonewall gang is backing Wayne. He's let me come in because he figures it will get him more votes. But afterwards, he'll have me out; and then the boys with me will be marks for the gang when it comes back. Besides, it'll show on the books that they didn't kick into his fund. I can always go back to Earth, and I'll try to take you along. But it's going to be tough on them."
Bruce Gordon grimaced. "I've got a yellow ticket, from Security."
Murdoch blinked. He dropped his eyes slowly. "So you're that Gordon? But you're still a good cop."
They rode on further in silence, until Gordon broke the ice to ease the tension. He found himself liking the other.
"What makes you think Wayne will be re-elected? Nobody wants him, except a gang of crooks and those in power."
Murdoch grinned bitterly. "Ever see a Martian election? No, you're a firster. He can't lose! And then hell is going to pop, and this whole planet may be blown wide open!"
It fitted with the dire predictions of Security, and with the spying Gordon was going to do—according to them.
He discussed it with Mother Corey, who agreed that Wayne would be re-elected.
"Can't lose," the old man said. He was getting even fatter, now that he was eating better food from the fair restaurant around the corner.
"He'll win," Mother Corey repeated. "And you'll turn honest all over, now you're in uniform. Take me, cobber. I figured on laying low for a while, then opening up a few rooms for a good pusher or two, maybe a high-class duchess. Cost 'em more, but they'd be respectable. Only now I'm respectable myself, they don't look so good. But this honesty stuff, it's like dope. You start out on a little, and you have to go all the way."
"It didn't affect Honest Izzy," Gordon pointed out.
"Nope. Because Izzy is always honest, according to how he sees it. But you got Earth ideas of the stuff, like I had once. Too bad." He sighed ponderously.
* * * * *
The week moved on. The groups grew more experienced, and Murdoch was training a new squad every night. Gordon's own squad was equipped with shields now, and they were doing better. The number of muggings and holdups in the section was going down. They seldom saw a man after he'd been treated.
One of the squads was jumped by a gang of about forty, and two of the men were killed before the nearest other squad could pull a rear attack. That day the whole force worked overtime hunting for the men who had escaped; and by evening the Stonewall boys had received proof that it didn't pay to go against the police in large numbers.
After that, they began to go hunting for the members of the gang. They had the names of nearly all of them, and some pretty good ideas of their hide-outs.
It wasn't exactly legal; but nothing was, here. If a doctor's job was to prevent illness, instead of merely curing it, then why shouldn't it be a policeman's job to prevent crime? Here, that was best done by wiping out the Stonewall gang to the last member.
This could lead to abuses, as he'd seen on Earth. But there probably wouldn't be time for it if Mayor Wayne was re-elected.
The gang had begun to break up, but the nucleus would be the last to go. The police had orders to beat any member on sight, now. Citizens were appearing on the streets at night for the first time in years. And there were smiles—hungry, beaten smiles, but still genuine ones—for the cops.
It was night outside, and the phosphor bulbs at the corners glowed dimly, giving him barely enough light by which to locate the way to the extemporized precinct house. Bruce Gordon reached the outskirts of the miserable business section, noticing that a couple of the shops were still open. It had probably been years since any had dared risk it after the sun went down. And the slow, doubtful respect on the faces of the citizens as they nodded to him was even more proof that Haley's system was working. Gordon nodded to a couple, and they grinned faintly at him. Damn it, Mars could be cleaned up....
He grinned at himself, then something needled at his mind, until he swung back. The man who had just passed was carrying a lunch basket, and was wearing the coveralls of one of the crop-prospector crews; but the expression on his face had been wrong.
Red hair, too heavily built, a lighter section where a mustache had been shaved and the skin not quite perfectly powdered.... Gordon moved forward quickly, until he could make out the thin scar showing through the make-up over the man's eyes. He'd been right—this was O'Neill, head of the Stonewall gang.
Gordon hit the signal switch, and the Marspeaker let out a shrill whistle. O'Neill had turned to run, and then seemed to think better of it. His hand darted down to his belt, just as Gordon reached him.
The heavy locust stick met the man's wrist before the weapon was half drawn—another gun! Guns suddenly seemed to be flourishing everywhere. The gun dropped from O'Neill's hand as the wrist snapped, and the Stonewall chief let out a high-pitched cry of pain. Then another cop came around a corner at a run.
