Absolution, a stand- alone murder mystery novel featuring NYPD Lt. Mike Simon.
A teenager, Joey "Noonz" Mastronunzio, is forced to participate in a home invasion in Queens leaving a young couple dead and their infant son an orphan. Although he did not pull the trigger, he is determined to atone for his actions that night by joining the Marine Corps and then joining the seminary after his military service. The baby, Michael Simon, grows up to become an NYPD homicide lieutenant determined to locate and arrest the "guy who got away" from the scene of the murders. When Lieutenant Simon finally discovers the identity of the second perpetrator, he is shocked to learn he has known him most of his life. What follows is an unlikely alliance between Simon and the Bishop of Brooklyn as they uncover the rampant pedophilia in the Church. Battling threats, intrigue, deception, and murder, the duo comes up against the highest echelons of power in the NYPD and the Church as both institutions desperately seek to keep their records of depravity and cover-ups from ever being released to the public.
BestThrillers Review (BestThrillers.com) - "A must read crime thriller about an NYPD detective attempting to solve his own parents' murder....Buckle up and get ready for plenty of twists..."
NetGalley Review - four stars - "Wow, what a read!"
IndieReader Review - 4.3 stars -approved. "Be it the premise, characters, or setting, there's little in Henry Hack's Absolution that wont't immediately feel familiar, but the author's air tight plotting and exceptional character development makes for an exceptional read."
The Coastal Buzz - "... ticks all the boxes - believable characters, realistic setting, and a compelling plot...provides plenty of mystery and even philosophy. It is by turns infuriating, then heart rending..."
Here's the first chapter:
I bolted out of the screen door into the blackness of the sweltering early morning air, tightly clutching my upper left arm with my right hand. One thought raced repeatedly through my mind – My God, what have I done? I momentarily stopped on the sidewalk deciding which way to turn. Pete’s car was around the corner, but the keys were in his pocket back in the house. Why did I ever get in the car with Pete Selewski? I took off running.
I sprinted blindly for seven or eight blocks before becoming winded. I staggered to a stop, gasping for air. That was probably a good thing. A young guy running through a residential neighborhood at one o’ clock in the morning could most certainly attract a few phone calls to the police, who would be most interested in how he happened to have acquired a gunshot wound.
Regaining my breath, I began to walk, followed by intermittent bouts of slow jogging in the particularly dark areas. I took a zigzag direction toward my house in Richmond Hill, about four or five miles to the north and west of Cambria Heights. I stayed on the residential avenues and cross streets, avoiding the main drags of Linden and Springfield Boulevards, where passing patrol cars could easily spot me.
By the time I reached home it was about 3:00 a.m., but tiredness had not yet set in. I unlocked the front door and crept up the stairs to my bedroom which was at the opposite end of the house from my parents’ front bedroom. Their door was ajar, and I could hear my father snoring away. The two bedrooms in between were empty as my two older brothers were gone and married. The bathroom was across the narrow hall from my room, and I went inside it and softly closed the door. I took off my shirt and looked at my wound. It burned like hell, and I realized the bullet had grazed me and not entered my arm. I swabbed the wound with some witch hazel, biting my tongue to keep from screaming out. I followed that with some hydrogen peroxide, which also burned like the blazes.
I flushed the bloody tissues down the toilet and bandaged the wound, which had appeared to be no longer bleeding. I took the shirt with me into my bedroom and stuffed it in a corner of my closet. I’d figure out how to get rid of it later, but not too much later, if the cops were already on my trail. Fortunately, the wound was high enough on my upper arm that most of my short-sleeved shirts would cover it.
I needed to sleep, but I also needed to think this out. My parents arose around eight, and suddenly realizing it was Sunday morning, I knew we would all go to the ten o’clock mass at St. Mary’s. I had to get a few hours of sleep. Mercifully, the mental and physical exhaustion of the past few tension-filled hours finally set in, and I closed my eyes.
* * *
I managed to keep my eyes open throughout the high mass as my mind raced through the events of the past several hours. I must have left some blood, and my fingerprints, in that bedroom. Jesus, what had I touched? I dreaded the walk home from church. I was sure a police car would be parked in front of my house waiting to nab me. We stopped at the bakery for rolls and buns, and at the candy store for the Sunday editions of the Daily News and Daily Mirror. As we rounded the corner to our block, I felt an immense sense of relief to see the empty parking space in front of our house and no police cars in sight.
