Flat toed boots rang loudly off black and white speckled marble. In the deep pits of his stomach, Mason knew something wasn’t quite right. Every instinct told him to walk away. He ignored it. Instead he continued across the broad entryway to a winding staircase. The place had changed a lot since the last time he visited. A year and a half ago the foyer was decorated with all manner of statues and paintings praising the opulence of Governor Valentine. Now all that was gone. Replaced by a sole statue with winding stairs to either side.
Mason forced one foot in front of the other. The closer he drew to the top, the stronger his feelings became. At the top was Jessica. His girlfriend and the one woman he wanted to spend life with. On the space station known as Gambler’s Paradise, he’d waited too long to propose. This time he wasn’t about to make the same mistake.
Halfway up the broad stairs, he heard a woman talking. Screaming a man’s name. It wasn’t in anger. Most likely from passion. Anger seeped into his veins as he took a few more determined steps. He had to know. To find out what exactly was going on. Another sound, a moan. He reached the top of the steps. Two men blocked an ornate gold trimmed door. They smiled. Mason merely growled in response. Off to the side a desk lay empty. The same one where a secretary would usually sit. Jessica.
Mason started forward. Both men held hands out to stop him. They weren’t about to let him pass. Not without a fight.
“I’m here to see Jessica,” said Mason a snarl on his lips.
“The whore is kinda busy right now. Come back later,” said the taller of the men laughing as he nudged his partner in the ribs.
“What did ya call her?” said Mason taking a few more steps closer towards the hired thugs.
“Jim, I think this here Ranger is a bit shy on smarts, don’t you?” said the smaller man reaching for something behind his back.
“Look Ranger, I will put this simply for that pea sized brain of yours. She is in there enjoying the boss’s hospitality. So, leave and don’t come back or we’ll make sure it’s the last thing you do. Right Jacob?” said Jim walking up to stand mere inches from Mason.
Jim’s nose exploded in a shower of blood as Mason’s forehead snapped forward. Jacob went to draw a pistol from behind his back. Mason was faster. A kick to the chest sent Jim stumbling back into a wide-eyed Jacob. He didn’t wait for them to recover. Two loping strides took him to the men’s side. Two strong hands pinned his arms to his side. No wonder they were cocky. Back-up always did seem to tip the scales a bit in one’s favor.
Another man moved in. Hate filling his eyes. Mason stumbled back from a hard right taking his captor along for the ride. A quick left followed. His Stetson hat went spinning to the ground. Blood dripped into his mouth from a cut lip. Another right. This time it caught him just above the eye. Next hit struck midsection. He needed to do something. Quick. Before he was swallowed in a flurry of blows.
Rage exploded in a veil of black. Mason spun while dipping a shoulder. The man holding him soared overhead to land hard on the floor. For a second, he stood still, hands on knees. It was hard to catch a breath.
A blow to an eye sent him to a knee. The thugs grabbed his hair before jerking his head up. Their eyes met for an instant. Mason caught the man’s fist in mid-air. His other fist slammed into the thug’s forearm. The man recoiled in pain, his hand releasing its hold on Mason’s head. In a second, he was on his feet, sending a hard fist smashing into the man’s jaw.
No time to think. Just react. Desperately he threw an arm up to block a blow from a newly recovered Jacob. Arm met arm. Around the room they went, his blocks always there to intercept deceptively strong punches. He couldn’t keep it up forever. Next punch he countered. An already bruised fist struck chest. Jacob stumbled back. Just the break he was needing. Using both hands he hoisted Jacob off his feet to send the man crashing into Jessica’s desk. A fist slammed into his back. Mason stumbled forward before rounding to see Jim throwing another punch.
It was his turn now. A quick left jab beat Jim’s right cross to the mark. Jim stumbled back a few steps. Another left, followed by a right to the body. Mason blocked a wild swing. The man was hurt. His own breath came in short pain wracked gasps. Quick step to the side. A right hook sent Jim to the ground.