"You can't do it to me! I'm reformed; I'm going straight! You damned cops can't...." O'Neill was blubbering. The small crowd that was collecting was all to the good, Gordon knew, and he let O'Neill go on. Nothing could help break up the gangs more than having a leader break down in public.
The other cop had yanked out O'Neill's wallet, and now tossed it to Gordon. One look was enough—the work papers had the telltale over-thickening of the signature that had showed up on other papers, obviously forgeries. The cops had been passing them on the hope of finding one of the leaders.
Some turned away as Gordon and the other cop went to work, but most of them weren't squeamish. When it was over, the two picked up their whimpering captive. Gordon pocketed the revolver with his free hand. "Walk, O'Neill!" he ordered. "Your legs are still whole. Use them!"
The man staggered between them, whimpering at each step. If any members of the gang were around, they made no attempt to rescue him.
Jenkins, the other cop, had been holding the wallet. Now he held it out toward Gordon. "The gee was heeled, Corporal. Must of been making a big contact in something. Fifty-fifty?"
"Turn it in to Murdoch," Gordon said, and then cursed himself. There must have been over two thousand credits in the wallet.
* * * * *
The captain's face had been buried in a pile of papers, but now Murdoch came around to stare at the gang leader. He inspected the forged work papers, and jerked his thumb toward one of the hastily built cells where a doctor would look O'Neill over—eventually. When Gordon and Jenkins came back, Murdoch tossed the money to them. "Split it. You guys earned it by keeping your hands off it. Anyhow, you're as entitled to it as he was—or the grafters back at Police Headquarters. I never saw it. Gordon, you've got a visitor!"
His voice was bitter, but he made no opening for them to question him as he picked up the papers and began going through them again. Gordon went down the passage to the end of the hall, in the direction Murdoch had indicated. Waiting for him was the lean, cynical little figure of Honest Izzy, complete with uniform and sergeant's stripes.
"Hi, gov'nor," the little man greeted him. "Long time no see. With you out here and me busy nights doing a bit of convoy work on the side, we might as well not both live at Mother's."
Bruce Gordon nodded, grinning in spite of himself. "Convoy duty, Izzy? Or dope running?"
"Whatever comes to hand, gov'nor. The Force pays for my time during the day, and I figure my time's my own at night. Of course, if I ever catch myself doing anything shady during the day, I'll have to turn myself in. But it ain't likely." He grinned in satisfaction. "Now that I've dug up the scratch to buy these stripes and get made sergeant—and that takes the real crackle—I'm figuring on taking it easy."
"Like this social call?" Gordon asked him.
The little man shook his head, his ancient eighteen-year-old face turning sober. "Nope. I've been meaning to see you, so I volunteered to run out some red tape for your captain. You owe me some bills, gov'nor. Eleven hundred fifty credits. You didn't pay up your pledge to the campaign fund, so I hadda fill in. A thousand, interest at ten per cent a week, standard. Right?"
Gordon had heard of the friendly interest charged on the side here, but he shook his head. "Wrong, Izzy. If they want to collect that dratted pledge of theirs, let them put me where I can make it. There's no graft out here."
"Huh?" Izzy turned it over, and shook his head. Finally he shrugged. "Don't matter, gov'nor. Nothing about that in the pledge, and when you sign something, you gotta pay it. You gotta."
"All right," Gordon admitted. He was suddenly in no mood to quibble with Izzy's personal code. "So you paid it. Now show me where I signed any agreement saying I'd pay you back!"
For a second, Izzy's face went blank; then he chuckled. "Jet me! You're right, gov'nor. I sure asked for that one. Okay; I'm bloody well suckered, so forget it."
Gordon shrugged and gave up. He pulled out the bills and handed them over. "Thanks, Izzy."
"Thanks, yourself." The kid pocketed the money cheerfully, nodding. "Buy you a beer. Anyhow, you won't miss it. I came out to tell you I got the sweetest beat in Marsport—over a dozen gambling joints on it—and I need a right gee to work it with me. So you're it!"
For a moment, Gordon wondered what Izzy had done to earn that beat, but he could guess. The little guy knew Mars as few others did, apparently, from all sides. And if any of the other cops had private rackets of their own, Izzy was undoubtedly the man to find it out, and use the information. With a beat such as that, even going halves, and with all the graft to the upper brackets, he'd still be able to make his pile in a matter of months.
But he shook his head. "I'm assigned here, Izzy, at least for another week, until after elections...."