We went inside and Mom put coffee on as Dad and I looked at the papers. He glanced over at me and said, “You look like hell, Joey. You were yawning all through the mass. What time did you-a come home last night anyway?”
Knowing my parents were usually in the sack by ten, I said, “About eleven, maybe a quarter after, but I couldn’t sleep thinking about final exams and graduation, and do I go to community college or join the service. It kept me awake most of the night.”
“Yeah, I understand, and-a your mother and I gonna give you something else you gotta think about. Let’s go have coffee in the kitchen.”
Mom and Dad, Vincenzo and Maria Mastronunzio, were first generation Italian-Americans but spoke only Italian as youngsters, learning English when they began school in Brooklyn. Every so often a bit of Italian accent came through from both of them. Now, as I took my chair at the old white-painted wooden kitchen table, I wondered what the heck the “something else” I had to think about was, when I hadn’t even thought about what I really had to think about.
“Joey, you graduate in-a ten days, right?”
“After that me and your mother are gonna put the house up for sale. We wanna move to Florida. You could go to community college down there.”
“Aren’t you both too young to retire?” I asked. “You’re only in your mid-fifties.”
“Who said anything about retiring?” my mother said. “Your dad can cut hair and do shaves, and I can do cuts and perms down there as easily as we can up here.”
I can’t say I was surprised as I had heard comments about warm, sunny Florida from them before as well as how our neighborhood was changing, and not for the better, if you get my drift. Both my parents were not great examples of religious or racial tolerance and strongly believed in sticking to your own kind.
“Good for you,” I said. “I’ll have a few weeks to think this over, but right now I have to go to my room and study. I have two final exams left, and the rougher one is tomorrow.”
“You’re a good boy, Joey,” Mom said, “You come-a with us and go to college in Florida.”
“We’ll see,” I said as I finished my coffee and headed up the stairs to my room. I put a second pillow under my head and picked up my Latin textbook and opened it up. Despite the caffeine I had ingested, I closed my eyes and felt the heavy volume slip out of my fingers.
When I awoke, I glanced at my wristwatch. I had been out for over three hours, but I still felt groggy. I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face and changed the bandage on my upper arm. The one I took off was sticky, but no new blood had flowed and it looked as if it was already healing up. I guessed the hot bullet had cauterized it as it passed through my skin.
I went downstairs and grabbed a couple of crumb buns and heated up the remaining coffee from the percolator. I scarfed down the heavily crumb-laden buns hoping the sugar, cinnamon, and coffee combo would clear the cobwebs from my brain and let me come up with a plan of action. A plan, and an airtight alibi, to save my young ass from a seat in the electric chair.
The sugar and coffee worked their wonders and twenty minutes later, notepad on my desk, pencil in hand, I began from the beginning. Last night, Saturday, June 15, 1957, I went to the movies with three of my friends, Al, Bill, and Georgie. We saw Gunfight at the O.K. Corral starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, two of my favorite actors. We got out about 10:30 and went to Mulligan’s Bar for a couple of beers. Bill and Georgie had already turned eighteen so they were legal. Al and I would turn eighteen in a couple weeks, and if the owner, Timmy Mulligan, knew we were still seventeen, he certainly hadn’t cared.
We left the bar around 11:20 and walked our separate ways home. My house was in a different direction from theirs, and I was strolling along Lefferts Boulevard near Atlantic Avenue, when I heard a horn beep twice, and a car with its radio blasting out Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds pulled to the curb next to me. “Hey, Noonz!” a familiar voice called out. “Hop in. The top’s down and it’s a great night for cruising around and scouting up some chicks.”
I wasn’t tired, and riding around in Pete Selewski’s white 1955 Ford convertible seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t hesitate one bit, not knowing girls were the last thing on Pete’s mind. What was on his mind, I was shortly to discover, were two things, heroin, and obtaining the money to buy it.
Pete had gone to Richmond Hill High School as did most of my friends. Georgie and I went the Catholic high school route, and we had to schlep into Brooklyn on the bus and subway to be taught by the kindly brothers of Bishop Loughlin. Pete had dropped out of school at age sixteen and worked full-time at the A & P supermarket, where I met him. I worked there after school three times a week and all day Saturday. We had worked together today, both getting off at six o’clock.
