Inspector O and the Martian

Inspector O looked up with the gleam in his eye I didn’t like.

“May I sit?” I pulled out a chair and waited for his opening move.

He swirled the drink in front of him for a moment, then nodded. “Of course, Henny, or is it Penny? They’re the same thing, you know. We have a book of stories in the Central Library. We read. We noticed that.”

“I didn’t know,” I said. I smiled. “I take it you also read the Asia Times?”

O looked around for a wait person. “Yes, I follow that Martian person.”

“Martin. His name is Martin.”

“Really, Church, maybe you’d better have some chamomile tea, it’s good for the nerves.” He leaned across the table. “Taken your blood pressure pills today?”

“My blood pressure is fine.”

“That a fact? You and your friends all think alike. No spine. Not realists. Running whenever an acorn drops on your head.”

“That’s it? You just asked me to come to Hong Kong to rag me about a children’s story?”

“You’ve got to admit, the piece by Martian…”


“Was funny.” He shrugged. “A few questions.”

“Ah, of course, a few questions. Like what? Does anyone think the sky is really falling?”

“Listen, you know what you know, I don’t know what you know.” He took a sip of his drink then looked around. “Or think you know.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t normally deal with the military, not my baggie. But they came knocking on my door, loud, heavy knocking.”

“They want to recruit you?”

O laughed. “Might be nice. Better housing. But no. They are angry and they want you to know how angry they are.”

“Me?” I had a feeling I knew what was coming. “Little old me?”

“Yes, you, Chicken Little, Fox-Woxy, Ducky-Lucky, whatever handle you are hiding behind.”

“Whoa. I didn’t write whatever you are referring to, didn’t have anything to do with it, don’t even know the authors.”

“Oh? So you know there is more than one?”

“Word gets around. I look at websites occasionally. I read.”

“Then read this.” He took a paper from his briefcase. “It’s a copy of the first draft of a preliminary attempt at a notional war plan. Very big stuff.”

I reached across the table for the paper, but O snatched it away. “No, on second thought, it’s not for your eyes. It’s no good anymore, anyway. They told me they had to throw it in the trash. A lot of work, they told me in the fierce tones they like to adopt. A LOT, they repeated at high volume in case I missed the point. Now it’s worthless, they said. Worthless! We work our fingers to the bone, they said, plan a brilliant surprise attack, and the next thing we know this limp-wristed pal of yours gets published it in some dark corner and it explodes, gets coverage all over the place in your reptile press.”

O took another sip. “That was their characterization, by the way. In any case, they clenched their hammer-like fists and practically screamed in my ear, ‘No surprise left after that, is there! None!’ Then they paused, meaningfully or what they wanted me to think was meaningfully. After that they stood over me, jaws set, menace on their ugly faces for about a minute. “Tell your friend to keep out of dark alleys,” they said finally. Then they left. They closed the door quietly, with obvious restraint, the sort of thing they do to make your blood run cold. You know what I mean?”

At that point O narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice. “You get the message?” He watched me carefully for a moment, then sat back as if to convey reassurance. “Don’t worry, I told them I didn’t know where you were, and anyway you wouldn’t have written anything like what they were complaining about. You weren’t, I told them, that smart.”

“Mmmm, not as smart as they are, clearly.”

“Meaning?” O raised an eyebrow.

“You are sent with a war plan that they tell you to say is now ruined and trashed. But what if they just sent you to put that idea in play when really they are going to keep that plan?”

O grinned. “Paranoia started long time ago.” He hummed a tune.

“Mashed potato. The line is ‘Mashed potato started lone time ago.’”

“Groovy,” he nodded. “I’ll ask for it at our next karaoke party. Meanwhile,” he smiled, “I have something else for you.” He reached in his briefcase again. “The boys in the printing office wanted me to give you this.” He handed over an embossed envelope. “I have a box of 500 more. You can send them out to your friends.”

I opened the envelope.

An Invitation

It is with the greatest pleasure


INVITE you to join as an Inner Circle member of the

HennyPenny/ChickenLittle Organization and Marching Band LLC.

Top tier membership with access to The Sky is Falling Lounge is completely free of charge. The next level down—The Clouds On the Horizon Bar—is for only a limited number at this time. The Scoffers Casino has a long waiting list and is no longer accepting applications.

Warning: Those who wish to be card carrying “Realists” will need to go before a separate screening committee.

“VERY nice,” I said. “Must have cost a fortune to print.”

“Don’t worry, every office has been assigned the profits from one missile a month sold to our friends. We’re all rolling in dough.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what about it?

Inspector O had stood and was putting on his coat. “What about what?”

“You know, war?”

He grinned. “Sometimes, Church, a cigar is just a cigar.”

I started to reply, but he was already out the door.

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