"Better take him up, Gordon," Murdoch told him bitterly. The captain looked completely beaten as he came into the room and dropped onto the bench. "Go on, accept, damn it. You're not assigned here any more. None of us are. Mayor Wayne found an old clause in the charter and got a rigged decision, pulling me back under his full authority. I thought I had full responsibility to Earth, but he's got me. Wearing their uniform makes me a temporary citizen! So we're being smothered back into the Force, and they'll have their patsies out here, setting things up for the Stonewall boys to come back by election time. So grab while the grabbing's good, because by tomorrow morning I'll have this all closed down!"
He shook off Gordon's hand and stood up roughly, to head back up the hallway. Then he stopped and looked back. "One thing, though, I've still got enough authority to make you a sergeant. It's been a pleasure working with you, Sergeant Gordon!"
He swung out of view abruptly, leaving Gordon with a heavy weight in his stomach. Izzy whistled, and began picking up his helmet, preparing to go outside. "So that's the dope I brought out, eh? Takes it kind of hard, doesn't he?"
"Yeah," Gordon answered. There was no use trying to explain it to Izzy. "Yeah, we do. Come on."
Outside, Gordon saw other cops moving from house to house, and he realized that Murdoch must be sending out warnings to the citizens that things would soon be rough again.
Izzy held out a hand to Gordon. "Let's get a beer, gov'nor—on me!"
It was as good an idea as any he had, Gordon decided. He might as well enjoy what life he still had while he could. The Stonewall gang—what was left of it—and all its friends would be gunning for him now. The Force wouldn't have been fooled when Izzy paid his pledge, and they'd mark him down as disloyal—if they didn't automatically mark down all who'd served under Murdoch. And he didn't have the ghost of an idea as to what Security wanted of him, or where they were hiding themselves.
"Make it two beers, Izzy," he said. "Needled!"
In the few days at the short-lived Nineteenth Precinct, Bruce Gordon had begun to feel like a cop again, but the feeling disappeared as he reported in at Captain Isaiah Trench's Seventh Precinct. Trench had once been a colonel in the Marines, before a court-martial and sundry unpleasantnesses had driven him off Earth. His dark, scowling face and lean body still bore a military air.
He looked Bruce Gordon over sourly. "I've been reading your record. It stinks. Making trouble for Jurgens—could have been charged as false arrest. No co-operation with your captain until he forced it; out in the sticks beating up helpless men. Now you come crawling back to your only friend, Isaacs. Well, I'll give it a try. But step out of line and I'll have you cleaning streets with your bare hands. All right, Corporal Gordon. Dismissed. Get to your beat."
Gordon grinned wryly at the emphasis on his title. No need to ask what had happened to Murdoch's recommendation. He joined Izzy in the locker room, summing up the situation.
"Yeah." Izzy looked worried, his thin face pinched in. "Maybe I didn't do you a favor, gov'nor, pulling you here. I dunno. I got some pics of Trench from a guy I know. That's how I got my beat so fast in the Seventh. But Trench ain't married, and I guess I've used up the touch. Maybe I could try it, though."
"Forget it," Gordon told him. "I'll work it out somehow."
The beat was a gold mine. It lay through the section where Gordon had first tried his luck on Mars. There were a dozen or so gambling joints, half a dozen cheap saloons, and a fair number of places listed as rooming houses, though they made no bones about the fact that all their permanent inhabitants were female. Then the beat swung off, past a row of small businesses and genuine rooming houses, before turning back to the main section.
They began in the poorer section. It wasn't the day to collect the "tips" for good service, which had been an honest attempt to promote good police service before it became a racket. But they were met everywhere by sullen faces. Izzy explained it. The city had passed a new poll tax—to pay for election booths, supposedly—and had made the police collect it. Murdoch must have disregarded the order, but the rest of the force had been busy helping the administration.
But once they hit the main stem, things were mere routine. The gambling joints took it for granted that beat cops had to be paid, and considered it part of their operating expense. The only problem was that Fats' Place was the first one on the list. Gordon didn't expect to be too welcome there.
There was no sign of the thug, but Fats came out of his back office just as Gordon reached the little bar. He came over, nodded, picked up a cup and dice and began shaking them.
"High man for sixty," he said automatically, and expertly rolled bull's-eyes for a two. "Izzy said you'd be around. Sorry my man drew that knife on you the last time, Corporal."