Pete was two years older than me and with his curly blond hair, blue eyes, good looks, and trim body, he was a natural chick magnet. The shiny white convertible with the red leather interior didn’t hurt either. I guess I was thought of as a fairly good-looking guy myself because of my dark-brown curly hair, and my wide smile with a perfect set of white teeth. But my classic Roman nose could be considered on the large side, and when I was razzed about it I replied, “Just like the great singer, Tony Bennett’s handsome nose, you jealous jerks.”
Now, in retrospect – 20-20 hindsight is great, isn’t it? – I should have paid attention to the warning signs. I knew Pete smoked pot on and off the job. He looked like he lost weight, particularly around his face. His complexion was sallow and his cheeks sunken in a bit. And he had taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts despite this early heat wave. As we pulled from the curb, it must have been 80 degrees out there, but he had on a long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans to match.
We rode around the main drags – Atlantic Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, up and down Lefferts Boulevard, listening to DJ Alan Freed play the top rock ‘n roll hits of the day, but there were not many girls wandering around at this time of night. Pete took to the back streets and lowered the radio just as Bye, Bye, Love by the Everly Brothers came on. He turned the radio even lower as he headed east, in and out of residential areas, driving slowly, and checking out the houses. I said, “Looking for somebody you know? A house number?”
“Uh, no,” he said, and I could see the sweat beading on his face. He kept cruising through these residential neighborhoods, and I wondered what the hell was going on. I mean if there were no chicks on the main drags, there certainly wouldn’t be any lurking behind trees in these dark places. All of a sudden he said, “Yeah, that’s it!”
I had no idea what “it” was and Pete continued driving to the next intersection, turned the corner, and parked half way down the block. “Get out,” he said. “Let’s go.”
I opened the door saying, “Go where?” as he reached across and grabbed something out of the glove box. Holy shit! It was a gun. One of those shiny, chrome-plated revolvers the bad guys pull out in the gangster movies. “Pete, what the hell is going on?”
“Noonz, we’re going to rip off a house. I gotta get money – right away.”
“Don’t do this, Pete. Here let me give you all I got.”
“Thanks pal, but whatever it is, it ain’t enough. I need a lot of dough – now.”
“But, why –”
“Noonz, I’m hooked. I owe two of my suppliers over a hundred bucks each. They cut me off. I need a fix bad. I gotta pay them off and have enough left to buy more dope. Now let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
“Around the corner I spotted a house with a front screen door without a solid inside door closed behind it. They probably left it that way because of the heat. Listen, this will be easy. I know people will be in there sleeping, but this way we’ll be sure to find the loot. Money and jewelry are all I’m interested in.”
We turned the corner, and still hoping to talk him out of this insane idea, I said, “Pete, how about detox?”
He turned the gun toward me as if I had never spoken and said, “I’ll cut the screen and unlock the door. We’ll go right to the master bedroom. You switch on the lights, and we’ll wake them up. When they see this gun pointed at them they’ll willingly tell us where their stuff is. You collect it all, and then we beat feet. Five minutes is all we need. In and out fast.”
“No way, Pete. I ain’t doing this,” I said loudly.
“Shut up!” he screamed, bringing the gun up and pointing it right at my face. His hand was shaking, and sweat was dripping off his chin. I stared down that big hole in the barrel and felt my legs weaken. “You will do this, Joey, or so help me God I’ll kill you right here.”
It seemed I had no choice as he urged me forward. We had no masks and there were a lot of things that could go wrong, but I was afraid for my life. Pete had convinced me he was in such a condition that he would shoot me – his friend. “Okay, Pete,” I said. “Calm down.” I desperately hoped no one would be in that house, or if there were people in there this theft would go as easily as Pete said it would go.
“Here it is,” he whispered as we climbed up the steps of the front stoop. He took out a box cutter and slit the screen next to the lock. He reached in and unlocked the latch on the door and we crept inside. No masks? No gloves, either. Pete must have been in a bad way not to have given this caper any rational planning. He took a small penlight from his front pocket, at least he thought of something, and panned it around the room.
We headed around the corner to a hallway where the bedrooms probably were. All the doors were wide open, and the first one was the master as a brief view inside with the penlight showed. The glimpse was enough to reveal two sleeping people in the bed. Pete whispered, “Feel for the light switch on the wall.”
