"Good thing Williams isn't here tonight," O'Brien said.
"Why is that?" Johnson asked.
"I have ten clams in the pool. If he lasts two more days then hacks, I'll win the pot!"
"What pot? How come I never got in on it?"
"See McDaniels, you may still be able to get in, I don't know. Just don't let that gunghole Zales hear about it, we'll all go on report for gambling on duty!"
Johnson grinned. "On duty? I don't see you holding any money!"
O'Brien laughed. "Yeah, well, we'd get out of it but then Maris would have to have a say, and I don't know how the Lieutenant would react. So keep it under your shoe, ok?
"Anyway," he continued, "Just see McDaniels. Yep, he'd hack tonight, all right - Ford's bar hopping. Ten clams says it won't be ten minutes before we see Venus brains."
Johnson gave him a quizzical look. "Brainy how?"
"Brainy as in brains all over the walls."
Johnson laughed. "Nope, not gonna take that bet!"
"Wise," said O'Brien. "He just killed some guy that was just standing there.
On screen, Washington holstered his pistol as the Venusian's headless corpse hit the floor. The bartender yelled "Hark!" The patrons echoed "Hark!"
"That's better," Washington grumbled.
"Galaxy," O'Brien said in disgust. "Uh, oh..."
A Venusian in the back of the bar had a gun in his hand. "BOOM!" The gun roared as Washington's coat sparked and the man next to him fell, clutching his side."
"OW!" Yelled Washington, whirling around, gun in hand. The man who had shot him, the bullet having ricocheted off Washington's carbon fiber suit, hitting the man who was now on the floor lay bleeding, aimed again. Washington pulled his trigger, and the would-be assassin fell to the ground, screaming in agony from the microwave burns.
"Security!" Washington ordered. "Chain him in the dungeon. He's to be crucified in the morning. Keep him alive! Now," he said, turning back to the bar. "Another! Make it a double! And one for this poor fellow laying here bleeding... oh, never mind, he's dead."
"Oh, for Mars' sake!" O'Brien said in disgust."I'd rather clean toilets than watch this."
Johnson laughed. "That's what Zales said about reading your reports!"
"Funny," replied O'Brien sarcastically. "Ha ha. I'll bet he hangs on every word of yours," he said, grinning.
Washington left the bar and got into his limousine. "Boeing, Building F-74."
"Yes, sir," said the driver."
"Craps, ninth rocket facility in two weeks. I wonder what that crazy ghoul has up his sleeve?"
"Sarge!" said Johnson. "You're early."
"I had a funny feeling something was up."
"Something is," said O'Brien. "Don't know what, though. Washington's in another spaceport."
"No idea yet what's up, though?" asked Zales.
"Negative, Sarge. It's almost like he thinks Shambler Claws is watching him!"
"Shambler Claws? What's that?"
"It's from a Venusian folk tale they scare their kids with at bedtime, about a big, scary monster that rips children apart with its razor sharp claws and eats them. It's meant to keep them from killing their siblings. 'Do you want the Shambler to visit you tonight?' they'll say when the kid acts up. There's even a nursery rhyme about him. Listen to this:
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why -
Shambler Claws is coming around.
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Shambler Claws is coming around
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
"No kiddin'?" said Zales. "Nasty bastards! They do this to their kids? Galaxy!"
"They're certainly not the winners of the parents of the week contest."
"No kiddin'," Zales repeated. Where did you hear it?"
"Watching the screens. That's not the worst thing they do to their kids. Hey, Sarge, you stayin'?"
"Might as well, why?"
"Mind if I go home? I mean if you can relieve me..."
"Yeah, O'Brien, I guess. Had enough of Washington, have you? Sure, go on."
"Thanks, Sarge. See ya!"
Johnson said "Can I..."
"Nope," answered Zales.
"Why not, Sarge? You let..."
"There's only one of me. If there were a dozen I wouldn't need you guys."
"Mind if I ask a personal question, Sarge?"
Zales snickered. "You can ask."
"Well... well, Sarge, sorry, but why are you so gung ho?"
Zales smiled. "Long story."
"I got time."
"Oh. Sorry, Sarge."
"Don't mention it."