Gordon rolled an eight, pocketed the bills, and shrugged. "Accidents will happen, Fats."
"Yeah." The other picked up the dice and began rolling sevens absently. "How come you're walking beat, anyhow? With what you pulled here, you should have bought a captaincy."
Gordon told him briefly. The man chuckled grimly. "Well, that's Mars," he said, and turned back to his private quarters.
Mostly, it was routine work. They came on a drunk later, collapsed in an alley. But the muggers had apparently given up before Izzy and Gordon arrived, since the man had his wallet clutched in his hand. Gordon reached for it, twisting his lips.
Izzy stopped him. "It ain't honest, gov'nor. If the gees in the wagon clean him, or the desk man gets it, that's their business. But I'm going to run a straight beat, or else!"
That was followed by a call to remove a berserk spaceman from one of the so-called rooming houses. Gordon noticed that workmen were busy setting up a heavy wooden gate in front of the entrance to the place. There were a lot of such preparations going on for the forthcoming elections.
Then the shift was over. But Gordon wasn't too surprised when his relief showed up two hours late; he'd half-expected some such nastiness from Trench. But he was surprised at the look on his tardy relief's face.
The man seemed to avoid facing him, muttered, "Captain says report in person at once," and swung out of the scooter and onto his beat without further words.
Gordon was met there by blank faces and averted looks, but someone nodded toward Trench's office, and he went inside. Trench sat chewing on a cigar. "Gordon, what does Security want with you?"
"Security? Not a damned thing, if I can help it. They kicked me off Earth on a yellow ticket, if that's what you mean."
"Yeah." Trench shoved a letter forward; it bore the "official business" seal of Solar Security, and was addressed to Corporal Bruce Gordon, Nineteenth Police Precinct, Marsport. Trench kept his eyes on it, his face filled with suspicion and the vague fear most men had for Security.
"Yeah," he said again. "Okay, probably routine. Only next time, Gordon, put the facts on your record with the Force. If you're a deportee, it should show up. That's all!"
Bruce Gordon went out, holding the envelope. The warning in Trench's voice wasn't for any omission on his record, he knew. He shoved the envelope into his belt pocket and waited until he was in his own room before opening it.
It was terse, and unsigned.
Report expected, overdue. Failure to observe duty will result in permanent resettlement to Mercury.
He swore, coldly and methodically, while his stomach dug knots in itself. The damned, stupid, blundering fools! That was all Trench and the police gang had to see; it was obvious that the letter had been opened. Sure, report at once. Drop a letter in the mailbox, and the next morning it would be turned over to Commissioner Arliss' office. Report or be kicked off to a planet that Security felt enough worse than Mars to use as punishment! Report and find Mars a worse place than Mercury could ever be.
He felt sick as he stood up to find paper and pen and write a terse, factual account of his own personal doings—minus any hint of anything wrong with the system here. Security might think it was enough for the moment, and the local men might possibly decide it a mere required formality. At least it would stall things off for a while....
But Gordon knew now that he could never hope to get back to Earth legally. That vague promise by Security was so much hogwash; yet it was surprising how much he had counted on it.
He tore the envelope from Security into tiny shreds, too small for Mother Corey to make sense of, and went out to mail the letter, feeling the few bills in his pocket. As usual, less than a hundred credits.
He passed a sound truck blatting out a campaign speech by candidate Nolan, filled with too-obvious facts about the present administration, together with hints that Wayne had paid to have Nolan assassinated. Gordon saw a crowd around it and was surprised, until he recognized them as Rafters—men from the biggest of the gangs supporting Wayne. The few citizens on the street who drifted toward the truck took a good look at them and moved on hastily.
It seemed incredible that Wayne could be re-elected, though, even with the power of the gangs. Nolan was probably a grafter, too; but he'd at least be a change, and certainly the citizens were aching for that.
The next day his relief was later. Gordon waited, trying to swallow their petty punishments, but it went against the grain. Finally, he began making the rounds, acting as his own night man. The owners of the joints didn't care whether they paid the second daily dole to the same man or another, but they wouldn't pay it again that same night. He'd managed to tap most of the places before his relief showed. He made no comment, but dutifully filled out the proper portion of both takes for the Voluntary Donation box. It wouldn't do his record any good with Trench, but it should put an end to the overtime.