It was not on the first side I tried, but I located it on the opposite side. My fingers were wet with sweat and shaking badly. All of me was shaking badly. “Turn on the light, Noonz,” he whispered, “I’ll take it from here.”
I switched on the light as Pete walked to the foot of the bed and yelled, “Don’t move or I’ll kill you both!”
As he was saying that, the guy started coming up from his side of the bed, the left side facing us, and his right arm began to rise. His hand held a small dark gun. The room came alive with deafening gunshots, the bullets whizzing back and forth in the confined space. Neither shooter could possibly miss they were so close together. I don’t know who got off the first shot, but I think Pete and the guy got hit simultaneously. The woman suddenly sat up and Pete turned the gun on her – one shot. Then he turned back, shooting at the guy who let two more go, one of which hit me in the arm. Pete turned back to the woman and shot her again. Then he dropped the gun and said, “Oh, Joey,” and fell to the floor.
I didn’t stick around to help anybody. I assumed all three of them were dead. I mean blood was spurting out everywhere, like in the movies. Everything had gone so fast, and now I was in full panic mode. I hustled out of the bedroom trying to close the door on that horrible sight. The copper-penny smell of fresh blood mixed with a flowery smell of body powder or perfume deep in my lungs sickened me. As I turned to run for the front door I heard it – loud and piercing over the deafness and ringing in my ears caused by the loud gunshots – the sound of a baby crying coming from down the hall.
Oh, my God, what have I done?
The Messenger will be published on December 15, 2023. Here are the back cover copy and the first chapter to give you an idea of what it's about--
Back Cover Copy
Hal Logan is a promising high school baseball center fielder nicknamed the “Golden Boy,” and he has accepted a sizable bonus to play for the New York Mets after he graduates. Coming home from the last graduation party, the Jeep he was riding with his three athlete friends gets involved in a horrific accident resulting in the deaths of two of them and leaving Hal, and his best friend, Billy Jenkins, with crippling injuries. While surviving the accident, neither Hal nor Billy will ever play sports again.
Five years later, Hal is a college graduate planning to teach high school science, when an alien spacecraft crashes and begins to burn in the yard of his grandparents’ mountain home. Hal rescues the pilot who is a teen-aged alien from our galaxy. He is rewarded by being totally cured of the burns suffered in the rescue and of his previous crippling injuries, allowing him to pursue his dream once more.
AN ENCOUNTER OF THE
Hal Logan, a recent graduate of Hofstra University, sat alone on the porch of his grandparent’s upstate mountain home—Meadowlands—relaxing in the cool, May evening air, sipping his coffee, and contemplating his upcoming future as a high school science teacher this coming fall.
That Monday morning, May 8, he had driven upstate from Long Island, alone in his Pathfinder. Driving was not a problem as he used his left hand to steer with, and his deformed right hand, in its fiberglass cast, as a guide. His crooked right foot, also in a fiberglass cast, did not affect his use of the pedals, but if he had to brake hard, the pain could be substantial, and he would switch to his left foot. His best friend, Billy Jenkins, would drive up on Friday afternoon with Hal’s girlfriend, Sophia, who would see the place for the first time. They would all spend a couple of days going over the estimates deciding which contractors to hire. Billy would leave for home on Sunday night, and Hal and Sophia would remain to work on their resumes and job applications and get them ready to be mailed out, or emailed, if the balky Internet connection ever functioned correctly.
And then they would be alone, away from school and family, and be able to get down to some serious lovemaking. Hal had joked the reason he wanted to be alone with Sophia at Meadowlands was not for her lovemaking—he said he knew she was a wonderful lover—but the desire to see if she could prepare a decent meal for her future husband. She had looked at him incredulously and said, “Are you saying you’d rather eat than make love?”
“Hey,” he had said, “there are scads of girls who can screw, but can they cook?”
Shaking her head, she rapped him on the shoulder and said, “That was a crude remark. Sometimes I wonder about men. You sound just like Billy.”
Who was eyeing up your sister last Saturday, but he wisely kept that thought to himself.
Now, as he sat in the rocker enjoying the evening, watching the birds zip back and forth, especially a colorful pair of cardinals flitting around the birdbath, he realized the sun had set, and an evening chill was setting in. Coffee mug precariously balanced on his bad hand, Hal braced himself with his good arm on the rocker and rose to go inside. As he turned toward the door he saw a flash of light and heard a loud whump coming from the side yard, as though something had suddenly fallen out of the sky. A meteorite, he wondered? Dropping the mug he grabbed his cane, and as fast as he was capable of, shuffled off the deck and hobbled into the side yard. Oh my God! It was a plane crash! No, more like a helicopter crash. And it was burning!
* * *
Hal felt the intense heat as he approached the chopper, noticing the unusual color of the flames—bluish-white, not the yellowish-orange he would have expected from flaming jet fuel. And there was no kerosene odor at all, but a slight smell of a blown electric circuit reached his nose. But as Hal got closer, his heart dropped. The sole occupant inside the bubble was struggling, and it looked like he couldn’t get out.
He threw his cane down and limped as fast as he could through the searing heat toward the partly open door of the chopper. He grabbed the door handle with his good hand and screamed in pain as his palm seared on the hot metal. As he wrenched it free, charred and smoking, the door opened wide. He reached in with his left hand, despite the agonizing pain of the burn, and grabbed the man inside around his upper arm. With one mighty, desperate lunge backward, he pulled him out. Hal’s left arm, and the left side of his face, were now badly singed as he stutter-stepped away in agony from the fire, retching at the odor of his burned flesh. Dragging the pilot’s body, he got him thirty feet away from the raging inferno, where they both collapsed on the cool, damp grass.
And it was not a moment too soon. As he and the pilot lay there gasping for air, the chopper exploded in a bright blue flash, but with hardly any sound, just a smothered whoosh. As Hal got up on his knees, his breathing began to return to normal. The pilot rolled over onto his side, and then he too got on his knees. He managed to stand up and reached out his hand to help Hal get to his feet. “Thank you for pulling me out of there,” he said. “You no doubt saved my life. Are you injured?”
“I guess I’ll live, but I’m burned on my left hand, left arm, and left side of my face. It hurts like hell. You look like you’re burned badly, too. Let’s get into the house and I’ll try to get help if the damn cell phone can put through a 9-1-1 call. We both need to get to a hospital fast.”
“Help is on the way,” the pilot said. “I called as I was going down. They’ll be here shortly.”
“Okay, let’s get inside and get a drink of water while we wait for them to arrive. I’m Hal Logan.”
“My name is Manator. I’d love to have some water.”
“Yeah, and I might need something stronger to ease this pain.”
Arm in arm they struggled into the house, and Hal managed to get two bottles of Poland Spring water out of the fridge. “I’m afraid I don’t have the strength to open them,” he said. “Now I have two bum hands.”
“What’s wrong with your other hand?” Manator asked, as he unscrewed the bottle caps, passing one bottle over to Hal.
They sat down on the sofa, and as Hal took the bottle he said, “I was in an auto—” but the rest of the words stuck in his throat as he saw the hand handing him the bottle had six fingers on it. Six long fingers, all colored a light blue. Hal took a long swallow, looked at Manator and said, “I was in an auto accident a few years ago. I still limp badly as you might have noticed, and my right hand is almost useless.”
“I noticed that. Does it pain you badly?”
“Sometimes. Uh, Manator, you’re not from around here, are you?”
“No,” he answered, rolling his eyes, as a small grin appeared on his face, a blue face similar in features to Hal’s.
“From a galaxy far, far, away?”
Manator shook his head and said, “No, this galaxy—our galaxy.”
As Hal was going to ask more questions, two men entered the house. “Hello, Father,” Manator said sheepishly.
The father shook his head at his son in obvious disapproval and addressed the man next to him. “Dr. Fotal, please check these two out.”
“Father,” Manator said, “This is Hal Logan. He just saved my life.”
“Thank you immensely,” he said. “I am Calixu, and although I am happy my son is alive, I am extremely peeved he crashed and destroyed a valuable vehicle—a crash that should not have occurred.”
“Not now,” he said. “I will deal with you later. Let Dr. Fotal attend to you now. Oh, Mr. Logan, Dr. Fotal is our ship’s chief surgeon.”
Dr. Fotal reached into his satchel and withdrew a red can, took the cap off, and sprayed the burned areas of Manator’s body. He did the same on Hal’s burned arm and face, and the pain miraculously disappeared. “Thank you, sir,” Hal said.
“That’s a temporary fix. When we get you on board, my team will heal you up properly.”
On board? Heal me up properly? Hal looked at the doctor and Manator’s father more closely. Both seemed to be about five feet ten, with slim builds, and the same skin coloring as Manator’s—a light blue, maybe with a tinge of violet in it—and similar six-fingered hands. Neither of them had head or facial hair that he could see, and their ears were more like holes at the sides of their heads with little external skin surrounding them. Their lips and mouths were similar to his and their eyes were larger, more oval-shaped, and of a deep violet shade. Hal guessed the men to be in their mid-forties and Manator to be about eighteen. They appeared not much different from those extraterrestrial beings described by science-fiction writers for decades, he thought.
Calixu said, “Let’s get going now,” and started out the door. Hal, wondering if they would bring him back from wherever they were taking him, struggled up off the sofa and began to follow him outside. Dr. Fotal noticed Hal’s limp and grabbed him under the arm to assist him in the short walk to where a black, oval-shaped vehicle hovered about three feet above the grass with a ramp extending down. Just like in the books and movies. He and the doctor walked up the ramp and sat on cushioned benches curving around the interior. Manator and Calixu, privately speaking with each other, also took seats as the ramp swung upward. Hal noticed there were no seatbelts, and figured he would now take the opportunity to ask some questions of the space aliens, for he had no doubts that was exactly what they were. And they seemed trustworthy, but he was going who knew where, and who knew how far…
But before he could open his mouth, Calixu arose, the ramp descended, and he headed out the door. Had he forgotten something back at Hal’s house? Manator and Dr. Fotal got up to follow Calixu and Hal said, “What’s going on?”
“We have arrived at our main vehicle,” Manator said.
“The mother ship?”
“You could call it that,” Manator said, with a grin on his handsome blue face.
“How could we have gotten here so fast? And where are we?”
“We arrived via a small quantum leap, and we are beyond the orbit of Pluto.”
Hal nodded and said, “You guys are definitely not from around here, are you?”
“We will explain what is necessary in due time,” Calixu said, as he assisted Hal out of the craft. “Our team of doctors and surgeons is getting prepared to fix you two up. First things first, and then we’ll talk.”
* * *
As they walked down a beige carpeted hallway, a pair of double doors opened on the left side and two self-propelled cushioned chairs rolled silently out. Dr. Fotal motioned for Hal and Manator to sit in them, and he said, “I’ll see you in the operating room.”
The chairs glided through those doors and stopped in front of another pair of double doors. What Hal guessed was an operating room nurse came out of the doors, walked over to Manator and said, “Please inhale this.” She placed what looked like an oxygen mask over his face and he followed her instruction, inhaling deeply.
After ten seconds, she removed the mask and stepped next to Hal who glanced over at the sleeping Manator. “Please inhale this,” she said, eyeing him up and down.
Hal grinned and said, “Bet you never saw anyone quite like me before?”
“On the contrary, Mr. Logan. I have had many encounters with beings from your strange planet.”
When he opened his mouth to answer her, she placed the mask over his nose and mouth and said, “Inhale deeply, please.”
That was the last thing he remembered until he woke up in a comfortable reclining chair, dressed in some sort of pajama suit that was cinched at the waist. The material was soft on his skin and of a light yellow color. Soft yellow slippers were on his feet and he realized he had no sense of time, of how long he had been under anesthesia. One thing he realized was that he was not in pain anywhere on his entire body. He glanced at the palm of his left hand. The singed flesh was healed nicely. He pushed up his left sleeve and the burns on his arm were also healed. His right wrist and hand felt different. He looked down and noticed the fiberglass cast was missing and the wrist was no longer bent. He flexed the hand and wrist and then made a fist. No pain. He made fists with both hands, flexing and un-flexing them, not only in amazement but in sheer joy.
The door opened and a similarly dressed Manator walked into the room. He said, “It’s about time you woke up.”
“How long was I out?”
“Incredible. Dr. Fotal and his team healed up all my burns that fast?”
“Your burns were fixed in ten minutes, as were mine. Father asked them to fix the rest of you, too. That’s what took so long.”
“Do you mean my hand and wrist? They feel great. I can’t believe they are healed.”
