Chapter Four


by Hy Askey

Venus began reciting poetry again. "Life is that which passes like clouds," she said softly. She didn't think of it so much as she simply heard herself say the words. The sirens were pulling into the main entrance to the Camelot Apartment complex. First the fire engine, followed by an ambulance and that was followed by two police cruisers. Venus and Mars were still in a mild state of shock from the vortex of events that had overtaken them. Things didn't seem to be about to slow down yet either. Usually, things are the other way around at this point: a couple of sad police officers, shaking their heads while turning away from a lump on the sidewalk with a sheet over it. Not this time. The survivors were the ones standing over a lumpy canvas, covering the bodies of two policemen who happened to have stood in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ironically, these policemen died in the line of duty but not by violent crime, or an act of bravery, or even a stupid accident. No, it was mere coincidence. Unsuspecting bodies caught in the gravitational pull of the mad vortex surrounding Venus and Mars. Two planets who should never have come near each other.
Mars found himself lying on his stomach on a gurney in the back of an ambulance. His wound was being tended to. From what he could see, it looked like a pretty nasty gash cutting across his backside. He figured they must've given him a local anesthetic because he couldn't feel anything back there. In actuality it was more like a deep scratch than a cut. The EMT put some butterfly bandages on it and covered the whole thing with a bandage. A policeman attempted to question the couple but didn't get much. Mars was mostly oblivious to things going on around him. This all seemed so unreal. His mind kept replaying the events leading up to this moment as if to find something to explain it. It was all just too weird. He noticed Venus was on another stretcher next to his. She was sitting upright and gazing out the rear window of the ambulance. Her lips seemed to be moving. Mars noticed the ambulance was moving. For a moment Mars wondered how long they had been on the road. Then he was aware that they weren't moving very fast for an ambulance. "We're not going very fast." Mars mentioned to the emergency medical technician. To which the EMT replied, "You're not hurt very bad." Mars was puzzled. "Then why are we going to the hospital?" To which the EMT replied, "We're not going to the hospital, we're going to the police station." Venus heard that and became frightened. "We're going to jail?", she asked, tugging at her lower lip. The EMT explained, "No, I don't think so. They have to make a report on the chain of events that resulted in the death of those two police officers. Since you're the sole survivors of that incident, you'll have to reconstruct it for them." Then he said to Mars, "I'm done with you. And. . . here we are at the police station."
They were let out in front of the police station. They were left standing there wrapped in blankets as the ambulance drove off and a police car pulled up right after it. Two officers got out and escorted them into the building. Once inside, they were photographed and their fingerprints were taken. Forms were filled out. They were offered cups of terrible coffee. Then Venus and Mars were each led into separate small bare rooms so they could be questioned separately to see if their stories match. Mars was very clear and accurate in his description of the events. He spoke slowly and clearly so people could take notes and so the tape recorder would pick up his words. Venus was less accurate in her report. She had a hard time remembering what seemed to her to be a dream. She doubted all of it and even told her interrogators so. However, their stories did match in the places where it mattered. They were found to be not at fault for the tragedy. The police finding was that their officers were killed in the line of duty, even though it was an accident. No crime had been committed. For Venus they recommended psychological counciling but had no power to enforce it since she wasn't determined to be dangerous. Venus had lost a lot of her psychosis since the incident.The couple was officially released from police custody.
There they stood, in the lobby of the police station, wrapped in blankets, looking at each other in disbelief. "Are we supposed to walk the five miles back to our apartments?" Mars inquired, as if there had been some mistake. The officer behind the front desk, without looking up from his paperwork answered, as if for the three hundredth time, "We are under no obligation to return suspects to their original location." and, waving them away with the back of his hand, added as drolly as possible, "Have a nice day."
"I don't believe the day I'm having." said Mars, "I get pushed out a third story window, get my clothes torn off, tear my backside off, fall down and kill two policemen. These guys have us brought here, of all places, and now I'm standing here with a crazy lady, I'm wrapped in a blanket, I have a ten inch gash on my ass, and these clowns want me to walk home in my bare feet! It's five miles for cryin' out loud."
"I'm not crazy." Venus interjected.
"I'm sorry, but you can't stay here.", the man behind the desk reminded them, trying to sound as bored as humanly possible. "I can call you a cab."
"And what am I supposed to pay him with, Sherlock?" Venus smirked.
"Let's go." Mars said as he turned Venus away from the police desk. "Before something else happens."
They resigned themselves to the long but potentially pleasant walk home. At least Venus felt that way. Mars was more agitated about the recent twilight-zone type turn of events but was slowly being talked into a better mood by Venus. About a block from the police station a police car pulled up beside them. For an instant Mars thought they might have had a change of heart and decided it was cruel and stupid to make them walk back home. But no . . .