Trench, however, had other ideas. The overtime continued, but it was dull after that—which made it even more tiring. But the time he took a special release out to the spaceport was the worst. Seeing the big ship readying for take-off back to Earth....
Then it was the day before election. The street was already bristling with barricades around the entrances, and everything ran with a last desperate restlessness, as if there would be no tomorrow. The operators all swore that Wayne would be elected, but seemed to fear a miracle. On the poorer section of the beat, there was a spiritless hope that Nolan might come in with his reform program. Men who would normally have been punctilious about their payments were avoiding Bruce Gordon, if in hope that, by putting it off a day or so, they could run into a period where no such payment would ever be asked—or a smaller one, at least. And he was too tired to chase them down. His collections had been falling off already, and he knew that he'd be on the carpet for that, if he didn't do better. It was a rich territory, and required careful mining; even as the week had gone, he still had more money in his wallet than he had expected.
But there had to be still more before night.
He was lucky; he came on a pusher working one of the better houses—long after his collections should have been over. He knew by the man's face that no protection had been paid higher up. The pusher was well-heeled; Gordon confiscated the money.
This time, Izzy made no protest. Lifting the roll of anyone outside the enforced part of Mars' laws was apparently honest, in his eyes. He nodded, and pointed to the man's belt. "Pick up the snow, too."
The pusher's face paled. He must have had his total capital with him, because stark ruin shone in his eyes. "Good God, Sergeant," he pleaded, "leave me something! I'll make it right. I'll cut you in. I gotta have some of that for myself!"
Gordon grimaced. He couldn't work up any great sympathy for anyone who made a living out of drugs.
They cleaned the pusher, and left him sitting on the steps, a picture of slumped misery. Izzy nodded approval. "Let him feel it a while. No sense jailing him yet. Bloody fool had no business starting without lining the groove. Anyhow, we'll get a bunch of credits for the stuff when we turn it in."
"Credits?" Gordon asked.
"Sure." Izzy patted the little package. "We get a quarter value. Captain probably gets fifty per cent from one of the pushers who's lined with him. Everybody's happy."
"Why not push it ourselves?" Gordon asked in disgust.
"Wouldn't be honest, gov'nor. Cops are supposed to turn it in."
Trench was almost jovial when he weighed the package and examined it to find how much it had been cut. He issued them slips, which they added as part of the contributions. "Good work—you, too, Gordon. Best week in the territory for a couple of months. I guess the citizens like you, the way they treat you." He laughed at his stale joke, and Gordon was willing to laugh with him. The credit on the dope had paid for most of the contributions. For once, he had money to show for the week.
Then Trench motioned Bruce Gordon forward, and dismissed Izzy with a nod of his head. "Something to discuss, Gordon. Isaacs, we're holding a little meeting, so wait around. You're a sergeant already. But, Gordon, I'm offering you a chance. There aren't enough openings for all the good men, but.... Oh, bother the soft soap. We're still short on election funds, so there's a raffle. The two men holding winning tickets get bucked up to sergeants. A hundred credits a ticket. How many?"
He frowned suddenly as Gordon counted out three bills. "You have a better chance with more tickets. A much better chance!"
The hint was hardly veiled. Gordon stuck the tickets into his wallet. Mars was a fine planet for picking up easy money—but holding it was another matter.
Trench counted the money and put it away. "Thanks, Gordon. That fills my quota. Look, you've been on overtime all week. Why not skip the meeting? Isaacs can brief you, later. Go out and get drunk, or something."
The comparative friendliness of the peace offering was probably the ultimate in graciousness from Trench. Idly, Gordon wondered what kind of pressures the captains were under; it must be pretty stiff, judging by the relief the man was showing at making quota.
"Thanks," he said, but his voice was bitter in his ears. "I'll go home and rest. Drinking costs too much for what I make. It's a good thing you don't have income tax here."
"We do," Trench said flatly; "forty per cent. Better make out a form next week, and start paying it regularly. But you can deduct your contributions here."
Gordon got out before he learned more good news.
As Bruce Gordon came out from the precinct house, he noticed the sounds first. Under the huge dome that enclosed the main part of the city, the heavier air pressure permitted normal travel of sound; and he'd become sensitive to the voice of the city after the relative quiet of the Nineteenth Precinct. But now the normal noise was different. There was an undertone of hushed waiting, with the sharp bursts of hammering and last-minute work standing out sharply through it. Voting booths were being finished here and there, and at one a small truck was delivering ballots. Voting by machine had never been established here. Wherever the booths were being thrown up, the nearby establishments were rushing gates and barricades in front of the buildings.