“Yes, your wrist, your hand, and your ankle and foot, and the rest of your damaged and ill-repaired skeletal structure. They removed all those chunky metal pins and rods and plastic in your body. Straightened everything out. Made you as good as new. Better than new.”
Hal looked down at his right foot as he gingerly stepped out of the chair. It was no longer crooked. And it no longer hurt. He walked over to Manator and grabbed him in a hug repeating, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Manator was taken aback by Hal’s show of affection, but returned the hug tentatively, and patted Hal on his back. “Come,” he said, “we’ll get some food and drink, and go see father.”
“You don’t seem too thrilled about that,” Hal said.
“He is not happy with the destruction of that explorer. I hope he accepts my explanation.”
“And if he doesn’t, what type of punishment can you expect?”
“Grounding,” he said, with a frown on his face.
“Just like on Earth,” Hal said. “By the way, where exactly in our galaxy are you guys from?”
“Father will explain what he wants you to know. I could tell you more, but he has warned me not to. I don’t want to get him angrier with me than he is.”
“I can understand that. Oh, you said food?”
There were several other people—blue aliens—in what Hal assumed was the ship’s cafeteria, and a few of them glanced up curiously at him as he and Manator entered and sat down at a table. Manator took a small, square, silver device out of his pocket and said, “I’ll order for both of us; it would take me too long to explain the many choices. Rest assured, it will be tasty and nutritious.”
“No ground up Earthlings in there, I hope?”
Manator smiled and said, “No, they are not too tasty; the meat needs too much tenderizing and spicing up.”
Hal looked at him and said, “Not funny, Manator.”
“I’m trying to emulate your human sense of humor, one of the few positive characteristics your race possesses.”
As Hal was thinking of a nasty retort, a square mechanical device rolled up next to their table. The top opened and plates of food and drinks popped out and were placed on the table by mechanical appendages. Cutlery and napkins were similarly dispensed, and the device’s top folded closed and it scooted away. “Impressive,” Hal said as he undid his napkin and picked up a fork similar to those at home.
“Dig in, Hal,” Manator said, as he pointed to the item on Hal’s plate which appeared to be a four by six by two inch chunk of vanilla pound cake.
Whatever it was, it was delicious and of a variety of flavors, some familiar to Hal’s taste buds. They washed the food down with a fizzy orange drink, tasting like a mixture of fruits and berries, again some familiar, and some not.
When they finished, the square robot came back and cleaned up the table in a few seconds. “My mother and my future wife would sure love one of those,” Hal said.
“How old are you?” Manator asked.
“Almost twenty-three. And you?”
“Seventeen. That’s about 347 Earth years.”
“Yes, and father is 1,232 Earth years old.”
“So you’re a wild teenager, and daddy is mad because you wrecked the car?”
“Explorer vehicle, and yes, daddy is highly pissed.”
“How do you know English so well?”
“I don’t. We use a personal translation device. I’m speaking our language, but to your ears it comes out in American Idiomatic English.”
“Yeah, we have devices like that, too. The Frenchman speaks French, but I hear English coming out of the device.”
“We better go. I can’t put this off forever.”
“Hey, I’ll try to help you out. I was a dopey teenager not too long ago myself.”
They left the cafeteria and when they entered the hallway, Manator pressed a button on his square device and a two-seat, sofa-like vehicle appeared. They sat down, Manator pressed another button, and the sofa moved down the hallway at a nice clip—maybe twenty miles-per-hour, Hal figured.
“It’s too long to walk to father’s office from here,” Manator said.
“How big is this ship?”
“About one of your Earth miles long and a half-mile wide.”
“And you said it is beyond Pluto’s orbit?”
“Yes, well outside of your solar system.”
“So as not to be detected?”
“And we got here instantaneously?”
“No, less than that—in a quantum leap.”
“I can’t wrap my head around that, Manator. The quantum mechanics I know about—still somewhat impossible to grasp—applies only on the subatomic level.”
“Let’s say your people have a long way to go. Come, we are here.”
“Is your dad the ship’s captain?”
“No, he is the ship’s Chief Scientific and Exploration Officer.”
“And how should I properly address him?”
“Respectfully, by name. Put your Earthly sense of humor on hold, please—for my sake.”
”You got it, partner. I hope it all goes well for you.”