"Alright you two," said the driver of the car as he got out, "going to a costume party?"
Mars rolled his eyes. "No officer, we're on our way home from a visit to your lovely police station and . . . "
"I think I better see some I.D." the cop interrupted.
"We don't have any. Just call the police station and they'll explain everything." Mars pleaded.
"Why don't we just go there and we can straighten this out." The policeman said as he motioned them to get in the car.
"You're an idiot, you know that? Why won't you pick up that mike and call the station?" Without waiting for an answer, Mars grabbed Venus' arm and headed briskly back to the police station.
The cop hollered after them, "Hey come back here." and got back into his car to go after them.
Of course Mars and Venus beat him back to the police station since it was only a block. They were inside at the front desk by the time the other cop was pulling up in front of the station. "I want you to get on the radio right now and tell every one of the police on duty that we are on our way home and we are not to be bothered!" Mars ordered in a soft but barely controlled voice with enough authority to get a bill through Congress. "You idiots have already put us through enough! I'm going back out that door and I don't want to see another cop all the way back to my apartment!"
The cop who stopped them on the street was now standing directly behind them ready to subdue them if necessary. "It's O.K. Bill, let them go. I'll explain it to you later." said the cop behind the desk. "O.K., you two, I'll get on the radio. Go ahead and go home now."
Mars opened his mouth and was about to say a thing or two more to the policemen but Venus grabbed his arm and led him out of the building. She pulled him along for a couple of blocks before they even slowed down.
"You can let go of my arm." Mars said. "I'm O.K. now. Thanks for getting me out of there. I might be in jail right now if you hadn't. I need to get back home and get into bed so I can wake up from this crazy nightmare."
"Yeah," said Venus, shaking her head. "It is pretty weird, isn't it?"
And so they gingerly made their way home on the hot sidewalks of suburbia, past the apartments and townhouses, the tract homes and mini-marts. At one of those mini-malls they stopped for a few moments to rest in the shade between a Chinese restaurant and a dry cleaners. They sat wrapped in their blankets leaning up against the building. Mars had to lay on his side because of the gash on his butt. They were only there a few minutes when an elderly woman stopped in front of them and said sadly, "You poor people. There but for the grace of God go I." She shook her head. "I'd like to help. Where's your cup?"
"Cup?" asked Venus.
"You're begging cup." clarified the old woman. "You know, where people can put their coins."
"Wait a minute lady," Mars piped up. "You are mistaken. We're not homeless. It's very nice of you, but we don't need your money. We're just on our way home and . . ."
"What! You're not indigent!?" The old woman gasped, "Then what are you doing out in public dressed only in blankets? What kind of twisted deviants are you people anyway!? Why, that's positively indecent! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" She looked around. "I ought to call the police!"
"Let's get out of here before the old bird has a fit." Mars said as he got up and helped Venus to her feet.
"Alright, grandma, we're leaving. Don't forget to tell your friends about this experience." Venus added as they walked away from the still ranting lady. When they got to the corner and were waiting for the light to change, she asked Mars, "How much further?"
"I'm not sure," He said, "We're maybe halfway there." The asphalt was hot on their bare feet as they sprinted across the street. This is suburbia. Small, neatly trimmed lawn carpets in front of tiny little houses, row after row. Kids on bikes. Winding streets, some ending in cul-de-sacs, every few blocks there were apartment buildings and townhouses. The couple stood out in stark contrast to their surroundings. They looked like refugees. No one stopped to ask if they needed help or a ride. People in suburbia don't know their neighbors. Or anybody else. This was also the reason Venus and Mars had nothing to be embarrassed about. Nobody knew who they were. If nobody knows who you are, what's there to be embarrassed about? Well, that was before that dog came out. A very large, playful Labrador retriever came bounding out of a garage straight for them. This dog obviously belonged to a family with children. Children who like to use a blanket to play tug-o-war with the dog. That's what the dog figured Mars and Venus wanted to do. Why else would they have those blankets outside? The Lab snatched Mar's blanket as he ran by him, tearing it clean off. He came right back to Mars with it. Mars grabbed it and the dog started to play. Venus was afraid if she helped, the dog would grab her blanket so she stood off a ways hoping the dog wouldn't notice. She was right on both counts. Mars was afraid to shout at the dog because it might attract the attention of the nearby residents. Except for the bandage he wore, he was naked. He lost his patience and punched the Lab right in the head. The dog took the hint and retreated whining, walking kind of sideways, back to the garage. What was once a blanket was now a bunch of loosely connected rags and dog-slobber. It was a feat of prestidigitation to get Mars decent again with what they had to work with. While Venus was helping Mars strategically place bits of the blanket around him, he thought; "This woman is a jinx."