Most of the shops were already closed—even some of the saloons. To make up for it, stands were being placed along the streets, carrying banners that proclaimed free beer for all loyal administration friends. The few bars that were still open had been blessed with the sign of some mob, and obviously were well staffed with hoodlums ready to protect the proprietor. Private houses were boarded up. The scattering of last-minute shoppers along the streets showed that most of the citizens were laying in supplies to last until after election.
Gordon passed the First Marsport Bank and saw that it was surrounded by barbed wires, with other strands still being strung, and with a sign proclaiming that there was high voltage in the wires. Watching the operation was Jurgens; it was obvious that his hoodlums had been hired for the job.
Toward the edge of the dome, where Mother Corey's place was, the narrower streets were filling with the gangs, already half-drunk and marching about with their banners and printed signs. Curiously enough, all the gangs weren't working for Wayne's re-election. The big Star Point gang had apparently grown tired of the increasing cost of protection from the government, and was actively campaigning for Nolan. Their home territory reached nearly to Mother Corey's, before it ran into the no man's land separating it from the gang of Nick the Croop. The Croopsters were loyal to Wayne.
Gordon turned into his usual short-cut, past a rambling plastics plant and through the yard where their trucks were parked. He had half expected to find it barricaded, but apparently the rumors that Nick the Croop owned it were true; it would be protected in other ways, with the trucks used for street fighting, if needed. He threaded his way between two of the trucks.
Then a yell reached his ears, and something swished at him. An egg-sized rock hit the truck behind him and bounced back, just as he spotted a hoodlum drawing back a sling for a second shot.
Gordon was on his knees between heartbeats, darting under one of the trucks. He rolled to his feet, letting out a yell of his own, and plunged forward. His fist hit the thug in the elbow, just as the man's hand reached for his knife. His other hand chopped around, and the edge of his palm connected with the other's nose. Cartilage crunched, and a shrill cry of agony lanced out.
But the hoodlum wasn't alone. Another came out from the rear of one of the trucks. Gordon ducked as a knife sailed for his head; they were stupid enough not to aim for his stomach, at least. He bent down to locate some of the rubble on the ground, cursing his folly in carrying his knife under his uniform. The new beat had given him a false sense of security.
He found a couple of rocks and a bottle and let them fly, then bent for more.
Something landed on his back, and fingernails were gouging into his face, searching for his eyes!
Instinct carried him forward, jerking down sharply and twisting. The figure on his back sailed over his head, to land with a harsh thump on the ground. Brassy yellow hair spilled over a girl's face, and her breath slammed out of her throat as she hit. But the fall hadn't been enough to do serious damage.
Bruce Gordon jumped forward, bringing his foot up in a savage swing, but she'd rolled, and the blow only glanced against her ribs. She jerked her hand down for a knife, and came to her knees, her lips drawn back against her teeth. "Get him!" she yelled. Then he recognized her—Sheila Corey.
The two thugs had held back, but now they began edging in. Gordon slipped back behind another truck, listening for the sound of their feet. He'd half-expected another encounter with the Mother's granddaughter.
They tried to outmaneuver him; he stepped back to his former spot, catching his breath and digging frantically for his knife. It came out, just as they realized he'd tricked them.
Sheila was still on her knees, fumbling with something, and apparently paying no attention to him. But now she jerked to her feet, her hand going back and forward.
It was a six-inch section of pipe, with a thin wisp of smoke, and the throw was toward Gordon's feet. The hoodlums yelled, and ducked, while Sheila broke into a run away from him. The little homemade bomb landed, bounced, and lay still, with its fuse almost burned down.
Gordon's heart froze in his throat, but he was already in action. He spat savagely into his hand, and jumped for the bomb. If the fuse was powder-soaked, he had no chance. He brought his palm down against it, and heard a faint hissing. Then he held his breath, waiting.
No explosion came. It had been a crude job, with only a wick for a fuse.
Sheila Corey had stopped at a safe distance; now she grabbed at her helpers, and swung them with her. The three came back, Sheila in the lead with her knife flashing.
Gordon side-stepped her rush, and met the other two head-on, his knife swinging back. His foot hit some of the rubble on the ground at the last second, and he skidded. The leading mobster saw the chance and jumped for him. Gordon bent his head sharply, and dropped, falling onto his shoulders and somersaulting over. He twisted at the last second, jerking his arms down to come up facing the other.
Then a new voice cut into the fracas, and there was the sound of something landing against a skull with a hollow thud. Gordon got his head up just in time to see a man in police uniform kick aside the first hoodlum and lunge for the other. There was a confused flurry; then the second went up into the air and came down in the newcomer's hands, to land with a sickening jar and lie still. Behind, Sheila Corey lay crumpled in a heap, clutching one wrist in the other hand and crying silently.
Bruce Gordon came to his feet and started for her. She saw him coming, cast a single glance at the knife that had been knocked from her hands, then sprang aside and darted back through the parked trucks. In the street, she could lose herself in the swarm of Nick's Croopsters; Gordon turned back.
The iron-gray hair caught his eyes first. Then, as the solidly built figure turned, he grunted. It was Captain Murdoch—now dressed in the uniform of a regular beat cop, without even a corporal's stripes. And the face was filled with lines of strain that hadn't been there before.
Murdoch threw the second gangster up into a truck after the first one and slammed the door shut, locking it with the metal bar which had apparently been his weapon. Then he grinned wryly, and came back toward Gordon.
"You seem to have friends here," he commented. "A good thing I was trying to catch up with you. Just missed you at the Precinct House, came after you, and saw you turn in here. Then I heard the rumpus. A good thing for me, too, maybe."
Gordon blinked, accepting the other's hand. "How so? And what happened?" He indicated the bare sleeve.
"One's the result of the other," Murdoch told him. "They've got me sewed up, and they're throwing the book at me. The old laws make me a citizen while I wear the uniform—and a citizen can't quit the Force. That puts me out of Earth's jurisdiction. I can't even cable for funds, and I guess I'm too old to start squeezing money out of citizens. I was coming to ask whether you had room in your diggings for a guest—and I'm hoping now that my part here cinches it."
Murdoch had tried to treat it lightly, but Gordon saw the red creeping up into the man's face. "Forget that part. There's room enough for two in my place—and I guess Mother Corey won't mind. I'm damned glad you were following me."
"So'm I, Gordon. What'll we do with the prisoners?"
"Leave 'em; we couldn't get a Croopster locked up tonight for anything."
He started ahead, leading the way through the remaining trucks and back to the street that led to Mother Corey's. Murdoch fell in step with him. "This is the first time I've had to look you up," he said. "I've been going out nights to help the citizens organize against the Stonewall gang. But that's over now—they gave me hell for inciting vigilante action, and confined me inside the dome. The way they hate a decent cop here, you'd think honesty was contagious."
"Yeah." Gordon preferred to let it drop. Murdoch was being given the business for going too far on the Stonewall gang, not for refusing to take normal graft.
They came to the gray three-story building that Mother Corey now owned. Gordon stopped, realizing for the first time that there was no trace of efforts to protect it against the coming night and day. The entrance was unprotected. Then his eyes caught the bright chalk marks around it—notices to the gangs to keep hands off. Mother Corey evidently had pull enough to get every mob in the neighborhood to affix its seal.
As he drew near, though, two men edged across the street from a clump watching the beginning excitement. Then, as they identified Gordon, they moved back again. Some of the Mother's old lodgers from the ruin outside the dome were inside now—obviously posted where it would do the most good.
Corey stuck his head out of the door at the back of the hall as Gordon entered, and started to retire again—until he spotted Murdoch. Gordon explained the situation hastily.
"It's your room, cobber," the old man wheezed. He waddled back, to come out with a towel and key, which he handed to Murdoch. "Number forty-two."
His heavy hand rested on Gordon's arm, holding the younger man back. Murdoch gave Gordon a brief, tired smile, and started for the stairs. "Thanks, Gordon. I'm turning in right now."
Mother Corey shook his head, shaking the few hairs on his head and face, and the wrinkles in his doughy skin deepened. "Hasn't changed, that one. Must be thirty years, but I'd know Asa Murdoch anywhere. Took me to the spaceport, handed me my yellow ticket, and sent me off for Mars. A nice, clean kid—just like my own boy was. But Murdoch wasn't like the rest of the neighborhood. He still called me 'sir,' when my boy was walking across the street, so the lad wouldn't know they were sending me away. Oh well, that was a long time ago, cobber. A long time."