His captor charged. A quick sidestep followed by a jab to the kidneys. The man groaned before meeting the ground once more. He could feel his fists starting to swell.
It was over. All the men lay on the ground. Those who were still conscious looked none too eager to face the bloodied Ranger. Two lay still, their chests rising and falling in steady breaths. Jacob lay moaning in pain against the cracked desk. The last pleaded for Mason not to kill him. He wiped a bruised hand across his blood-stained mouth. A cut above an already swollen eye sent blood trickling down his cheek. Every move brought a new wave of pain. Something sticky and warm clung to his face. Cold, anger filled eyes locked on the ornate wood covered metal door. Leaving the men where they lay, Mason half limped to the doorway.
Extending a gore covered arm, he noticed the door was locked. Probably from the inside. Old doors had a weakness. The rails they glided on weren’t well maintained. After years of neglect, rust would have taken its toll.
Inside the moans stopped. Replaced by a series of questions he was more than happy to answer. Using the last of his strength he kicked the center of the door sending it tumbling from overstrained rails. The loud crash masked two surprised gasps from a half-dressed couple. It was too late to hide what they’d been doing. Mason stepped through the doorway. His hand drifted to the revolver on his hip.
“Well shit,” said Mason the surprise of what he saw nearly sapping what little strength remained.
“Who are you?” said a suddenly angry short statured Terran, Mason took to be the new Governor.
“Looking for Jessica. Those hired guns ya got said she was in here,” said Mason, his deathly calm voice causing the pair to shiver.
“Who?” said a half dressed blue skinned woman Mason thought looked far too familiar for comfort.
“The whore who refused my advances,” said Vahn, the new Governor.
“What did ya call her?” said Mason cold eyes fixed on those of Vahn.
“A lying no-good whore who failed to mention she was dating a Velothian. Dirty barbarians the lot of them,” said Vahn getting courageous after a glance towards a wall hugging bookcase.
“Huh,” said Mason drawing a revolver before starting towards Vahn.
A low growl escaped from a tightly clenched throat. Mason moved closer. His finger twitched as it rested lightly on the revolver’s firing nub.
“Take one move fur ball and I send ya to whatever God ya worship,” said Mason lining the barrel of his revolver on the bookcase.
Vahn started back. The woman hurried to grab discarded clothes. From behind the bookcase emerged a fur covered Wuldrek standing nearly as tall as Mason. Both the Wuldrek’s hands were in the air. Mason signaled the man to leave through the fallen door. Just a nod for a response and the Wuldrek disappeared from the room.
“Now just hold on. I didn’t mean what I said about Velothians being dirty barbarians,” said Vahn backing up until his back met the far wall.
Mason started forward. Hazel eyes fixed firmly on the trembling form of Vahn. With their faces scant inches apart, Mason said; “I ain’t gonna kill ya. Worms like ya ain’t worth it. But, ya ever disrespect Jessica again…well that’s another matter altogether.”
Tears gathered in Vahn’s eyes while a puddle gathered at his feet. Reaching up to tip his hat, Mason realized it was missing. A shake of a sore head and Mason turned to leave. Off to the side, he heard the bookcase shift. Still he strolled on. Across the room until at last he reached the fallen door. Behind him, he heard Vahn yell for him to stop.
Stepping over the door, Mason continued into the lobby. A flash of red sizzled into his shoulder. Mason spun and dropped to a knee. Another beam hissed through empty air where his chest had been only a scant second before. Mason fired. The green beam disappeared into Vahn’s pistol.
Vahn squeaked while clutching a blistered hand. “Now that we understand each other,” said Mason rising to his feet.
Heading towards the stairs, he stopped only long enough to recover his dropped Stetson. A second look at the destruction he’d wrought. Mason sighed. It was a bad beginning to what was supposed to be the start of a relaxing vacation.