Meanwhile, the owner of the Camelot Apartments, an Englishman named Carruthers, had arrived at the complex on one of his surprise visits. He had intentions of replacing Mars as superintendent with his nephew, Tim. He wasn't sure how to go about it since Mars hadn't given him any reason for dismissal. Mr. Carruthers was completely satisfied with Mar's work, in fact, he was the best building superintendent he ever had. Never-the-less, in a simple case of nepotism, he intended to "let him go". Upon arrival, he immediately noticed the collapsed canopy that used to cover the entrance to the main building. It was now in a heap next to the sidewalk. He tried to imagine what could have caused it's total destruction. There was some sort of cloth streaming out of the window of what he knew to be Mar's apartment. There were chalk outlines of two bodies on the sidewalk.There was nobody around to question. He went into the building and up to Mar's apartment. There he saw the door that Venus had smashed the candelabra into. He knocked. There was no answer. He knocked a few more times. He wondered, "could one of those chalk outlines be Mars?" It would solve the problem of having to fire him. "No," He scolded himself, "don't even think that." He decided to take a look around the grounds. Maybe he'd run into Mars. Perhaps, he thought, Mars had gone to the store. In any case he knew that Mars never strayed far from home and never for very long. He knew Mars would be back soon.
And so he was. It was almost sunset by the time they shuffled up to the front of the main building. Tired, dirty, bleeding, hurting, hungry. Mars was not in a good mood. All he wanted was to go to bed for about 48 hours and hope this was all a bad dream when he woke up. Venus was tired too, and hungry. She was long past any feelings about her situation. She just wanted to eat something and then go to bed.
Mr. Carruthers was somewhere else on the grounds and didn't know of Mar's arrival. What he did know now was what had happened here today. After chatting with some of the gossippy neighbors, who pieced together an exagerated tale of naked cliff-hangers and dead policemen, he was sure he had good reason to fire Mars. Even though he himself had a hard time believing the story. It didn't matter. He didn't even want to know Mar's side of the story. It might make sense. This was his way out and he didn't want to spoil it.
Once inside his apartment, Mars wanted to close that big window but he couldn't bring himself to go near it. Not yet, anyway. He needed a shower badly and wasted no time getting into one. The hot water was a welcome relief even if it did sting the cut on his backside. Just when the cleaning was done and he was about to soak in the hot rain, Curruthers started knocking at the door. At first Mars ignored it, hoping whoever it was would give up and go away. Carruthers persisted with his knocking, he could hear Mars in there. He knew he was home now. Mars decided to answer the door but he took his good ol' time doing it. He dried off and put on a robe, then went to the door. He habitually peeked through the peep-hole before he opened the door. "Carruthers!"
Mars swung the dented door open. Carruthers eyes followed the splintered area of the door just below the peep-hole as the door swung open. Then he looked at Mars and without a word, stepped into the disheveled apartment. "Mr. Carruthers, I didn't know it was you. I wasn't expecting you. Pardon the disarray sir, I've had a really bad day."
"So I've heard." Carruthers returned as he look about for a clean place to sit. Finding none he remained standing. There was an awkward silence; Mar's stood silently not knowing whether he should waste his time trying to tell that crazy story one more time, giving Carruthers time to summon the nerve to do a spineless thing. "We simply cannot have that sort of thing going on here at Camelot." Carruthers said with as much indignation as he could muster. "It'll be on the front page, you know. This will taint our image."
"But it was an accident! A freak accident! It wasn't even my fault. You can check with the police." Mars pleaded. Somehow he knew in his gut it was falling on deaf ears. It fit right in with the rest of the day. So it was no surprise when the next words he heard were those dismissing him from employment at Camelot, effective immediately. He was given 48 hours to vacate the premises. He would have his final paycheck in the morning. It was all over in a matter of minutes. Carruthers was gone and Mars was left standing there in slack-jawed disbelief.
Venus was mailed an eviction notice the next day. Evicted for reasons of "incompatability with other tenants". She was given thirty days to vacate.

(to be continued)

Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: