Blythe Spirit looked around the cantina, her smoky gray eyes alert. She glanced at her watch and frowned. He was late. He should have arrived forty-five minutes ago. Could something have gone wrong?
The message from her operative had come that morning, delivered by a dark-haired youth with large, liquid black eyes. He’d left his bike lying in the dust outside the small motel room where she was staying.
“Message, senorita,” he said, pulling the thin, brown envelope from his pocket. He looked at her. “I’m supposed to wait.”
Blythe studied the youth. Something in the kid’s expression didn’t sit well with her. “What’s your name, kid?”
He smirked. “Pedro.”
Her mouth turned down at the side. Pedro. “Yeah, yeah… everybody’s a Pedro around here.”
The kid shrugged and said nothing.
Tearing the envelope open, the image of a fat penguin wearing an aviator scarf and goggles confronted her. Printed in block letters beneath the logo were the words PENGUIN FLIGHT SCHOOL.
That’s what you get when you work for one of the lesser surveillance organizations – mission directives delivered by kids named Pedro and printed on stationery bearing images of saucy cartoon birds.
She’d been working for PENGUIN a long, long time. So long that she’d forgotten what the acronym stood for… Planets for the Establishment of a United Intergalactic Network… or something like that.
She’d been fifteen years old, living on the Red Planet, and tucked away in some boring little hellhole called ‘New Idaho,’ when a recruiter from PENGUIN first approached her. He was putting together a force of young fighter pilots for his junk heap organization. Blythe couldn’t fly a kite, let alone one of PENGUIN’s tin cans, but something in her manner caught the recruiter’s attention, and he asked her to come to work for them. And so here she was, stuck in a yet another hellhole, this time a dusty, shit bird little town meant to mimic Old Earth’s Mexico. Her mission? Trying to gather information on one of El Capitan’s new lieutenants.
El Capitan was a balding, pot-bellied, tequila-swilling peasant, one whose global ambitions should have been laughable. A real south-of-the-border wannabe dictator. In the past, humanity used to shake off the ambitions of small time thugs like him, but after too many wars and the near destruction of Old Earth, people had learned to take more seriously the dreams of nasty little wannabes. And so here she was, working for PENGUIN, and hoping to find out more about El Capitan’s new lieutenant – the one PENGUIN’s top brass feared was the power behind ‘the throne’ and who might make El Capitan’s dreams a reality.
Christ, what a life – trying to end the aspirations of murdering thugs before they become reality. Was this really what she’d signed up for, so very long ago?
Feeling Pedro’s eyes on her, she began reading the message.
Tonight will be Martian Karaoke night
at the Desafortunado Cantina.
Pedro will sing.
She looked up at the boy. “You sing?”
“Never mind. Okay, I read the letter, now what?”
“Now you give me a big tip and I go back and tell ‘em you read the note – and then ate it.”
The boy laughed. “Si, secret message, you eat it, right?”
Blythe walked over to her purse and pulled out a packet of matches. Pedro watched as she set the paper on fire.
“Okay, Pedro – I ate it. Got that?”
The boy was about to frown when she threw a wad of bills his way. “Got that?” she repeated, more sternly.
He scrambled to pick up the money, and then smiled. “Si.” His eyes gleamed at her, and then he turned and sauntered out the door, heading back to the bike. He jumped on it, gave her a jaunty salute, and off he went.
Blythe shook her head. The world was full of opportunistic bastards named Pedro.
So here she sat, drinking a watered down margarita, the rim brimmed with ersatz salt, waiting for some guy named Pedro to appear. He should have arrived forty-five minutes ago.
Thirty-years old, but feeling decades older, she was burned out. That’s what fifteen years in the service of PENGUIN did for you. It made you hard. She’d been to too many fake towns on the Red Planet. She’d done her time here, and was ready for a transfer, maybe to a different galaxy. God knows she’d paid her dues in the Milky Way. She was ready for something different. Maybe Bahamas World… now that would be nice, blue seas, lush green palm trees, handsome brown men and long, lazy nights. Yeah…
But first, she had to seal the deal with Pedro, and see what he had on this new lieutenant.
The doors to the cantina opened, and she watched as one of El Capitan’s pigs entered. She’d seen this one before. Handsome in an oily way, with olive toned skin, and lots of thick, black hair, combed straight back, calling into prominence a mean, low brow. Yeah, another pig, just like his leader.
Blythe reached into her purse, and as she did the pig’s eyes caught hers and sharpened. She felt a frisson of fear, but gave him a lazy smile. She casually pulled her hand from her purse, watching him reach for something hidden inside his paramilitary jacket. Tilting her head, and allowing a glint of laughter to reach her eyes, she held up her weapon – and pointed it at him.
Pulling the tube from the cap, she methodically began applying the glossy red color to her lips, all the while observing his reflection in the shiny metal casing.
The pig withdrew his hand, leaving hidden the object inside his jacket. He gave a sudden bark of wolfish laughter. In it, Blythe could read the unspoken judgment: Just another puta, painting her face…
But… not just, she thought wryly, pushing an invisible button on the side of the tube’s casing. The soft guitar music in the cantina drowned out the gentle whirring made by the lipstick camera as it snapped several quick photos of the pig.
Recapping the lipstick, she slid it back into her purse.
The voice, deep and cultured, caused her to look up. The speaker was tall, thin and very pale. His silvery eyes and wheat-colored hair spoke of a quiet world where the only light came from its diamond-like moon. She’d heard of that world. Her people called it Artemis World, after the Greek goddess of the moon.
“Who wants to know?” she asked, unsure if this was her connection.
He laughed softly and slid into the seat opposite her. “Are you here for the Martian Karaoke?”
“I might be… you performing tonight?”
“Okay,” she said. “What do you have for me, Pedro?”
His brows lifted. “Pedro?”
“Let’s get on with it,” she said, too tired for games. “Did you bring the file?”
He smiled, and removed the slender folder from inside his jacket. “I’ve heard a great deal about you, Ms. Spirit. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time. You’re supposed to take the file to PENGUIN, are you not?”
“Ah, you Pedros… a girl can’t pull anything over on you, can she?” asked Blythe, her tone cutting. “I’ve heard a lot about you, too. So, you’re the guy getting us information from the other side. How long have you been undercover?”
“Too long,” he said sadly. “This is my last song. That’s why it has to be good.”
“Can we stop with the karaoke crap, please?” She reached for the folder, but he stayed her hand.
“Wait, I have something else for you.” He pulled from his pocket a tiny velvet box and set it next to the file.
“What’s this? Some kind of game?”
“All of life is a game, Ms. Spirit. The gift and the file have no conditions attached to them. Both are for you.”
He slid the file to her. “Go ahead – open it.”
The single page inside was blank.
“What the hell,” she exclaimed. She looked up at him, confused. “There’s nothing here.”
“Oh, but there is. Turn the page over.”
She did, and that’s when she saw the picture taped to it – a photograph of a dark haired man dressed in a paramilitary uniform. His throat slit, a sign lay haphazardly on his chest. In red lettering was one word: PEDRO.
The man sitting across from her continued to speak smoothly, as if unaware of her reaction to the photo. “It is quite hard,” he said conversationally, “to write with blood. I prefer the medium of paint, but sometimes one has to make do with the tools at hand.”
She put the page down and stared at him. “You’re not Pedro… you’re not the infiltrator,” she said slowly, as her brain put it all together. “You killed him because… because you’re the new lieutenant!”
“How quick you are, Ms. Spirit,” he replied. “I’ve been passing false information along to your people for some time. It didn’t require much skill. You should have chosen a better employer.” His silvery eyes glittered like ice. He nodded toward the velvet box. “Open it.”
She did, although she’d already guessed what was inside. A cyanide capsule.
“We can do this the hard way or we can do it the easy way – your choice.”
She looked up at him, and read her future in his eyes.
“Time to say goodnight, Ms. Spirit.”
Before placing the capsule in her mouth, she asked, “Just who the hell are you? What’s your name?”
He smiled. “Pedro… of course.”
Damn, damn, damn.
Just another Pedro.
She bit down hard on the capsule, tasting only briefly its bitter almond flavor.
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: Penguin flight school; Martian karaoke; lipstick camera; bring the file; and burned out. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!